If you’ve been laid off or gotten fired, this sudden job loss can feel like the end of the world—the end of stability, the end of your paycheck, the end of your career. It can feel like a big black hole of uncertainty. Whether it was the result of something you did, or the result of a complicated web of back-room decisions that aren’t entirely clear to you, the end result is the same: you need a new job, and you need one fast.
So how does one go about doing this, when you feel defeated and unemployable? Well, it’s not an easy process, but getting back in the game as quickly as possible is what you need to do.
Embrace the Grief (Briefly)
When it happens to you, it’s devastating. When it happened to me, I had an inkling it was coming—the crisis-laden company I worked far was slowly and systematically eliminating positions at the end of every quarter, like hurling deck chairs from the Titanic. Still, although I certainly knew it was a possibility, and that I should probably start coming up with a Plan B, I didn’t…and then on that Friday morning, when I was invited into a manager’s office for a vague “meeting,” I realized my doom had caught up with me: I would be included in the next round of layoffs. I don’t actually remember much from that morning, except breaking my longstanding rule of never crying at work, and feeling at a total loss for what to do next.
RELATED: How to Bounce Back From a Lay-off
However, even if I did have a great Plan B lined up for myself in the event of my job loss, I still don’t think it would have overcome those initial feelings of grief and failure. At TheLadders, they liken job loss to any other kind of grief, with similar stages:
- This isn’t really happening, not to ME. I’m a good employee, I get my work done, I toe the company line.
- This won’t really stick. They’ll recognize their mistake, I’ll come back on Monday, and we’ll move past this crazy misunderstanding.
- How DARE they do this to me? I gave them the best four years of my career.
- This is all my fault. If I had just done more, I’d still have my job. I sucked at my job, and they finally realized it.
- I’m never going to leave my house again; this is so humiliating. Everyone’s going to judge me for losing my job.
- What actually happened here? Why did this happen to me, and what can I do about it? What do I want to do?
- Okay, things have changed and I need to get a job. What should I do now?
Even if you saw it coming, even if it’s not your fault (economics, company politics), even if it is your fault—it’s horrible to find yourself in the position of being rejected professionally. So if/when it happens to you, I recommend taking a little bit of time to absorb reality and let yourself move through these stages before you dive back into the job hunt. You need to be in the right mindset, otherwise you’ll be less than your best self as you search for your next opportunity.
I Got Laid Off. What Can I Do?
If you’ve just been laid off, your job loss was likely due to circumstances that were beyond your control. That can make it even harder to get back on track, because you may never know why your name came due on some list in HR. You’re not left with a specific idea of what you can do to improve your professional game and frame it for the next job. If that’s the case, see this as a chance for a general professional makeover.
RELATED: So You Just Got Fired. Now What?
Decide what you want to do.
Do you want to stay in this industry? Is it time to go back to school, or try something new? Take stock of your skills, your experience, and your career goals, and use those to figure out what you want to do. If the conclusion you come to is, “I need the same kind of job ASAP to pay my bills,” that’s great too. The important part is that you take the time to think through your immediate needs and wants for your career.
Overhaul your resume.
Whether it was last year that you last pulled out this doc, or many years ago, this is your chance for a fresh start. Don't just recycle your tired old resume–put in the time to make it an accurate representation of where you are right now in your career.
Work your network.
Side benefit: you don’t have to be discreet about your job search like you would if you were still at your old job and trying to fly under the radar. You can be openly searching for new opportunities, reaching out to recruiters and former colleagues on LinkedIn, announcing on social media that you’re looking for a new gig. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you’re looking for in your next job.
Your network could also be great for providing moral support, even if they don’t have concrete job leads for you yet. Don’t underestimate the power of friendly voices helping you get through a tough transitional phase in your professional life.
Dive into the job search.
Once you’ve given yourself some lead time to wallow a little in your post-layoff grief, it’s time to start looking for your next job, pronto. If you have financial resources that allow you to take your time, great. If you don’t, it just means you need to spend less time on the grieving and reflecting, and be ready to start combing job boards, searching for specific companies you’d like to work for, and getting your resume in order. The average job search takes six months, so the prospect of speeding up that process can be daunting—but not impossible!
In interviews, your job loss will come up, especially if there’s now a gap between that job and your current job application. It’s okay to admit you were laid off—it’s a common experience, and interviewers get it. If you use phrases like “they eliminated my position” or “the company was restructuring,” people understand, and will likely sympathize without putting an invisible red flag next to your name. There’s no shame in rebounding from an unexpected job loss. And you can use this as a chance to emphasize your resilience and your commitment to your career.
The best way to look at the post-layoff job search is as a search for opportunity. Sure, it’s one with the added stress of needing (rather than wanting) to find a new job, but it’s an opportunity nonetheless.
I Was Fired for a Reason. Am I Unemployable?
No! Going from fired to hired is possible. If you were fired for illegal or unethical activity, well, that makes your battle a more uphill one. But if you were let go for a mistake on the job, or for poor performance, this is your chance to grow bigger than that…or find another career path for yourself. What it comes down to is this: people make mistakes. It’s up to you to frame that mistake as one you’re not going to make again, and that you’ve overcome.
Think hard about your next job.
You were fired from your last job—is that directly attributable to a particular action (for example, you were chronically late), or to an inability to do the job? If it’s something like the former, and it is more of a personal issue to tackle than a professional one, that’s something you can work on by yourself, while emphasizing your qualifications. If it’s that you couldn’t do the job, then this is your time to decide if this is a path you want to continue traveling; is there another job that would be better suited to your experience and your skills, especially after you got burned with this one?
Frame the narrative.
Putting “got fired” or “let go with cause” on your cover letter or resume is going to lead to a quick “no way” from most employers. You can fudge this a little by saying “I left” suggest that you were laid off. Just be aware, when you’re coming up with your narrative, that you might be called on this, either via a background check or interview questions about how you left your previous job. It’s important not to lie outright, but you can try to control the narrative.
Get outside references.
If you were fired, you’re likely not going to be going to your former boss for a glowing review. If you have other colleagues there who can speak to your good qualities (and won’t talk about the, um, less-than-stellar circumstance of your departure), use them. Even better, get references that aren’t related to your last, disastrous job. You need to rebuild your professional brand, and you want to use good support to do that.
A reference from your former company may not even be out of the question. If you’re gracious, and acknowledge that you understand why this happened, they may be willing to give you a discreet letter of recommendation.
After you’re fired, you have less runway for a job hunt—you might not qualify for unemployment benefits, and if this was sudden, you might not have a ton of resources saved up for a long job search. It’s important to be ready fairly quickly to start searching for your next job.
This may be necessary, especially if you have done something serious and specific that led to your job loss. It’s not enough to maintain your career status quo anymore. It’s time to improve your skills, take classes, maximize your resume, and decide what it is you really want to be doing. This may require you to take a cold, hard look at why this last job didn’t work out, and what you can do to move past that. Maybe this will mean switching careers, where you can emphasize your skills while shifting the focus away from your previous experiences. After all, your most recent job didn’t work out for a reason—isn’t it possible that you’re in the wrong field? Either way, this is an opportunity to figure out what your career phoenix looks like, rising from the ashes of old mistakes.
However you came to lose your job, the pain and fear of it are very real. It’s so important not to let that start to define you, or your career goals. If you’re proactive and willing to spend some of your unexpected down time taking a close look at who you were when you lost your job, who you are now, and who you want to be, that can help you bounce back from even the ugliest setbacks. And remember: you’re not alone! The job market is full of people moving in and out for all kinds of reasons, and you’re not the first one to try to stage a comeback. Many of us have been there, and are proof that it’s not the end of the world. Good luck with your journey!
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