Personal Finance

Layoffs aren't stopping. Here are the first steps you should take if you lose your job

Key Points
  • Layoffs show no sign of abating amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • If you've just lost your job, it's normal to feel confused and depressed. 
  • Taking a few practical steps can help up your odds of a positive next chapter.
More than six months into the pandemic, layoffs show no sign of abating any time soon.
undrey | iStock | Getty Images

American Airlines. United Airlines. Goldman Sachs. Shell. Disney. 

The start of October has brought a wave of announcements by companies that they're either laying off or furloughing employees. Unemployment claims remain stubbornly high

Losing a job can be among one of the worst experiences in someone's life and can trigger all sorts of existential and financial dilemmas. Yet there are steps you can take to help make sure you don't spiral into despair as well as increase your odds of a positive next chapter. 

1. Apply for unemployment 

You should file for unemployment as soon as possible, experts say. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, wait times for your benefits can be longer than usual and you want to avoid a period where you don't have any money coming in. 

After the $600 federal unemployment checks came to an end in July, President Donald Trump took executive action that will result in many jobless people receiving an extra $300 a week for roughly six weeks. 

Beyond that, you most likely can get still state unemployment benefits. Thanks to the first stimulus package passed in March, many workers will be able to collect these payments for 39 weeks, or longer in some cases. 

2. Figure out health insurance 

Next, you want to also make sure you don't find yourself without health insurance

"It's stressful for most people right now, but particularly if you've been laid off and have lost coverage," said Caitlin Donovan, a spokesperson for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, a nonprofit that helps individuals access and pay for health care.  

"As overwhelming as it may be, it's important to look for coverage quickly," Donovan added. "The last thing you want to do is remain uninsured."

Your first step should be to speak with someone in your company's human resources department to understand when your coverage technically ends.

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"There's no blanket rule here: For some, coverage may end immediately, for others, it may go until the end of the month," Donovan said. "Either way, you should immediately start planning to transition to a new plan." 

If you've been furloughed, an increasingly common circumstance amid the public health crisis, there's a chance your coverage will not end. If your employer is allowing you to stay on the group plan while you're not working, you should still ask how it is handling the employee contribution, said Colleen Carey, a health-care expert and assistant professor at Cornell University. 

Some companies have said furloughed employees don't have to pay their premiums while they're out of work. However, expect to have to pay those premiums when and if you're brought back to your job, Carey said. 

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Navigating the health insurance landscape on your own can be stressful and confusing. There are resources you can turn to for help. If you have a diagnosed condition, including cancer, lupus or diabetes, you may be able to get support deciding on and enrolling in a plan with the National Patient Advocate Foundation, Donovan said. You can also consult with a local health-care "navigator." 

Generally, newly laid off and uninsured people will have three routes to coverage from which to pick: COBRAthe Affordable Care Act subsidized marketplace or a public plan like Medicaid or Medicare.

3. Start the job search 

Once you've had some time to process the news of your layoff and calm down a bit, you want to start updating your resume and LinkedIn page (yes, you should have one). 

You'll also want to clean up your social media pages, said Debra Thorpe, senior vice president at Kelly Services, a staffing agency. "Scrub any content you don't want a potential employer to see — or, if that's too much work, make your profiles private," Thorpe said.

Experts say you should be tactical in your search. Some industries haven't been hit as hard by the pandemic as others.

Search the internet for companies in the sectors that are still grinding on and look for open positions that fit with your experience, said Josh Fitzgerald, head of technology recruiting at GQR.

"A role as a marketing associate at an airline probably won't be available at present, but the same role at a pharmaceutical company might be," Fitzgerald said. 

Layoffs can make you question your sense of worth and role in the world. 

To both build confidence and gear yourself up for interviews, make a list of your experience, skills and the qualities that set you apart from others. While you're at it, think about what you liked and didn't like in your old job to get a clearer sense of what new positions might better suit you in the future. 

Don't be discouraged by job ads that list requirements you don't have. A number of online courses can help you pick up new skills – and some of them are free