How to Get Back On Your Feet After Losing Your Job

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Back to Work

Man texting and job searching in cafe
Getty Images/filadendron 

Even though the U.S. economy has started to show signs of recovery, that hasn’t necessarily applied to all sectors and/or geographic locations. In some cases, temporary layoffs or furloughs have become permanent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in August 2020, the number of workers who have permanently lost their jobs increased by 534,000 to 3.4 million. The number of permanent layoffs, meanwhile, has increased by 2.1 million since February.

According to nonprofit research and analytics firm RAND, the impact on workers in leisure and hospitality in particular was much worse than for all other industries. Despite job gains totaling 3.6 million over the last four months, employment in food services and drinking establishments has been down by 2.5 million since February.

Some cities and states were hit much harder than others with recession-related job losses. For example, New York City’s unemployment rate for July 2020 was 19.8%, compared to 3.9% in July 2019. The biggest year-on-year drop was, again, in leisure and hospitality, with 428,000 jobs lost.  

So, what can you do if you’re one of those people who is in a challenging industry, and need to get back on your feet and back to work? You may want to consider reworking your skills and transitioning to a sector that’s hiring, and there are resources available to help you do that.

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Back to Work

It’s a challenging time to be in the job market, but if you take it step by step, it will be easier to manage your job search, market your credentials, get hired, and start the next phase of your career.

Check on Unemployment Compensation

If you haven’t already applied for unemployment compensation, now’s the time to start collecting benefits. There are supplemental benefits available with extra weeks and payments to unemployed workers, and there are programs in place that provide unemployment to self-employed and gig workers.

Even though unemployment payments won’t necessarily match your paycheck, they will help pay the bills while you’re out of work.

You could also consider taking on a side gig to boost your earnings, but do keep in mind that you’ll need to report what you make when you file your weekly unemployment claim.

Decide if You Need to Switch Occupations

One of the toughest decisions you’ll need to make is whether you should keep looking for a job in the same line of work in a down job market, or if you should consider making a career switch (even if it’s a temporary one). 

One way to gauge the potential for someone with your skill set is to run some job searches on Indeed or one of the other top job sites. If you’re not finding many listings, it may be time to pursue other options.

The other question you’ll need to answer is how long you can get by on unemployment. If you can’t afford to wait until the job market picks up—and many people can’t—that’s another indicator that it may be time for a change.

Identify Your Transferable Skills

The first step in making a career pivot is to identify the transferable skills you have. The skills that qualify you for one occupation may also readily qualify you for another. 

For example, the communication, customer service, teamwork, and time management skills that you used working in a hotel can qualify you for a variety of other positions. These are all skills you need to get hired for a job working in retail, at a hospital, in finance, or in a customer service role. 

CareerOneStop has a Skills Matcher tool that you can use to identify careers that match your skills, and create a list of your skills. 

There are also worksheets you can use to generate a list of your transferable skills:

Assess Your Interests

It’s essential to take the time to explore what you’re interested in doing at your next job. Being unemployed doesn’t mean that you have to take any position, and in the long run, setting employment goals will save you time job searching and applying.

In an email interview with The Balance, career coach Phyllis Mufson said, "The carpenters' expression 'measure three times and then cut once' applies to career choice, because if you skip your self-evaluation and research, at the least you will waste a tremendous amount of time applying for jobs that don't fit you. Or, you can be happy to land a job only to find that it doesn't suit you: you have a difficult time performing, feel continual stress, and have your self-confidence take a nosedive."

Deciding what you really want to do is as important as what skills assessments tell you that you can do, and it makes sense to try to find a position where you’ll enjoy working. Use the tools that are available as a guide to focus your career trajectory.

It only takes about five minutes to take CareerOneStop’s Interest Assessment. Answer 30 questions about what you like to do and what you don’t like to do, and the assessment will give you some career options that might be best for you.

There are various quick, easy-to-take, and free career assessment tools that you can also use to generate ideas about what jobs are a good fit.

Use Free and Low-Cost Ways to Quickly Update Your Skills  

When the jobs that are a match aren’t what you expected, or what you would prefer to do in your next role, spend some time updating your skills. 

There are free classes you can take to upgrade your skills and give you a boost in the job market. Even better, the skills and certifications you gain can be listed on your resume or job application.

Here are some ways to upgrade your skill set:

Match Your Skills and Previous Occupation to New Jobs

The next step is to match your previous occupation, your skills, and your qualifications to potential new jobs. There are several tools you can use to help you with the process.

  • mySkills myFuture: Enter your current or past job, then click “Find My Career Matches” to get a list of matching occupations, typical wages, education requirements, and job listings.
  • Skills Profiler: Select your skills and level of proficiency, then click “Find Matching Careers” to generate a list of targeted careers that match your skills. 

Your work values are important, too. Nobody wants to work in a job where they don’t fit in with the company culture or where the organization’s mission doesn’t mesh with your ethics or beliefs. CareerOneStop’s Work Values Matcher will help you find career options and employers that share your values.

There are no right or wrong answers. These tools are designed to help you determine what you’d like to do, not tell you what you should be doing.

Make a List of Your Top Job Picks

Once you’ve spent some time making matches with job options, make a list of the jobs that interest you the most. Use the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn more about each occupation, the job description, salary, and job outlook. 

You’ll be able to review jobs by occupation group, median salary, required education, training requirements, and the project number of new jobs. Or, enter an occupation into the search box to go directly to detailed information on that job.

As you read about different jobs, you may want to edit your list accordingly. What sounded good at first may not be as high on your list when you learn more about it. 

To get hired quickly, it makes the most sense to target jobs that are in a growth industry and are as close a match to your credentials as possible.

Find Occupations and Industries That Are Hiring

Despite the economic downturn, there are industries that are hiring and jobs that are booming. Marketplace has highlighted sectors that are growing, including retail, construction, online shopping, and some health care fields.

Indeed reports that the most in-demand careers include home health care, nursing assistant, physical therapy aide, construction worker, operations analyst, financial advisor, web developer, software developer, and information security analyst.

The top industries that are hiring now include health care, warehousing and delivery, grocery stores and pharmacies, and IT support per CareerOneStop.

Each industry includes many different occupations you can target during your job search. Check your list of top job picks to see how they align with growth industries.

Get Ready to Apply

Start looking at job postings to learn about requirements for the roles that interest you, then make your resume as close a match as possible. When filling out applications, highlight your most relevant skills.

It’s important to tweak your resume and job applications to show prospective employers that you have the qualifications they are seeking. 

You’ll want to show hiring managers (and the software they use to review applications) that you’re a good candidate for the job. 

This means tweaking your application materials each time you apply for the job. Take the time to match your qualifications to the company’s job requirements, so it’s clear that you’re a qualified candidate.

Finding Job Listings

There are many different job sites you can use to find open positions. Here are 10 of the best job websites you can use to get your job search started. If you’ve got a clear idea of the industry you’d like to work in, these niche job sites will get you directly to the jobs in that sector.

Also, use CareerOneStop’s Find a Job Now tool to access employers with current openings. For remote positions, FlexJobs is the top job site to find work-from-home, virtual positions.

Many of the top job sites have apps you can use to search and apply for jobs on your mobile device.

You can speed up your job search by using keywords and advanced search options including job titles, location, company name, skills, and job type. Another way to expedite your job search is to set up job alerts that will notify you as soon as new listings are posted.

Get Hired Fast

Jobs for Displaced Workers

When time is of the essence, and you need to get hired quickly, there are ways you can tap immediate openings. The National Labor Exchange’s (NLx) Need a Job Now site lists jobs for displaced workers posted by employers with immediate hiring needs.

Companies With Immediate Openings

Review Indeed’s list of Companies Hiring to find those with immediate openings. Indeed also flags job postings that are available now—you’ll see “urgently hiring” in the job posting. Glassdoor has a list of Hiring Surge companies with a spike in demand for workers with relevant skills.

Staffing Companies

Consider working with a staffing company. In a statement to The Balance, Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO at American Staffing Association, explained, “Staffing companies help job seekers identify transferable skill sets, provide needed training, and transition them into positions in industry sectors that are hiring. Staffing companies have access to positions that otherwise may not be available and make the search process more personal.” This support is offered at no cost, and job seekers can find staffing companies through a searchable online directory.

Check out some of the best ways to supplement or replace your compensation when you’re unemployed and short on money to pay the bills, and how the income will impact your unemployment benefits.

Need More Help? 

Sometimes, a job search can become overwhelming. That can be especially true when trying to transition to a new career field. If you’re feeling challenged, there’s free and low-cost help available. American Job Centers (AJC) provide free job search help, and both online and phone assistance are available.

If you’re a college student or graduate, check with your career or alumni office to see what resources are available. Many schools provide help with resumes, cover letters, job searching, and interviewing. You’ll also be able to network with alumni who may be able to help.

Tap online and local resources that provide free and low-cost job search help to get your job search on track, and get back on your feet as quickly as possible.