Career Advice

Got Laid Off? Your Quick FAQ for What to Do Next

laid off businessman

The global pandemic had a hard tool in the labor market. In April 2020, the unemployment rates skyrocketed from 15% to a whopping 57% as workers were laid off due to mass business closures, shelter-in-place orders. Industry analysts now predict that the second wave is upon us soon. 

Considering that layoffs are now becoming a ‘new unfortunate norm’, our team prepared a quick FAQ guide, tackling the most pressing questions you might have. 

What Does it Mean to Be Laid Off From a Job?

The HR folks have many terms for communicating the end of your employment in the company. So no wonder that loads of people are confused. So let’s clear up the lingo first (since it’s very important for your next steps). 

Laid Off vs Fired 

There’s no fault of the employee in being laid off. Typically, layoffs happen when a company’s performance sinks, prerogatives change, or budgets become tight, and they need to make some internal changes:

  • Downsize 
  • Reorganize departments
  • Eliminate certain positions 

In either case, you are being let go due to circumstances beyond your control.

Now, getting fired is a somewhat different scenario. In most cases, employees get fired due to poor performance, workplace misconduct, or some other behavioral problems. There’s one exception though: at-will employees

If you have that three-word combo in your work contract, you can be fired at any time, for any reason (with several exceptions). 

Laid Off vs Terminated

Termination is a more formal term for “getting fired”. You may have also heard of for-cause termination — you can get fired without any advance notice or severance pay if the employer can prove that you caused a serious offense during employment. It’s considered capital punishment in employment law. For cause termination is rather rare since most parties prefer to part amicably. 

After you were terminated, you can expect to receive the severance pay, specified in your contract. However, since employers are not obliged by law to provide it, you might not be getting anything. 

Laid off vs Furloughed 

Being furloughed is a kind of middle-ground. Technically, you are still employed by the company. However, you are not expected to come to work or receive a salary until further notice. The company holds you on standby, rather than fully letting you go.

What can you do while being furloughed?

  • Receive employee benefits
  • File for unemployment 
  • Look for side gigs/freelance work  
  • Take on contract work
  • Apply to another full-time job. 

How Long After Being Laid Off Can I File for Unemployment?

While unemployment rules vary from state to state, as a rule of thumb you can file for unemployment benefits immediately after being laid off and receive them for up to one year.

Once you apply for the benefits, you start your ‘benefit’ year — a 52-week period when you can claim your weekly check. Once you’ve got a job offer, your payouts stop. But you can collect benefits through multiple periods of unemployment within the same year. So that if you get furloughed/laid-off again, your payouts will resume until you find a better job!  

Also, you may be eligible for other unemployment support programs (depending on where you live and your employment circumstances). This CNBC article provides a great summary of different options.   

How Can I Address My Unemployment Gap on Resume? 

Since layoffs often happen unexpectedly, you’d likely spend several months looking for a new job. But don’t sweat too much over your resume gaps. 

You can easily omit short-term unemployment by using years-only when listing your work history on your resume. This approach can also help draw attention away from multiple gaps. Alternatively, you can leave a quick explanatory note about being laid off for the HR, next to the last job entry. 

You can learn more about explaining gaps in employment on your resume from our previous post, discussing 4 different strategies! 

How Should I Discuss My “Reasons for Quitting the Job” During Interviews? 

Look, if you’ve got laid off, there’s nothing to be ashamed about since it wasn’t your fault. Most employers, especially in the wake of the latest events, we’ll be quite accommodating to that fact. 

So when this common interview question pops up, don’t go into panic mode. Instead, clearly lay down the facts. For example, you can state something like:

“I actually didn’t quit my last job, I was laid off. The company lost grant funding for the project I worked on, and 4 people (including me) were, unfortunately, let go of. However, my former employer provided me with a stellar personal reference letter.”

This reply is great because:

  • It explains the reason for leaving the job. 
  • And draws attention to the fact that you are a great asset. 

Didn’t part on particularly good terms with the last employer? Well, you should still clearly explain why the layoff happened (without any accusatory undertones). Then sweeten the second part of your reply with a quick accomplishment you earned or a technical skill you’ve developed in the last role. 

To Sum Up

Remember: being laid off isn’t the end of your career. Treat this fact as an opportunity to explore a new role or perhaps even change careers! So get yourself together and start exploring new roles. And if you need some extra help, you can always find a ton of great advice on our blog


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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