What To Do When You Lose Your Job

What it is, where it is, and how to get it. Plus: how to make a layoff pay off, recharge your resume, and use the hardest-working websites.

By Cathie Gandel and Hilary Sterne
Additional reporting by Neena Samuel and Kathryn M. Tyranski from Reader's Digest | March 2009

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Banks tank, stocks plunge, companies limp, jobs disappear—whether you’re the CEO at Circuit City or the salad spinner at Applebee’s. And experts predict that the waves of unwelcome economic news will keep cresting and crashing all year. Nearly 2.6 million jobs disappeared in 2008, the worst annual drop since World War II. Hourly employees are working (and making) less. The new unemployment rate: a whopping 7.2 percent. Right now, if you count part-time workers and people who have simply given up on finding a job, the number balloons to 13.5 percent of the U.S. population. People who don’t have jobs, of course, tend not to have money. People without money buy fewer things. Less spending means more businesses lay off more people … and, well, you can see where this is heading.

Creatas Images /Jupiterimages<br />
Creatas Images /Jupiterimages

With so many people looking for so few jobs and trying to navigate rules and resources that are constantly changing, you need help. We’ve gathered the latest advice from the professionals (human resources experts, career coaches, and headhunters) and visited an endless procession of websites (the topflight as well as the bottom-feeders). We interviewed job seekers across the country and hooked them up with free personalized help from the pros. (And if that’s not enough, there’s still more help for everyone, job or no job.)

The Losing a Job section covers warning signs and ways to rethink your career. The next section, Finding a Job, offers practical tips for every aspect of a job search. Next month, we’ll tell you how to care for your career. Whether you’re in a cubicle or a corner office—or, at this point, would settle for either—this handbook is definitely help wanted.

The Warning Signs of Losing a Job

When you hear these phrases around the water cooler, it may be too late. But this is what companies are saying these days instead of “firing” or “layoff”:

  • restructuring plan
  • restructuring program
  • company-wide restructuring plan that includes staffing reductions in all divisions
  • planned reduction
  • head-count reduction
  • reduction in force
  • reducing our current employee total
  • global workforce reduction and alignment
  • repositioning
  • aligning operations and resources worldwide
  • consolidating operations
  • downsizing
  • rightsizing
  • smartsizing

Also, from the blog of Stanford management professor Robert I. Sutton:

  • offboarded
  • rebalancing the level of human capital
  • We’ve decided to go in another direction

Which Jobs Will Go First?

Is your job leaving on a jet plane? Don’t know when it’ll be back again? Well, if it’s any solace, at least you’re not alone. More and more jobs are heading to foreign shores, and over the next six years, outsourcing is expected to expand in numbers and scope, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Forrester Research.

Which positions are most likely to be outsourced? Technical jobs that depend on low-skill labor, can be broken down into segments, and don’t require collaboration, like getting information into and out of databases (think call centers and information technology support). Jobs that require staffers to show up and work alongside others are less susceptible to outsourcing.

But, the report warns, jobs requiring more creativity and decision making aren’t necessarily safe. An online newspaper, California’s Pasadena Now, hires workers in India to cover the local news. No, that’s not a misprint. Reporters send their notes and background information to India, where six writers crank out copy. Some companies are even outsourcing areas like drug development and market research.

There is a positive side to all the outsourcing, though: These offshore projects will always need on-site managers.