Lost Your Job? Take These 4 Steps First

Over the last month, many people have unexpectedly and rapidly come face to face with losing their job. Given that four out of five Americans are in a financial situation where missing their next paycheck can cause serious financial strain, a sudden job loss means a lot of financial worry for a lot of people.

The obvious thing to do when someone loses their job is to “find another one,” but particularly in an economic downturn, especially one as abrupt and sudden as this current one, there’s not always another job easily available.

What does a person do, then? Here’s a checklist of things you should do if you lose your job unexpectedly.

1. File for unemployment

The exact process for filing for unemployment varies from state to state, as do the eligibility requirements for workers, plus those requirements have changed in many states during the current crisis. You can get started by going to this site and choosing your state, which will take you to the unemployment benefits site for your particular state. From there, you can find out whether you’re eligible for unemployment benefits in your state and, if so, how much.

Those unemployment benefits will help keep some cash in your pocket in the short term while you figure out your next steps for getting re-employed.

2. Asses your immediate financial needs

Do you have enough food on hand? If you don’t, contact your local food pantry. You can find it using this simple tool, which will identify a food pantry near you.

What about your utilities? You should contact them as soon as possible. Most utilities don’t want to cut off service for customers unless they’re truly being negligent on their bills. Many utilities offer relief programs for recently unemployed people, particularly those with dependents, and this is particularly true during the current crisis. You’re far better off being proactive here and calling now rather than waiting around until you’re missing payments.

What about your debts and other bills? If you have any student loans, contact the lender and pause them. Most student loans allow you to “pause” payments during periods of unemployment. If you have other debts, contact the lender as soon as possible and discuss pausing those debts, too. Many lenders will work with you to pause your debt payments during tough financial times. Again, the key is to be proactive and work with them up front rather than waiting around until you’re missing payments.

What about rent? If you’re renting, contact your landlord and discuss your options. Again, a landlord is far more likely to want to work with a proactive tenant who is addressing these problems upfront than one who just dodges trying to pay their rent. You can work together to come up with a system that keeps the roof over your head for a while. This is particularly true in times of economic uncertainty, where a landlord is unlikely to be able to fill the property easily if you’re evicted, but even outside of those periods, there’s still some risk for your landlord and a period without any rent coming in.

What about health care coverage? If your partner is still employed, you should file paperwork immediately to get added to your partner’s coverage. If you are single, then there are several options to consider. If your state has expanded Medicaid, you are likely eligible sign up for that. You may also be eligible for an individual health care plan in your state. To find out what you’re eligible for, check the HealthCare.gov screening tool and review your eligibility for those available options.

3. Start looking for another job

In this current economic environment, there may not be a lot of jobs that you are particularly qualified for that are available. While there is some hiring going on for some types of businesses and jobs (particularly in the grocery and food sectors), many other organizations aren’t hiring anyone or are downsizing right now, hence the giant leap in unemployment numbers.

So, what can you do?

First of all, reach out to everyone you know that might help you find work. Often, simply knowing someone can help you find a job or at least find an opportunity to apply and get an interview. Many jobs are filled by personal recommendation. So, if you know people with good reputations who might be able to help you find work, get ahold of them as soon as possible. Even if they don’t have anything in particular that they can help you with right now, they may be able to help you in the future as different types of jobs come back online.

Second, polish up your resume and your job application answers. Think carefully about the skills you currently possess that might be valuable at the types of jobs you would apply for. Do you have particular skills that are good for particular types of jobs? Do you have any certifications that might be valuable? What about character traits? Do you have people that will provide a good reference for you? Make sure you have good answers for all of those questions. If you have a resume, now’s the time to go in and update it, particularly in light of those answers. If you don’t, it doesn’t hurt to create one — here’s a really nice free tool for easily building a simple resume.

Third, start proactively looking for work. Even in difficult times, there are still jobs to be found; they just might not be as easy to find. Start by looking at businesses in the area that may be hiring at the moment, such as grocery stores and factories that produce essential goods. If you have a CDL, many trucking companies are hiring as well. Minimize or (ideally) eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs so that you’re always ready for whatever opportunities come along.

The key? Don’t just sit by the phone and hope someone calls you. Rather, treat your job search as full-time work. You should be spending significant time each day looking for work, even during the time when you’re receiving unemployment benefits. You’re far better off finding a job while you’re still receiving benefits than you would be if you reached the end of benefits without finding a job.

Check out local job boards like Localwise. Join community groups on Facebook and see if there are any recent postings about jobs and, if not, ask if there are any local jobs right now. If there are local businesses that seem like they might be hiring, give them a call — places like grocery stores are taking on extra staff at the moment.

4. Build skills in your downtime

Are there skills you can build at home that will help you in your career? Can you take online classes? Are there certifications you can earn from home? This depends a lot on your current skills and career and where you hope to go next. For example, if your job or career commonly has you interacting with people who are non-native English speakers, this can be an opportunity to work on learning a foreign language applicable to your career using tools like Duolingo and Tandem.

This might also be a time to re-train into a new career path or give new directions a try. For example, you might consider using this opportunity to try to learn computer programming at home using tools like Code Academy or delving into a new area by taking courses through Coursera, both of which are free.

My main advice is this: don’t just sit at home and wait around to see what happens next. If you want to get back on your feet, you need to be taking proactive steps to make it happen.

You can’t control the past. You can’t control major societal events. Those things are out of your hands.

What you can control are the actions you take every single day. You can control whether you just idle in place or whether you actively take steps toward finding work.

Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Worry about what you can control, and take positive action.

Good luck.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.