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.
Then there's the pesky matter of health insurance. If you can't jump on a spouse or domestic partner's plan, it's worth looking into whether you're eligible for COBRA benefits -- essentially, continuing the health plan you had through your employer for the next 18 months, only on your own dime -- and how much it will cost you. But before you sign up for COBRA coverage, compare the cost with buying a plan of your own. (See eHealthInsurance.com or contact a health insurance agent in your neck of the woods for help.) Reason being, the COBRA route often costs a pretty penny. Whatever you do, don't let your health coverage lapse, unless you don't mind being hit with nasty waiting periods or denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.
You may also be eligible for other severance benefits, such as access to company premises and equipment while conducting your job search. (One high-tech firm I contracted at gave laid-off employees access to company equipment and resources for six weeks after their last day of work.) To make sure you receive all the benefits you're due and get all your questions answered, Scarborough Civitelli recommends going home, collecting your thoughts and coming up with a list of queries for HR.
4) Take the government handout. You pay into the system, so you might as well reap the rewards of unemployment insurance while looking for a new position. And although those unemployment checks won't match the salary you had at your job, some money is better than none, right?
You can find out how to apply for unemployment benefits in your state on the site CareerOneStop funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. (Most states let you file a claim by phone or online.) To estimate what your weekly unemployment benefits might be, see this Economic Policy Institute calculator.
"It's important to apply right away," as your unemployment benefits won't kick in for a few weeks, said Emsellem. "Most people who get laid off should be eligible."
And if Hurricane Ike or any other natural disaster cost you your job, Emsellem said, you may be eligible for disaster recovery benefits, even if you're self-employed. For details, see the Disaster Recovery Services page of CareerOneStop.
5) Put a positive spin on it. Moan all you want behind the scenes, to your friends and family. But how you talk about your newfound unemployment within your professional community could affect your ability to land your next job. If you reach out to past clients or business partners -- or cross paths with them at a networking function -- a simple "I'm no longer with the company" is all you need to say.
"If you are pressed for details," Scarborough Civitelli said, "it is fine to say that your position was eliminated as part of a larger layoff."