20 ways to survive a layoff

Tips for getting back on your feet and into the IT job market from someone who's been there and back

On Feb. 20, IT manager and Network World columnist Ron Nutter was called into his boss's office and told he was being let go - that day. Once the initial shock wore off, Nutter launched an aggressive search for new employment. Over the next 76 days, Nutter applied for 85 jobs, and had 16 interviews before landing a new position. Now that he has had some time to reflect on the experience, Nutter offers these 20 tips for surviving a layoff.

Editor's note: On Feb. 20, IT manager and Network World columnist Ron Nutter was called into his boss's office and told he was being let go — that day. Once the initial shock wore off, Nutter launched an aggressive search for new employment in the Kansas City area. Over the next 76 days, Nutter applied for 85 jobs, and had 16 interviews before landing a new position. He chronicled the job search in a daily blog. Now that he has had some time to reflect on the experience, Nutter offers these 20 tips for surviving a layoff. 


Podcast: Ups and downs of the IT job search

Ron Nutter discusses the highs and lows of his IT job search with Keith Shaw


1. As you're getting laid off, be sure to take notes

This can be difficult to do, since losing a job can be a very emotional experience. But while everything is still fresh in your mind, write down all the details that you can remember. For example, I was told that I would be paid for the full two-week pay period, plus my remaining vacation and sick time. When my last check arrived, there were discrepancies. Having written notes helped me when I went back and reminded my former boss and the HR folks of their commitment.

2. Take some time for yourself

Take a few days for yourself. A traumatic event has just happened to you and you need to get over the initial shock before jumping into the fray to search for a new job.

3. Review the papers from the company that laid you off

Several important things need to be attended to rather quickly. One is how to file for unemployment. Another is how long your company-paid health insurance will be in force before you have to consider paying for COBRA.

4. Update your resume

This is something that we should all do, but it doesn't always get the attention that it should. I was told a long time ago that your resume should be more than two pages with a max of three bullet points per employer. That may work in some cases but not all.

I have found that some recruiters/employers use software that does a "word count" to look for how many times a particular word, such as Cisco, or a word describing a certain type of experience is listed. I can attest that this is happening to a degree. When I was looking for a prior job, a recruiter had me just about totally rewrite my resume to specifically list all the different Cisco hardware that I had worked with. It was interesting to note how the callbacks increased after I did that.

You may find that it may be necessary to keep more than one type of resume depending on the type(s) of jobs you are looking for, so that the resume is specifically tailored to the type of job you are pursuing.

5. Get a handle on monthly bills

Even though I had a little money put back for a "rainy" day, I went through all my recurring bills to see if there was any room for saving money. One area I looked at was car and home insurance. I found that by shopping around, I was able to keep the same level of auto and homeowners coverage while reducing the amount of both bills. I had been thinking about doing it for a variety of reasons, but being unemployed helped push it to the top of the list.

6. Cut food costs

If you live by yourself, this will be easier to do. If you have a family, everyone will need to sit down and understand that they will all have to help out until you can get another job. Not that I ate out that much while I had a job but I did eat out some. That stopped when I was laid off. The one "treat" that I allowed myself each week was to stop by a local pizza place that made the pizza but you took it home to cook in your own oven. I made sure to take a coupon with me each week to take a couple of dollars off the cost of the pizza.

The other thing I did was to shop at my local Costco and buy the food I needed in bulk so that I only had to shop once a month. If you have a freezer, this will make it easier to do. For example, I would buy a 3 to 5 pound tray of fish, which I would then portion out into individual meals using a vacuum sealing machine. You can also do things such as buying several gallons of milk at one time and put them in the freezer. Pull one gallon out at a time and it will still be good. I have been doing this for over a year and have yet to notice a difference in the taste.

7. Look at health insurance options

Your company supplied health insurance will come to an end. If it was like my former employer, the health insurance ended a few days after I was separated from the company. Worse yet, I wasn't "due" to receive the COBRA information until after my company health insurance had lapsed. Because my previous employer had also been doing the claims processing for my health insurance, I wasn't comfortable with them having any further access to my medical records. Doing a little research on the Internet, I found a single health insurance policy from Blue Cross/Blue Shield for half the price and better coverage than the COBRA policy my former employer was going to offer me.

8. Check with your financial adviser

I have worked with an excellent person at Smith Barney for several years. Because I knew there might be a possibility that I would need to access my credit line to help pay bills, I wanted to give him a heads up on my situation so he could be looking at other options to keep the use of the credit line as a last resort.

9. File for your tax return refund

Depending on the time of the year when you are laid off, using your tax return as a one source of money for paying bills is another thing to consider. While I haven't been a fan of paying for eFiling, this year I did spend the money so that I would get the tax refund a little sooner.

10. File for unemployment compensation

This is something that I delayed a little bit. Partially because of pride and partially because I didn't anticipate the job hunting process to take more than three months. As someone pointed out to me, you earned this money and you should take advantage of it. In my case, filing was complicated by the fact that I had moved from another state in the past 18 months. The unemployment folks go back that far in figuring out where you need to file for unemployment. That potentially had me talking with three different state unemployment departments. I spent several days on the phone with two states that would be involved in my situation. As painful as it may be to deal with this part of your unemployment process, the sooner you start, the sooner the money will start coming in to help pay the bills until you get another job.

11. Check the job boards

During my job search, I looked at CareerBuilder, Craigslist, Dice and Monster. I found no job leads from Monster in my career area. Several of the HR folks that I talked to during the process told me that they used Monster very little due in part to the higher fees that Monster charged for a job posting compared with other job boards, and the generally poorer quality of applications they received. I found some new job postings on Dice, but with a significant number of jobs cross-posted on different boards, I didn't find Dice to be a significant source of potential job leads. One source I wouldn't have thought to check for jobs was Craigslist. More than one recruiter told me that he had good results from posting new jobs on Craigslist. Set aside time each day to do this.

12. Make the job boards work for you

Dice has a feature where you can make your resume searchable by recruiters/companies looking to fill a position. I did get some calls from that. CareerBuilder recently followed suit by offering that feature as well. While Dice allows companies/recruiters to repost the same job each day so that it looks new, this makes the process of truly identifying the new jobs a little harder in some cases. Turn the tables in your favor by making periodic changes to your resume, so that when it is being searched it will show up as being new/changed and possibly get you looked at by a company or recruiter that might have passed you by the day before.

13. Prepare for the interview

One thing that I have done when preparing for an interview with a company is to do research on the company, the companies/sectors/industries that they serve. If it is a publicly listed company, do a little reading on the past quarter or two of press releases to see what changes have occurred at the company and what new directions they are heading in. From the response I have received from several companies, it seems to make a good impression that you show interest in finding out about the company when going to interview with them. It may seem like a small thing or something that you should do anyway but there seems to be quite a few people looking for a job that don't do this.

Also, have several copies of your resume printed out and with you when at an interview. This becomes even more important once you see your resume as the client/recruiter sees it, when they have downloaded it or printed it out from the job board that you applied for the position through. The formatting is pretty much gone. To make matters worse, the paragraphs or bullet points that you had in the resume will look like a series of poorly written run-on sentences that may cause distinctive or unique information about you to be overlooked.

14. Deal with recruiters

I encountered a couple of recruiters that would give used car salesmen a bad name, but as a general rule I found the recruiters pretty decent to work with. Several positions that I was approached for were not on the job boards and sometimes were only from a single recruiter. The trick I had to learn to develop was to identify the same end job when it coming from different recruiters. One situation that you want to avoid is to not have more than one recruiter pitching you to the same client. Most recruiters will usually tell you early on who the actual end client is.

15. Accept help from family

While your pride may make it hard for you to accept help, keep in mind that the unemployment situation you are dealing with is affecting them to a degree as well. Depending on the age of the family, this is something that may be new to them and that they may have never had the need to deal with. There was a time, unfortunately long gone now, when the company you first went to work for was the only company you would work for your entire career. How much help you accept from family is something that you will have to decide. Look at it this way, whatever help they do give you is that much less you will have to spend for food.

16. Keep good records

This suggestion came from a letter I received from the Department of Unemployment telling me that I would need to provide some basic information. I set up a spreadsheet in OpenOffice with three tabs. The first tab was where I kept track of the jobs I had applied for. I tracked the date, source of the job, how the job was applied for, company name (if known), job name, contact name and job number if provided. The next tab was where I kept track of the recruiters I talked to, HR folks that I had contact with for the jobs I had applied directly on, and anything else such as job fairs that I attended. This information was helpful when I got audited by the Department of Unemployment folks to make sure I was looking for another job. The last tab was where I recorded when I filed my unemployment claim each week, when I received the check, the check number, when it was deposited.

17. Get your personal records in order

When you do get an offer and accept it, one of the things that you will have to deal with is the lovely I-9 form that says you are allowed to work in this country. You will need a variety of things. If you can't find your Social Security card, now would be an excellent time to order a replacement card. This will take several weeks to get processed and get it to you. The sooner you get it, the sooner you will have it ready to produce when starting that new job. If you haven't seen a copy of the I-9 form lately, get a copy of one so you can see what documents will be needed. Another document that you want to make sure that you have a copy of, even if you don't need it for the I-9, is your birth certificate. This is one that might take a little while to get a copy of. I didn't know until recently that, depending on when and/or where you were born, there are two types of birth certificates – one that the hospital does and one done when the birth is registered with the local authorities. You will want to get one that is a copy of what is on file with the local authorities.

18. Don't wait for the phone to ring

This may be one of the harder things to do. Keep in mind that recruiters and HR types move at their own pace. That pace can be slow, very slow. When you first apply for a job, it could be several days or more before you get the first contact. Waiting for the phone to ring will have you climbing the walls in short order. Sometime you will get a call within hours of applying for a job, but expect that to be the exception. There are always things that you can do while waiting for movement on the job front and some of them may be done at little to no cost – doing that little bit of touch-up painting you have never gotten around to, do that trimming around the yard that always needs to be done. The point I am trying to make here is that you need to stay active, don't just sit around and watch the clock move forward.

19. Get out the house at least once a day

At some point you will run out of things to do around the house or just simply need to get out. There will be the occasional job fair, but that won't take a large amount of your time. While you can knock on some doors at some companies that you would like to work at, with the price of gas hovering around $4 a gallon, depending on where you live, that can be an expensive trip to make for an unknown return. Do some things that you like to do, such as going to a museum or sports game. The main thing is to get out to keep from getting cabin fever.

20. Never give up

Don't leave any stone unturned. You may just find that a company that passed you by today for another applicant may come back to you when that person leaves to move onto greener pastures. I would have never thought that could happen but I have seen it happen twice in the past year.

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