8 stupidly common mistakes you can’t afford to make after a layoff, according to career experts

I don’t need to waste our time writing about the current economy. Around 26 million Americans have lost their jobs since the beginning of Coronavirus shutdowns and more are likely to be laid off in the coming weeks. While the current layoffs are unique in many ways, there are certain mistakes anyone who is laid off is susceptible to making.

These mistakes have been observed by HR professionals, career coaches, and financial advisors for years. So, we decided to ask them about it. Here are the seven mistakes no one who is laid off can afford to make, even if they’re common. We’ve also included advice on how to avoid these mistakes or dig yourself out of them if you’re already there.

1. Taking it personally.

Being smart about the job search and managing the stress of being unemployed requires a strong mindset. That mindset can’t be achieved if you’re preoccupied with shame about your layoff. Dr.  Orin Davis, the Principal Investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory, says that taking personal responsibility for your layoff, though common, can cause mental barriers to healthily moving on.

“The number one mistake is assuming that this layoff is about you or some failing of yours. It almost never is and there’s almost never anything you could have done to protect yourself,” Davis said. “We like to come up with those reasons to give ourselves a sense of having control over the situation when we never had any, but the best bet is to pay attention to the fact that you do have control over what you are going to do next.”

2. Not negotiating with your former employer.

When most people get laid off, they feel thankful to get any kind of severance package. But like with a job offer, failing to negotiate your severance terms often leaves money on the table. While you may feel too fired up (or scared) to negotiate, nationally-recognized consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch says it is always worth it.

“You often have the power to negotiate [your severance] offer, so be ready to ask for more,” she said. “Tell your boss or HR rep that you need some time to review the terms and digest the info. Then come back with your counteroffer — this may mean more pay, longer healthcare coverage, bonus payout, etc.”

3. Not leaving your previous job with everything you need.

“The biggest mistake people make after finding out they’ve been laid off is they don’t grab everything they’re allowed to take with them from their job,” career coach Lisa Lewis told me. And no, she’s not talking about stealing office supplies.

“When you leave an organization, you should make sure that you have contact information for any relevant professional relationships, the measurements of how effective your contributions to projects were, as well as any work samples you can take with you for your portfolio,” she said.

4. Not addressing your financial hurdles.

Something else you should handle right after getting laid off: addressing your impending financial situation.  Christy Noel, career expert and author of “Your Career Survival Guide: How to Get and Keep a Job in a Crisis,” suggests filing for unemployment, securing health insurance, and requesting deferments on hefty loans right away.

“It can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve just experienced the loss of your income, but all of these things take time — more time than you think they will — and it will be time and money lost if you don’t work on them immediately,” she said.

Clearing these tasks from your to-do list right away gives you more time to focus on applications later on and can set your mind at ease, allowing for the mentality you need to do the job search well.

5. Not reaching out to your network.

While our first instinct while unemployed maybe embarrassment, Terry B. McDougall, an Executive Career Coach and author of a new book Winning the Game of Work: Career Happiness and Success on Your Own Terms, suggests letting your network know right away that you’re looking for work. This may be easier if you take Dr. Davis’s advice and remind yourself that being laid off isn’t a moral failing — and your network doesn’t think so, either.

“Oftentimes people feel shame around their job loss and do not want to tell people that they’ve been laid off,” McDougall said. “This can prevent them from being told about ‘hidden jobs’ that people in their network may be aware of. Even people who don’t work in the same field can have people in their networks that they could introduce the job seeker to…  The more people you have looking out for you, the quicker you’ll land a job.”

6. Complaining on social media.

“The biggest mistake I see people making after being laid off is taking to social media to complain,” Dana Case, Director of Operations at MyCorporation.com said. “It’s understandable to be upset and frustrated about what has happened, especially in the COVID-19 era. However, social media accounts are still public spaces.”

Case says that while raging about your unemployment isn’t a savvy idea — it makes you look unprofessional — there are ways you can mobilize your platforms for your own good.

“Let your followers know that you have been laid off and are seeking new job opportunities. Include a quick list of your skills or a link to your portfolio and a way for people to get in touch if they hear about openings…If you’re working on anything special, highlight that project… Engage in relevant Twitter chats in your industry to build up your following. Establish yourself as a thought leader by writing articles on LinkedIn or starting a podcast.”

7. Assuming no one is hiring.

There’s no doubt the job market is tight right now. But as Career and executive coach and CEO of Aligned at Work® Laurie Battaglia points out, there are opportunities out there — and it’s in your best interest to seize them.

“My best advice is to keep on looking, keep on responding, and don’t let the news get you down. Sooner or later, companies will rehire furloughed workers, and others will add staff. If you aren’t in the pipeline, you have no chance of landing the role when they open up.”

Let’s not forget also that there are many companies that are operating (and hiring) as usual, including these eight companies. 

8. Diving into the job search without a strategy.

Now that you know to get down to business A.S.A.P., you also need to know that just sending off applications isn’t the right way to approach a post-layoff job search.

“The No. 1 career mistake I’ve observed when people are laid off is that they dive right back in with no strategy,” said Wemi Opakunle, a recruiter who currently discovers a new talent for Netflix and is the author of Thank God It’s Monday — 52 Weekly Inspirational Messages to Blast Away Your Monday Blues.

So how can you avoid an uncentered, unsuccessful job search? Remember not to only apply laterally and to find jobs that will appeal to both your strengths and your desires.

“Instead of approaching your next opportunity from a place of fear, you get to take inspired action and be strategic,” Opakunle said. “What did you love about your last job? What did you wish could be better? What is most important to you moving forward? Is it upward mobility? Developing new skillsets? An opportunity to be mentored? Use these questions to guide you as you apply and interview… Whether you take a few months or a few weeks, it’s important to reflect and evaluate, have a clear plan and strategy before diving back in.”

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.