How to Prepare for a Layoff

It’s not you, it’s the economy. You’re doing everything at work that you need to do. You’re giving it 110 percent. But there are these nasty little signs: there’s a moratorium on office supplies spending. You won’t be reimbursed for taking clients to lunch. There’s another memo about cutting overtime. Everyone else in this industry is cutting staff.

So it looks like you’re going to become an unemployment statistic, but you can’t say for sure. Instead of waiting for some clarity, prepare now. That doesn’t mean stealing pens and sticky notes—there are steps you can take to put yourself in a decent position if a layoff happens. But if you keep your job, you want to be in good standing.

See a Doctor

And a dentist. Make appointments for just about everyone that your health insurance covers. Even a therapist. Maybe you can get advice on dealing with job-related stress. Get as many procedures done now while insured. It’s also a good time to find out how healthy you really are. It will help you make better decisions when you try to figure out if COBRA payments are worth it. By the way, does your insurance cover eye exams? This is a good time to update your prescription glasses or get a spare pair. It may also be a good time to do some research on health insurance plans that might be available as you may end up having to secure your own policy once your work-sponsored insurance runs out. Check out Consumers Advocate for the latest health insurance reviews.

Update Your Address Book

Make sure you know how to get hold of everyone. You may need these contacts when you’re looking for a job. The best way to do this is to call them. Have a short conversation and ask how they are doing. When asked about your situation, stay positive. Tell them things are uncertain, but you’re confident you will be OK. You’re not looking for sympathy here. You’re reminding people you’re a positive, confident worker. Even if you never need to ask them for a job, they’re going to appreciate working with you more.

Update Your LinkedIn & Facebook Accounts

Now that you have touched base with your contacts, friend and link with them in the social media arena. This will reinforce your connection and put their contact information where you can find it when you no longer have the work computer and/or cell phone.


Get out and meet more professionals. Attend chamber of commerce events and professional association mixers. This will give you more contacts when looking for a job. And if you stay where you are, the new connections can still help.

Buy a Flash Drive

Start downloading files. Once you’re notified of a layoff, you may not get a lot of time. Some companies will have you work for a while. Some escort you out of the building immediately. So if there is something on your computer that can help you find a new job, get a copy now. You’re not looking for proprietary information. But save letters you have written that you can use as samples of your writing. Save spreadsheets with complicated formulas. You may want to refer to electronic versions of instructions. Save informative e-mails.

Clean Up Your Desk

OK, you probably will be given a few minutes to collect your belongings. But what can you take home now? You don’t want to be kicked to the curb with a dozen boxes. Clean out the clutter and leave what you can collect in five minutes. And make sure you don’t have anything embarrassing in a drawer. Assume someone will be watching you to make sure you’re not claiming company equipment as personal belongings. Do you want them to see what kind of magazines you have stashed in a drawer?

Visit the Local Unemployment Office

Find out now what you can expect for benefits. This will give you an idea of how much income you can expect. There also may be other programs that can help you. It’s good to understand this now while you’re thinking clearly. A layoff can be an emotional event, and you may not be in the best frame of mind. And knowing now will mean fewer surprises at a time when you don’t need any unknowns.

Start Saving Money

Remember that visit to the unemployment office? Are you going to be able to pay bills with that government check? And if you keep your health insurance through COBRA, that’s going to cost you more. Start shedding expenses. Find ways to live on less. Look at your car. Consider taking in a roommate or becoming one. Don’t put anything on the credit card. You need to prepare financially now.

Consider Delaying Vacation

I’m all for taking time off. You need a break. But this may fall in the category of reducing expenses. And this depends on your company’s vacation policy. Generally, when you leave a company, they owe you money for vacation time you earned. By not taking those days now, you can have a bigger check when you are cut. Think about it carefully.

Get Your Resume Ready

Since you’re not taking vacation and going out as much, you might as well put the time to good use. And since you’ve updated your contacts, plan who you want to use as references. By the way, times are tough for everyone in this business. Like I said, this isn’t the only company cutting staff. What makes you think you’re going to find another good job in this field? Sorry to be a downer, but you may want to take some time to think about a new career. Again, you’re not going on vacation so use the time to investigate a new direction.

Put in 120%

The criteria for deciding who gets cut varies so much among companies. If they have any choice of who goes and who stays, improve your chances. Not only should you do your job better but see if you can do someone else’s job too. Choose something that’s new to you. This makes you much more valuable to the company. It’s another skill to add to the resume — or it’s the opening to another career.

Be Helpful

You’re not the only one in a tough spot. See what you can do for other people. Pay the karma forward. You’re going to need the help too, and it will enhance your reputation. Plus you will have the benefit of knowing you helped someone. It’s better than worrying about your troubles.

There aren’t many guarantees anymore, so you need to be ready for almost anything. The best preparation will have you ready to find a new job or succeed at the one you have now.

Popular search terms for this article:

how to prepare for a layoff, prepare for layoff, how to prepare for layoff

 Post Tags
Cubicle Curtis is the guy sitting at the next workstation. He's been in this office longer than anyone else, so he's a valuable resource of who does what and how to get things done. Before this job, he has worked just about every job between pizza delivery and accounting. Now, he's all about getting the job done and helping you figure out how to survive yours.


  1. Alec Gorge on the 10th September

    Interesting, that flash drive idea is a really good one.

    also, i find it funny that i own that phone on the left side of the header!

  2. Stephanie Lewis on the 10th September

    The same goes for when you’re about to resign. And the flash drive idea is great. I did it at one job and made sure I had copies of all the design files I worked on.

  3. Shane on the 10th September

    Yeah, capitalism works REAL well. Let’s have more of this. Workin hard means jack shit.

  4. David Cortés on the 10th September

    I think that you can do a list of capacities, skills, competitions, these can increase your vision of what you know how to do or what you can look for in a new job. This can help you to find things on yourself that you forget you have.

    Another awesome site, CONGRATULATIONS!!!! I LOVE YOUR WORK!!!

  5. Zainab Hardwarewala on the 10th September

    Funny. I am just two days from resigning. i have done half of the things up there am going to go do the other half. 🙂 Saving emails is a good idea especially well written ones or email where you or somebody else tackled a major problem really well.

  6. Shane on the 10th September

    Steal everything you can, too.

    • Thomas on the 28th December

      I really like this Shane guy (6)

  7. nate on the 10th September

    these are great tips. I worked for a company where I had done a ton of awesome graphics and ad designs and I didn’t save a copy before I left. I am still trying to convince people how good my work was!

  8. Joe K on the 10th September

    All is pretty good – but not “Put in 120%” our pay has been cut 25% – so I’m giving a full 75^% effort. It’s only fair.

    • Phil Snider on the 11th September

      Yeah, Joe, 75% work for 75% pay is not only fair, it’s convenient. It puts you 50% closer to the exit door.
      Remember the advice of Adam Smith and consider your “enlightened self-interest.” Deliberately reducing your productivity may make you feel superior today, but it’s not going to help you keep your job now or secure a new one later.

    • Matt on the 12th September

      Yea, that is pretty self centered thinking…I live here in Peru where people who have a job, that earn 600-1000 bucks/month while working everyday like it is their last.

      The US is in the position it is in because of the above attitude and trying to make more, work less, and produce less value. I am guilty of the same from years of easy money up north.

      My girl has 3 degrees including a 6 year Law degree and Masters in International Taxation, tri-lingual, great professional disposition, 12 years of EXP, and she still struggles here with a great gov job. Go Figure.

      A good dose of world reality is the best thing for US workers. We have it sooooo good in the lower 48…

    • Fishfry on the 15th October

      I feel your pain Joe K. I am a recent grad and I have been unsuccessfully searching for a job for over 9 months. However, I will say this…I am facing the problem that I have great academic history, but because I graduated at such an unfortunate time I just can’t compete with the people who have been laid off because they have more post-graduate experience which is very important in my field. With that in mind I realized that I had to find something else to hang my hat on and the only thing I could find was proof that I would bridge the gaps between myself and someone with more experience quickly. Guess what that was…references. Most of the interviews I actually have been able to land have been due to above-average references, which is something you won’t be able to depend on if you leave the company feeling like you weren’t giving it your all. It is wise to approach each and every job they have as an investment in your future career whether you intend to stay there long-term or not. It can add both to your resume and your references, so you should always be looking for ways to expand your responsibility and your productivity and make yourself an asset worth investing in.

  9. matthew carson on the 10th September

    Our company just went through two rounds of lay-offs, so I decided to start heavily promoting my freelance studio, Fingerpaint Design, as a fallback option. At least I’ll have more options if this marcom gig falls through.

    I was layed off once and couldn’t get any samples of my work from the company. Now I keep a “Work PDF” folder on my desktop. I drop print-ready PDFs of anything that I’m especially proud of; then every Friday, I copy the folder to a USB thumbdrive. That way, the most I will ever lose is a week’s worth.

    • Allan Nygren on the 11th September

      @matthew carson
      Another idea instead of a flash drive is to just get a dropbox account and have a folder on your computer that uploads those documents automatically into online storage. You wouldn’t want to have all those important documents on a flash drive to only have them go *poof* if that flash drive fails (from personal experience). Having those documents in more than one place can definitely save yourself a lot of headaches and angst.

      Great ideas here though and some things you should consider even if you are unafraid of being laid off (like saving more and learning new skills).


  10. Eric Wendelin on the 11th September

    All good points. Seeing a doctor is something 25-year-olds like myself should particularly pay attention to.

  11. Omar on the 11th September

    Just copy, zip and email or YouSendIt the files to yourself – if you can’t get hold of a Flash drive in time.

  12. Blog2Life on the 11th September

    our pay has been cut 25% – so I’m giving a full 75^% effort. It’s only fair

    That may not be the wisest move. Your company is obviously looking for alternate ways of cutting costs without cutting employees. However, if they notice that efforts have dwindled down to a minimum, they could very easily change their methodology and decide to cut the “dead weight” instead.

    Giving any less than 100% at ANY job is a good way to get fired, no matter what the economy is like.

  13. Ophélie on the 11th September

    Matthew, that’s a great idea, to save your work on a USB drive every Friday. I work on my own laptop, but I think I’ll start backing up my work files on a private drive instead of the work one.

  14. Hassan on the 11th September

    This website is going to be great!
    I notices that i’m the first subscriber to the RSS! 🙂

  15. fabiopb on the 11th September

    I agree with most, if not all of you. Yet, I find trying to stay positive difficult. I have been at a job for 7 months, the company was already doing poorly, although I did not know. Communication channels are poor within the small business, I was there to try change a few procedures and practices, yet nobody listens.

    It is especially hard when you have a partner who is trying to be supportive for over a year (not counting my final year studying), and she is on the verge of breaking down. Doors seem to just keep on closing…..

  16. Gene on the 11th September

    I’ve been laid of 4 times in 5 years. I typically end up in companies that promise a long career knowing that they’ll only keep you around until their main projects are completed.

    Each time I get more and more wise. The first time I lost everything. Then I began backups via gmail. Anything I did was zipped and mailed or saved to a cd or dvd or flash drive.

    The third time I kept backups of everything I worked on online and on a thumb drive and kept nothing on my desk that I couldn’t just walk away from.

    The final time I kept nothing at my desk… not even a photo. I did any development or graphics work on my own equipment and merely transferred finished products to my “work” computer or the company’s corp websites. This last time when I was told to pound sand I simply left the meeting and walked out the door, there being nothing on my desk or on my computer that I didn’t already have.

    I’m now working in another director role with no watchdogs… I don’t use company equipment at all.

    I realize that not everyone is in a position to do that but the bottom line is you have got to look out for number one. When you get right down to it, these organizations don’t give a flying crap about you… at all. As soon as they decide to lay you off you become an un-person and a liability. They also treat you as a safety and security threat in this day and age of postal behavior. The sooner they get you out the door the better as far as they are concerned.

    Working in the IT field my red flags have always been when I’ve been asked if the “password files” are up to date, backed up, and “can we have a look at it to make sure.” As soon as I hear that I know I’m gone.

  17. Richard Saunders on the 11th September

    An informative post, I’m sure we’ll see many more from this new site (although a few tweaks need to be made | posts are pushed below the size matters side bar in safari 4).

    I digress, I have to agree with the Flash Drive / Online storage ideas however be careful in how this content is used at a later date, some formal contracts state that anything created for ‘said company’ remains the property of ‘said company’. Most companies wont mind a great deal but that cant be said for all of them.

    I look forward to future posts.

  18. gaurav on the 12th September


  19. Elizabeth K. Barone on the 12th September

    I always assumed that I could use live projects in my portfolio, but what about the in-progress ones that would also be great for my resume? Getting a flash drive and backing it all up is a great idea!

  20. Bob Bessette on the 12th September

    Hi Curtis,
    Great points all! Fortunately my company is doing well so I don’t plan on being a casualty any time soon. Since your handle is Cubicle Curtis you may want to check out my latest post entitled “Cubicle Bliss” (shameless plug), I am impressed with your site and your blog!


  21. Aurora on the 15th September

    I wish I could have read this post a month ago – I was laid off out of the blue a while ago, so now I’m doing freelance design. Funny enough, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do, but not like this… I barely have enough to keep me going this month… But I also have the opportunity to make this work for me.

    Don’t ignore this blog, it makes sense!!!

  22. Matthew Carson on the 20th September

    Richard S., your point about company property is absolutely on target.

    Recently, I was hauled into HR over objections that I had “proprietary company information” on my freelance site. They claimed that EVERYTHING I do there is proprietary. Mind you, these weren’t unpublished design or layouts that contained sensitive pricing info or trade secrets – what I posted in my portfolio were logos, ads, and websites that could seen in public venues and publications. Not only that, I made it very clear that all trademarks and copyrights were the property of their respective owners. In my understanding, these were projects I designed, and I could show a 400×250 thumbnail under fair use.

    Their response: Take it all down and remove every instance of the company name OR lose your job effective immediately.

    So here I sit, still with a job but also a 3-year hole in my portfolio.

  23. Aurora on the 22nd September

    Ouch!!! Sorry to hear that, man…

  24. Working Stiff on the 5th December

    Working for others will always carry with it the possibility of being fired.

    All very good points above, except for slacking. That is morally wrong, not to mention ethically. It will bite you back. Your reputation is strong currency in a down market.

    The best alternative is your own business.
    Design/Art and other biz, means you’re as good as your last job. Not to mention that managing a business (sales, accounting, managing others), takes you further away from what you love.

    Try to invent something.
    Or, establish a business where you have passive income – that’s income where you don’t have to be around all the time.
    A new product like Spanx, a restaurant, a software product, maybe a franchise, etc. The woman who came up with the idea of Croc accessories sold her business for 7-10 million, can’t remember. But small business is where it’s at.

    My $.02.

    Working Stiff

Add a Comment