Six Tips To Help You Survive Getting Laid Off

One Friday morning, a little over five months ago, I walked into the office of my job with an Atlanta professional sports team wielding a to-do list a mile long and concerns for how to get it all done. Two hours later, I left that office with a much-different-looking to-do list and a new set of concerns, having unexpectedly been laid off as part of an organizational restructure.

I have been laid off once before. To make a long story short, I started a job with a travel agency in Boston on Sept. 4, 2001. Soon thereafter, that time period became a little rough for the travel industry, and I was let go three weeks later. That was a very different scenario.

I recently accepted a new position with a marketing agency. The time in between jobs wasn’t always a walk in the park, but I learned some valuable lessons and am better for the experience. In the interest of helping others who may find themselves in the same raft, here are six things I learned from my time off.

  1. Stay Patient. Not everyone is in the position to take their time when they lose their job, often due to financial or family pressures (or both). However—especially if you are given a severance—do yourself a favor and spend some time reflecting on your career and the direction you’d like to take. It’s harder to do this when you have a job, because you’re busy or complacent, and there are any number of obstacles you have to overcome to think clearly. When you are sans employment, there is an uninterrupted opportunity for clarity and focus. Figure out what makes you excited, what you want to do (this can be several different things), and then do your best to stick to those options as you go. You’ll find something in your wheelhouse eventually — have the diligence to wait for it.
  2. Bad Things Happen To Good People. My performance in my last job earned the highest level of success of my career, yet I still ended up packing boxes and saying hasty goodbyes to colleagues. I don’t say this to encourage paranoia, but rather to say that a change in leadership, structure, or economics can force even the highest-functioning employees to seek new opportunities. A lot of times it’s out of your control, and more importantly, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. That can be very hard to tell yourself, especially in the immediate aftermath of a shocking change, but it’s true. It’s always good to be introspective and think about how you can be a better employee, but don’t get too down on yourself. Focus on your next step.
  3. Maybe so. Maybe not. We’ll see. This saying, taken from a Chinese proverb or, if you prefer, an Aaron Sorkin movie, is good advice at any time, but is especially helpful during an extended layoff. Your job search will likely take many twists and turns, but only when the smoke clears and you have resolution will you be able to look back and know what led you to your destination. In my case I had an opportunity I was excited about, but the process dragged along interminably. That extended timeline, frustrating as it was, led directly to another opportunity getting fast-tracked. As a result, I found a new place of employment, and the one wouldn’t have happened without the other. So even if things don’t go your way (and they won’t), know that something positive may still originate.
  4. Relationships and networking matter. I’ve heard a stat that something like 134% of all jobs never get posted publicly. That may be a bit steep (math is not my forte), but in today’s digitally-connected world the value of networking has never been higher. It also places a premium on relationship-building. Short and sweet, it matters how you treat people, from co-workers to clients to people you meet at a trade conference. You never know who will end up having a neighbor who turns out to be the head of HR at a company you’re interested in. Tend to your community garden, for it will bear fruit more often than trying to go it alone.
  5. Make time for yourself. Mileage may vary depending on your financial situation, but if you can help it at all, it’s important to allot some of your time to personal gain, unrelated to finding a job. Get some exercise. Do some writing, or pursue another creative outlet that scratches an itch. Turn your forced recreation into at least a partial reward for all of the hard work you’ve put into your career to this point. In my time off, I started running (mostly) daily, wrote a first draft of a musical, as well as a children’s book. I mention that not to brag (trust me, if I can do it, anyone can), but to remind myself that while it took longer than I’d planned to find another job, I did my best to make the most of my sabbatical. This brings me to my final point.
  6. Stay positive. When your employment status changes for reasons other than personal volition, there are bound to be difficult times. Don’t avoid these moments; process them. Understand that this period of your life is transitional, and while there will be discomfort, it will come to an end. You will get another job. Try not to make yourself miserable, and before too long the time you were unemployed will feel like a distant, foggy memory.

Micah Hart is the Director of Content and Strategy at IMG LIVE. Follow him on Twitter: @micahhart

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