Laid Off? What To Do When Your Employer Breaks Up With You

When executive sales professional Sharon was laid off from her job, she says, “After my manager told me that the company was eliminating my position, I was surprised, demoralized, and depressed.” She continues, “I had thought I was safe because my sales numbers were above quota. So it was a huge blow to find out that despite my excellent performance, all my good work had not paid off.”

Woman Who Was Laid Off from Job

Sharon explains, “It was so emotionally devastating because even though I had savings and my living expenses were low at the time, I worried that I would never find another job. I blamed myself even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. And I felt so rejected.”

Sharon’s experience mirrors that of many other American employees. From December of 2007 to February of 2010, 8.4 million U.S. jobs have been lost. Being laid off is a lot like losing a valued relationship. Both can be devastating. However, either painful experience can offer the opportunity to re-evaluate what you want and achieve an outcome that is a better fit for you than what you had before. In my 20 years of counseling people who have been laid off or fired, I have identified specific strategies to overcome the pain of a break up between you and your employer. There is a proven step-by-step plan for successful re-employment following job loss.

1. Manage your stress. Take a deep breath and take action to get more centered. Think back to past stressful situations in your life and remember what worked best for you to manage your mood and emotions as effectively as possible. Did you take long walks alone or with friends? Practice yoga? Listen to music? Clean and organize your home?

Use whatever strategies work well for your personality. One proven stress management tactic is to start a journal. Studies have shown that writing about your feelings following job loss accomplishes two things: it provides an outlet to process your feelings of anger and/or grief and it can shorten the time it takes to find new employment.

2. Get emotional support. Many people in a job search describe it as an “emotional roller coaster,” with both good days and bad days. Be proactive and line up emotional support before the bad days. Identify which family members and friends are likely to be helpful and spend more time with them. Likewise, if you know that your brother is likely to say, “Laid off? No one in our family has ever been laid off before,” then maybe consider spending less time with him until you are working again. If you have been laid off, you will want to avoid anyone who has a tendency to be tactless or shaming when interacting with you.

Try to tell family members and friends exactly what you need so they are more able to provide useful assistance. If you want to talk about your feelings about being laid off, tell them you need to talk. If you want to have a break from thinking about anything to do with your job search, tell them you want to declare a moratorium on that specific topic and talk about anything else. Consider joining a job loss support group if group membership appeals to you.

3. Evaluate your financial situation with a professional familiar with the fallout from job loss. If there is anything complicated about a severance package offered by your previous employer, you may need to consult an employment attorney before signing anything. You may need to use the expertise of a fee-based financial planner (not the type of planner who charges commissions to sell you products) to help you with decisions about insurance coverage, investment roll over, savings management, etc. And you will want to quickly ascertain your eligibility for unemployment benefits and meet any deadlines involved in applying.

4. Assess your interests, values, and strengths. Career transitions offer you the opportunity to re-evaluate what you have accomplished in your career to date and to identify where you want to go next. A strong predictor of career happiness is congruence between an organization’s mission statement and your values, so make it a priority to clarify what you believe and what is important to you in life. Make a “wish list” about what you would like to find in your next job.

5. Define your career focus. Write a one paragraph summary describing your measurable career achievements and what you hope to do next. Use this as the “Career Summary” section at the top of your resume. Here’s an example:

“Sales Executive with 10+ years successful track record of landing new business, maintaining and growing corporate accounts, consistently topping ambitious annual quotas, and managing sales teams of up to 15 sales professionals. Seeking high tech sales management role and open to startup situations in which compensation is tied to individual and organizational performance.”

6. Implement a job search campaign. Make sure to use social networking tools such as LinkedIn as many recruiters are using it rather than traditional job boards such as Monster or CareerBuilder. Limit your online job search to 10 hours per week since too much Web surfing is not only unproductive but is a risk factor for depression. Try to stay offline during the business day because there are a lot better ways to make connections and meet decision-makers than hiding behind a computer. Overall, plan to spend about 25 hours per week engaged in your job search and spend the rest of your time doing something else as there is a huge potential for burnout if you try to job hunt all day every day. Joining sports leagues, doing volunteer work, and participating in community or religious activities are three ways to expand your circle of acquaintances while hopefully having some fun at the same time.

7. Notice what is working and what isn’t. If your resume doesn’t result in invitations to interview, ask professional colleagues to take a look at your resume compared to the jobs you are pursuing and to give you advice about whether your resume or your job goal needs to be fine-tuned. If you are landing interviews but not job offers, think about investing in some professional interview coaching or practice with a friend who is savvy about your industry and job function. No matter what your real feelings, make sure you can talk positively about the position where you were laid off. If you are so angry or upset about being laid off that you find you are unable to move on, you may need a career coach to help you facilitate a career change or you may need treatment for depression precipitated by the trauma of job loss.

Also, if you are having a difficult time summoning enthusiasm about any of the jobs you find, it may be because you really don’t want to continue the same type of work you had before. Many people in this exact same situation have realized that they really don’t want to work for someone else ever again and they have launched businesses that they otherwise would not have started if they were not pushed into it by a change of circumstances. As trite as this sounds, being laid off really CAN be a blessing in disguise.

8. Persevere! Regardless of how awful you feel as you scramble to find a new career or job after a layoff, you can survive and then thrive. Sharon advises, “Whether you think you will succeed or not, take the first and second and third steps. Even if you can’t see where you are going, start doing something.”

After Sharon’s job was eliminated, she used the steps above and landed a new job earning even more than in her previous position (which is not always possible during a recession, but it is certainly a wonderful outcome when it does happen). Indeed, the best revenge following a layoff is to move forward to live well.

.If you have been laid off, visit Mashable’s 30+ Websites to Visit When You’re Laid Off.”