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Should you tell everyone in the office what happened, or should
It depends upon the company. If you leave under mysterious circumstances, people might think you got arrested! I'm always one for being open and letting people know what happened. You can tell people you got laid off without sounding really venomous about it. These are people you're going to want to work with in your future, especially if you work in a very tight industry or a region like the Bay Area, where people know each other for years and years. They just cycle through the various companies. You're going to see these people again. So the last thing you want is a reputation for being vicious. (See the 25 people to blame for the financial crisis.)
What do you tell your own kids?
Be honest with them at an age-appropriate level. Say good things about your company so that they don't grow up thinking that employers are monsters. Say good things about your job and how you felt about it while you were doing it. Invite them to participate in the new phase of the family life, without making them feel overburdened by a financial problem.
What if you think your dismissal is age discrimination? Is it
going to a lawyer these days?
I think so. Go to somebody who's an expert in employee law and see. If you're seeing that a whole layer of employees who happen to be graying at the temples are the ones who are being disappeared, you have yourself a class-action lawsuit, possibly, and that's something worth exploring. The attorney may say, "Not worth your effort." But it's better to make a decision based on information than just making assumptions.
Any tips about health insurance?
One of the experts that I talked to said that if you think you're about to be laid off, get your physical done while your company coverage is still paying for it. Get a recent document that says you are in great shape, so when the time comes for you to go out and get your own coverage, you have a document that's new that you can show to insurance companies to prove that you're a good health-insurance risk. When people see how much COBRA costs on a monthly basis, the reality of that sets in really fast. There are all sorts of ways of getting coverage, including the warehouse stores. Costco is offering health-care coverage now. So there are alternatives. A lot of the associations are offering something. So there are ways of patching together coverage so you never have to be totally without. (Read "The Year in Medicine 2008: From A to Z.")
Is it O.K. to take any job in the short run just to have money, or
you have to be discerning about it because of your résumé?
It depends upon how badly you need money. Don't be precipitous if you don't have to be. If you have to get new work right away, try to make it consulting work that's at your level. A great place for consulting work is the place that just laid you off. They need to get that work done; they just needed to trim the overhead. You can conceivably continue working at that company. (Learn why dentists are making more money during the recession.)
What do you tell a prospective employer about your layoff? How
can you be?
I think you can be completely honest. In fact, in this phase, if you're not, the employer is probably going to wonder. Don't lie. This is the era of the no-fault layoff. Anyone who judges you for having been laid off doesn't know what they're doing.