The Unemployment Game – How To Succeed At Your Toughest Job Yet

So you woke up one day and went to work. Maybe you dropped the kids off at daycare and made a run to your local coffee shop for a large skinny non-fat mocha with soy milk and an extra shot. You arrived, found a good parking spot close to the door, and made your way inside to your desk where you quickly scanned your inbox and mapped out a plan for the day.

Suddenly there is a knock on the door – your boss, or maybe it’s HR, asking you to join them in a closed-door meeting. You immediately know your day is not going to end as well as it started.

There is a stigma to being laid off. An impression you did something wrong, when really you may have been doing just fine. But impression is often reality, and your former co-workers are left to wonder and create their own narrative in your sudden absence.

I often tell my staff (they may say ad nauseum) that it’s okay to fail. But if you do, fail quickly and move on to the next thing. This is no different. Whether by fault or circumstance, the sooner you move on to the next thing, the better off you’ll be.

I’ve found there to be power in being laid off. It’s an opportunity to evaluate your career, your decisions, and your path. To determine your own fate, devoid of the pressures and distractions of 60-hour workweeks and office politics. I was first laid off in 2009, shortly after I moved to the non-profit sector, and again in 2012. Now, in 2016, I find myself in that familiar place.

There is a moment of panic, the dreaded call to your partner. But after that, it’s time to go to work. Many people refer to themselves as unemployed when this happens. I don’t subscribe to that.

My job is looking for a job. I’m my own boss, I have a schedule to keep, and I have goals and priorities. It can be a confusing time, so much coming at you, so little structure. But from my experience, I’ve found these tips to be essential to those early days, and that they contribute to a quicker re-entry even in difficult times like the Great Recession.

5 Tips For The Recently Laid Off

  1. It’s okay to be upset. You didn’t want to leave your previous job, and if you did – this was not the way you wanted it to end. But dwelling in the past is not a good use of your time and energy. Odds are your former employer is not going to call you in two weeks telling you how horrible a mistake they made – they have moved on. Perspective employers are looking for potential employees with positive attitudes and views – holding on to anger and resentment from your dismissal runs counter to that, and will hold you back from finding your next opportunity.
  2. Network, a lot, and right away. The first thing I do – make a list of every contact I know, and I start setting up meetings. Maybe they know someone hiring, maybe they can provide some career insight or direction, or maybe you just need to have a few beers and play with their virtual reality equipment. (I highly recommend the last one – great way to blow off steam and re-center yourself.)
  3. Be honest and open. Going hand in hand with networking, the worst thing you can do is not tell people you were laid off. You want them to know – and you want them to tell everyone they know. This is not a time to be ashamed or withdrawn; own it and turn it into an asset. The number of people who will tell you “when I was laid off” will amaze you. So the sooner you stop looking at it like a scarlet letter, the better off your job search will be.
  4. Use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate. Maybe you want to continue in your current career and sector, or maybe this is a chance to make a move towards a new phase in your life. Either way, not taking this opportunity to identify your skill set, and evaluate your longer-term goals is a wasted moment. Maybe you decide your current path is the right one, but you can’t be certain unless you ask the hard questions and accept and difficult answers that can come with it. Use your networking to solicit feedback from those you have worked with, vendors, friends, and industry colleagues to help you gather unbiased data to better inform your decision-making.
  5. Create a schedule – or days become ineffective. One downside to being laid off is after the initial rush of meetings and resumes, you hit a lull. There isn’t much to do, and you could just as easily stay in your robe and pajamas all day watching General Hospital and Dr. Phil. I prefer to focus on the things that are harder to get accomplished when you have full-time work. Daily walks with the dog, coffee with friends you haven’t seen in a while, meditation and yoga, hobbies or pet projects, or starting up something new you have always wanted to try, but didn’t have the time. Being busy helps the time go by, and keeps you in a positive mindset for what can often be a longer process than you would like or expect. Go to movies, try out new recipes, maybe finish a project or two that are sitting in your garage. Whatever it is, use this time for yourself as well so your new job will see a rested, and reinvigorated employee ready to take on the world.

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