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Navigating a Layoff

Layoffs are uncomfortable.

It’s one thing to plan an exit strategy and job search. Quite another to have it thrust upon you. Layoffs add another layer of confusion and emotional processing — Did I do something wrong? Should I have left earlier? Should I completely change course? Amid the overwhelm, it can be hard to know what to do next.

With decades of experience in outplacement and as a job search strategist, I’ve seen my share of layoffs. I’ll share what I’ve seen work time and again — gaining clarity and calm, preparing your career collateral, and hitting the market with dignity.

Gaining Clarity & Calm

Find support. If you can’t do so immediately, make a plan to seek out support as soon as possible. Some organizations offer outplacement services or recommend a list of local resources, such as Career Centers or Community Support Programs.

Gather data and contact info while you can. You may not be able to access the documents and reports that will help you update your resume for long, so try to track down any helpful information before you leave. If you are already locked out, there is no harm in asking a friendly colleague or HR if you can have access to a few documents as long as they do not contain competitive knowledge, IP, customer information, or any other sensitive data.

You also might want to ask work friends and colleagues for their contact information. They could be important to your search as references, sources for leads, and support.

Ask clarifying questions and take notes. People are often in shock when notified of a layoff, so don’t expect to remember most of what is said. You will most likely need clarification and follow up.

Don’t sign anything yet. Request to review any information and ask for time to think before signing any agreements. Offerings upon layoff can vary widely — NDAs, non-competes, severance payments, outplacement services, and more each come with their own concerns and considerations. You might even want to ask a trusted friend, contact, or your lawyer to review documents. Depending on the scenario, you might even be able to negotiate at this point.

Take stock of your finances. Every search is different and there are no guarantees, so plan for your search length to last at least 1-3 months if targeting high-turnover/entry-level roles, at least 3-6 months if targeting managerial roles, and a year or more for executive roles.

Emotional check-in. Your life is changing. Losing your job means most days will be different, for better or for worse. Layoffs can shock people and even disrupt their sense of self. Find at least one trusted person to share your feelings. Journal your reactions. Write down any negative self-talk (so you can talk back!)

It’s important to get emotions OUT before you hit the market. Otherwise, they will leak out in places you least expect — inadvertent negative word choice in the resume, an unkind word slipping out about previous employer in an interview, a hesitation in responding to why you left your last role…

Avoid venting to large groups of people, which can contaminate your network. Even if they want to help you, they will focus on emotional support over exploring leads.

Similarly, avoid venting anger or hostility to those who get you worked up. Sometimes in an effort to support a friend, people inadvertently amplify negative sentiment. If you feel like your chosen support person is feeding negative emotions rather than helping you move past them, consider seeking support elsewhere.

Briefly and honestly get out your frustrations to enable yourself to move and set new goals that get you excited about your next steps!

Know your target. If you need something fast, target a role similar to the one you just left. It’s often easiest and fastest to do so. If you have time and can afford to be choosy about your next role, consider what you enjoyed the most and target roles that allow you to do what you enjoy more.

If you had been considering a career change, a layoff sometimes provides the impetus to make a move! Find professionals on LinkedIn who already do what you think you’d like to do next and try to strike up a conversation to ask what the role is really like. You might also find it helpful to take a quick course to explore the field further. If you’re certain that you’re pursuing a career change, you will want to refocus your resume and LinkedIn through that new lens.

Preparing Your Career Collateral

Update your resume. Before you start conversations with your network, make sure your resume is up to date. Add your most recent wins, points of impact, and metrics. Numbers pop off the page and give your assertions legitimacy, so dig out or estimate metrics to add more power to your resume.

You also want to make sure everything on your resume has earned its place and speaks to the role you want next. If it doesn’t fit the narrative for your next role, it should probably go!

Social media audit. Evaluate all of your social media channels. Potential employers will research you, so delete anything that doesn’t reflect well upon you. Add content that builds up your candidacy, such as a fully populated and up-to-date LinkedIn profile, a website or portfolio, and more.

Interview prep. It might seem silly, but practice introducing yourself. Record yourself answering the most common interview questions in a mock interview with a friend or coach. Know your top success stories and be prepared to tie them back to how they could benefit a potential employer. Use prep tools for video interviews to prepare yourself for how the varying interfaces work.

If you’re anticipating a technical interview, 30-60-90 plan, or proposal as part of your interview process, make time to practice this part of the process, as well.

Hitting the Market With Dignity

Activate or build your network. Very few professionals enjoy a network primed with an offer as soon as the news breaks that you might be interested in talking about other opportunities. It might take a little time to reconnect, so feel free to catch up on a personal level before mentioning you are open to a new role.

If you don’t have solid connections from your previous role, your contacts changed industries, your colleagues were moved outside of your target region, or your former bosses have retired, you might find yourself starting from scratch. That’s okay!

You CAN build a strong network by focusing on relationships and offering value upfront. Reach out to those you truly share interests with or respect, ask sincere questions, and contribute something of value early and often to encourage responsiveness.

Spread goodwill. If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to write recommendations for your industry connections and colleagues. Relevant, specific recommendations not only benefit your network, but also showcase your high emotional intelligence. Many claim to support their teams, appreciate their colleagues, or engage in mentoring/coaching. By writing a recommendation, you are providing evidence! This comes with the added bonus of gaining real estate on their profile, making it more likely you will be seen.

Another way to lead with value is to compile 3-5 offerings you feel comfortable giving away. Not something incredibly time consuming, but something that indicates your generosity and opens up the channels of communication, such as book or podcast reviews, introductions within your network, advice on new tools or technologies that might interest them, the headline of an article you recently enjoyed on a topic that might interest them, and more.

Remember, just because a business couldn’t afford to keep you, does not mean you lack intrinsic value. Take the time to work through the above steps to make sure you are well prepared to communicate your value and to help your transition go more smoothly.


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