Realize that this will happen to most of us at some point in our careers. It is normal. Like most things, business activity is cyclic. It goes up and it goes down. Many of you started your careers in a period that saw the longest economic expansion in history. You haven't had to worry about losing a job or even about getting a job. Your biggest worry has been which job to take. Well, kids, welcome back to the real world. It's going to hurt, but the pain is normal.
To give you some perspective, I'll describe my first job in the Bay Area. Think 1987 and recession. It was a consulting programming position that paid twenty four thousand dollars a year. That is about what school teachers made at the time. I had just sold a custom programming business back in Florida, so I felt I was uniquely qualified. Indeed, I was hired after five rounds of interviews. Once hired, I learned that the company ran one ad in the paper, used no recruiters, received more than two hundred resumes, interviewed more than seventy people, and finally picked me! The next couple of years are probably going to be more like that than the last couple of boom years. Get over it right now. You're going to have to scratch and fight for your next job.
You find yourself standing outside the conference room with your last paycheck in hand. What now? Let's first get you out of the building in as few pieces as possible, given that your work life has just been shattered.
Verify the finances. Final paychecks are often done by hand. Go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure all the details are correct. Count the number of vacation days you have left and how many days were deducted. Make sure the severance amount is correct. Check everything financial! Twice! Go sign up for unemployment as soon as possible.
Companies often use the exit interview as an opportunity to protect themselves. You may be asked to sign releases or indemnifications. Be wary. You don't have to sign anything. Read everything. Take your time, check it all out, and seek advice. Don't make any hasty decisions you'll regret later. You are in a fragile state of mind and shouldn't be asked -- and can't be forced -- to make important decisions on the spot.
Don't even think of going without health coverage. Get all the information regarding your health insurance and either get your own coverage or continue with the company's. US residents can elect to use COBRA, but it is expensive and you will be canceled when the time limit runs out. If you get really sick on COBRA, you will have a very difficult time getting alternate coverage. Do not take the issue of health coverage lightly, no matter how young and healthy you are now.
You probably feel like committing some violent act against the company or your supervisor. Refrain from doing anything that can be construed negatively. Take only your personal items and leave everything else. That goes for your workstation, as well. Nuke your hard disk, and you could be charged with destroying company property. Don't do it.
Keep in mind that while you may never come across the business people at your company again, you will most assuredly encounter the technical people in the future. Have some class. Help the people who have to clean up your mess. They will remember and appreciate it.
Don't use the company email system for personal mail. It's never a good idea, but in volatile times, it's even worse. If you must send and receive mail from work, use Hushmail or another free, secure email service.
Take a few minutes to connect with everyone before you leave the premises. Get everyone's contact information and future plans. You never know if you might need them, and you'd be surprised how fast everyone will scatter to the winds. Many hires come about from personal referrals. Make sure you have some.
Keep in mind that you are going through one of the most stressful events in your life. Expect some fallout. Take care of yourself and give yourself time to process this. At the same time, realize that this process is now part of the employment landscape. Like any other part of your career, you need to put effort and thought into how to do it and how to do it well.
You got through your last day with your dignity, reputation, finances, and health insurance intact. Now you've been home for a few days, and the reality has begun to sink in. You've lost your job in a down market and you don't have another lined up. No recruiters are calling. Your last paycheck has been deposited, and you aren't likely to see another for a while. If you're like me, this is when the numbers at the bottoms of bills start to loom large and a little anxiety starts to build.
It's also at this point that you start to doubt yourself. Many people use their job as a way of defining themselves. It's natural to doubt your skills, your marketability, your value to society, and your value to your family when you're laid off. Instead, view this situation as a normal part of a lifelong relationship with work. Like any relationship, it requires effort and tending, and still many don't last. That's fine. If you start to think about this situation in a negative way, you can easily get depressed. Let's go over how can you turn it into a positive event in your life.
Uncertainty is a breeding ground for fear and stress. In order to gain power over the fear, you need to reduce the uncertainty. Much of your reaction is a personal choice. Move away from this as an event that happens to you. Make it one that you control. Don't be a victim. Don't whine. Don't let people whine to you. Get busy on the next phase of your life.
Before you start a technical project, you perform an analysis, collect and prioritize requirements, write a specification, and then get it approved. This is Project Management 101. Why not do this for your career, as well? You now have time on your hands. Rather than flail about grasping at whatever crumbs fall your way, take some time to decide what you would like the end result to be and what tasks are required to achieve it.
It's OK to lay around the house for a few days in your robe and slippers. You've probably earned it. Longer than that, though, and it's likely to drag you down. Set up a "work" day routine that you follow. Include plenty of exercise. Having a regular schedule deflects some of the self doubt, and exercise insulates you from depression.
Sales people operate in an environment in which people are constantly telling them "No!". The good ones take this in stride, knowing that for every X number of Nos, there will be a Yes. They are happy for every No because it brings them closer to the Yes. Is this self delusion? Yes, but it works. Make your goals activity-based. Send out ten email messages this week, talk to three recruiters, and have one face-to-face meeting at a company. Start collecting Nos to get closer to that Yes.
This was just a job. You'll get another. Think of how many times you complained about that job. Take this as an opportunity to make some real progress with your life. Carpe Diem.