When I lost my job in 2014, I naturally slipped into a self-pity funk for a bit.
What did I do first? I promptly made an enormous bowl of tiramisu and attempted to soothe my bruised ego with dessert. But—as good as it feels to take a well-deserved time-out—the quicker you curtail the wallowing and get back to the grind, the better for your career.
After realizing I wasn’t going to find a new job at the bottom of my trifle bowl, I put my spoon in the sink and got right down to business. I found a new job six months later, but was again laid off in 2017 amid a restructuring. This time, I was much better prepared to reenter the job market.
The following is a painful but crucial to-do list anyone who’s been laid off should follow, based on my experience:
1. Acknowledge Your Emotions, Then Move On
Immediately after you’ve been let go, you may find yourself experiencing a range of emotions: panic upon saying goodbye to a regular paycheck, exhilaration as you embrace life without a set routine, rage when you reflect on all the long hours you devoted to your former position—the list goes on.
Rather than get caught up in each of these, recognize that they’re all normal. But then—and this is the tough love talk everyone needs in this situation—move on and focus on the future.
In the case of both my layoffs, multiple colleagues were let go at the same time. Proving the old adage “misery loves company,” we served as our own little support group, commiserating together, motivating each other, and sharing leads.
2. Tell Everyone (Yes, Even Strangers)
Chances are, your self-esteem has taken a hit, and saying “I’m unemployed” aloud makes it that much more real and devastating.
Though you may be tempted to keep your status a secret, friends and family can’t begin to help if they’re not aware. Letting people know you’re available for new opportunities is the first step in getting your job search off the ground. (This email template will make it easier).
Right after losing my job in 2014, I attended a friend’s party and upon meeting her pals, I was asked the dreaded, “So what do you do?” I reluctantly told people about my layoff and waited to be flooded with boatloads of pity.
But what I got instead was actually solid support. From headhunter contact information to offers to share my resume with their HR departments, people I’d just met were more than willing to help. I left the party glad I’d spilled the beans, no matter how awkward I’d initially felt.
Pro tip: When talking about it, focus on what you want to do next—rather than what happened. For example, “I recently lost my job at [Company] and what I’ve missed most is working with customers. So in my next job, I’m looking for a customer-facing role at a mid-sized company” sounds a lot better than, “I was laid-off because my CEO doesn’t know how to budget and goodness knows how I’ll pay rent this month. Honestly, at this point, I’d take anything that doesn’t suck.”
3. Get Your Finances in Check and Create a Budget
Talking money is awkward, but knowledge is power. Figure out exactly what you’ve got to work with so you’re not accumulating debt at a time when you can least afford it.
The difference between the paycheck you lost and what you receive from severance or unemployment will determine if you need to make some adjustments to your spending—and just how sizable those should be. And this budget worksheet can help you get organized.
When I was forced to stop and really look at my finances, I realized I had to make some changes. I started with a bunch of small cuts: dinners in, books borrowed from the library, yoga at home instead of at a nearby studio. Doing this not only made me feel like I was preventing a bad situation from getting worse, it also motivated me to find a new job—fast.
4. Invest in Your Personal Development
It may seem counterintuitive to spend money at a time when little is coming in, but chalk this up to the old, “It takes money to make money.”
If enrolling in a class or two will make you more marketable and you can afford it, go for it. I took several writing workshops during my downtime and found that they boosted my self-esteem and offered me a positive outlet. These also gave me a reason to change out of pajamas and practice looking presentable again.
If you need help polishing your resume or could benefit from the guidance of a career coach, consider the cost a down payment on your future success. Once you’ve locked down an interview, treat yourself to a new ensemble and reap the benefit of your added confidence.
5. Prepare Your Narrative
You may want to put your layoff behind you, but there’s no denying it’ll come up during a future interview.
Come up with an honest but professional narrative and practice it a lot.
Each time I mentioned that my previous employer had restructured in interviews, it was met with understanding. From there, I discussed how my skill set would easily transfer and how thrilled I was to have the opportunity to be considered for this new role.
After the initial shock wore off, I was able to admit that neither of the jobs I’d lost had been an ideal fit. I’d stayed with both of them far longer than I should have because it seemed like the easier option and I needed the benefits.
In time, I came to view my layoffs as do-overs—each a new chance to get it right. Once I adopted this mindset, I embarked on my job search energized and with renewed optimism.
So though you may want to retreat for a while and wallow in everything from comfort food to compulsive binge-watching, the best thing you can do is catapult yourself back into the career arena.