The Ultimate Layoff Survival Guide

Even if you don't work for Lehman Brothers or Merrill Lynch, it's a scary time to be an employee. If you don't have any friends, relatives or neighbors whose job is currently on the chopping block, it's probably because you don't have any friends, relatives or neighbors.

In April, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that one in seven employees frets that they'll get laid off in the next year, with the lowest-earning workers understandably worried most about getting the axe.

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But that doesn't mean you have to take the economic downturn lying down. For starters, you can create a layoff preparedness kit, so that if the worst happens and you find yourself on the wrong end of a pink slip with just 10 minutes to vacate the premises, you're not frantic.

"Keep contact information for your colleagues somewhere off site so that when you leave, you can stay in touch," said Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, president of Bridgeway Career Development, a career coaching firm based in Seattle. "Any one of these colleagues might be the connection that helps you land your next job."

Likewise, keep your resume current, your office spare (easier to pack up in a pinch) and copies of any non-proprietary work samples stored at home.

Of course, if career disaster strikes, an updated resume and tidy desk will only get you so far. So let's go over what else you'll immediately need to do and consider should you lose your job.

1) Reign in your emotions. When you lose your livelihood, it's understandable you might be peeved, depressed or incredibly freaked out. But do your best to keep your feelings in check. Like mom used to say, if you don't have anything nice to say, keep your trap shut.

If someone asks you a question you don't feel equipped to answer without drop-kicking them, Scarborough Civitelli recommends offering a civil, "I need to think through some things and I'll touch base with you about that later."

Finding Your Next Job

2) Grab your valuables. Assuming you do have access to your computer and more than 10 minutes to clear your desk, what should you salvage besides your work samples and your colleagues' contact info? Letters of praise from customers and coworkers, winning performance reviews and anything else that proves you know how to hit it out of the ballpark.

Forget about cleaning personal e-mails off the company computer, though. "They've been backed up to a corporate server, anyway," said Scarborough Civitelli.

And don't overlook memberships to professional associations or subscriptions to industry publications and databases that your employer purchased for you to keep, Scarborough Civitelli advises. Be sure to grab the necessary contact information so you can transfer these to your personal e-mail or snail mail address.

3) Don't leave benefits on the table. Depending on which state you live in, you may be entitled to cash in your accrued vacation days when you lose your job, said Maurice Emsellem, public policy director of the National Employment Law Project, an employment research and advocacy organization. According to Workplace Fairness, a worker advocacy Web site, 24 states -- including New York and California -- require employers to add accrued vacation pay to your last paycheck.

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