I remember the time I was laid off from my first job out of college. My boss told us all to meet him in the conference room. I joked, “I’m not in trouble, am I?” And he replied by giving an uncomfortable half-laugh and a nod toward the door. Once we were all gathered he told us about how we knew that budget cuts had been looming, about how the jobs we were doing were never permanent, and then boom! “You’ve all been let go.”
After the initial tears, anger, and bargaining subsided, the cold reality set in that soon we would all be out in the street. Fortunately my first reaction was not to panic, but to laugh. I had a cynical, “of course I would get laid off from my first job” kind of attitude, and quietly accepted that in your career there are no guarantees.
Lesson 1: Don’t Panic. The bright spot in any layoff is that most employees get some kind of severance package from their employer, even if it’s a small one. People who have been laid off are also likely to be eligible for some unemployment benefits as well. And you might be able to get free out-placement counseling from your HR department or someone your company has contracted with. Take advantage of all of these services immediately, because they all disappear after a certain amount of time.
Lesson 2: Secure income. Make sure that any layoff payments, unemployment checks, and other sources of revenue are secured. This will enable you to take a small step back and focus on how to get your next role.
I unfortunately did not get any unemployment benefits when I was laid off, so I had to immediately look for a new job. If possible it would be best to use the time these benefits provide to find the job you really want next.
Lesson 3: Work smart not hard. I’m not telling you to hit the snooze button in the morning, but don’t start sending out resumes to every job you see online either. A careful, steady approach will be rewarded in due course. Depending on the size of your community, you may get a reputation for being someone who applies to anything and everything – and you definitely don’t want to come across as dishonest or indiscriminate.
I lived in a small community at the time, with only 1 or 2 major employers, and so my efforts were mostly targeted to those companies. I had 7 interviews with 7 different departments of one employer, and got a job offer after number 7.
Lesson 4: Make lemonade. Being laid off is a horrible experience, but you can choose to make it into an opportunity all by readjusting your attitude. A career change gives you an opportunity to try something different, move to a different city, go back to school, or finally write that screenplay. So decide what you want to do: do you want the same job all over again or do you want to take this opportunity to find something in a different field?
Lesson 5: Start networking. As with my tip in Lesson 3, you don’t need to e-mail every friend or co-worker you ever had just to tell them you lost your job. It makes you seem desperate and unfocused. Telling your friends isn’t a search strategy unless you’re really well connected. Unfortunately in today’s downbeat market you have to be much more clever than that. Target your networking energy towards reaching those that are particularly in the position to help you, and meet them in person to chat about the job market. And always ask for advice, not for a job!
After I was laid off, my next job ended up paying almost $10,000 more per year, I loved my new bosses, and I had much more interesting work to do. So being laid off was ultimately a great thing for me. It’s hard to see that silver lining now, with daily news reports about job losses and home foreclosures, but it is entirely possible that a layoff could be a miracle in disguise.
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