5 Ways To Prepare For A Surprise Layoff Or Firing

If it’s truly going to be a surprise, there’s not much you can do on the day it happens, other than roll with the punches and maybe meet up with some friends after work for a beer. However, you can take some important steps to insure that you’re well-protected if you ever find yourself in this situation, so that you can improve your odds of landing another job quickly, before that creepy desperation sets in and you start to make recruiters and HR specialists uncomfortable. Consumerism Commentary describes 5 ways to prepare yourself for unexpected “career mobility.”

  • Keep three to six months in accessible funds. This includes cash, “highly liquid” savings or money market accounts, a Roth IRA, and—worst case scenario—a credit card.
  • Keep your resume and portfolio current.
  • Always be networking.
  • Get recommendations without asking. Save your thank you notes and email compliments—you never know when they’ll come in handy to impress a future prospective employer.
  • Study your industry. It’s easy to settle into a job and let innovations pass you by, but it’s the quickest way to knock yourself out of the running when you re-enter the market.

“Always Be Prepared: 5 Tips for Unexpected Job Loss” [Consumerism Commentary]
(Photo: Getty)

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  1. MercuryPDX says:

    Two more that have worked well for me.

    6. The less on your desk, the less you have to pack up. Don’t “move in”, try to keep your personal effects to what can fit one box.

    7. “Your computer” is not your computer. Keep all your pictures, MP3s, personal documents and any other files you couldn’t just walk away from on a personal USB drive. The odds are good that while you’re having that final meeting with HR, you’re being locked out of the network for security reasons and won’t have much time (if any) to move all that stuff off.

  2. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    @MERCURYPDX

    That’s excellent advice. Once you get canned, your employer is not obligated to let you stick around and download your personal files from your work computer. It’s best to buy a flash drive (or external hard drive) and back-up your stuff daily. Removable storage is cheap these days. A 4 GB flash drive is less than $30 and 2.5″ external hard drives are around $100 for 120 GB. I back up all my e-mails, contact information, and instant messenger logs.

    I also keep a secure disk eraser program for wiping out the hard drive. I’m sure the network admins read people’s e-mails anyways and browse their hard drives. But wiping the disk decreases the opportunity for them to recover your personal files and pass it around the office for their amusement.

    Another piece of advice I’ve read somewhere is, to go ahead and send out resumes and go on interviews while you are still employed. This is to get a feel for what skills are currently in demand and to help refresh your interviewing skills. And when/if you get fired or laid off, you’re more prepared for the job hunt.

  3. XTC46 says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat: Actually wiping your drive when you leave is a horrible idea. It is not your computer and you have no right to delete anything on it. Any info on that computer is company property. I have worked in places where we disable accounts as the person is being fired for this reason. And the times they try to wipe their drives we recover them, and if they tried to delete anything of value to us we can happily have them arrested for destruction of private property.

    Your best bet is to not keep your photos/mp3s or any other personal data on the computer at all, it is not your home computer and it is for work purposes, not your toy.

  4. BugMeNot2 says:

    No, XTC46. He meant wiping the clean space with a algorithm making their deleted files unrecoverable.

    [sourceforge.net] (Eraser, open source)
    [www.cyberscrub.com] (CyberScrub, commercial)

  5. Scuba Steve says:

    Well this story bummed me out. But hey, there’s always the umemployment office.

  6. XTC46 says:

    @BugMeNot2: it doesn’t matter. You have NO right to wipe ANYTHING on a company computer. Even if it is a picture of your family, without explicit permission, you have ZERO right to delete anything, especially after being terminated, or being told you will be terminated.

  7. emax4 says:

    XTC46, actually yes you do have a right to wipe anything on a company computer. Anyone can make a mistake. Although in this case as in having a “right” to do it, it becomes intentional. If the company’s IT department doesn’t set any write permissions, in this case the ability to create and delete files, it’s not the employee’s fault. Just because you may think you may be fired soon is no guarantee that it will happen soon, or ever. Most smart companies have backups of their data anyway, whether it be in personal documents or a shared drive. I wouldn’t use the term “Rights” in your case. Things happen.

  8. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    having gotten laid off a few months ago, here’s some more advice:
    Make friends with contract/placement firms. In a pinch, they can find you some good short term work to fill the void.

  9. caederus says:

    I saw the last one coming. (corporate buyout 1 year prev) Had 6 months cash saved up. Resume was out. Networking in full force. The unexpected thing was during the meeting they said, “we need you to finish some projects, so we are giving you 90 day’s notice”

    So for my last 3 months I didn’t have to hide my job searching and schedualed time off with a reason of I have an interview.

    It worked out great. Stayed till the end, took the severance package of a Friday, and started my new job on the following Monday.

  10. JKinNYC says:

    @xtc46:

    Where I work, and many other places, systems are reimaged when someone leaves, in preparation for the next user. You can do whatever you want.

  11. darkened says:

    @jkinnyc

    I agree any respectable business will have images for PCs and local machines are nothing and have no way to destroy corporate data or source code.

  12. bohemian says:

    Keep a copy of all of your benefits information offsite. Many companies don’t give you printed books anymore, just access to a company controlled website or intranet page to view this. Things like 401k, and other benefits that you might need to wrap up or otherwise contact will be disconnected the day your gone. Print out your benefits information and take it home to file or store it online at one of the many file storage services.

    Make copies of pertinent correspondence and store offsite. Either make printed copies and take home or save a copy off to an online file storage service. If there is every an issue or if you are let go under questionable circumstances you have what you need to properly defend yourself.

    I know way too many people who were constructively discharged or just simply let go and then later the employer changed their story in order to avoid paying unemployment. Having some proof of what went on can mean the difference between an unemployment check and not having one.

    Never leave anything at the office you could not do without or carry in your arms. I was part of a mass layoff once but I didn’t make it to the axe meeting the end of the previous day because I was out of town landing them a $20,000 contract. I was called in early the next morning because they wanted to lay me off and get me out before everyone who was still there showed up to be told at the morning meeting what happened. They literally shoved me out a back door frantically hoping nobody would see me and spoil their surprise. Blech. Nothing like having about 45 seconds to grab whatever you had in your office.

    ALWAYS keep your resume active and be looking for new possibilities constantly. Something better might show up and most companies have no loyalty to employees anymore.

  13. jeffeb3 says:

    At my work there was one firing in the past that involved some reformatting of the hard drive, which included some code that wasn’t in the software repository. The folks here weren’t too happy. So in the last round of layoffs, the company brought the layoffees into the office, with their laptops, had them shut them down (so there’s no ssh’ing), and turn them in. The net admin immediately removed their VPN account, email account, etc. It was a little harsh, I think. Especially for the folks that have PHDs in engineering.

  14. bilge says:

    [www.news.com]

    Relevant portion for people who are arguing it’s ok to store then delete personal files on a company-owned computer:

    “Although this case and the 7th Circuit’s ruling last year deal with managers, the same logic applies to any employee who secure-deletes personal files from a work computer. A blog post from Bradley Nahrstadt, an Illinois attorney, says that “simply labeling the information ‘personal’ and then deleting it would not, in my opinion, protect the employee from the full reach” of the CFAA.”

  15. Critcol says:

    Remember kids, a large enough static electricity charge applied to any external metal part on a computer will render it completely inoperable (ie toasting the motherboard, hard drive and ram) and there’s no way to prove how or what happened! For all they know, it could have been a power surge or just the machine’s time to go….

  16. SoCalGNX says:

    No, you don’t have the right to erase the computer. Sabotaging a computer system is a felony in many places.

    As for being ready to go to your next gig, keep your skills updated. Particularly those that are computer software related.

    @emax4:

  17. Mary says:

    Also, read and understand your rights as laid out in your handbook or offer. I just left a job, and more or less quit (long story) and they’ve been dragging their feet and refusing to give me reimbursement for my leftover vacation time. It’s clearly written in the handbook that they owe me the money, and I made sure to look that up before I left.

    It’s possible that you would be owed money like that even if you’re fired. When I was fired from a state position, I got a letter a few weeks letter outlining which money they were sending me, what I was no longer entitled to, etc. I had a copy of my handbook and was able to match it up to double check. After my recent experience, I realize that’s the anomaly. Businesses will probably try to stiff you if they can.

    Also, if you work in ANY type of creative position, make sure you’re backing up your projects regularly to discs for you to take home. While the company owns the projects/writing/photos you should be able to use them for portfolios and interviews later on down the line. And you don’t want to be sitting there after you get fired trying to make copies while everybody stands around and whispers.

    Trust me.

    If you have keys and/or company property, make sure that you write up a quick letter to take with you when you turn them in (if HR doesn’t already have one) that basically says, “I, the undersigned, took back X from so and so on such and such a date.” That way when you turn in your keys, they can’t claim that you didn’t give them back, you can pull out that piece of paper and point out who took them and when.

  18. Juliekins says:

    @Critcol: It is highly likely that you could not shock a machine severely enough to render the data on the hard drive irretrievable without gaining a whole lot of attention and/or starting a fire. (Or, you know, hurting yourself.) So while it might feel satisfying to pull such a dick move, it won’t cover up all that porn you’ve been downloading.

    Wiping a hard drive may also cast suspicion on an exiting employee. I’m not saying that’s right, but it’s a reality. Most people don’t know enough to do an effective job, either. I can also tell you that it’s much more difficult to cover tracks than it is to just not make them in the first place. Keep the personal crap to an absolute minimum on your work machine.

  19. Juliekins says:

    @FitJulie: Er, “that you COULD shock a machine…”

    Must drink more coffee.

  20. TurboWagon00 says:

    @Critcol: You watch too many movies. Maybe if you wear a wool sweater and jog around a carpeted floor in the dead of winter, and touch the system board directly, but that wouldnt harm the drive.

    For the reast of the thread, people in general take the “Personal” part of Personal Computer too seriously. The suggestion to keep personal stuff on a high capacity USB drive is an excellent one, only thing I would add is to make sure the device has some kind of security/encryption on it.

  21. ARP says:

    Rather than debate over what rights you have, just stick with the initial advice:

    1) Don’t keep a bunch of personal stuff on your work computer. If you do have some personal stuff, ask yourself, “if an HR or IT person sees this stuff, can it be used against me or will I be embarassed or arrested?”

    2) Back it up regularly

    I keep about 3-4 hours of MP3’s (for travel, killing time, etc.) and a few pictures that I’m proud of (scenic stuff, no p*rn). Once in a while I save a personal document locally (e.g. receipt for an online purchase, etc.), but try to move to a external drive soon after.

  22. tadowguy says:

    6) Clean your guns at least weekly and keep plenty of ammo handy.

  23. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @tadowguy:

    Considering that workplace violence has become a pretty big problem, that “joke” (if it’s meant to be witty) is in pretty poor taste.

  24. Critcol says:

    @FitJulie:

    I didn’t say it would destroy the data, I said it’d render the drive inoperable. Such a charge (should) toast the circuit board on the bottom of the drive. The data would be recoverable, but it’d need a data recovery specialist to do and the whole “dust-free” clean room because the drive would have to be taken apart. It’d be prohibitively expensive to do thus preventing recovery of the data.

    @TurboWagon:

    You’re exactly right. It’d take quite the charge to actually do it. Probably a good 8 hours of shuffling around in socks on the company carpet. Someone would probably notice if you were to do that.

    @ everyone else:

    Remember! Inoperable does not mean unrecoverable!

  25. swalve says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: Has it really become a problem? I’d like to see where there has been any appreciable increase in the last 20 years.

  26. ThePopOversAreDone says:

    I think these are all really great ideas
    for the day you get kicked in the head.

  27. bilge says:

    @tadowguy: Or get something that’s low-maintenance like an Iraqi AK. Never been fired and only dropped once.

  28. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @swalve:

    I wasn’t necessarily trying to point to some chronological increase in workplace violence. My point is that any time we read or hear about a workplace shooting (or wonder if the guy who got laid off last week is going to come back and take out the whole office), that’s a PROBLEM.

    And Tadowguy’s comment was in poor taste.

  29. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS:

    As was Bilge’s elaboration.

  30. ratnerstar says:

    Oh God, the poor taste police must subscribe to the “broken windows” theory.

  31. UpsetPanda says:

    We had someone get fired in another department and when I came into work, I couldn’t get into the office because we were on ‘lockdown’. Scary stuff, even if it is just a precaution. I think many people were on edge those few days because of the fact that we needed to keep doors locked all the time, not because we thought the fired person would really do anything. So yes, it is a problem, because it causes fear.

  32. EtherealStrife says:

    Networking is important even if they’re never going to fire you. Trade up.

    Is the guy in the picture making a gun with his hand?

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: Why is it a PROBLEM? And what does hunting to put food on the table have to do with workplace violence?

  33. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @EtherealStrife:

    Seriously?

    @ratnerstar:

    Oh God, Ratnerstar must subscribe to the “I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute, so I’ll heckle the moderator” theory.

    And Ratnerstar, I’m not the “poor taste police.” As Moderator, I responded to the guns and ammo comment because several commenters flagged it as offensive. Many people are pleased that Consumerist’s comment threads are moderated. If you have a problem with it, I suggest you take it up with the editors (e-mail addresses to the left) or go play elsewhere.

  34. MercuryPDX says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat: I back up all my e-mails, contact information, and instant messenger logs.

    I never give out my work e-mail address to friends. They can just send to my Gmail, and it’s one less thing for me to worry about someone else reading.

    As to IM stuff, I used Trillian Anywhere running off the same USB drive where all my music/personal files were kept. No one but me will read my IM logs, have my entire contact list, or have fun and impersonate me.

  35. matt1978 says:

    It does kinda look like a gun hand.

  36. Morgan says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS: I think it’s fair for us to respond when we don’t think a comment you’ve pointed out is inappropriate. I interpretted it as ironic, pointing out how silly the people debating data-destruction tactics were being until I read your comment responding to it, but whether that was tadowguy’s intention or he was just making a joke, I think the odds of him actually advocating workplace violence are about the same as the odds that Swift was actually advocating eating babies. While I do appreciate having a moderator looking over the comments, I’m with those who don’t feel that particular comment warrented a reprimand from the moderator, and I’m somewhat worried that someone disagreeing with your call is dismissed as simply “heckling the moderator.”

  37. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    @Morgan: I’m with those who don’t feel that particular comment warrented a reprimand from the moderator

    Of course that’s fine. Quite a few people flagged that comment to bring it to a moderator’s attention. So if I’d said absolutely nothing, I’d probably have people upset with me for not addressing the flagged comment. And there are probably some people who feel that Tadowguy should have been banned for his comment, so they’re probably disappointed that I didn’t take that course of action.

    I know that not everyone is going to agree with my decisions — I can live with that. You have outlined a good argument that supports your point of view. I dismissed Ratnerstar’s comment as “heckling the moderator” because he didn’t contribute anything else to the discussion.

  38. @Morgan: Should the moderator have ignored the flags then?

    As for deleting personal information what company is actually going to get pissed if you delete a picture of your family or whatever?

  39. EtherealStrife says:

    @Consumerist Moderator – ACAMBRAS:
    My point is that any time we read or hear about a workplace shooting (or wonder if the guy who got laid off last week is going to come back and take out the whole office), that’s a PROBLEM.

    Why is that a PROBLEM?

    It seems like the problem is with the people who can’t handle the real world, and want to live in a bubble.

  40. ratnerstar says:

    Since you’re not the poor taste police and are merely following the whims of the public, what makes you think my post was directed at you?

    Anyway, I’ll make a better effort to contribute to the discussion. To start, here’s a suggestion: if a post is offensive, a moderator’s censure isn’t going to remedy it. When people flag a post, make a determination whether the comment is actually inappropriate. If it is, delete it. If not, ignore it.

  41. Ben Popken says:

    It was appropriate for ACAMBRAS to respond to tadowguy’s flagged comment and issue a warning. Rather than filling this thread with off-topic debate, feel free to send any additional suggestions ben@consumerist.com. Or you can start a thread in the Consumerist Forums.

  42. XTC46 says:

    @emax4: Yes, you re-image once it has been determined there is no data of value on it. Im just saying, as the guy who would be recovering the data, as the guy who has written these policies for companies, and as the guy was has been tasked with investigating the intentional destruction of company information, that you as an employee should not do this. I assure you, if you delete something of value, a company will be sure charges are brought against you and they are well within their rights to do so.

  43. linux_freak_show says:

    re-imaging is a great idea, but I doubt you will get it done when the bios password has been set. before you even get a chance to boot off a re-imaging disk you will need to have the password first. also by enabling the chasis intrusion detection the drive won’t be of much value. I wouldn’t recommend deleting ANYTHING WHATSOEVER off of servers, but when it comes to the desktop, the more headache the better. Enjoy that hi-tech paperweight, pop the 77 screws and short the battery, or send it back to the manufacturer. Either way at least you will get to learn something. I advise using bios passwords to prevent unauthorized access. if they give you resonable notice then give them the passwords. if not, you can be escorted out knowing that the re-imaging guy will have quite the project on his hands.