person on computer
Hero Images/Getty Images

Getting laid off can be one of the more ego-crushing, unnerving life events you can experience. And getting laid off when you’re a leader can feel downright terrifying.

If you’re one who has risen through the ranks at one company, or been recruited to join others, you may have never (not once) had to even look for a job. Not to mention, as you near the top of the proverbial pyramid, there are fewer jobs at your rank and level period.

So where do you begin if you’ve risen to the top of the heap, only to be reorg’ed, downsized, or shuttled out of your most recent role?

Here are five key things I’ve learned from helping successful people at the top of their game build and activate successful job search strategies

1. It’s OK to Ask for (Professional) Help

When you’ve been in a position for five, nine, or 19 years and you’ve pretty much been the go-to person for all the answers, it can feel really weird to realize that you don’t have all (or any) of the answers when it comes to your next move.

Of course you don’t. You probably haven’t even had to think about this for a long, long time. This is totally common, and completely OK. But, if you ruminate, dwell, or allow your lack of expertise in all things job search to get the best of you, it can prolong your efforts or envelop you in overwhelm.

You will not be at the top of your game if you are enveloped in overwhelm. Not by a longshot.

Rather than wasting valuable energy and time spinning out over something you’re not current on or proficient at, consider hiring a career coach, job search strategist, or resume writer when you’re ready to get started (and yes, you’re allowed to take a breath or two after being shown the door).

At the very least, reach out to your friends and family to look over your application materials and prep for interviews with you.

2. (Re)learn How the Job Search Process Works

Plenty of leaders have reviewed like a gazillion resumes over the years because they’re key decision makers when it comes to hiring new talent. Given this, they probably have specific preferences of what they need or like to see on a resume (and what they don’t).

And this is useful because you’ve probably recently put together a resume. And you let your insights guide the process.

However, you may not have any idea of the journey that resume traveled to get to your desk in the first place. You may have little understanding of the ATS that many companies employ to sort (and weed out) candidates before human eyeballs every even touch the application.

You may not know how an organization’s frontline HR representative or talent acquisition specialist reviews everything, and what makes them decide to refer someone to you in the first place.

These factors matter, especially if you’re applying for roles online. Your resume should reflect what you, the business leader, think another executive will want to see, but also be constructed in a manner that appeals to the earlier decision makers in the process.

For more on that, read this.

3. The Job Boards Are Not Likely Your Magical Answer

This is going to be short and sweet: The higher up on the food chain you are professionally, the fewer interesting and relevant jobs you’re going to find posted online.

Many senior leadership job openings are never posted at all. They’re either worked on quietly via word-of-mouth, or farmed out to executive recruitment firms.

Certainly, I’m not suggesting you spend zero time looking, but do realize that you could prolong your timeline if you rely heavily on “apply blindly for jobs I see posted” as your primary strategy.

The job boards are not anyone’s magical answer. They’re even not more so when you’re a senior leader. So, rather than spending your time on the internet, spend it reaching out to your network so they know you’re available.

4. Your People Will Help You if You Tell Them Exactly How

Speaking of, a lot of the people I’ve worked with jump right in with networking as a primary strategy. This is absolutely a sound plan. However, simply “reaching out” to your people may not net you the results you’re looking for. You’ve got to be specific.

Think about your closest friends and your family members. I imagine that if any of them lost their job, you’d be willing to do just about anything to help them get back to work.

The challenge is: Do you even really know what they get out of bed and do in their jobs each day? Do you know what they’re looking for? Like, if you say you’re going to “keep an eye out” for them, do you have any idea what you’re even keeping an eye out for?

You’ve likely got many ardent supporters in your network. Empower them to truly help you by giving them some specifics on what you’re looking for, what skills you want to put to use, what your next job might be called, and which companies might be a good fit.

The more detailed you can be in painting a picture of how they can help, or what they can “keep an eye out for,” the better the odds that they will be genuinely useful through your efforts.

5. You’re Probably a Thought Leader—Leverage This

I’m often surprised by how incredible many of the business leaders I work with are, yet how little they’ve done to make this abundantly clear outside of their immediate circles of influence. Yes, I get it, you’ve been busy climbing the ladder and doing a ton of amazing, demanding things. “Promote thyself” isn’t always near the top of the to-do list.

When you’re laid off, however, it’s time to put it at the top of your list. It’s time to capitalize on your thought leadership in a way that promotes your knowledge, your firepower, and your brand.

You can do this in a lot of ways, but the easiest place to start by harnessing the power of social media. I recommend starting with LinkedIn and Twitter. You don’t need to make this a 40-hour-a-week endeavor (in fact, you may look like an over-the-top eager beaver if you all the sudden start appearing everywhere).

Start small. Curate content that’s interesting and relevant to your area of expertise. Publish your own LinkedIn articles (here’s how to do that if you’re not a writer). Ask other industry pros relevant questions on Twitter (or answer other people’s questions).

The point is this: By showing up and demonstrating—across that giant big platform called the internet—that you know what you’re talking about, that you’re passionate about what you do, and that you’re engaged in your field, you stand a much greater chance of getting on the right people’s radar, and getting back to work faster.

You became a leader in your company because you’re talented, strategic, and probably quite resourceful. These traits will serve you well as you work toward landing your next job. If you’re a embarking on a job search right now: catch your breath, dust yourself off, remind yourself how incredible you are, and then apply your talents to a new business:

The Business of You.