What To Do When You Lose Your Job: A Helpful Checklist

More than 20 million people lose their jobs in the US alone every year.

With bizarre news of mass firing over Zoom calls and recessionary fears, job security has become more unpredictable lately.

Losing your job is one of the most challenging life experiences you can face, so it is good to be prepared in the unfortunate event that happens.

Here’s a cool and calm checklist of what to do when you lose your job, which will help you make the most out of your situation if and when it happens.

That said, know that being let go isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’ve experienced it too) – depending on how you react and how well prepared you are, you can easily turn it into an opportunity of a lifetime.

Let’s be prepared!

Know the difference between fired, made redundant and laid off

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Knowing the right terms is important when exercising damage control, such as explaining what happened to that part of your career path during interviews, or explaining your situation in a professional setting.

‘Got fired’ is a generic term that covers most matters of termination. It’s snappy, but it implies hostility and wrongdoing of some kind. If you’re in a job interview, never use the word ‘fired’.

Usually, being ‘made redundant’ covers most termination cases – that is, the company terminated you because they don’t have enough work for you, or they can’t pay you – it simply doesn’t make business sense to continue employing you. This term is more commonly used in UK.

The term ‘laid off’ is supposed to be for temporary cases only – where a company requests that you take unpaid leave because your work is not needed. However, the term is now also used to mean being made redundant, especially in the US.

Try to keep calm and carry on

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I’m not belittling what you’re going through.

The loss of a job has repeatedly been proven to be more mentally strenuous than coping with a death of a loved one or divorce. But the same research also consistently shows that the best way to get back on track is to focus on getting a new, fulfilling job.

In other words, look forward and see it as an opportunity to grow, rather than dwell on ‘what went wrong’ and ‘why didn’t they want me’.

I personally experienced this too, and you can read my full story of being laid off during the 2007 financial crisis, and what I ended up with.

Go into lawyer mode

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Check for discrimination

Make sure you weren’t discriminated against during your layoff.

If you think you were let go because you were older, or if you’re an ethnic minority and can identify peers that are equal to you in every way that weren’t let go, there might be a case here.

There are non-profit groups in most countries (e.g. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in the US) that may be able to give initial advice on this for free, and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth proceeding.

Check your employee handbook and contract

Make sure that the notice period you’re given is in accordance with your contract.

Ensure that company policy and rules have been followed – if anything is amiss and you think you’re being shortchanged, point it out to your HR representative.

Don’t hesitate or be embarrassed to do so – these are your rights, and no one else apart from yourself will stand up for them.

Read everything carefully before signing anything

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As part of being let go, you may need to sign some agreements.

In these cases, you may be time-pressured to sign them fast.

Don’t cave in to signing any document without reading the terms carefully, and understanding the implications.

You may be signing away your right to bring a legal case against them, or your right to a notice period, or your right to any unclaimed vacation days.

Companies have been known to include the most outlandish of terms in agreements like these, so make sure you look through them carefully and don’t be afraid to reject any terms that you don’t agree with.

Consider visa implications

If you’re not a citizen of the country you’re currently working in, chances are there is a whole extra layer of stakes tied to your job – without a job, you may need to leave the country within potentially a short period of time.

Immediately assess your options on visas and immigration:

  1. How long are you allowed to remain under the current visa, given that you’re being let go?
  2. Are you eligible to apply for any other visa that will allow you to stay for longer, and apply for other jobs?
  3. Are there any other options you can be exploring to secure your right to remain in the country?
  4. If all else fails and you do have to leave the country, what will the plan be?

Your visa strategy usually can be answered with a few hours of online research – otherwise, there are specialist immigration law firms that you can engage with.

In either case, speed is extremely important – you need to know what your options are almost immediately after being notified that you’re being let go.

Your new full-time job is to find another job

what to do when you lose your job

The best piece of advice I picked up about job-hunting wasn’t even given to me directly.

My uncle Stephen is a simple man, but the definition of toughness – with 5 children to feed, he survived two factory layoffs during separate recessions, left at the third recession to start his own business and never looked back.

He seldom dispensed advice, but I’ve learnt some time back that when quiet people do decide to speak up, it’s often worth listening to.

I was living with a guy that was laid off at the time, and Stephen came to visit. We (Stephen and I) both had the day off and were planning to have lunch together. 

Stepping through the door into our messy flat, he looked at my friend Glenn, glumly collapsed in front of the TV playing Grand Theft Auto IV. My uncle had heard from me the day before that Glenn lost his job, and upon seeing Glenn and his PS3, I saw Stephen’s left eyebrow jerk up a fraction of an inch.

Instead of saying hello, Stephen barked, “Son, forgive my bluntness, but what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Glenn jumped at the sound of Stephen’s voice – I don’t think he even noticed Stephen coming in.  When he spoke, it was equal parts defensive, annoyed, and resigned. “Playing a game? I got laid off recently – there’s not much to do when you don’t have a job, is there?”

Stephen smiled slightly.

“You do have a job.

Your job is to get yourself another job.

And you should dedicate the same amount of time and dedication to that until you do. It’s 1pm on a Tuesday. Most people are at work, and you should be too.”

He then wheeled around and took me out to lunch. Stephen’s delivery can be a little gruff, but his advice stuck with me throughout my career, and I’ve always given it to anyone who is looking for a job.

When job-hunting, your full-time job is to find another job. So dedicate the full amount of your time to do it.

Have a job search plan

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You need to direct your determination and energy in the right directions – hence the most important component of your job-hunting efforts is forming and maintaining an overall plan.

It doesn’t have to be super-detailed – just a summary of your objectives for the week, month, and quarter would do.

Sense-check your plan from a time-line and feasibility perspective – is it realistic to expect to achieve this within the set time period?

Would you have the resources to do so?

Formulating a plan forces you to prioritize and address the big issues facing your efforts, and keeps you well-paced, preventing you from getting too bogged down in details.

I’ve had a friend spend 4 months doing nothing but over-tweaking her CV – turns out she was nervous about reapplying for jobs and interviewing, and so she kept putting it off under the excuse of ‘perfecting’ her CV.

Planning will help prevent issues like that from happening.

Update your professional presence


Hone your resume / CV, and update your LinkedIn profile. Your resume (or ‘CV’ in some countries) is your opening gambit in job-hunting. A well-crafted resume opens doors to interviews for you, and you owe it to yourself and your accomplishments to ensure they are displayed as strongly as possible.

Similarly, your LinkedIn profile is your publicly-visible professional persona. To be an effective job-hunter, display your LinkedIn profile as completely, accurately and professionally as possible.

We’ve written numerous guides to help you craft and tune up your CV/resume. You can check all of them out in the links below:

Network, network, network

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There’s no time like right after being let go to work on your network. Here are some tips:

  • Before leaving your company, make sure you catch up with everyone that you think may be able to help you in the future.
  • Keep your contact list up-to-date: besides email and phone contacts, note their current positions, future plans, any details that can be handy in the future. No need for any fancy tools – just a well-kept Excel or Google spreadsheet will do.
  • Comb through your network. Once you have an updated contact list, go through each contact and spend a few minutes thinking exactly how this person could help you, as a friend. Formulate that into a polite request, send it off as an email, and remember to follow up.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You should never ashamed to ask for help – there’s no point to feeling embarrassed. Practice feeling comfortable asking for help when you need it, and on the flip-side, be ready and happy to help those in need.
  • Have regular catch-ups: make it a point to meet up (or have a phone catchup) with at least 2-3 contacts per week while job-hunting. Formulate a proper agenda for the meet-up to ensure you get the most out of it – are you looking for advice, information, or more direct help?

Upgrade yourself

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Invest in another qualification

While job-hunting, you can also beef up your qualifications to make yourself more attractive to employers.

We don’t just cover the CFA qualification extensively, but also provide information for a range of other financial qualifications. You can read about them below:

Invest in an additional language

If your role frequently requires proficiency in another language, then it might be a good opportunity to improve your language skillset.

Spanish, German, Mandarin and French are all popular, but observe your personal career circumstances before deciding on a language.

Slow and steady. Progress, not perfection

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When you get let go, recovering takes time.

Job hunting, similarly, also does not yield results overnight, and there’s no telling when you’ll see the job offers rolling in.

Expecting things to look up right away is not just unrealistic, but can be detrimental to your motivation as well.

Understand that this is a life experience, you’re building life skills and resilience. Results will eventually come, but meanwhile, focus on improving yourself and trying your best.

I hope this article helps address most of your concerns about what to do if you lose your job. If you have any more questions, feel free to reach out by dropping a comment below!

Meanwhile, here are some related articles that may be of interest:


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