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Top 12 Things to do After a Job Loss

By Brittany Wren
Published

Let’s all look this thing square in the face: being unemployed sucks. Who cares about making banana bread when the pandemic has forced so many people out of work due to closing businesses, cutting costs, or helping out at home? As I’m writing this, about 709,000 people have filed new unemployment claims, and 20% of parents have quit their jobs to help their kids with remote learning.[1],[2]

No matter which way we look at it, a historic number of people are leaving their jobs this year. So if you’re one of those people, here are your next steps.

1. Quit? Or get fired?

If you haven’t already left, you might get to choose your ending. Sometimes employers may give you the choice between quitting or being fired. Think about this carefully: would you rather have unemployment benefits, or get a good reference on your next job interview?

If you are given the choice, consider the option carefully. Unemployment benefits are certainly better than earning $0. But some non-profits are not required to pay unemployment taxes[3], which means that even if you are fired from those organizations, you might not get unemployment benefits. It’s tricky to be sure, so explore all the details before committing.

2. Write your own ending.

Once it’s final with your boss and HR, it’s a good time to share the news with your work buddies. When people leave, rumors run rampant. This is your opportunity to control the narrative.

First, sketch out a game plan with your boss about how to divvy up responsibilities after you leave. Then for your close friends, consider telling them the news in person or via the 2020 equivalent—Facetime or Zoom. For others, you might send a quick email. Keep it brief, and focus on your future aspirations.[4]

3. Clean out your stuff. All of it.

No one wants to see half-empty gum packets and a stained coffee mug laying around. So before you leave, make sure your workspace is tidy. This simple act will influence your reputation for a long time. (Plus it’s just the considerate thing to do.)

Also, be sure to clean out your email inbox and electronic files. If you’ve kept anything personal like photos or a resume on your work computer, save it on USB stick and then wipe everything clean. Don’t forget emails and voicemails, since those are usually forwarded to IT, your boss, and/or replacement after you leave.[5]

4. Ask for an A+ reference.

Before leaving work for the last time, don’t forget to ask some of your coworkers and/or your boss for a good reference. Research provided by SkillSurvey shows that it’s best to have a mix of boss and coworker references.[6]

A future job search could be even easier if you get a signed recommendation letter (preferably on company letterhead) and save it as a PDF in your Google Drive or Dropbox. That way you can provide your glowing reference to future hiring managers at the drop of a hat.

5. Keep it light.

Whether you’re leaving by choice or getting forced out, it can be tempting to let loose once your last day is on the calendar. But it’s critical, now more than ever, to try to stay positive. Your boss was terrible. The work environment, toxic. HR practices, unfair. But saying so won’t help you move forward in the job search, and it might make it hard for anyone to give you a positive reference in the future.

Instead, try to keep your outlook lighthearted. Reflect on things you could have done better.[7] Then, focus on what you can control, like upskilling for a better gig. Don’t have anything good to say? Just grin and think of something nice. Like 2021.

6. File for unemployment benefits.

Once you’re no longer receiving $$$ from a job, maybe file for unemployment benefits. It is a tough nut to crack, but don’t give up! Keep calling and slog through that government paperwork.

If approved, you could receive the equivalent of a portion of your normal weekly paycheck. Even if you quit, you could still apply for unemployment. If you had good cause to quit, you might still get approved for benefits, depending on your state’s laws.

7. Ask about hardship programs.

“It never hurts to ask” is a great mindset when it comes to asking for a break from paying bills. Consider mentioning you’re between jobs. Your credit card, mortgage or loan company might be willing to negotiate a lower monthly bill instead of writing off your debt as a loss.[8]

For medical bills, you might be able to get an interest-free payment plan with the hospital to avoid a bad hit on your credit score.[9] And due to the pandemic, there might be additional funds or public assistance out there to help, including help with food, healthcare, housing, and/or utilities.

8. Decide on health insurance.

If your health insurance is going bye-bye with your job, you might want to figure out your next steps on that front, as well. COBRA (Continuation of Health Coverage) is usually an option, but the cost is typically through the roof.

The good news is that leaving a job is generally considered a major life change that could allow you to switch insurance providers.[10] Besides COBRA (or getting added to a family member or spouse’s plan), other options could include:

9. Get deets on other benefits and act, ASAP

Hopefully you’ve had this conversation with your HR department. It’s complicated stuff, but definitely worth the time involved to see if any of your job’s benefits can be carried over after your last day of work.

If you had life, travel or pet insurance through your job, your coverage might continue through the end of the year or longer, depending on your company.[10:1] Other things to look into are the last date you can file claims through your existing HSA or FSA account. And if you have a retirement savings account through your job, consider looking at your vested balance and possibly roll it into your own IRA.

10. Cut costs.

You never know how long an employment gap will last. Word to the wise: prepare for the worst case scenario. Slim down on any unnecessary spending. (Um, that gym membership you haven’t used since March? Yep, that one.)

Once you’ve trimmed your costs, make a budget that takes into account your new income. Whether you’ll be receiving unemployment benefits or depending on your SO’s income, make sure to adjust for that.

11. Find a new job.

Searching for a job is your new job now—and it might even be required if you’re receiving unemployment insurance. During your regular work hours, scour the internet and local classified ads for job opportunities. Some industries are more likely to have openings right now, so be sure to look into grocery stores or delivery service jobs. And for the in-between, get a gig!

Once you apply to a handful of jobs, start prepping for interviews. Keep in mind that typically 1 in 6 job applicants are offered an interview,[11] so don’t get discouraged if the phone doesn’t ring right away. Job searching takes time—roughly 11 hours per week.[8:1]

12. If necessary, get paid $$$ to move.

If you think where you live might be holding you back from finding better opportunities, maybe moving would be a good option. In fact, several U.S. cities and states are offering people a cash incentive to move there. If you do move, plan ahead to do it affordably. Check out the following relocation incentives:

Remember, it’s not personal.

There’s no doubt that losing a job is stressful—it’s in the top five most stressful events.[12] But on this one, let’s take Michael Corleone’s advice from The Godfather movie: This isn’t personal… This is business. So now’s the time to make some strategic decisions, stay positive, and plan for the future. And maybe re-watch The Godfather.


  1. Cambon, S. (2020, November 12). U.S. Unemployment Claims Slip but Hold at High Levels. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/weekly-jobless-claims-coronavirus-11-12-2020-11605125188. ↩︎

  2. Carino, M. (2020, Oct. 21). 1 in 5 parents quit job or took leave to deal with remote school. Retrieved from: https://www.marketplace.org/2020/10/23/remote-school-online-learning-parents-quit-jobs-take-leave-of-absence/. ↩︎

  3. Staff. (n.d.). Exempt Organizations: What Are Employment Taxes? Retrieved from: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/exempt-organizations-what-are-employment-taxes. ↩︎

  4. O’Hara, C. (2016, August 11). What to do After You Tell Your Boss You’re Leaving. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2016/08/what-to-do-after-you-tell-your-boss-youre-leaving. ↩︎

  5. Duran, M. (2016, August 23). How to Digitally Erase All Your Stuff When You Quit Your Job. Retrieved from: https://www.wired.com/2016/08/how-to-digitally-erase-everything-when-you-quit-your-job/. ↩︎

  6. Rupayana, D. et al. (2017, August 21). References Should Come from a Candidate’s Coworkers, Not Just Their Boss. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2017/08/references-should-come-from-a-candidates-coworkers-not-just-their-boss ↩︎

  7. USQ. (2019, October 3). Recovering from job loss: What you need to know to stay positive and get hired again. Retrieved from: https://social.usq.edu.au/career/articles/recovering-job-loss. ↩︎

  8. Staff. (2012, November). Settling Credit Card Debt. Retrieved from: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0145-settling-credit-card-debt. ↩︎ ↩︎

  9. White, J. (2017, October 3). What Happens When Medical Bills Go to Collections? Retrieved from: https://www.experian.com/blogs/ask-experian/what-happens-when-medical-bills-go-collections/. ↩︎

  10. Evans, K. (n.d.). When Do Insurance Benefits Stop When Quitting a Job? Retrieved from: https://work.chron.com/insurance-benefits-stop-quitting-job-9830.html. ↩︎ ↩︎

  11. Turczynski, B. (2020, October 13). 2020 HR Statistics: Job Search, Hiring, Recruiting & Interviews. Retrieved from: https://zety.com/blog/hr-statistics. ↩︎

  12. UHBLOG. (2015, July 2). The Top 5 Most Stressful Life Events and How to Handle Them. Retrieved from: https://www.uhhospitals.org/Healthy-at-UH/articles/2015/07/the-top-5-most-stressful-life-events. ↩︎

Brittany Wren
About
Brittany Wren
Read more from Brittany
I grew up shopping Goodwill and my older sister's closet. For me working hard, saving money and buying smart is not just a mantra; it is a way of life. On the weekends, I'm usually busy peeling mandarin oranges and refilling sippy cups. My writing has been published by a variety of clients including Intuit, Lifelock, and T-Mobile.

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