Whether we like it or not, we are identified by our career. When we meet someone new, the first question after “What's your name?” is always “So, what do you do for a living?” For more than 1.2 million American workers last year, the answer was, “I'm a <<insert occupation here>>, but I'm in between jobs right now.”
When our career is put on pause because of a layoff or termination, our self-worth ends up bruised and battered. For years we've worked hard, made sacrifices and earned money for our employers – and to have those efforts dismissed feels like a swift kick to the gut. No matter how painful the situation is, the important thing to remember is that a layoff doesn't define you or your career path.
In case the axe does drop, what is the best way to handle a job loss?
- Don't panic – Even if a layoff isn't looming, it's important to prepare yourself – keep your resume and cover letters updated and ready to go should the moment arrive. If you are on the chopping block, ask for recommendation letters from supervisors and colleagues, secure samples of your work (if applicable and allowed), and meet with your HR department so you fully understand your benefits before you're escorted out the door.
- Take some time for yourself – A layoff is emotionally and mentally devastating. If you need a couple of days to wallow in your sorrow – do it! Even better, take time to visit with friends, get some exercise or simply enjoy a few stress-free moments with your family. Your number one priority is to take care of yourself so you can be strong and prepared to take the next steps.
- Revaluate your career path – Before you proceed with your job hunt, figure out what you really want to do in life. Do you want to look for a better opportunity in your current field or reinvent yourself in a new career? Maybe it's the right time to go back to school or start your own business? There aren't many times in your life when you're blessed with the opportunity for a do-over.
- Find structure in your job search – One of the things laid-off workers say they miss most is a sense of daily structure. If you're looking for a job, treat it like a job. Get up at the same time each day, throw on something besides your pajamas and spend a few hours job hunting. See if you can score a freelancing gig or secure a “returnship” or temp-to-hire job to keep income flowing and strengthen your skills until you land your perfect full-time job.
- Network, network, network – According to ABC News, 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. This is your time to build connections with your colleagues, present and past. Update your LinkedIn profile, meet a former manager for lunch, ask for an informational interview with someone you respect in your field, and be sure to make an appearance at networking events, whether through trade associations, chambers of commerce or a Meetup group. Who knows – a cup of coffee might just secure your next job.
- Volunteer – With a few extra hours in your day, why not volunteer at an organization you care deeply about? Studies have found that those who volunteer have lower levels of depression and are happier overall. Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills, stay motivated and network. What better way to ease the thankless tedium of a job search than spending time with someone who truly appreciates your time and efforts?
We invest so much time in our careers that any setback can crush our egos. The important thing to remember is you're not alone – millions of people have been in your shoes at one time or another and have secured even better career opportunities after recovering from the shock of a layoff. For more information on what to do after a job loss, check out our checklist on what to do next.