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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

Pink Slip Power: How To Survive a Layoff

The day it happens feels like a normal one—at first. Your boss calls you in for an impromptu meeting. Maybe it’s a new client, you think.

Then you hear, “I’ve got some bad news.” A lump forms in your throat. “Business is slow and in this difficult economy, we are being forced to let you go.” Shock and panic set in. Then comes the kicker, “It has nothing to do with your performance.”

If this situation is all too familiar, you’re not alone: 143,927 workers were affected by mass layoffs in April 2011 alone. It’s happened to me…twice. As hard as it may seem at first, a pink slip is not the end of the world—and it may even be an opportunity to move forward faster than you otherwise would have. Here’s how to keep your head held high in the toughest of times, from someone who’s been there.

Keep Calm and Carry On

Though it may seem impossible to believe at the time, it will all be okay. Try to keep your composure in midst of that horrifying moment. If you find your boss saying something similar to the scenario above, chances are she’s not lying, so don’t take it personally. Thank her for the opportunities you’ve had, sort out your affairs and, if appropriate, ask if you can list her as a reference as you begin your job hunt.

Now, walk out of there calmly, pack your things, and say your goodbyes. Hold those tears and screams in until you’re home. The best thing you can do for yourself is to maintain poise in those final moments on the job. Keeping it together will show others that you’re professional, composed, and able to handle anything that comes your way.

Take Some Time for Yourself

Immediately after a layoff, it’s tempting to run home and apply for every job out there. Take a deep breath first, and resist that urge. Searching and applying for jobs is full-time work in itself, which requires time, dedication, and, most importantly, concentration (which you probably won’t possess at the moment).

You will likely go through a series of emotions—panic, sadness, embarrassment, anger—but finally, empowerment. Think about it: tomorrow you get to sleep in and then do whatever you want! Give yourself a break for at least a day or two. It’s not often that you get to revisit your childhood days of summer break. As stressed and anxious as you might be, taking some time for you is not only needed, but well-deserved.

Get the Word Out

As hard as it may be, you’re going to have to tell everyone at some point. I struggled with feeling embarrassed when it came to telling my successful friends. It’s natural, but you shouldn’t. Remember: this could happen (and has been happening) to anyone. Plus, the more people who know about your situation, the more who can refer you to an opening they’ve come across.

Even though you’re upset, try to approach the topic with a positive outlook. When asked about your job, say “I was recently let go due to the economy, but am looking forward to moving in a new direction with my career.” Or “…but I've already secured two interviews.” Keep the conversation—and your mentality—positive, and you’ll avoid it becoming awkward.

Also, keep your venting to your closest circle and definitely not via social media. Posting your frustrations on Facebook will only look bad to friends, family, and potential employers. Plus, it could hurt your image in the eyes of your former employer, who may be a valuable reference.

Decide What You Want

Not having a job can be a great time to figure out what you really want in your next one. When you can manage to think about your old job without getting sick to your stomach, make a list of things that you liked and didn’t like about your position and company, and what you want to look for next. With each layoff, I secured positions more advanced than my last. I may have never had the opportunity to move my career forward so fast if I had stayed with one company.

Stay Busy

Sleeping in, catching up on TV, and relaxing at the beach are great for a few days, but beyond that, try to keep a regular schedule. Get up early, work on your job hunt during regular business hours, schedule plans with friends as usual, and attend the gym or fitness classes regularly. Keeping a regular schedule is important for your health and sanity, and it can help you stay productive. Consider trying something new, too. After my layoff, I started volunteering and found myself with more motivation and some newfound acquaintances.

Above all, keep in mind that a layoff is just a temporary bump in the road. With an open, positive mind and the support of your friends, family, and even your former boss, you’ll be armed with everything you need to succeed. You may not believe it now, but a layoff can be your best opportunity for personal growth and career advancement. Take it from me.

Photo courtesy of Alejandra Mavroski.