“I tell the people I work with that the best time to be looking for a job is while you still have one and before you need one. Obviously, that doesn't always happen, so regardless of their situation, the advice I have for them is that there's always a positive angle to take on whatever situation they're in. Lead with the positive.”
—Recruiter and ray of sunshine
I'm eager to make job search easy for you, but before we dive in, you might be in a situation that requires you to take action right away. You only need to read this appendix if any of the following situations apply to you:
· You were laid off or fired.
· You are about to graduate from school.
· You are coming out of the military.
· You are returning to the workforce after a gap in your work history.
If you DO fall into one of those categories, read on so we can make sure you knock out the paperwork, leverage the programs, or explore the resources that won't be available to you later on if you miss the window. Once you're done, head on back to Chapter 1 where the real work begins!
You Were Laid Off or Fired
Sorry to hear it. But you're not alone. In 2020 more than 20 million people went through the same thing.1 In our annual job seeker surveys, job loss tends to be the second most common reason someone is looking for a job. (#1 is “looking for a better job.”)
Losing a job can be painful. But don't let that stop you from leaving in a way that sets you up for success. Here is the list of things to do immediately.
Check for Accrued Unpaid Vacation Days, Sick Days, or Overtime
Request to be paid out for any accrued vacation days that you did not use. Likewise with sick days and overtime. Many states mandate that employers pay employees for unused vacation days, so the law is likely on your side. Accrued vacation days are often noted on your paycheck, or you can put in a request with the HR department for that information.
Don't Forget the Paperwork: COBRA and Your 401(k)
The US government has a program called the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act—COBRA, for short. It provides health insurance coverage for those who lose their health insurance when they lose their jobs. Here's the catch: your old employer has to fill out the paperwork for you to be eligible. Don't walk out the door until you are sure that your former boss is taking care of it.
Likewise with any 401(k) accounts. That's your money, and you should make sure to roll it over to an investment account you control. Complete this as soon as you can.
Check for Severance Pay
If you have been let go, don't go without asking your employer about severance pay, especially if you were let go in a layoff rather than terminated for cause. In a few states, there are government-mandated severance requirements for employers if the number of people let go exceeds a threshold. You might receive months' worth of salary and/or health insurance coverage, depending on your employer.
And even if a severance package isn't mandated in your case, it usually pays to ask. Employers are often concerned about ex-employees coming back and suing them for some reason, so they usually ask you to sign a legal document agreeing not to sue them in the future, and to incentivize you to sign it, they typically give a severance package once you do. If you have reason to think you might want to take legal action in the future, consult with a lawyer, but if you don't think it's in the realm of possibility, consider signing it if they offer you a severance package that meets with your approval.
“I worked for a fulfillment center, and was laid off with a bunch of my co-workers with only one week of severance. They asked me to sign some sort of document agreeing never to sue them for anything in the future. I was a bit insulted by the one week of severance, so I told them there was no reason for me to sign that thing just out of the kindness of my heart. Now I'm not the type of guy who would ever sue my ex-employer for anything anyway, but I guess they didn't realize that, because they came back and gave me two months of severance in exchange for signing, which I happily accepted. I feel bad for the guys that just signed it for no reason at all though.”
—Employee who was able to breathe a little easier
Send a Classy Goodbye Email
Your first order of business is to write an email to everybody you know at the company you're leaving. The purpose of the email is to say what a great experience you've had, give a general idea of what type of opportunities you're looking for next, and make it easy for people to keep in touch with you.
To be clear, this is a time for professionalism. Regardless of whether the breakup was amicable or awful, your email should be 100% positive. Here's some language you could use:
I'm writing with the sad news that I will be leaving the company. I have worked at Left Foot Shoes for over three years, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. I've loved working with each and every one of you, and am so grateful for the relationships we have built, and hopefully, will continue to build. I'm excited by all the opportunities that lie ahead of me, and plan to continue my career in accounting. I hope you'll keep in touch with me. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You should also take the time to immediately request a LinkedIn connection with everybody you know at your company. And don't just connect with the people you were close with, but everybody you ever knew at the company. Later in the book we'll talk about how powerful your network can be in your job search. Even acquaintances make a difference.
“I was so embarrassed about getting fired that I tried to leave the company as fast as I could without really saying goodbye to any of my friends or colleagues. At the last minute though, I wrote a very short email thanking everybody for a great four years and included my personal email address. I can't tell you how lucky I was that I did that. That night, aside from all the wonderful emails I got from my coworkers telling me how much they enjoyed working with me, one person pointed me to a new job opportunity. Three weeks later, I was hired!”
—Employee who turned it around with one email
Apply for Unemployment Benefits
Every month you were working, a portion of your paycheck went to unemployment insurance. Your employer had to pay in, too. There's no shame in claiming what is rightfully yours. This program is specifically designed for a person in your situation. Use it. The Department of Labor's website can help you find information about filing for unemployment in your state: www.dol.gov/general/topic/unemployment-insurance.
“I was let go six months into my first job after college. My dad told me to file for unemployment, but I didn't want to be one of those people supported by the government or take money away from those that really needed it. Then my dad sat me down, pulled out my last paycheck, and pointed to a line labeled ‘UI Tax.' He said, ‘That UI stands for unemployment insurance. It's not welfare. It's insurance that you bought with your own money so that if and when this day came, you would still have some income.’ I realized he was right, and applied the next day.”
—Employee who still pays into UI each paycheck
Own Your Bad News
The sooner you accept that your previous job is over, the easier it will be for you to find the next one. If you're laid off, change your LinkedIn profile the day it happens. And write a post like this on your social media accounts:
“My five wonderful years at Company X unexpectedly came to an end today due to a mass layoff caused by the recession. I am grateful for the valuable experience and my amazing team, and I will miss all my fabulous colleagues. If anyone hears of an exciting opportunity in communications or public relations, please let me know!”
You're likely to get many likes and comments from your old colleagues, describing how much they enjoyed working with you and how much they will miss you. Those comments are social proof that you were well-liked in your old job when reviewed by new prospective employers.
They also tell the world you're looking for something. Networking your way to a new job is one of the most effective tactics for job seekers. Now you're not just looking for a job on your own. You have a community doing it with you.
Explore Training or Retraining
The job you just lost might never reappear. That's an increasingly common experience as technology changes the job market. You DO NOT need to go back to school for another degree.
There are plenty of short-term or online courses available that provide skills and certifications that can help you retool for a new job, perhaps in a new industry. You can develop proficiency for many in-demand skills in weeks, not months.
While many online courses from private course providers are free or cheap online, it's worth seeing what the government offers, too. Contact an American Job Center or call the Employment and Training Administration’s (ETA) toll-free helpline at 1-877-US-2JOBS to find a list of training programs and job search services for laid-off workers that are available near you.
Start Searching for a Job Immediately
After losing your own job, you might feel tempted to withdraw from the working world for a while. And if you're collecting severance pay or expect to receive unemployment insurance for the next 26 weeks or so, you may feel that you can afford to wait.
But the people who have the best luck finding a new job tend to be those who start looking right away. It can often take longer than you expect to find a job you like, go through the interview process, get an offer, and sign on the dotted line. So think of unemployment benefits as a safety net, not a salary. And the shorter the gap in your work history, the easier it is to get re-hired. That's especially true if there are many people losing their jobs at once. Don't wait.
Treat the Job You Lost as an Asset
Your last job can provide you references, letters of recommendation, and portfolio pieces. You might feel bitter about being let go—but set that aside. You want to be on the best terms possible with your previous employer and colleagues. Don't just disappear. Stay in touch with people. Use your last job as your foot in the door to the next one.
“When my boss fired me, I was furious. After two years, with no warning, he said he couldn't afford to pay me anymore and that today would be my last day. I just about cursed him out, but fortunately I got control of myself and walked out the door to cool off. When I collected my last paycheck he gave me an incredible recommendation letter that I'm convinced is what closed the deal for me on my next job. Months later, I went back to tell him how close I was to blowing my stack when he fired me, and we had a good laugh, but I don't think he would've been laughing if I had lost control that day.”
—Employee who sure is glad he took that walk
You Are About to Graduate from School
Make the Most of Your Student Status
If you're about to graduate from school, keep in mind that your power as a job seeker is about to become greatly diminished on graduation day, so you'll want to make the most of your “student status” while you still can. Students have a huge networking advantage over the general population and a unique way to set themselves apart. People generally want to go out of their way to help students of any age.
As a student it's much easier to network with employees at companies that interest you. Messages like, “I'm a graduating student from [insert school name] in June, and I'm fascinated by your industry. Would you be willing to spend 15 minutes on the phone answering some of my questions?” are going to work. Alumni make GREAT targets for outreach of this nature.
Use Your School's Free Resources
The other advantage you have while still a student is access to your school's career resources. Every school's are different, but even the least-developed school career center will give you a leg up on the competition. It's like having your own (free) personal assistant setting up opportunities for you in the form of job fairs, networking events, recruiting seminars, career counseling, and most importantly, job listings that are sometimes only made available to students.
“I wasn't that into college when I attended, but the alumni from my university go out of their way to help me. There's a real feeling of school spirit that I now appreciate. Those connections are helping me find work. I hope someday to be in a position where I can pay it forward.”
—Employee who cheers harder for his school football team now
You Are Coming Out of the Military
First of all, thank you for your service. And congratulations—your experience will be something that sets you apart. About 11% of job seekers on ZipRecruiter are veterans and about 17% of job postings explicitly call on veterans to apply. The share of job postings listing “military experience” as a desired skill keeps rising.2 Employers love hiring veterans.
Second, make sure to consider taking advantage of the Career Skills Programs, also known as SkillBridge. These unique programs let you work for a private-sector employer for up to six months before your separation or retirement. They're free for the employer and allow you to learn on the job while still earning your military salary. You can learn about the SkillBridge program at https://dodskillbridge.usalearning.gov.
Third, explore the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), developed by seven different government departments and agencies, including the Departments of Labor, Defense, and Education. There are people whose entire job is to make sure you have a job after you finish your service. Take advantage of their help. You can learn more about TAP workshops, courses, apprenticeships, and resources here: www.dol.gov/agencies/vets/programs/tap.
And finally, check out the tools from the Defense Department, Labor Department, and RAND Corporation that help you translate military courses and experience into in-demand civilian job skills. All those military training programs, on the job qualifications, special assignments, detachments and deployments you completed in uniform could mean real advantages in the job market. Some useful tools can be found here: www.military.com/veteran-jobs/skills-translator, www.careeronestop.org/BusinessCenter/Toolkit/civilian-to-military-translator.aspx, and www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL160z2-2.html.
“I never served in the military, but my father and brother did. Resumes from people who have served go to the top of the pile when I'm hiring. I personally want to do whatever I can to help the people who have risked their lives to keep us safe. As far as I'm concerned, US military service is the best reference a candidate can have.”
—Employer who is thankful for your service
You Are Returning to the Workforce After a Gap in Your Work History
There's that uncomfortable moment in many job interviews where an employer, looking through a resume, will ask: “So … what were you doing from 2008 to 2010?”
I need you to internalize a truth; gaps don't matter. You might have been raising a child, meditating in an ashram, or dealing with a recession that knocked out your industry. Lots of people have gaps. Don't hide them. The key will be telling the employer what you learned or how you've improved as a person due to the experience you had. Emphasize that you're ready to work now. The time off has made you more committed than ever. We'll cover more about how to handle a gap in your written resume later in the book.
“I was a full-time mom of four children for 20 years before I started looking for accounting work again. Who ended up hiring me? An accounting firm owner who was a mother of two herself. I think she realized if I could raise four kids, balancing books for customers would be a breeze. Mom power!”
—Employee and proud mom
1. 1. “The Employment Situation—April 2020,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 8, 2020, www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_05082020.pdf.
2. 2. Julia Pollak, “A Golden Age for Veteran Job Seekers,” ZipRecruiter blog, November 2019, www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/golden-age-for-veteran-job-seekers/.