How to Fall Forward When You’ve Been Laid Off

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

My LinkedIn and Facebook newsfeeds are filled with people who have been laid off as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. It’s not surprising as yesterday’s Forbes headline read, “Real unemployment rate soars past 20% — and the U.S. has now lost 26.5 million jobs.” And it sucks.

I get it. I’ve personally been laid off 3 times over the course of my 20-year career. The company I worked for was sold. A division was closed. Nepotism ran deep. I was completely blindsided each and every time winning awards and receiving high praise from my bosses immediately preceding each layoff. But we all know full well there’s no such thing as loyalty in Corporate America.

That being said, not only was I able to pick myself up, dust myself off, and get back on the horse again, but each time I did, I ended up on a BETTER horse that made me happier and took my career in a better direction. The secret is a matter of shifting perspective. Getting laid off is actually a gift — the gift of an opportunity to customize your life exactly the way you want it to be. It may not be the quickest path to a new job, but it is the best path to falling forward to something you want even more.

[Quick privilege check: I realize my experience and this advice is for the privileged: people who have the safety net of a severance package, personal savings, or both. Unfortunately, millions of Americans do not have this luxury. However, for those that do, I believe this advice will be invaluable.]

Step 1: Figure out EXACTLY what you want.

The knee-jerk reaction many people have after getting laid off is the panicked approach of stumbling through updating their resumes and emailing them to everyone and anyone for any tangentially-related position. The problem with this approach is three-fold: 1) This leads to a new position where you may or may not be happy and may or may not end up leaving or getting laid off again sooner than you would like. 2) You waste a lot of time having conversations with recruiters about jobs you aren’t really interested in in the first place. 3) Especially in this highly competitive market, you won’t be what hiring managers are looking for, you’ll get rejections and it will make you feel bad about yourself.

The better approach is to spend a little time thinking through exactly what it is you’re looking for. It can be difficult to do so while you’re still processing the emotional blow of being laid off. So first allow yourself some time to grieve that loss and then try these 2 exercises to guide your thinking:

Exercise 1: Start by gaining an understanding of what it is you really like to do and what you can no longer tolerate. Of course there are downsides of every job, but remember this is your opportunity to customize your life. Ask yourself these questions:

· What were your favorite parts of the job?

· What were your least favorite parts of the job?

· If you could write your own job description, what would it be?

· What does the ideal company you want to work for look like?

Exercise 2: The first exercise starts to give you some clarity as to what your next steps should be, but there are still blind spots that you can’t or maybe don’t want to see. That’s where your friends come in. Reach out to 5–10 people (friends, former colleagues, even family members — get a diverse group to cover all aspects of your personality) and let them help you figure out what you can’t by yourself. Ask them for some honest feedback with these questions:

· What do you see as my best qualities?

· What do you find worrisome about me?

· What is unique about me?

· What do you rely on me for?

· And, my favorite question, if there was one thing you could wish for me at this turning point in my career, what would that be?

Step 2: Put It Out Into the Universe

By the time you’ve completed these two exercises and spent some time thinking through the results, you should have a pretty good understanding of what you’re looking for in your next role. Maybe you want to keep doing what you’ve been doing, but this time in a different size company or in a new industry. Or maybe this is the time to take the chance to start your own business. Whatever it is, it should make your heart sing just thinking about the possibility.

Whatever it is, make the commitment and GO FOR IT! Put all your focus and energy into making it happen. That might mean passing on a phone screen for a job you don’t want, so you can spend more time networking into your target companies. Or making the bold decision to skip interviewing at other companies all together so you can focus solely on your entrepreneurial venture. Whatever you put out into the universe will come back to you. If you put your effort into controlling what you can control, opportunities will come your way. Setting your intention and focusing all your efforts on what you want without distraction is the best way for you to fall forward.

Be Better Prepared for the Future

Hopefully these tips will help you find your dream job and you’ll live happily ever after. Unfortunately, we’ve learned the hard way that doesn’t always happen, does it? So just in case, here are a few last tips on things to do while you’re working to be better prepared for next time:

· Keep your resume updated. I have a friend who was laid off from a company he worked at for 17 years and hadn’t updated his resume once that entire time. It is HARD to remember details digging back even a couple years, let alone 17. Make sure you keep your resume up to date regularly. Finish a big project? Get great results? Add those bullet points now before you forget. Midyear and annual review times are also the perfect reminder to make updates and the content is right there for you. Make a note on your calendar.

· Build your network now so it’s there when you need it again. I know many people who don’t network when they’re working because they don’t have the time. Unfortunately, trying to get those wheels turning when you’re anxiously looking for a new job is much harder. Instead, spend a little time, maybe even 1 hour a week, building real relationships with people you know or may want to know. Also, don’t forget to pay it forward. Take the time to meet with people who reach out to you without concern for what you get out of it. You never know when you’ll want someone to make the time for you someday.

· Consider starting your own entrepreneurial side hustle. Anything from starting your own blog to positioning yourself as a speaker to launching a podcast, the gig economy is getting bigger by the day and there is money to be made. Even if you have no desire to be a full-time entrepreneur, starting something on the side gives you the benefit of an additional source of revenue should the worst happen again as well as exposure to new professional experiences and opportunities.

Having learned my lesson the first two times around, this is an area I did well in while at my last job. The third time I was laid off, my resume was already perfectly polished and ready to go. I had been networking regularly and building my own personal brand through a variety of speaking engagements. About 6 months before I was laid off, I had 2 different former colleagues at 2 different small/midsize businesses reach out to me looking for marketing help. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the start of Bamboo Branding. Six months later, and within 2 weeks of being laid off, I had signed them both as clients and I was well on my way to falling forward yet again.

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Jeni Golomb

Former CMO on a mission to help businesses realize “bamboo fast” growth by creating strong brands and developing talent. Founder Bamboo Branding. Harvard MBA.