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Clark Howard: What to do if you're laid off

  • Story Highlights
  • Clark says you're going to need to apply for unemployment insurance
  • You need to know which debts to prioritize, which to neglect if your money runs out
  • Clark suggests you join networking and unemployment support groups
  • With certain skills, try consulting work or freelancing on a project
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By Clark Howard
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Editor's note: Clark Howard, the Atlanta, Georgia-based host of a nationally syndicated radio show, is host of a television show designed to help viewers save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off during these tough economic times. The show airs at noon and 4 p.m. ET Saturdays and Sundays on HLN.


Clark Howard says use the Internet to hook up with powerful networking groups.

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Many years ago, I had the opportunity to start an Atlanta-based civic program called Career Action. The program's goal was to provide free resources to help the jobless and underemployed find steady work.

That was 1979. Today, it's 2009 and the need for job assistance is greater than ever as unemployment continues to rise.

The conventional wisdom about education and employment -- that as your level of education rises, the less likely you are to be impacted by layoffs -- has been completely flipped on its head. This recession knows no boundaries in terms of education, skill level, training or years on the job.

So, what do you do if you're laid off or have your hours cut at work? First, don't panic! You're going to need to apply for unemployment insurance.

I'm hearing a lot of people badmouthing unemployment compensation. There's nothing shameful about it. Employers pay premiums over time during the good years to provide for those who get laid off in lean times. It's not beneath you to accept this insurance money.

Money Expert
Clark Howard offers a road map to financial stability every weekend.
At noon and 4 p.m. ET Saturdays and Sundays on HLN

Next, you need to triage your finances so you know which debts to prioritize and which to neglect if your money runs out. Paying your car note is central to finding employment for most people. It's practically higher than paying your mortgage or rent. In fact, you may need to live with friends or relatives until you can get back on your feet.

What shouldn't you prioritize paying? Your credit cards. People say, "But that will hurt my credit..." Look, if you're in a situation where there's no money coming in and you have to decide between paying the mortgage and putting food on the table, chances are your credit is already damaged.

Once you get organized financially, it's time to job hunt. Looking for work is a full-time job and you need an action plan. Start by reviewing your list of contacts, but understand that people don't like to be called and asked if there's a job. But they do love to give advice that may lead to a job opportunity. Visit in person with your contacts if possible.

I'm also a big believer in networking groups and unemployment support groups. Networking for jobs has become something of a lost art in our country because people think the Internet replaces everything else. It doesn't.

However, there are ways to use the Internet to hook up with powerful networking groups. There's even a new organization called LaidOffCamp that is like a free day camp for the underemployed. According to the movement's Web site, it's "an ad-hoc gathering of unemployed and nontraditionally employed people (including freelancers, entrepreneurs and startups) who want to share ideas and learn from each other." You never know whom you might meet.

When you are job hunting on the Internet, be sure to check out screen-scraper sites like SimplyHired and They're both "one-stop shops" that collect content from all the traditional job sites such as Monster and Yahoo! HotJobs, plus the career pages of individual company sites.

In addition, The Boston Globe recently recommended several specialty sites when you're looking for work in a specific field. is geared toward the science and biotechnology fields; focuses on the nonprofit charity world; and for those who are 50 years or older, there's a site called

In the course of your job search, you may find that you need money immediately and can't sit around waiting for a job offer to materialize. In that case, certain skill sets -- Web design, programming, marketing and videography, to name a few -- lend themselves to consulting work or freelancing on a project.

The Internet also offers a variety of sites that match freelancers up with employers. A recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle suggested,, and as starting points.

And if you can afford it after all of your necessities, it's always a great idea to keep your mind sharp by taking classes to improve your skills or learn new ones. You can never be too smart.

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