Lately, it’s seems the news is all about the economy and the daily layoff report. In the past month we’ve heard about thousands losing their jobs from Starbucks, Wachovia, the airline industry, and now Bennigans. This problem won’t be fixed over night. But you can lessen the blow if you’re unexpectedly handed a pink slip.

So how can you prepare for a sudden job loss? Suze Orman says to have something like 6 months salary tucked away, but is that really feasible in today’s economy? I know many are struggling just to pay the utilities and keep food on the table. If that describes you, you can still be prepared, you just need to know how to prioritize.

1. Try and negotiate a severance package. Ask for help paying for a new resume and cover letter. Some outplacement firms have probably approached your company offering this kind of help for several thousand dollars per employee. However, these firms TEACH you how to write a resume, which is not in your best interest. Instead tell your employer that a professionally written resume will cost them less and yield more for both of you. The sooner you’re back to work, the less liability it is for them in unemployment compensation. That’s a win-win situation. Besides, do you really WANT to write your own resume? Some people would rather undergo a root canal than take on that task.

2. Ask for a copy of your personnel records. In particular you will need to know start and end dates, promotions, official job titles, any awards, salary increases, bonuses, training seminars, and performance reviews. These will come in handy when it’s time to write your resume. BTW–it’s always in your best interest to track these things on your own just in case your company abruptly shuts its doors.

3. Prioritize your finances. Apply for unemployment benefits. Even part-time employees are eligible if you had state taxes taken out of your check. This is not the time to take a vacation, but to hit the ground running and look for a new job. The longer you are out of work, the worse it looks on your resume.

4. Take care of your appearance. If you need new clothes for job interviews consider second hand stores or consignment shops. You can get a cheap haircut at a local beauty school. Check out any municipal gyms. When I lived in Denver 10 years ago, I joined the Parks and Rec for $50 a year. See what your city offers in exercise classes. It’s also a great way to network your way to a new job and keep your spirits up during your job search (and elevate your self-confidence.)

5. Update your skills. Go to the library, take an online webinar, or join Toastmasters to improve public speaking skills (and meet others who may know of job openings in your area.) Knowledge is free to those who seek it, it’s an education that will cost you.

6. If things get really tough, don’t forget about the local food bank, and utility assistance programs offered by churches and non-profit organizations. Then remember to give back once you are gainfully employed. What goes around, comes around.

7. Network! Sign up for Linked In and track down your former colleagues, employers, vendors, and clients so you’re not scrambling for references the day before the job interview.

8. Consider temp work. This is a great way to try out new positions, learn new skills, and bring in some extra income while you’re seeking that next great opportunity.

9. Don’t skimp on a resume service. You don’t need to spend $1,500 unless you’re already commanding a $300,000 salary. But don’t waste your money surfing Craigslist for a $50 document either. Certified Resume Writers charge $250 and up for their services depending on experience, your occupation, and level of employment. The more interviews you get, the sooner you’re back to work. I remember hearing back from a client with the dilemma of 3 competing job offers. That’s a good problem to have. Considering he invested less than $500 for a resume package, he realized a $10,000 gain from a higher salary. And that investment IS tax deductible.

10. Stay focused and positive. Believe me, I know how easy it can be to get depressed. If you find yourself sinking into a pity party, turn your thinking into “what can I be thankful for today?” To quote Oprah Winfrey, “when you’re thankful for you’ve got, you always get more, but when you think you don’t have enough, you never will.” IT WORKS!

Here’s to a successful job search! May you always be happily employed.

Susan Geary, CERW / 1st Rate Resumes