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What to do when you lose your job

Getting laid off can be as traumatic as a major health emergency, throwing your life into immediate upheaval, and maybe even making you question what you’ve been doing all these years. It’s crucial to keep a calm head and focus on your next move, because that mortgage won’t pay for itself.

In that spirit, here’s a cheat sheet to help you get through the day you hope (and probably think) will never come.

1.     Use the proper exit – Before you get your next job, you need to figure out how to leave this one. Some wonder whether it’s better to quit before you’re laid off, but unless you’re being pushed out for lack of performance, you’re probably better off accepting the layoff. If you leave voluntarily, just remember that you’ll have to answer the “why” in any job interviews. Don’t be afraid to ask HR for a better severance package, ideally with outplacement help that can get you resources for your job search. And above all, leave with grace. No snarky Tweets or company-wide emails that could come back to bite you down the road.

2.     Get clear on what you want – Your first instinct may be to immediately start beating the bushes for the next job, and that kind of attitude is great. But career coach and founder of Careergasm, Sarah Vermunt, suggests that before you do that, you stop for a second and think about whether the time is right for a change. “What I always encourage people to do is to actually get clear on what you want, because a lot of people get laid off from jobs that they actually hated anyway,” she says. “What you don’t want is to jump from one sinking ship into the next lifeboat that’s coming by, because that might not be the right boat for you.” Instead, think about whether another career might fit you better. Maybe it’s time to go back and get that Master’s you regretted not doing? Or start that small business you planned out on a napkin way back when? Once you get back into the workforce, you may not have another opening to figure out what really fits.

3.     Fix up the resume - This may be a no-brainer, but we’re not talking about just re-opening that Word doc from 15 years ago and adding a couple of paragraphs at the top. Re-entering the job hunt after years of steady employment can be like re-entering the dating scene. You need to figure what single people are doing now. That probably means trashing your old resume and starting fresh, paying attention to updated industry language, but at the same time limiting the jargon. Modern resumes are typically briefer and less cluttered, with an appealing dose of white space. Oh, and don’t forget links to your social media platforms, which brings us to:

4.     Buff up your social media presence, starting with LinkedIn – Social media is now part of the hiring process, with potential employers sure to start checking you out online as soon as they get your resume. “They’re going to Google you, they’re going to see what’s up with you just in general online,” says Vermunt. “You want to keep that in mind not just on LinkedIn, but across all of your social media.” This means paying attention to things like your Twitter bio, which can do a lot to sway someone’s opinion, potentially suggesting a personality match (or not) with a company. And on LinkedIn, build up those testimonials. They’re cheap and easy references.

5.     Engage the network – Losing your job may not be the kind of thing you want to shout from the rooftops, but this is absolutely the time to spread the word. “80 percent of jobs are not found from the posted jobs,” says Eileen Chadnick, principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. “That’s not to say that you don’t apply for the posted jbs. You turn over every rock, but you need to be networking in addition.” Sending out an email to contacts and colleagues letting them know that you’re moving on to new opportunities can result in the job lead you wouldn’t have found on Craigslist.

6.     Get a business card – It may seem an analog move in a digital world, but the good old Patrick Bateman business card is still good currency in the job search world. Have one handy in case of a chance meeting with a jobs lead. They’re cheap, and the possibility that one could land on the desk of a potential employer makes them a worthwhile investment.