Few would argue that being laid off isn't stressful. It not only compromises your finances, it can deal a blow to your self-confidence. In a society that often ties people's identities to their jobs, suddenly being out of work can make you feel as if you're living off the grid.
Like everything in life, if you approach being laid off as an opportunity, you'll better position yourself for future success.
The following steps will help you mitigate the impact of a layoff and turn this unfortunate experience into a positive life and career change.
Stay positive and find silver linings
When a tech professional tells Allison Task, a career and life coach based in Montclair, N.J., that they've just been laid off, she congratulates them -- especially when their organization is in the initial stages of letting people go.
"It's great to be in one of the early rounds of layoffs because there's typically more money, better packages and you're not the one left at the company who does two people's work for the same, or a modified, salary," Task said. Unemployment benefits also help to create a soft landing, she added.
It's important to understand that being laid off is different than getting fired, Task said. When a company terminates you, it usually means you've done something wrong. But layoffs happen usually because the organization is going through a tough period due to financial or management errors or bigger industrywide trends that force tough decisions.
"Being laid off says nothing of your skills," she said. "It just says that they need to get rid of someone now, and it happens to be you."
Being laid off might even be a blessing in disguise, said Laurie Swanson, founder and CEO of InspiHER Tech, a career transformation consultancy based in Wheaton, Ill. Before she became a career coach, she focused mainly on recruiting -- but prior to that, she was a software developer, until she got laid off.
She now describes that event as one of the happiest days of her life.
"I was happy it happened because it wasn't working out for me," Swanson said. She was able to reflect on what she didn't like about the company she worked for, what kind of work she actually liked to do and what she didn't want to do anymore.
As she examined her skills, strengths and weaknesses, she realized that she was good at bringing people together and managing teams. Eventually, this led her into the recruiting field, and now she focuses on coaching others.
Tackle post-layoff practical tasks
Those who have just been laid off should quickly attend to some mundane but important tasks. Swanson urged people to take care of the following to-do items:
- Figure out unemployment benefits. Know what unemployment benefits you are eligible for, and complete the paperwork for this immediately.
- Update your resume. Ideally, you've kept your resume up-to-date, but many people let this slide while they're in their current job.
- Polish your LinkedIn profile. Like your resume, your LinkedIn profile shouldn't be stale, but now's the time to freshen it up.
Get your financial house in order
Planning for a hypothetical layoff in advance may seem like a gloomy exercise, but being prepared can soften the blow when it occurs.
Task advises her clients to have six months' worth of expenses in the bank to provide some financial security. It will provide a much-needed cushion and security after a layoff (or any major life event), and you won't feel as pressured to scramble to meet basic needs.
"We all buy insurance," Task said. "We don't want to use it, but we have it for a reason."
Plan with your partner
For those with a spouse or significant other, it's important that both partners get on the same page early and work together to absorb the consequences of the layoff. Determine how the layoff impacts your lives at least in the near term and how to respond, from switching insurance plans to daily household responsibilities.
Task uses herself as an example: Her husband has been through a couple of layoffs, which required her to ramp up her business to maintain the couple's standard of living. This also required him to take on more childcare duties while he searched for a new job.
Every relationship is unique in how two people balance their commitment and support, Task acknowledged, but the core shared value is this: "Take turns taking care of each other," she said.
Nurture your network
Your self-confidence might take a hit when you're laid off, and it can be difficult to reach out to people in your network. Understand that there is no shame in losing one's job -- it happens to everyone.
Swanson encourages people who've been laid off to put aside any chagrin and reach out to their networks. Some of her clients create and distribute what she calls a cut sheet that contains the following information:
- Notification that they're on a job search.
- The types of positions they're seeking.
- The industries they want to work in.
- Any specific companies that are of particular interest to them.
Also, expand your outreach. "When you think about your network, it's a very broad definition -- it isn't just current work colleagues or [those from] one job back," Swanson said. Reach out to friends from as far back as high school, as well as parents, friends of parents, and even parents of your children's friends.
"Really start to look at everyone as a potential connection to whatever is next for you," she said.
Beyond coworkers and personal relationships, seek out and connect with recruiters. "Have those in your back pocket, because what they do all day long is talk to companies and hear about [opportunities]," she said.
Task, however, pointed out that colleagues from the past are the biggest sources of new opportunities. She estimated that 95% of her clients find jobs through former coworkers.
"When people find [a job] through just sending in a resume and having no contacts, I'm always like, 'You're the "five percent,'" she said.
Allow yourself to dream
While you update your CV, fill out paperwork, tap into your network and answer job ads, recognize that a layoff period is also a great occasion for self-reflection.
It may feel reassuring to jump into action, but Swanson encourages those who have just been laid off to take a step back and ask themselves four questions:
- What do I love?
- What am I good at?
- What do I want to keep doing?
- What am I happy to stop doing, even if I'm good at it?
"Allow yourself the space to dream about what you really, really want to do," Swanson said. Once you're clear on what that vision is, then you can work toward achieving it.
Regardless of how people arrive at the next stage of their career, Task emphasized that the next opportunity does indeed exist.
"You don't get laid off and never work again," she said. "You will work if you need to. It may be what you've done [but] it may be something new."