Layoffs. Over the past year, you’ve watched too many colleagues gather their belongings and trail out of the office in a flurry of hugs and teary goodbyes. You never thought it could happen to you. But today, out of the blue, the boss asked you to meet him in the conference room and your stomach dropped. When you opened the door and saw the HR team, you knew. You were being laid off. Let go. Downsized. Or my favorite, “involuntarily separated.” Whatever you call it, you’re out of a job.

Take Deep, Cleansing Breaths

Emotionally, it’s nearly impossible to be prepared to lose your job. You’re smart, ambitious and motivated. You work through lunch, stay late and take on the projects no one else wants to. Why would the company get rid of you? You’re stunned. Confused. Panicked. Hurt. Angry. So how do you get past this?

First, breathe. It’s not you — it’s them. Well, maybe it’s a little bit you. If your company is going through a transition, your skillset may no longer meet the company’s needs. However, in most cases, it really is them. Even though as of November, the unemployment rate was at a seven-year-low of 5%, American workers are still concerned about job security as companies look for ways to cut costs.

According to the Human Capital Management Institute, headcount costs account for approximately 70% of most companies’ operating budget. While it doesn’t often make sense in the long run, headcount is often the first place a CEO cuts to get drastic, short-term costs savings. The experts say you shouldn’t take it personally, but then again, the experts still have jobs.

Now What?

Although you’ll want to get the whole awful mess over as quickly as possible, there are some things you need to do before you leave the office:

  1. Get it in writing. Paying attention to details when you’re reeling from the news of a job loss is hard. A letter should outline everything from your last day to health insurance, vacation pay and severance. It will also help when signing up for unemployment compensation. However, don’t sign anything right away. Take it home and read it carefully to make sure you understand and agree before signing.
  2. Download your Outlook contact list. Your professional network will be helpful in identifying your next professional opportunity. Chances are, you don’t have half of them in your iPhone contacts so make sure to get them before you leave.
  3. Ask your HR department about available outplacement services. A professional service can help you with resume updating, interviewing skills and more.
  4. Maintain your dignity. Don’t burn any bridges by showing anger or resentment. You will most likely need a recommendation from a former boss or colleague. If you take the high road and leave on good terms, it will likely pay off in the end.

Money Comes in Handy

If you’re like most millennials and Americans, you’re probably not financially prepared for a layoff. According to a recent survey, nearly 52% (more than half) of all millennials have less than $1,000 in savings. That’s hardly enough to keep you going until you find another job. Follow these tips as you navigate your finances:

  1. Assess your financial situation. How much money do you have? How much do you need each month? Now’s the time to make a budget and stick to it.
  1. Start cutting costs immediately. Cutting out your daily Starbucks fix could save you nearly $100 a month that you can put toward rent.
  2. Ration your severance pay. If you’re lucky enough to get a severance package, take the cash and put it into savings instead of putting off the inevitable financial crisis for another three months.

Jump Start Your Job Search

When it comes to your next job, you may feel a little rusty. Don’t be intimidated — you can turn the situation around and frame it in a positive light if you follow these tips:

  1. Revise your resume. Add skills and experience that you learned from your previous duties that may be relevant to a potential employer.
  1. Get a letter of recommendation from your former boss or another manager. You want to get a reference from someone who can speak to your strengths and work ethic.
  2. Develop your key messages about your situation to make sure you put yourself in the best possible light. It really wasn’t personal. Take some time to decide what to share before you start talking to those outside your close circle of friends. Again, always take the high road about the company’s decision.
  1. Update your social media sites. This includes your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, so your connections will know you’re in the market and what you bring to the table.

Time’s A-Wastin’

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, finding a comparable job takes about 5 months. So while you may feel as if you deserve a week or two off to nurse your wounded ego, you need to start your job search right away, even if you received a severance package:

  1. Make a plan. Do you want to stay in your current field? Make a career change? Go back to school? Even though you may be unhappy about your situation, it’s actually the perfect time to figure out what you truly want to do.
  1. Apply for unemployment compensation. This applies even if you receive a severance package. Act quickly so you don’t miss qualifying deadlines.
  2. Contact your college alumni relations and career development offices. Often there are opportunities to connect with other alumni in your industry who may be able to help.
  1. Don’t take the shotgun approach. Apply thoughtfully and judiciously. You may be out of work, but you don’t want to take any old job. Look at this as a chance to advance your career.

Losing a job is stressful, but take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone — nearly 20% of all adults will experience a layoff in their lifetime. It may take a little time to recover from the blow to your self-esteem, but stay positive and make the most of the opportunities. This may be the best thing that could have happened to your career.

Have you suffered the setback of a layoff? How did you cope? Tell us about your experience and share how you got your career back on track.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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