We often write resumes for people who have lost jobs due to downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, off-shoring, changing regulations, or industry shifts. Whether a layoff is anticipated or is a surprise, it can be an emotional minefield. Here is the advice I’ve found most helpful for these clients.
Being laid off is disorienting, even if you had advance warning. Job loss is one of the five major stress events in life, ranking right up there with the death of a loved one, serious illness or injury, relocating, and divorce.
Because your confidence may take a hit, it can be tempting to retaliate and criticize the company or complain about your boss. But don’t burn bridges. Keep your private conversations and your social media comments professional and mature. If you have a therapist or counselor, now may be a good time to sign up for a few sessions. If you don’t have one, ask a trusted friend for a referral. Dealing with your feelings in the moment, with the support and guidance of a professional, can go a long way toward minimizing the long-term emotional impact of the layoff.
Also, don’t let your period of mourning turn into a long vacation. This is a time of self-reflection instead of indulgent escapism. It’s the perfect time to learn some new skills or take up a hobby that you can add to your resume. Remember that gaps on your resume may be problematic in the future, so start your job search right away to minimize that gap.
Lastly, focus on the positive. It may sound cheesy, but positive self-talk is your new best friend. Put affirmations on sticky notes. Start your day with a mindset of gratitude. Reach out to your former colleagues and ask them for LinkedIn recommendations—and then really absorb and believe the positive things your professional connections have to say about you. Believe that you have value, your skills are marketable, and you are more resilient than you may feel at the moment.
As soon as you are notified of your layoff, you are immediately entitled to your last paycheck. You should also ask for a “layoff letter” because you will need it to file for unemployment, and to show during your job search.
Know your rights and take action. Learn what benefits you are still entitled to, like health insurance, a pension plan, profit sharing, unemployment insurance, unused vacation and sick days, and severance pay.
If you have questions about your rights, your unused benefits, or any other aspect of your layoff, consider going to one or more of these resources for help and advice:
- US Department of Labor and state department of labor offices
- Your company’s human resources department
- Your mentor, career coach, or life coach
- A friend or family member you have always counted on for emotional support and understanding
- Job boards and job listing sites
- AARP, even if you are not a senior
- Your union or professional organization
Lastly, don’t wait to cut back on your expenses. You don’t know how long your job search will last and you don’t want to add undue financial pressure to an already trying time. Draft a realistic budget to see you through the period ahead. If you have scant savings, consider a temporary or part-time position, even if it’s not in your professional field. There are plenty of side hustles out there—from driving to pet-walking to waiting tables—so find the one that’s right for you and put in your application.
Plan Your Next Move
Be focused but be flexible, too. Let people know about your job search—and tell them if you are willing to move or if you are open to changing fields. Don’t ignore casual acquaintances and people outside your profession.
If you need samples of your work, the time to secure them is before your last day on the job. Don’t take anything you are not entitled to take and don’t take what your company would consider confidential or compromising.
Update your resume and your LinkedIn profile. (That’s where we come in.) Print some handsome networking cards with your new contact information—including, of course, a link to your LinkedIn page. Follow your target companies on social media. Attend networking and social events. Set up informational interviews. In short, don’t go into hiding. Stay active and involved in your professional and personal circles.
Every day, work to keep your spirits up. Remind yourself that company layoffs are common and try not to take it personally. Being downsized doesn’t reflect the quality of your performance or professional value.
Job seekers I know have found that these five habits can help maintain a positive perspective:
- Daily meditation, to help clear your mind. Sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing will help relieve stress, remove guilt and frustration, and even improve your physical health. Find a style of meditation that works for you.
- Exercise, so you feel good about your body. Your preferred exercise could be an intense gym workout, some yoga classes, or just a daily walk. Anything is better than a sedentary lifestyle. And don’t forget to eat a healthful diet.
- Goal-setting, so you have a sense of accomplishment. Make your goals realistic and precise. As part of your daily routine, review your goals, track them, and change them as time goes on. Writing them down and reciting them aloud helps.
- Socializing with the right people, so negativity doesn’t creep in. Network with people who encourage you and energize your new life.
- Counting your blessings, so you experience gratitude. If you list on paper all the people, things, and achievements you’ve made in your life that you can be thankful for, your attitude changes. Guaranteed. Read the list daily and update it over time.
Getting laid off doesn’t have to sidetrack your career, your earning potential, or your state of mind. In fact—and I’ve seen it happen over and over again—this could be an opportunity to reevaluate what’s important to you, what experience you want to gain next, and where you want to take your career. I often see clients move on to a better job, improved work/life balance, or an entirely new career after surviving a layoff. With the right planning, mindset, actions, and follow-through, this can happen to you as well. Believe it and make it so.