If you are laid off, you have a number of options, depending on the precise circumstances of your separation with your former employer. In some cases, you may be entitled to severance pay, unemployment, and other benefits which will help you while you look for another position. In other instances, you have no benefits or legal protections, and you will probably need to start checking the job market right away. In either case, you can help yourself out by planning ahead; try to set aside some money in savings every month so that you will have a safety cushion if you suddenly become unemployed.
It is important to distinguish between being laid off, being fired, and quitting. If you are laid off, your employer lets you go, often with others, because the employer no longer needs your services or can no longer afford to pay you. In this instance, you are usually entitled to preferential hiring, meaning that if your position opens up later, you can have it back. Your company may also be required to keep you on the benefits roll for a set period of time, and you may be offered severance pay for a few weeks or months, depending on your position. Most importantly, if you are laid off, you can file a claim for unemployment compensation with the government to get financial assistance.
If you are fired, your employer lets you go because you are not suitable for a position or because you have committed a gross act of negligence. In this case, you cannot collect unemployment from the government, and your company is not required to offer severance pay. However, if you are unlawfully fired and you can prove it, you may be able to regain your position or sue your employer for damages. When you choose to quit, you have no safety net at all, as a voluntary loss of a job is not grounds for compensation.
You should know your rights in terms of benefits and severance pay. Research your local laws and read your employee manual carefully so that you understand which benefits, if any, will be offered in the event that you are laid off. These benefits may also vary depending on what rank you have with the company; an executive, for example, usually receives more benefits than a janitor. Check with your union as well, if you are in a unionized workplace, as the union representative can inform you about your rights.
In any event, when you lose your job, you generally need another one. If you are fortunate enough to be able to collect compensation because you were laid off, don't be lazy; start looking for new jobs right away so that you have more flexibility and choice. Check job listings, especially for the industry you work in, and consider applying directly to companies you like. Make sure to set up a strong resume so that you will make an appealing candidate, and be clear with yourself about what you need from a your new job. Don't take a position that isn't ideal, as you will only find yourself looking for work again in a few months.