Laid off, furloughed? Now what?

If you have been furloughed this is a scary time for you. Don’t panic, but don’t stay idle. If you ‘still have a job’ though it may have been reduced in scope or time but you are still receiving health and insurance benefits, this should give you a little peace of mind. If you don’t have a job, now is the time to launch a strategic job search plan.

Here are some things to do during your furlough time:

  • Workers furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible to receive unemployment insurance, which has been dramatically expanded as part of the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This will help in the short term.
  • Update your resume, send it to several trusted colleagues for review, look carefully at punctuation, spacing, grammar, spelling, update content, make edits, and get it good to go ( If you have been laid off from your current position, your cover letter will also be very important, don’t hesitate to indicate that you have been laid off as part of an institutional layoff due simply to budget issues associated with the pandemic ( ).
  • Identify gaps in your portfolio and consider how to gain additional skills and experiences to close the gap. Professional associations have considerable training materials and programs on line. Currently, there are also many complimentary webinars that could help in sharpening your existing skills. Consider additional certifications: Title IX investigations, mediation training, assessment, strategic planning, conflict resolution, etc.). This type of training is very valuable across many different industries and roles.
  • Set up notifications in, and so you can get messages about open positions. (Note: notifications are not a perfect substitute to actually looking through these sites regularly–pick a day and time each week to look at the positions that are open.)
  • Focus on specific institutions similar to those you have had experience in or institutions in geographic areas that you are interested in. Use your network to gather information about institutions that are of interest to you. Also, consider that there are industry areas that are similar to higher education for which skills are transferable—social impact organizations, secondary education, and advocacy associations.
  • Be deliberative when applying for positions. Consider carefully the position and geographic area. You may find the perfect opportunity in an area of the country that you cannot see yourself living in—don’t apply as the institution is not moving!
  • Write, write, and write some more! Have you been promising to write an article or a review for a newsletter? Now is the time to get your name out in the industry.
  • Stay in touch with all the folks in your professional network. Let those in your network know you are searching, what kind of position you are seeking, and if you have geographic restrictions. This allows you colleagues to nominate you for positions!
  • Self-assess and be creative—there may be other parts of higher education that may be of interest, there may be a local social impact organization that needs help with educational programming, or a part-time position in a local advocacy group that needs assistance with a membership drive. You have transferrable skills, you can learn different industries, and you can try new things!!

Ellen Heffernan

President - Spelman Johnson

Ellen Heffernan graduated from Smith College with a B.A. in economics and government. She joined Spelman Johnson in 1996, after a ten-year career in higher education that included positions at Smith College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also a national speaker and writer on topics related to recruiting and professional development in higher education and serves as faculty for several national higher education association professional development programs. Ellen also currently serves on the executive board of the National Association of Executive Recruiters.