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Advice / Job Search / Resumes

6 Steps to a Successful Job Search (When You're Blindsided by Losing Your Current Role)

person looking contemplative courtesy Siri Stafford/Getty Images

Ideally, a job search is something you start on your own terms. You feel ready for a fresh challenge, or a career change, or to move from one company to another.

But the harsh reality is that you won’t always start looking because you want to.

Downsizing, layoffs—and, yes, even getting fired—can happen unexpectedly. With all of these, you may have an inkling of what’s to come, but it can still be pretty shocking.

When this happens, you’ll be tempted to immediately dive into applying. After all, you’re no longer employed—and that wasn’t your plan. But, here’s the thing: The apply-now-and-think-later approach could make your search a lot longer. That’s because being strategic, leaning on your network, and getting referred can expedite the process—a lot.

With that in mind, following this plan will help you move past your unexpected unemployment—and get you on track to end it successfully.

Step 1: Give Yourself a Week to Think About Your Career Path

There are absolutely situations when someone loses their job through no fault of their own. A company folds or a department is eliminated, and there’s nothing to be done. If that’s you—you loved what you did—and there are other companies where you can do similar work, jump to step two.

But other times, upon reflection, you may realize that your prior job wasn’t the right fit. Maybe you’d been unhappy for some time. Maybe you’d started showing up late or begun checking out at meetings. (Maybe a change in attitude or performance was even mentioned when you were let go.)

If that sounds familiar, give yourself some time to think on what you really want to be doing with your life (Here are 30 free ways to get started).

I know it’s annoyingly optimistic to say, “Think of this an opportunity!” but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It is a chance to work at a company with a different culture or learn more about other fields. Maybe you wouldn’t have pursued a career change otherwise—but it turns out, it's the exact right thing for you.

Taking time to process first means you’re not going to get to the offer stage only to realize you aren’t excited about the role you applied for.

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Step 2: Update Your Resume

When you reach out to your contacts, they’re probably going to say, “Send me your resume!” So, instead of connecting, then scrambling, get ready on your end first.

The trick to creating a resume you can send to anyone is to tailor it to a target—be that a given industry, a dream role, or a chance to display your creativity. When you update it, make sure you're effectively demonstrating your talents and brand.

It could be that a summary statement or some rearranging will be really impactful.

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Step 3: Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile

Now, you have your resume ready to go—but simply copy and pasting it to LinkedIn would be a mistake. While it’s a helpful jumping off point, there’s so much more you can do to make your online profile attention-grabbing.

Add keywords so you’ll show up higher in recruiter searches. If you left your company on good terms, ask for a recommendation that’ll reinforce the great work you accomplished in your most recent role.

Publish thought leadership posts, so someone clicking on your profile will see you “get” the industry (or, at the very least, share industry articles with a short caption with your take). You may even want sign up for a premium trial, so you’ll be able to send InMail and rank as a “featured applicant” in recruiter searches.

This way, at the same time you’re looking for jobs, you increase the chances of recruiters finding you. And, anyone who clicks over to your profile will get an up-to-date impression of your skills and interests.

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Step 4: Start Looking for Jobs

You’ve probably been browsing postings for the past week or two, because when you’re thinking about what’s next, it’s nice to see what’s actually open. But if you haven’t started yet, that’s OK.

This is the research stage. Just like most people read a menu before ordering to see what the options are (even if they’re pretty sure of what they’re going to get), review different descriptions to see what piques your interest and what you might be qualified for.

Most sites will let you save (or send yourself an email), so you can come right back to it when you’re ready to apply.

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Step 5: Reach Out to Your Network

Some people would advise making this step four—the idea being that your network can help you zero in on where to look. This is a valid perspective, and you definitely want to connect with others before you start applying, however, I chose this order because you want to make it as easy as possible for your contacts to lend a hand.

In other words, if you reach out to your network after you’ve spent a little time looking at roles, you can skip over “Is your company hiring?” and lead with “I saw an open analyst position at your company, and I’m hoping to learn more about what it’s like to work there.” Or instead of saying, “I’m not sure what I want to do,” you could open with, “I’m not 100% sure what I want to do, but so far I’ve seen seen content marketing positions that look really interesting, and would love to hear about your experience.”

You’re not limiting yourself with this approach. If there’s something you’re perfect for that isn’t posted, your contact will tell you.

Now that you’re convinced, don’t let nerves get in your way! Work off a template to send a note you feel good about.

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Step 6: Apply

I know: Finally! This is where all the legwork you’ve put in pays off.

Now you have all of the pieces of the puzzle ready to go, so when you apply for jobs you know that your resume is updated, that you’re searchable, and that you’ll be ready to answer “Why are you interested in this role?”

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Without a doubt, hitting “submit” on an application is a good, productive feeling—which is why you probably would like to do so ASAP. But, as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Putting in the time to move past your dismissal and get everything ready for a new role, means that when the time comes, you’ll be as prepared as possible.