You lost your job.

It seems surreal not having a building to report to in the morning. Fear and worry now live in your head, sit at your kitchen table - and never seem to leave.

It feels hopeless, but you have to take this step by step. There are things you can do to protect yourself and your family, and to get moving toward a new job.

Do a legal check

First, when you're let go, have a lawyer look at any document your company wants you to sign before you sign it, according to Cheryl Spaulding, president of the nonprofit Joseph's People in Downingtown, which helps unemployed people.

There might be noncompete clauses (your company may preclude you from working for another company in the same field) or complex wording about pensions.

If you can't afford an attorney, call your county's bar association for help.

Be sure to take nothing you are not permitted to take, Spaulding said, such as company software. On the other hand, make sure you have the names, numbers, and home e-mail addresses of everyone you worked with, for later networking.

File by mail, by phone, or online

Next, file for unemployment compensation. The best way to do this is online; at, you will find links for the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Department of Labor sites.

If you don't have a computer and can't access one at a library or at an employment-help center such as CareerLink in Pennsylvania (60 locations), or One Stop Centers in New Jersey, use the phone.

To apply in Pennsylvania, call 1-888-313-7284. In South Jersey, call 856-507-2340.

You can also apply by mail, with applications from a help center or a nearby state legislator's office.

Sign up for COBRA

Next, you should sign up immediately for COBRA continued health insurance, Spaulding said. If your company does not offer access to COBRA, find out what other options it can suggest for continued health coverage. The government's economic-stimulus bill will provide workers a 65 percent subsidy for COBRA premiums for up to nine months after losing their jobs.

Realize it's not your fault

After you lose your job, do not isolate yourself, said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. Make sure you continue to leave your house and talk to people.

It's also important that you tell your children what's going on. "Let them know it's temporary, and that the whole family will be working on it together," Dodds said.

And, he stressed, don't feel ashamed. "It's happening everywhere, and this is not your fault," he said.

After you apply for unemployment, check state Web sites for links to other avenues of help.

In Pennsylvania, a site called offers information on how to apply for food stamps and how to get help with child care, health care, heating, mortgages, and school meals.

In Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you could also contact county assistance offices for information on such immediate needs.

Once you've applied for unemployment and health benefits, try to relax, then begin looking for work, Spaulding said.

Tell everyone you know

Use that list of company contacts, and combine it with a list of literally everyone you know - friends, your children's friends' families, alumni associations, church groups, etc.

Your list should contain at least 100 people, Spaulding said, but ideally many more.

You're not asking them specifically for a job, she said. But you're letting them all know that you need one.

Talk to everyone, because while you might know what sort of work your friend does, you're likely unaware of what his mother or cousin does. And they just might work for a company you would fit into.

Go to a CareerLinks or One Stop office to get free help on looking for work, or how your current skills can be applied to another industry, said Kevin Smith, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

At, check out the link to Job Seekers, he added.

Employment centers can also help you set up your resume. Even a resume you prepared as recently as two years ago may not be workable today, Spaulding said.

Companies now scan resumes by computer, and, for example, anything that is underlined or contains bullets cannot be read, she said.

Avoid blind letters

Don't spend too much time on job Web sites, Spaulding added. Many of the positions listed are internal jobs that you'll never get, she said.

And don't waste your day writing blindly to companies. "They will not answer you," she said.

You might want to get your profile on, a professional networking site. Again, places like CareerLinks can help. And when you're looking for a job, no matter how bitter you feel, never bad-mouth your old company, Spaulding added.

"Just say, 'I'm out of work,' " she said. "Everyone understands."

Contact staff writer Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or