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Newsletter: Here’s what to do in the minutes and days after a layoff

Brand Blvd. was eerily empty in March 2020 following the novel coronavirus COVID 19 restrictions.
Brand Blvd. was eerily empty at noon, at a time when it usually is very busy, due to the novel coronavirus COVID 19 restrictions, in Glendale on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Restaurants and other businesses remained opened but very little vehicles or foot traffic was found. Restaurants can only seel food for pick-up or delivery.
(Raul Roa/Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

Good morning. I’m Rachel Schnalzer, the L.A. Times Business section’s audience engagement editor, back with our weekly newsletter. As my colleagues have reported in depth, millions of Californians have lost work as a result of pandemic-related business closures. Losing your job can be frightening, and those who have not experienced it before are often unsure what to do in the aftermath. I spoke with three experts to learn about steps you should take if you get laid off.

Before we get into the details of tasks such as brushing up your resume and applying for new roles, let’s focus on the importance of taking a breath and caring for your mental health in the wake of a layoff. “Having job losses is like going through the stages of grief,” says Jada Black, an executive coach and associate director at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. You might have to act quickly to advocate for yourself, but in general, “take the time that you need to have self care.”

Try to negotiate your severance

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While you process news of your layoff, make sure you’re getting everything you’re entitled to and looking for opportunities to negotiate, says Jada, who prefers to go by her first name. “Make sure that from a legal standpoint or from the policy standpoint of the company, that you’re getting what you’re entitled to receive,” Jada says, encouraging workers to account for any vacation days and sick leave they have accrued.

In addition to getting what is owed to you, keeping an eye on your severance package is a key way to make sure you have as comfortable a financial cushion as possible while you look for another job. “People need to be really on top of everything that they can do to bring additional income in,” certified financial planner Marie Thomasson says. “One of the biggest overlooked ways of doing that is with your severance.”

You may be able to negotiate for better severance terms. “Perhaps the organization would consider extending someone’s benefits or some other aspect of severance,” Jada says. Even if you’re ultimately unsuccessful in having benefits extended, it’s worth asking.

Consider contract work

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If you’re worried about making ends meet in the short term, you might ask your former employer if they would be open to you continuing to work for them on a contract basis. “Maybe it’s not the full-time role that you held. But maybe there’s some other ways to examine this that would serve both you and the organization,” Jada suggests. She recommends speaking with your manager, in concert with human resources. Short-term contract work “gives that person the ability to … [pay] bills and financial obligations, particularly if there isn’t severance that’s being extended.”

Think about your benefits

In addition to applying for unemployment, deciding what to do for healthcare and other benefits is a crucial next step, Thomasson says. She recommends finding out if any of your benefits — such as insurance policies — can be carried over after your job ends and how much they cost to continue. “Whatever benefits you have that are portable, identify them first,” she advises. “Usually they [carry over for] about 60 days, and you’ll have a few months to make a decision as to whether or not you can really afford them.”

Work on your budget

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After you’re laid off, “you have to sit down and look at your budget,” Thomasson says. In addition to determining where you can trim off nonessential expenses, she says, you should be realistic about the difficulties of finding a job during a pandemic. “However much time you think it’s reasonable to be unemployed … maybe you want to double that.”

Rent is often individuals’ biggest expense in Los Angeles. Thomasson recommends trying to negotiate a lower rent with your landlord. “It never pays to not talk to someone.”

It could also be worth subletting your apartment and living with family for a while, she suggests. “If you live in L.A., and you’ve got a loft downtown or a place in Santa Monica, then it might be a really great time to rent that out.” She also recommends renting out your car through a company such as Turo, especially if you live close to an airport.

Layoffs can be particularly scary if you have little or no savings to fall back on. My colleague Jeannette Marantos spoke with financial experts to come up with a 12-step plan to help you take action.

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Learn about new career paths

A layoff is a good time to reset and consider what you want to do next, Jada says. “If we’re going to look at what is the silver lining ... with the pandemic and job loss, it’s the ability for each and every one of us to be more in touch with who we are.” She recommends thinking about when you felt most excited, alive and valuable at work, and using this to guide where you’d like to work next.

With clients who are facing job transitions, career coach Karen Suarez asks questions designed to pinpoint whether they’d like a role similar to their previous job or whether they’re looking for a change. If they want to switch careers or positions within an organization, “that’s when I tell them that we need to figure out your transferable skills,” Suarez says.

To build upon the skills you have, Jada recommends taking online classes and doing lots of research into possible career paths. For additional insight, she advises job seekers speak with professionals in the fields that interest them. “By and large, most people want to be helpful, they want to impart information to others that are seeking it,” she says, encouraging job seekers to identify a list of people that they can reach out to for informational interviews. These conversations can be particularly helpful because you aren’t pressuring your contact to offer you a job, but you may be able to get feedback on your resume and you can stay in touch in case a position opens up at their organization.

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Update your resume and LinkedIn

Even if you’re taking some time to reset before diving into the job search, start getting your resume and LinkedIn profile in shape soon after a layoff, Suarez says. “It takes easily three to six months to find a job. So it’s really important that they start early.”

Resumes should be tailored to each role you’re applying for, especially given the prevalence of software that zeroes in on specific keywords, Suarez explains. “The second thing really after the resume is to create a LinkedIn profile,” she says, if you don’t already have one.

Job seekers shouldn’t be worried about gaps in their resumes, particularly given the realities of the pandemic. “Organizations have come to expect that and accept that,” Jada says.

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Jada encourages job seekers to be confident in explaining their work history, layoff and all. Showing visible discomfort about your layoff “might repel people,” she says. She encourages applicants to communicate to hiring managers that they used their time between jobs productively. “How did you recover from [the job loss]? How did you move yourself forward from it? I think that’s the compelling story that people can be telling.”

Though there’s no need to worry extensively about gaps in your resume, make sure you have an ongoing activity or project listed on LinkedIn, Suarez says. If everything on your profile is listed with an end date, the site’s algorithms won’t show it to recruiters as much, she explains. Possible solutions are listing a consulting role or volunteer job you currently have.

Apply for jobs and prepare for interviews

In addition to looking at online job postings, it’s crucial to lean into networking, Suarez says. A huge number of jobs are obtained through connections. (It’s a little tricky during the pandemic, when you can’t just meet up for coffee, but we’ve got strategies for you.)

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As you look for new roles, it’s also important to hone your video interview skills, Suarez says. “I know most people are doing Zoom meetings, but a Zoom interview is so different.” The internet is full of sample interview questions to practice, and Suarez advises that job applicants be ready to answer a new popular question: “How have you been handling yourself during the pandemic?” Your answer should be positive, Suarez says, and “you don’t want to get into personal stuff.” Instead, she recommends highlighting a class you’ve been taking, books you’re reading and hobbies such as gardening and exercise.

An emergency option

If you’re in a financial bind, it may be possible to take money out of your 401(k) without an early-withdrawal penalty under the coronavirus stimulus package. This should be one of the last resorts. “I don’t necessarily encourage this, but if you have to take money out of your 401(k), this is the year to do it,” Thomasson says. Under the program, the money must be taken out for a reason related to the pandemic.

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One more thing

Are you a small-business owner? Is your rent piling up? We want to understand how small-business owners are doing during the eviction moratorium and what might happen when the moratorium ends. Please consider sharing your situation with us.

Have a question about work, business or finances during the COVID-19 pandemic, or tips for coping that you’d like to share? Send us an email at californiainc@latimes.com, and we may include it in a future newsletter.


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