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Being laid off is tough. Losing your job involuntarily can leave you with a ton of questions -- what did you do wrong? What could you have done differently? Why did they choose you over someone else? It's hard not to take it personally when you're let go, but remember that generally, being laid off isn't due to poor performance. 

Here's your guide to what you should do when you've been laid off and how to talk about it when you're looking for a new job.

A woman rests her head in her hands and elbows on a desk with a laptop and ceramic cup.

Image source: Getty Images.

What's the difference between being laid off and being fired?

Both "laid off" and "fired" mean involuntary termination from employment, but the difference is in why you were terminated.

If you're fired, that means you lost your job because of something you did wrong. If you were laid off, that doesn't necessarily mean you did anything wrong. Usually, employees are laid off due to a company's financial problems, like needing to downsize its labor force or cut costs during an economic recession

What should I do immediately after being laid off?

Losing a job can sometimes feel like losing a part of your identity. Take some time to grieve and take some time to figure out what you want next. Try not to take it personally, and remember that this doesn't necessarily reflect negatively on your behavior or performance as an employee. If the company gets back on its feet later, there might even be an opportunity for you to return.

What benefits am I eligible for?

You'll want to talk to an HR representative about your final paycheck, how long your company benefits will last, compensation for leftover vacation and sick days, your pension plan, and whether you can expect severance pay. Severance pay is not required by law, but it is common to receive some form of financial compensation if you've been laid off. 

You may have to sign an agreement acknowledging you weren't discriminated against in order to receive the pay. If you believe you were discriminated against in the layoff, definitely don't sign anything. Take it up with HR. And possibly a lawyer or the EEOC.

You may also file for unemployment if you meet the requirements in your state and were let go under no fault of your own. Googling unemployment insurance [your state] is the best place to start. Be sure to get your information from .gov sites affiliated with your state.

How do I talk to future employers about being laid off? 

After your layoff, you'll need to start looking for a new job at some point. It can be difficult or awkward to talk about being laid off, but keep in mind that this happens a lot, and it wasn't your fault.

Your former employer may even be able to help by providing a reference letter if you were let go through no fault of your own.

When you do start interviewing, your potential employer will ask why you're looking for a new job or why you're currently unemployed. Be honest -- simply give them a brief explanation of the circumstances of why you were laid off. Perhaps a merger caused a round of layoffs to eliminate employees with overlapping responsibilities, or your company was losing market share during a tough time and needed to cut costs. Whatever the reason, keep it succinct and neutral -- don't talk negatively about your former employer, and don't give a sob story. Remember that your interviewer may check in with the company you were let go from, so never lie. 

Should I mention being laid off on my resume?

Unless you've been without work for more than six months, there's no need to list the layoff on your resume or cover letter. You'll need only to answer honestly when they ask.