Change is difficult, no matter how much we say we invite it, or love a challenge, and the most difficult changes are those that are out of our control, such as getting laid off. Most people react to getting “riffed” as if they were fired, when that is almost never the case, and usually has nothing to do with your performance. Companies have layoffs for a myriad of reasons, sometimes because the company is not doing well, but often due to a change in strategy. They exchange one effort and the people involved for a different direction, and new people. It’s become a way of managing a business. The days of loyalty and commitment to employees are largely over, so there’s no point in waiting for your gold watch anymore.
The emotions behind job loss
Each person who loses their job this way has a unique situation and reaction, but all share a certain passage through this experience. Sometimes it comes as a shock and sometimes it has been long anticipated, or at least suspected. You may experience a degree of relief if the tension has been building for a long time, or if you have been wanting to make a change yourself but were not quite able to do it. Or it may be devastating because you loved your job and liked your coworkers and suddenly you find yourself locked out.
Either way, most people experience difficult emotional and psychological reactions to losing a job, at least at first. You may experience grief at leaving colleagues behind, a sense of frustration that you didn’t get to bring your work to some point of completion, a feeling of loss of identity (who am I without my job?), and fear about what may come next. Unfortunately, you may feel somehow responsible and blame yourself as if you had been fired, which is most certainly not the case. These are natural responses, and it’s best to acknowledge them, find someone you can trust to talk to about them, and know that you can make it through this part and move on.
Prepare yourself for the ups and downs of a job search
You might need to give yourself a little time before you leap into a serious job hunt so you will be at your best when you begin to talk to people about what you want next when networking and be in a good state when interviewing. Sometimes it can be good to take advantage of your new liberty and take a vacation, socialize, exercise, or revisit old hobbies you love but have had no time for. The important thing is to participate in activities that help to restore your balance and your faith in the future. Crunch your numbers and get real data about when you absolutely must be working again from a financial perspective to prevent unnecessary panic. If you really have to start searching immediately, fit self-care into your day even if only in small increments – go for a walk or a run, meet with friends, do something you enjoy to break up the job of looking for a job.
Know that the emotions about your new situation can ebb and flow. Maybe you feel like you are certain to secure a particular position, and then it falls through. Just as you think you are completely healed and feeling great, you can fall back and have a bad day, or a few bad days where everything seems dark and hard. If you have developed some kind of routine and included things you really like to do, it will help to get you back on track. It’s especially effective to get outside and let some sunshine land on your head, or rain, or snow – just being in nature reminds us of who are and restores us. It’s in these times that you develop real resilience, which will serve you well for the rest of your life, and in all aspects of your life. Courage is not the exclusive territory of heroes and does not magically manifest itself. Courage is walking through fear and doubt step by step and continually retrieving the belief that you will be all right.
Take the time to know what you want in your future career
When you start looking, begin by thinking about what you really want to do next – what is important to you at this point in your life in your work. There is always plenty of time to make compromises down the road if you need to, but no need to start there. If you’re not sure what you want to do next, do some research. Read a lot of job descriptions to see what’s out there now, talk to people who are doing what you want to do, brainstorm with trusted advisors. It will be easier for people to help you if you can clearly articulate what you want. You may want a career coach to support you through this process.
From a tactical point of view, spend some time polishing your professional image. Get a really good resume, and spend time on your LinkedIn profile, which is now the number one resource for recruiters – not to mention many professionals go there to check you out. Think about your skills and strengths so you can emphasize them both in writing and in speaking. Develop your story about who you are professionally, what you bring to table, and what matters to you when it comes to your work.
Learn flexibility and resiliency to succeed
It may take time, but you will find your next opportunity, and when you do here are some thoughts to keep in mind:
In today’s corporate world, the one constant is change. You need to be flexible and resilient to participate whole-heartedly. Consider yourself part of a profession rather than part of a company. Often, we get into a busy job, put our heads down, and in time realize everything we do and everyone we know is at that company. You realize how limiting this is when you find yourself without a job
Develop and sustain a broader professional network. Participate in outside professional groups, maintain a current resume, continue to evolve your LinkedIn profile with additional contacts and references. Find ways to communicate and provide value within your profession. If you need a new certificate or degree to remain competitive, get it – you can do this while you are working, and you can also do it when you’re in-between positions. In this age of knowledge, your security lies within what and who you know, and not with any one organization. Always stay alert for opportunities.
Think about retirement now
Something else to begin thinking about, especially if you are a mature professional, is how you might want your “retirement” to look. Many of us want to keep doing some kind of work, but don’t want to work as much, and want our work to add real value to society. Developing a plan for that period in your life can be worthwhile, as you may want to begin dipping your toe into some new experiences and skills to prepare for it. There are a lot of factors to consider, needless to say, and it can’t hurt to start thinking about it ahead of time, since that will be your next big identity shift. And it just might be something to look forward to.
Kathleen Marvin is a Certified Career Coach at RiseSmart. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Antioch University and an M.A. in Organizational Psychology from JFK University.
“I’m have been a career development coach for 13 years, focusing on professional and personal development. Because every client is unique, I develop a custom coaching program to fit you so you can find a way to be happier and more satisfied in your work. I especially enjoy coaching managers, technical people, and people from different cultures on effective communication, managing through influence, and helping people find their next opportunity.”