5 Steps for Surviving a Layoff

In order to enjoy the best of times, you have to prepare for the worst. This isn’t always easy for me, as I’m an optimistic person who believes we can all achieve our dreams. No one dreams about losing a job and dealing with immense uncertainty, so this isn’t a topic I get particularly excited about discussing.

However, optimism doesn’t entail ignoring the fact that things go wrong on occasion. A positive outlook is actually much more useful in hard times than in times of prosperity. You can’t get past your biggest struggles if you don’t have faith in yourself to overcome. In these moments when your confidence might be devastated, you have to somehow remain confident in your ability to pull through.

Confidence is a fickle thing, and it can’t be manufactured out of thin air. When you struggle to see past your insecurities, you have a hard time taking concrete action and making strong choices. You need something to hold onto, some form of validation that makes you feel like you can make progress and get yourself out of a rut.

People derive confidence from different things, but one of the most universal ways to build self-esteem is through knowledge. Knowledge truly can become power when used properly. If you find yourself in a bad situation, understanding your circumstances provides the quickest route to fixing your problems.

I hope you never end up in the position where you need to take the steps in this blog post. That said, if you do go through a downsizing or some kind of layoff, I believe the following actions can help you get back on your feet and come out stronger on the other side.

1. Do a Full Financial Assessment

When people find out they’re no longer going to receive a paycheck, the first reaction is the bleakest. No money means no groceries or rent, and therefore starvation and homelessness are imminent!

This is, almost always, not the case. You have money, you have employment options, you have safety nets. If you spend too much time thinking about how it’s the end of the line and your life is over, you’ll miss the part where you get to rebuild and go on with living.

There will be shock and pain and numbness after a firing, and you will need time to take it in. As you work through your emotional processing, you should take a few minutes to truly look over your finances.

● Savings

● Investments

● Insurance

● Assets

● Bills

When you lose your job, you’ll likely spend a lot of time focusing on the money you’re no longer making. While the missing paychecks definitely require a replacement, you have to remind yourself that you have accrued wealth beyond your monthly earnings. If you own a house, a car, or a really nice painting, you aren’t about to be on the street. Should you immediately sell your prized possessions? Certainly not. But you should use those assets to put a mental barrier between life as you know it and living without a roof over your head.

The goal after a layoff isn’t to continue surviving without income, of course. You’re going to start searching for a new job right away, and you might even land one before you feel any sort of financial hit. Calculating your existing wealth won’t change your need to earn a living, but it can inform how quickly you have to move on a new job and what type of earnings you should strive for.

In some cases, based on your savings and your previous job, a stint on unemployment becomes a very viable option. This is nothing to frown at or shy away from, because this assistance exists for exactly this purpose. If you’re in a situation where unemployment will help you get back on your feet, you should absolutely take advantage of the option.

You won’t be able to make these decisions until you get a clear picture of your money situation. It doesn’t take too much effort to look at all your accounts and holdings and figure out where you stand, and it will make everything easier going forward. Especially when it comes to step number two.

2. Deny Denial

There’s a part of your brain that works overtime trying to shelter you from discomfort. When this portion of your intellect gets too much control, you ignore problems instead of facing them head on, and this all but guarantees those problems will get worse.

Some people deal with a layoff by pretending things are fine. They may even go so far as to pretend things are great and spend more money after losing a job than they spent while employed. You might qualify this type of behavior as a form of optimism; spending money without any earning potential just shows the universe that you know something better is on the way. In my experience, that’s not quite how things work.

You don’t need to go into doomsday mode, but you have to consider curbing some of your spending habits. If you go too far in the other direction and drive up the debt on your credit cards, you might end up with such egregious monthly payments that you have to search for two jobs instead of just one.

Hopefully you were budgeting before your status changed. If you weren’t, this is definitely a good time to start tracking your spending more thoughtfully. Adjust your eating and shopping habits, avoid expensive vacations or taking on any kind of lease or monthly payment that will make it harder to cover essential costs.

You need to remember that a short-term change in your spending habits is not an admission of defeat, but rather a conscious effort to make the most out of your situation. If canceling a trip or spending less on dinner means you can put a little more time into your job search, that’s the best option for your future. Practicing a little frugality is always a good move, regardless of what’s going on in your life.

Denial can also be the reason people avoid things like unemployment benefits or accepting help from friends and family. If you’re going through hard times, don’t try to pretend otherwise. You don’t need to constantly bemoan your situation, but you won’t score extra points by acting as though everything is fine and nothing has changed.

3. Don’t Be Shy

The life you live after you lose a job hinges on the action you take during your unemployment. If you go into a hole, avoiding friends and family and waiting for a job to appear out of nowhere, you’ll probably have a tough time finding work and you might end up doing serious damage to your personal relationships.

We humans are conditioned in a bizarre and seemingly hypocritical way - we instinctively want to help people and also do not want to ask for help. Naturally, it feels better to be the provider, but you have to recognize that the people in your life are eager to lend a hand. Not only can you count on those in your inner circle to come to your aid, but sometimes generosity arrives from places you’d never expect.

This is not to say you should sit around and wait for generosity; people are far less inclined to help those who don’t seem interested in helping themselves. Alternatively, when you’re proactive with things like online profiles, job boards and community events, you engage others and show a willingness to improve your situation. Eventually, someone who knows your story will find an opportunity they can send your way, and everyone will come out a winner.

There’s a stark difference between being a burden and simply having presence. If you beg someone for a job or financial aid they aren’t in a position to offer, that can be burdensome. By simply discussing the reality of your employment and asking for honest advice, you stay present, available and open for help. There’s nothing onerous about that, you won’t burn any bridges, and you very well might talk to someone who can set you up with a job or an interview.

Aside from networking within your immediate contacts, make sure you engage with various people through various outlets:

● Digital job searches

● Former employers

● Job fairs

● Social media connections

● Career placement services

The only bad way to start looking for a new job is to limit your search. You have to be discerning when interviews and positions come along, but you shouldn’t be afraid to cast a wide net in the early going. It’s OK to turn down a position if you don’t think it’s the right fit, and it’s fine to look into industries and apply for jobs that are seemingly beyond your qualifications.

If you apply for a lot of jobs and reach out to a lot of people, the worst that will happen is you’ll get turned down a few extra times. Since no one is keeping track of your application-to-interview ratio, your rejection percentage shouldn’t matter. It’s better to drop off 1,000 resumes and get 10 interviews than it is to send out 10 resumes and only get one phone call.

This stage in dealing with your layoff will really bring the confidence issue into the limelight. You might feel rejected and worthless already, and I’m asking you to set yourself up for a bunch more rejection. This is why it’s so important to keep believing in yourself and your abilities. Even when people turn you away, that’s not a declaration that you’re unqualified or undesirable. It’s part of the process, and you have to keep your chin up and move on to the next.  

4. Look at Part-Time Opportunities

If you get fired on a Friday and do everything in your power to get back into a 40-hour work week the next Monday, you might be moving too fast and letting panic steer the ship. You don’t have to replace every penny you earn right away, and landing a full-time position can take a lot longer than finding a job with fewer hours and a little less pay.

When you accept the pay cut and step into a smaller role, you do a few things that can be beneficial in the long run. Perhaps most importantly, you take on responsibility or work in an industry you otherwise wouldn’t. This can help you learn more about what you really want and might enable you to start working with a company that offers lots of upward mobility.

You also buy yourself time to think about what you want without feeling too much financial pressure. You’ll be able to consider things like going back to school, or working 20 hours with one company while investigating freelance options with the rest of your time. If you give yourself a little breathing room, you might have an epiphany about your old job and realize you don’t actually like that type of work and you want to look for greener pastures.

Part-time employment offers freedom beyond just the lesser workload. With most companies that hire people to work 30 hours or less, there is less expectation for you to stay on in that role. This can open doors for moving up the ladder or seamlessly moving on to another opportunity should the chance arise. If you can earn money and stay afloat while still keeping an eye out for better options, that’s not a bad position to be in.

The fear after a layoff drives a lot of people to step into new jobs too quickly. If you take the first offer that comes around and it ends up being a bad experience, you might fall into a cycle of taking and working bad jobs, all the while blaming the employer that originally let you go. This is one of the long-term negative effects of losing a job, and it’s one that you can potentially avoid if you’re willing to tighten the purse strings for a short period while working fewer hours and searching for something that will make you happy.

5. Take Advantage

After being the victim of a downsizing, it won’t feel like there’s much to take advantage of. You’re without income, benefits are gone and, on top of it all, you have a bruised ego to deal with.

And yet, this is the exact situation so many people have capitalized on in the past. Mark Cuban was fired from an early job as a salesperson; Abraham Lincoln was demoted when serving in the army; Oprah was deemed unfit for her role as a newscaster for a TV station in Baltimore and let go.

You may shrug your shoulders, thinking those are examples of extraordinary people who were always destined for greatness. Maybe, maybe not. In any case, being fired affected those people. It’s very possible there are other success stories we never had the chance to hear about because great, talented people were fired and didn’t take advantage of the next opportunity. I’m willing to bet Oprah, Lincoln and Mark Cuban were motivated by these experiences, and they might not have achieved such success without first dealing with failure.

A layoff puts you in a unique position, albeit an uncomfortable one at first. If you’ve ever entertained making a big change in your life, whether it’s starting a new career or moving or going back to school, those decisions are much harder to make when you have a full-time job. When you suddenly find yourself without work, it shines a new light on these possibilities.

Again, your first instinct will be to find a new job as fast as possible, but you should at least consider new and different opportunities before diving back in. This is why step one is so important; a financial autopsy could reveal you have enough in savings to go on unemployment for six months or a year while getting a certification you’ve been putting off. As painful as it is to get let go, it can be a blessing in disguise if you have the mindset.

I’ve seen people shattered by a job loss, feeling as though their lives had been turned upside down. I’ve also seen individuals galvanized, inspired to make their situation better than it was before. There will never be a good time to get fired and have your income taken away, but there can always be a happy ending to the story. People can take away your employment, but they can’t steal your drive to succeed.

If you’re going through this type of career upheaval, you have all my sympathy. Staying positive and finding confidence will take a tremendous amount of resolve, and I don’t expect that will be easy. Take small steps. Be honest with yourself. If you keep your eyes up, looking for the next exciting stage of your life, I guarantee you’ll find it.

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