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You Just Got Laid Off. What Should You Do Now? Career Edition.

It can be terrifying to lose a job.  Love or hate our job, the majority of us value security, especially when it comes in the economic form.  But nothing in life is certain, and while there are fears that exist with the unknown, this disruption has the potential to transform your day job drudgery into a life you love.

[Meg’s Note: In this post, our friend Kristen Knepper returns to give some guidance from a career perspective. Kristen Knepper is an attorney and career coach, who teaches women to recognize and articulate their own value.  Her latest online course, Interview & Negotiate – Like A Girl, teaches women how casual sexism impacts them in the workplace, while providing the solutions to ace the interview and maximizing compensation.  If you’re interested in individual career coaching, including a free 20 session, contact Kristen at ]

The key is to respond, and not react, to a lay off.  Know the difference?  A reaction is our initial thought, and it usually comes from a place of fear.  I have to find another job!  I need to pay the mortgage!  What about the college loans!  It’s a pre-emptive panic attack, and it’s not very helpful.

A response is how we show up once we’ve had a moment to view the situation from all sides.  And a lay off can truly be an opportunity to begin anew, with a few simple (but not always easy) steps.

Step 1. Reassess.

So many times, we identify ourselves as a lawyer, an engineer, a front end coder, but the reality is that we are constantly reinventing ourselves.  Technology changes, the economy changes, our location changes.  We are never one job or one identity.  We are multi-lawyered humans.

Therefore, your new job for the next several weeks is to investigate and identify what lights you up.  And, it’s a broad definition.  Some questions to ask yourself: What did you want to be as a child?  How did you spend your time playing?  For example, I wanted to be an actress and a performer, and I would spend hours singing and choreographing songs from “Annie” and possibly every Disney movie ever made.  I was a creative child, and I loved performing.  I still create and perform though workshop facilitation and public speaking.  That hasn’t left, and I know myself well-enough to realize that it never will.  But over the years it has morphed: from budding actress, to personal trainer, to litigator, to professor, to public speaker and facilitator.

What did you love about your job?  What did you hate?  Did you procrastinate over some tasks?  Did others light you up so much that it didn’t seem like work at all?  This is the opportunity to investigate what you adored about your job, and to make more space for that with your next opportunity.

Step 2. Network.

Find the common thread in what you’ve loved doing, and seek it out.

This is two-fold.  First, we know that the majority of jobs are filled by who we know, not the application process.  So informing your network that you’re looking is imperative to finding your next position.

But because the economy changes so quickly, you may not even be aware of the opportunities that exist.  And it’s likely that many jobs did not exist a few short years ago.

Ask happy friends who do work that interests you how they got there.  What is their education? Job history? What certifications do they hold?  What do they do day-to-day?  Again, start broad, and then refine the conversations and your connections.  If someone intrigues you, reach out on LinkedIn, or ask for an introduction.  This is no time to be shy.

People are good, and they want to help.  Nearly everyone has 10 minutes to discuss their path, and what they love about their work,.  Be proactive, be concise, be considerate, and then be reflective.  This is a learning process, so allow your next steps to unfold without expectations.

Step 3. Bridge the Gap.

If you’re looking to make a change, your past experience may not directly line up with the new challenge you’re seeking.  At first.  However, by asking questions or working with a career coach, you can revisit what you’ve done in the past, and reframe your experience to align with what you’re looking to do next.

For example, I worked with a political public servant seeking a sales position with a technology company.  Sounds like a stretch at first, until we broke down the role to its simplest pieces.  The new job required relationship creation, addressing objections, and closing the deal.  So did the client’s political work.  By changing “client” to “constituent” we discovered an obvious and compelling way to address concerns in the interview phase.

Understanding how your previous skills translate to the new job will help you interview well, and secure your new position.

Step 4. Discuss ALL Your Experience.

You resume is polished.  Your experience reflects your grown up qualifications, not the raw details of how you schlepped drinks in college to pay for that semester abroad.  But your “gap jobs” that paid the bills through retail, bartending, personal training, and more, have the potential to provide you with an illustration of the most important character traits when dealing with difficult customers, administrative tasks, and creative solutions.

In addition, those novel jobs could be a conversation starter, and make you memorable to a hiring manager.  For example, I worked in a factory the summer between high school and college, making that black foam that seals your window into your car.  It was a terrible job, but sharing that story in a funny way makes me stand out, and illustrates that I’m not afraid to get dirty.

As a hiring manager, I consistently asked about gap jobs to learn which characteristics candidates could bring to the role.  Flexibility, humor, and diligence were just a few of the traits that employers desire most..

I can teach you a skill.  I can’t teach you character.

Step 5. Deal with Rejection.

Being rejected from a position you want is disappointing, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation.  It can be a learning opportunity.

Ask for feedback and let the employer know that your would still be interested in other opportunities.  Saying something like, I’d be interested in learning about other positions with your company that you feel may more closely align with my skills.  In addition, I would be happy to address any concerns you had with my candidacy, as I respect X company, and admire your team’s ability to … and be genuine about why you are interested.  This will require you knowing yourself, and how your interests align with the mission of the company.

Finding a new job is a process, but it’s not a reason to panic and settle for the first position that comes along.  This is an opportunity to reevaluate, and perhaps even reinvent.  When you’re spending the majority of waking hours at one place with a specific group of people, life’s too short to not do what you genuinely love.

Read more in our small series of articles about responding to a layoff:

  1. You Just Got Laid Off. What Should You Do Now?  The First 24 Hours.
  2. You Just Got Laid Off. What Should You Do Now?  The First Two Weeks.
  3. You Just Got Laid Off. What Should You Do Now? Career Edition.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

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