Dismissed, downsized, dumped? There’s no easy way to hear you’re suddenly out of work. To soften the blow, we’ve pulled together six steps you can take right away to put more money in your pocket, and give yourself a better chance at finding a new job.

Don’t sign anything

At least not until you’ve taken your severance package home to read it properly. Check whether your ex-employer is offering salary continuance or a lump sum payment, and whether you’re still entitled to extended benefits or any kind of employment support. Although there’s no official deadline to complete this process, a week is typical. That’s usually enough time to get legal advice if you feel that’s necessary.

Keep it together

You’re probably feeling shocked or worried about the sudden change in your financial status. Who wouldn’t be? Yet the moment you hear the words, “Effective immediately,” you need to zip it and start listening. Not only will you be more likely to take in vital information, starting a shouting match does nothing but damage your professional reputation. Definitely a no-no heading into a job search.

Get a lawyer

While some employer’s severance packages are indeed fair (sometimes they’re just as sad to see you go as you are), others require a lawyer to negotiate complicated clauses. Find a specialized employment litigator who knows his or her way around things like non-competition clauses. And yes, everything in your package is negotiable… until the employer says no.

Just ask for it

Unless you’ve been caught embezzling funds or something else highly improper, you may be able to request a few favours. Go ahead and ask if you can grab personal information and documents off your work computer or use your company phone for a couple of days until you can buy your own plan. The worst they can say is no.

Keep your stories straight

It’s okay to ask employers how they’ll present your termination publicly. You’ll likely both agree on a neutral message to keep the story consistent. The last thing you want is to tell a potential employer you were let go because business was slow, only to have the reference claim you didn’t get along with the boss. These days, the word “restructured” gets thrown around a lot.

Be prepared

When the job ends so does access to your desk. Keep all key documents at home, including your employment contract, any compensation and bonus documents, and even printed emails that cover you if you were in conflict before being canned. Stashed thank-you notes from managers quickly settle disputes over poor quality work if such accusations are levelled at you.