Step 1: CARPE DIEM!
Negotiate like the dead man walking that you are. Meaning, you have absolutely nothing left to lose and an awful lot to gain by calling the governor just one more time. Ask for more severance if you're not satisfied with what you've been given. Ask to have your medical benefits extended until the end of the following month, and not the end of the current one, as is traditional. See if your former employers will pay for a month or two of outplacement counseling for you. Find out how long the company is willing to let you use your office's resources to conduct your job search. If you need one, and you can afford it, ask if you can purchase the computer that you've been working on. Ask if your personal items can be shipped to your home at the company's expense. Whatever you think of that you might like to have done on your behalf is fair game for a request. However, make sure that you behave in a professional manner. You may be angry, shocked, hurt, and sad, but you don't want to burn any bridges.
Step 2: Who's in charge here?
Find out the names, phone numbers, e-mail, and snail mail addresses for the people who will be handling the closure of your office. Generally companies leave a few people on the payroll long enough to take care of any outstanding issues that come up. If possible, find out how long these people will be available to answer inquiries and what will happen after that. If you're being let go because your company has been acquired, find out who at the acquiring company will have your employment records. If your company is being dissolved altogether, make sure that you get a copy of your salary and employment history. You will need this information for reference checks that may take place as part of your upcoming job search.
~Step 3: Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Find out What You're Owed
Check out unemployment insurance policies for your state. This is the state in which your company was located, even if you live in a different one. Generally, once you have worked for a certain period of time mandated by your state unemployment bureau, you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Different states have different rules, but if the "qualifying event" is that your company has closed its doors, in most cases you will be granted benefits. You will need to provide documentation of the salary you were earning, the length of time you were employed and some contact information so that this can be verified. Make sure you have the name and phone number of someone from your company who will be able to provide this information. Additionally, most states will only pay your unemployment insurance from the day you file, not the day your job ended, so it's critical to get this process started quickly. The money you receive is based on your salary and the guidelines set by the state you live in. It's definitely not Powerball time but it will provide you with a little cushion during your job search.
Step 4: Reach out and Touch... Everyone You Know
Send an e-mail or other message to people with whom you do business, explaining what happened, and how you can be reached going forward. This way they'll hear what happened directly from you, and not just through the rumor mill. If you're comfortable doing so, include your home phone number and personal e-mail address. Let people know that you will wrap up any outstanding issues with them. It's important to do this, because if you decide to stay in the same industry you will run into the same people again and again. They'll remember that you were helpful to them in a crunch. Vendors, especially, can be nervous when a company closes, as they may be worried that they won't be paid. Unless you've been given the authority to tell people that they will be paid, by all means don't make any promises. Instead, provide them with information that will help them get their questions answered, including the names and phone numbers of people they can contact for help.
Step 5: Show me the Money
File for any reimbursements you are owed for work-related expenses. Make sure that you find out from whomever is in charge when you can expect to be paid. You may only have a limited time during which you can do this. Also make sure that you cancel any ongoing expenses that were being billed to your credit card - magazine subscriptions, subscriptions to work-related websites, research services, etc.
~Step 6: United we Stand
Get the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all of your co-workers. They will be invaluable to your job search, and you to theirs. Additionally, they will be a terrific support network for you in the days to come.
Step 7: I'm sorry to hear that. How can I help?
Make "My Company Just Closed" your middle name. Unless you're a very senior executive, owner or partner who may have been involved in the company's demise, it's most likely that you were not responsible for what occurred. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and it's important to let people know you're looking. It's not as if you have to worry about someone telling your co-workers that you're putting feelers out. Many people will respond to your plight and provide you with helpful information. You may be surprised to find out how many people are willing to provide you with some helpful contacts, make introductions, or even let you know of openings within their company. If you were in their shoes you'd help them, right?
Rachel E. Pine is an Account Supervisor at Middleberg & Associates where she represents clients in the Consumer New Media division. Previously she was the Director of Communications at P.O.V. Magazine, which ceased publication in January 2000.
It's not fun. It's not easy. It's certainly not something people like to think about. But companies can and do go belly-up. Flop. Fold. Cease to exist. And other companies can and do lay off even their most loyal and talented employees. For the now formerly employed employee it's time to do some quick thinking and planning. Mourning with your co-workers may be cathartic, but it will only make you feel better for a couple of hours. After that you'll need to make some pretty quick decisions about medical coverage, severance, outplacement, recruiters, referrals and unemployment insurance. But relax, really. Things may be much better than you think.