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September 19, 2020
A Guide to Surviving a Layoff
By Erin O'Connor Jones

Erin O'Connor Jones
Erin O'Connor Jones
Like many people in the nonprofit sector, if you’ve been laid off or are facing the possibility of unemployment, a quick and strategic approach to your job search will empower you through a layoff or simply help you prepare for the possibility of one in the near future.

Ask about severance benefits. Your main goal is to continue receiving income for as long as possible. When will you be paid, and for how long? Ask your human resources department about your vacation and sick time and collect any money owed you. Most important, don’t burn any bridges. You may feel angry and scared, but you must preserve these relationships for future references.

Apply for unemployment assistance. Thankfully, the days of waiting in person in long lines at the most state unemployment offices are history. Visit your state’s website to find unemployment information and apply as soon as you can, either electronically or through a telephone application. The good news is that the first $2400 in 2009 will be tax-free, but your remaining unemployment benefits are taxable. Take advantage of the office’s job-seeking services, including resume review and access to job listings.

Stay insured. You may have the right under federal law to continue your health insurance. Ask when your COBRA begins and ends, how much it will cost, and where to mail payment. Compare the cost and coverage of your spouse’s or partner’s health plan, and if cost-effective, sign up immediately. If you don’t have access to other coverage or can’t afford costly COBRA (unfortunately it can be quite expensive), explore low-cost options offered through state programs.

Look at your budget. This is a difficult part of the process, but you need to make sure you have enough money to pay your bills. If you don’t, you may need to consider short-term or project-based work while you look for a full-time job. If finances are stretched, go into ’savings’ mode and only spend money on what is absolutely necessary. With a trusted advisor, explore whether to roll over your existing 401(k) or 403(b) into an IRA. Do your very best, however, not to touch these retirement funds; not only will you most likely pay a penalty, but you will pay taxes as well.

Track your job search spending. All expenses related to job search—mileage, coaching, resume writing, services, and even relocation—are deductible and will make a difference when you file your 2009 tax return.

Update your resume. This obvious advice is often the most overlooked strategy. Your resume should be updated and ready to send. A strategic and smart resume will rebuild your confidence and provide talking points for networking. If you are uncertain where to begin, ask a colleague, family member, or friend for help. Take advantage of the free services offered through your state unemployment office or consult with a reputable outplacement service.

Network, network, network. It is still true that the best jobs are found by networking. Getting smart about your networking strategy is a great way to channel the frustration of losing a job into the exciting work of finding a better one. If possible, make your job search your full-time job by scheduling time on your calendar. Let everyone know about your job search. Prepare your elevator pitch, practice it with anyone who will listen, and end it by exchanging business cards. Have cards printed with your name, contact information, and a title such as ’consultant.’ To do this inexpensively, explore online offers, print them yourself, or trade services with a designer or printer.

Take time to reconnect with colleagues (present and past), reacquaint with friends, and catch-up with former classmates. Delve into your alma mater’s website and alumni networks, create or update your LinkedIn profile, join affinity groups online, and explore other creative venues to find new opportunities.

Don’t go it alone. Job seeking can be exhausting, isolating and frustrating. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to be your —job buddy.’ This go-to person should be capable of providing constructive, honest, and valuable feedback. Schedule regular time with this person and use his or her help to stay focused. Set benchmarks for each other and then work together to keep each other disciplined and inspired.

Be patient and creative. An average job search can take up to one year, but you might also land your dream job in one week. Once you’ve moved past the initial array of emotions that come with being laid off, use this time to create opportunities and to get excited about the creative challenge ahead of you. Explore jobs in a new field or sector, volunteer, consult, or consider a part-time job related to your hobby or interests.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged. Continue to enjoy your life by surrounding yourself with positive people, sleeping and eating well, getting regular exercise, and making sure to include a little fun in every day. A smiling, well-rested candidate always makes a better first impression.

The Best Online Resources for Job Seekers

Job Seeker Resources

Unemployment Insurance, Income Tax and Personal Budgeting

Social Networking and Morale Support
Erin O'Connor Jones is director of candidate services and managing associate of the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group LLC. She can be reached at
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