Jake worked as a finance manager at a large healthcare company for 15 years when the organization was downsized and his role was eliminated.

Ember was working in a private company for nine years steadily progressing in her career with several significant promotions when she was suddenly called into a meeting to be told it was decided her leadership was no longer a good fit for the organization.  With no other explanation provided, Ember suddenly found herself displaced for the first time in her 26-year career.

Singh had worked for five years at a small family-owned business and enjoyed the ability to pitch in on all aspect of the operations.  Everyone in the organization teased Singh as having the unofficial job title of the “VP of Getting Stuff Done.”   As the pandemic continued the owner called him to let him know that after 33 years in business, they were closing permanently as their business model could not withstand the changes brought by the pandemic.

As the economy roils from the direct and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more professionals find themselves living various permutations of these scenarios.  Some like Ember were taken by surprised, while others similar to Jake and Singh later admitted that in hindsight they had seen signs that their role was no longer stable.  Whatever label you put on it, “laid off”, “downsized” or “at-will separation” everyone feels the impact of suddenly no longer having a job with an immediate sense of shock, then a sense of bewilderment, and inevitably asks, “Now what?”

Even for seasoned professionals who have been through this before there’s a period of adjustment and eventually the question of what to do next.  While circumstances are different for everyone, there are some key steps that helpmany.

Give Yourself Time to Digest What Happened

Even for professionals like Jake and Singh who described having that “dreaded sense” before it happened, there’s a moment of actualization when the event actually occurs.  Give yourself some time to digest the multiple emotions you may feel, which will range from shock or hurt to even a sense of relief.  Regardless of what it’s labeled, the loss of a job is recognized in the list of top 10 life stressors as identified in the 1960s by two researchers who’s work has become known as the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale commonly used by the medical community to measure major sources of stress that impact health. 1    Research  byCliment-Roedriguez  et al. showed the grieving related to job loss is not unrelated to the grieving process for other life stressors such as divorce or a loss of a friend.  The intensity and length of the grieving process depends on each individual with research showing the impact of job loss is often greater for older workers.2

In the meantime, give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.  While it’s tempting to replay the situation in your mind and focus on what you could have done to influence the situation, it’s important to not focus on those issues outside your control such as the economy or who said what as in Ember’s case. 

Instead, begin moving forward by focusing on those factors within your control.

Take Stock of your Resources

Set time aside to take an account of the resources you have.  This may include resources provided by your firm as part of the separation, such as a professional displacement service, which can help in crafting your resume, refining your job search, and preparing for interviews.  Other resources may include your own social network of friends and colleagues knowledgeable of your industry or familiar with your work.  Have some peers review your resume and serve as professional references.  This can be extremely powerful.  Often, we’re surprised by the extent of professional resources we have available.  Make sure to touchbase with:

  • Supervisors knowledgeable of your work that can speak well of you as a reference
  • Colleagues, this can include employed and also others in transition
  • Placement services if your company offered it.

Inventory Your Financial Health

A key component that will determine much of your planning for practical next steps is your financial health.  In its most basic form, this information will inform you of what you can afford in terms of time and planning for your next transition.  Take stock of the fundamentals:

  1.  Resources
    1. If a separation package was provided, how long will it cover in terms of your normal salary?  Remember that a one-time payout such as separation packages are taxed at a higher rate than a normal salary, usually about a 10% higher difference.  So take stock not of the gross amount, but the net payout after all taxes.
      1.  This separation amount is your “frontline cash resource” which affords you time before you must dip into any personal savings.
    1. Are you the main salary contributor or do you have a partner that provides additional resources that can help to partially absorb some living expenses before dipping into personal savings?
    1. Available retirement savings.  Take stock of your access without financial penalty to savings and retirement funds.  Knowing what you have access to is not the same as deciding to access those funds at this stage.  However, it’s important to have a complete picture of your financial resources.
  2.  Expenses
    1. Take an honest look at your expenses by categorizing them into your Required Financial Obligations and your Discrete Financial Obligations.
      1. Required Financial Obligations are those obligations that you largely cannot influence.  At this time, this may be mortgage or rent, car payments, utilities bills, childcare, etc.
        1. While you may have some ability to influence mortgage and rent through refinancing or considering a roommate, let’s assume that during this time that you don’t need that additional upheaval or distraction.
      1. Discrete Financial Obligations are expenses that you can readily influence such as takeout dining, shopping, and entertainment.
  3. Then translate your finances at this point, required and discrete, into monthly expenses.   Your goal is to have a sense of how many months you can afford to be in transition based on your resources.
    1. This gives you have an initial sense of how many months you can afford to maintain your current lifestyle with discrete expenses.    
    1. Then go back and re-examine discrete expenses to get a sense of how many months you can afford with some cost cutting.  This may mean budgeting less take out, reducing cable and subscriptions costs that are not necessary, and other similar discretionary items.  This should not feel drastic or limiting to your daily life.
    1. Next, go back and look at more drastic cost-saving measures to determine how many months you can afford with deeper cost cutting.  This may mean considering taking in a roommate, trading in a leased sedan for a more economical used car, etc.  These are moves that will feel more drastic and limiting to your daily life. 

Look at the three scenarios.  Each should give you a range of months that you can “afford” to be in transition.   Based on your knowledge of the market, your industry and network, which scenario feels like what you need for your transition period?

Determine Your Next Move

Don’t be too quick in determining your next move.  While being in the position of looking for a job is not something you would have chosen, it does afford you the freedom to determine what you may want as well as need in your next role.  In addition, prior to reactively looking for a similar role, explore being flexible in terms of your skillsets and what you’d really like to do going forward.  While it may not feel like you can be choosy at this time, that’s different from limiting yourself in opportunities to explore and apply for roles that may be very good career wise.

Give yourself permission to explore:

  • Your role in different industries.  Take stock of your transferrable skillsets. For example, if you’ve always done financial analysis in healthcare, explore doing financial analysis in the insurance, retail, or a service industry.  This will reinforce your value as a professional with skillsets that are valued and applicable across industries.
  • In addition to fulltime roles, look at part-time roles.  These opportunities may provide an easier entry into a new field and some learning of new skillsets.  In addition, such work may help you add months to your transition timeline and provide some flexibility to continue looking for a full-time role.
  • Likewise, examine if your skillsets lend itself to consulting roles.  This may be done as an independent consultant or by applying to agencies that provide temporary services for augmented staffing.

Network, Network, Network

Once you have determined what path, or paths, you want to pursue, the next step is to network.  Make a list of contacts to reach out to and let them know you’re in transition.  Ask your contacts if they would be willing to serve as professional references during your job search or ask them to endorse or provide you with a recommendation on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn.  Make sure you offer to reciprocate by also serving as a reference for them if they are also in transition or recommend them on their LinkedIn profile.  

Remember that networking means focusing on building and strengthening your relationships, not on focusing on your resume.   Make sure you are offering your help to others as well.  Think about information or tips you can offer others that may not be applicable to you.   While Singh was focused on other operational roles, he made sure to connect and pass on information on financial roles to his previous colleagues in that area.   While shelter in place orders require we all think through how to network since traditional methods like lunch or coffee meetings are not always possible, it has also opened a world of possibility using technology and social media.   Ember found that she could as easily scheduled virtual face-to-face meetings on Zoom or Microsoft Teams with acquaintances in other states as those in the same cities.  And avoid the old fashion traffic!

Closing Notes

As the COVID-19 pandemic entrenches and impacts economies around the world, most of us will experience repercussions firsthand, hopefully not thru illness, but most certainly with our work or business as the economy reverberates.  If you suddenly find yourself without a job, there are several key things that you can do to stay resilient and strong.  First, give yourself some time to digest what has happened.  Next, take stock of your resources.  Then, inventory your financial health.  With knowledge of your circumstances in hand, determine your next move.  Lastly, take action and network, network, network!


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holmes_and_Rahe_stress_scale#:~:text=7%20Further%20reading-,Development,based%20on%20a%20relative%20score.
  • Climent-Rodríguez, J. A., Navarro-Abal, Y., López-López, M. J., Gómez-Salgado, J., & García, M. (2019). Grieving for Job Loss and Its Relation to the Employability of Older Jobseekers. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 366. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00366
  • Utz, S., & Breuer, J. (2019). The Relationship Between Networking, LinkedIn Use, and Retrieving Informational Benefits. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 22(3), 180–185. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2018.0294