Change is the one thing you can count on
If you are reading this, chances are you are confronting the change you never asked for. Take comfort that you are not alone. In my work as a career coach and a “thinking partner”, I spend a lot of time speaking to people in all walks of life, from an executive in Dubai to a young professional in Tokyo to a stay-at-home mom in Houston, TX that needs to re-enter the workforce. People of all ages and walks of life face challenges when dealing with the job loss in every part of the world. Getting stuck in denial, becoming paralyzed by fear and/or shame, spending a lot of time and energy on blame and/or regret, focusing on the problem, rather than the solution are just a few among many change sinkholes. My goal is to offer you a way to manage the change you are facing, share personal stories of people that successfully transitioned from lay offs to new opportunities and give you direction that will allow you to not just merely survive but to thrive during the transition period. Let’s take a look.
1. Realize you have a right to your feelings and take some time to reflect and heal
You may be feeling angry, sad, anxious, and even hopeless. You have these feelings because you are human. These are your feelings, and no one can take them away from you. Process and quiet the negative chatter in your brain before looking for a new job. Feelings of confusion and embarrassment will be noticed by hiring managers, so work through your emotions before embarking on your next job search. Sherri Thomas, the author of The Bounce Back - Personal Stories of Bouncing Back Faster and Higher from a Layoff, Re-org or Career Setback recommends writing down what you and your previous manager could have done better.
Take a sheet of paper, and draw a column, draw a line down the middle so you have two columns. And on the left column, write down what he or she should have done better. And on the right column, write what I should have done better. And in the left column, usually it can be a manager, or it can be, a customer, a team member etc. It’s all those conversations that we are playing in our heads over and over, and over and over. Thinking about what should we have said, or what should we have done? The goal of this exercise is not to put blame on others (neither on ourselves), but rather to learn. Let’s not place blame or any kind of judgment on that situation at all. But instead let’s just think about it through a learning lens, what could we have done a little bit better. You may realize you did as best as you could in that situation, you did as best as you could at that time… Let’s be gentle with ourselves. And so once you are able to do that exercise, you can take those things that you could have, or should have done better, into your next job, and to my next job after that, and after that. This exercise will highlight opportunities for professional growth.
How Did They Cope? Mark's Story
I lost my job after 15 years in an industry that is well known for its cycles. Being older and knowing how the industry was, the layoff later in the down cycle didn’t come as a huge shock, and I had been through two cycles of that before. Knowing that it was coming months beforehand, helped me to at least not be too distraught when it finally happened.
The fact is that the job wasn’t perfect, and once I lost it I was out of that environment where I wasn’t very much valued. The manager had his favorites and I knew for a while that I wasn’t one of them. I lost a job but I was also free of the daily pressure and stress that came with it.
In a way, the job loss forced me to do what I had long considered doing anyway, which was to branch out on my own. That can be liberating. It gives a chance to really think carefully and creatively about what else you could do. While you are getting a steady paycheck, it’s hard to leave that behind and go after something much less certain. Losing a job forced me to take that step into the unknown and do things that were outside my comfort zone.
2. Don't let your job status define you
Sure, losing your job is a very personal experience, but don’t take it too personally. Who you are is not what you do. Never was. Never will be. Research by psychologist Marty Seligman found that the biggest determinant between those who succeed after setbacks of any kind is how they interpret them. People who interpret losing their job as a sign of personal inadequacy or failure are less likely to ‘get back on the horse’ in their job hunt than those who interpret it as an unfortunate circumstance that provided a valuable opportunity to grow in self-awareness, re-evaluate priorities and build resilience. You define who you are, not your job or a company's decision whether or not to employ you. Don’t take it as a personal rejection against you. It may well be due to economic forces far beyond your control that you found yourself out of work.
Developing resilience can give you an enormous advantage. According to Al Siebert of the Resiliency Center and the author of The Resiliency Advantage, research shows that resilient folks perceive change as less threatening, have less of a stress response (fewer stress hormones and lower blood pressure), and respond more creatively. They are more likely to get hired, have more chance of being kept on in a downsizing, are more able to learn new skills when their job is eliminated, are better able to help their families and communities through hard times, and they are less likely to get ill under stress. Sign me up!
How Did They Cope? Bayo's Story
The thing that helped me most was having my family around me. That gave me a sense of moral reward instead of the financial reward that had been taken away. I now spend more time playing with kids, and helping them with their homework.
I took the decision to go back to school, which keeps my mind occupied and gives me the feeling that I achieve something daily.
Overall, I’ve developed a routine that keeps me busy as I work towards building my new career.
3. Get the 3Cs in Place
Psychologists Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi are resiliency experts. In a study of change done on AT&T executives during a reorganization, as well as by analyzing more than four hundred other studies, they found that those who thrived better display the 3Cs:
1. Challenge: They saw whatever change befell them as a chance to grow and learn, and expressed optimism about the future.
2. Control: They believed they could influence their lives and the events around them for the better, and took actions to make that true. Rather than falling into passivity, they looked for the things they could control and work on those.
3. Commitment: They were passionate about life and saw it as having a deeper meaning than just survival. They stayed connected to people and events even times got hard.
The 3Cs, Kobasa and Maddi explain in their book, Resilience at Work, “amount to the courage and motivation to do the hard but important work of using stressful circumstances to your advantage.”
How are you doing on the 3Cs?
Challenge: How could this change be a growth opportunity for you?
Control: What can you control here? What actions could you take to be more in control?
Commitment: What do you deeply care about? What gives meaning and purpose to your life? What energizes you? How could you get more in touch with those things now?
4. Replace financial panic with planning
An effective way to deal with the understandable anxiety about finances is to pull together, face the realities as soon as possible, and come up with a plan. Here are some ideas:
- List together all of your household expenses
- Figure out ways to trim unnecessary expenses
- Develop a new budget and spending plan and have a family meeting to address it
- Contact creditors before you become late in payments to set up a payment plan
- Pay secured bills first – e.g. mortgage/ car loan and then pay for necessities like heat, food
- Consider refinancing a mortgage or using equity to gain a line of credit, if appropriate
- Make maintaining a healthy lifestyle a priority and find an alternative medical coverage
- Access reliable help when needed, e.g. Consumer Credit Counselors can help with creditors
5. Developing new relationships after a job loss
It’s never too late to expand your social network. It can be crucial in both helping you cope with the stress of job loss and unemployment—and in finding new work. Build new friendships. Meet new people with common interests by taking a class or joining a club such as a book group, dinner club, or sports team. Sign up for professional networking events via Eventbrite.com, meetup.com etc. Check out more professional networking ideas here.
Join a job club. Other job seekers can be invaluable sources of encouragement, support, and job leads. Being around others facing similar challenges can help energizing and motivate you during your job search.
Network for new employment. The vast majority of job openings are never advertised; they’re filled by networking. Networking may sound intimidating or difficult—especially when it comes to finding a job—but it doesn’t have to be, even if you’re an introvert or you feel like you don’t know many people. Get professional help with your sales pitch and a job search networking strategy here.
Find one or two job search buddies. Job search buddies will help you stay motivated during your search, keep you accountable and will give you a chance to expand your outreach by tapping into their networks. Sometimes, it can be difficult to find the courage to attend networking events alone or remember to follow up with employers. By having a job search buddy on your side, you’ll make the most of your job search and discover more opportunities.
Volunteer. While unemployment can wear on your self-esteem, volunteering helps you maintain a sense of value and purpose. And helping others is an instant mood booster. Volunteering can also provide career experience, social support, and networking opportunities.
How Did They Cope? Yulia's Story
I knew my job loss was an opportunity rather than a loss, an opportunity to learn things I have never had time for when I was a full-time employee. So, I made a list of those things: to attend ballet classes, to learn Argentine tango, to volunteer at an animal shelter, to learn how to make soap and chocolate candies etc. I was excited rather than sad and I truly believe it was one of the best periods in my life! In the interim I applied for jobs, met new people while enjoying my new hobbies and newly developed skills and I told everybody I was looking for a job. People were trying to help, and I went to many interviews and had a great experience as I believed one day I'll be hired again. All events in life happen so we can take advantage of them. In my case life gave me a chance to grow, meet new friends and ... to get 8-hour sleep every day! Ha! Life is good!
6. Choose carefully where you put your attention and Energy when looking for your next opportunity
At any given moment, you have the freedom of where to put your attention. You can focus on all the bad news watching TV news channels, catch up on the latest celebrity gossip, sit on a couch and binge watch Netflix or spend hours scrolling through your social media feed. All of the above most likely creates a sense of hopelessness, makes you start comparing yourself with others and drains your precious mental and physical energy. Or you can focus on what you want to make happen, which creates energy, action and positive results. What helps you do the latter? Working with my job search clients that come to me frustrated with a lack of results, I always emphasize the following:
Waiting is not a job search strategy. Online job boards is where over 90% of your competition is and the job market is currently oversaturated with great candidates. Recent research indicates that 76% of successful candidates (those that get job offers) come from sources other than online job boards. Don’t stop at applying online, waiting to hear something, not getting a response and repeating the process again and again.
Focus on talking to people. The truth about the job search is that you get jobs by talking to people. Anything that you do that causes you to talk to people will speed up your search. Anything that you do that causes you not to talk to people slows down your search. The more you talk to people, the faster you will get a job. Attend as many networking events as possible, speak with recruiters, and always follow up. As someone correctly noted, the point of LinkedIn is to get off it and go meet people.
True personal contact has advantages over every other approach – you create a greater impact, there is less need to persuade and sell, and it’s the most efficient way to search saving time on lengthy online application forms, cover letters, and emails. No question about it. If you can get the career-advancing job you want through personal contact, it’s the quickest, easiest, and most pleasant way to go.
Online job applications don’t get you a job, appointments get you a job. Spend most of your active job search time by talking to people and setting appointments (i.e. informational interviews, coffees etc). Don't count applications when you are trying to measure your progress/success/rejections, count appointments.
How Did They Cope? Madina's Story
I lost my job in June 2016. I underestimated the impact of pain this would bring. I lost the income source, yes, but I also lost friends, a place to go most of the days, and a way to apply myself. I questioned myself, my professionalism, what could have I done better to negotiate better outcome. Some days I was just paralyzed by analysis and fears... It was not easy, and I truly empathize with anyone who is just dealing with first days of this. It is not easy!
Insights that helped me are: 1) neither I or my family and friends define me by my employment; 2) nobody owes me anything; 3) I am not a victim, this is a new set of cards I am dealing with and I can play them as I choose.
My husband’s support was the first and most important thing, that helped me. He allowed me time and space to go through what I needed to go through. He also pushed me just a little, and I needed that.
Other things are: gratitude and soul-searching journaling (mine also had a huge to do section), signing up for 10 am swimming sessions (that was super cool), meditation (I bought subscription to Headspace, and did it for about 4 months), taking a shower in the morning and go for long walks during a day (if not now, then when?).
If I could do anything differently, I would not take it lightly. I would treat first 2-3 weeks as if I am recovering for abdominal surgery, allowing myself to heal. I would for sure get rid of long to do lists (loosen up a little), as I don't have to prove anyone that I am productive to be happy. Lastly, I would wake up and go to bed earlier, eat better, as it was very comforting to soothe myself with food late at night, but now I have some work to do. I would rather look for little joys that I can arrange myself every day, spend more time with friends, make new friends, and balance job search efforts with living joyfully.
I started volunteering in the area of my expertise 6 month into my unemployment and job search to help people I know. A year after my resignation, it turned into something more tangible, and maybe in the real project quite soon. I am still working on getting the balance between work related and all other areas of life. I learned how to be more assertive, cleared my understanding of what value I bring to a business, learned how to negotiate (going from a volunteer to a freelancer was organic but not easy). All and all, I think the experience of losing a job helped me to reassess my goals and values, and taught me the importance of finding or arranging little joys in every day.
I wish anyone who is going through this best of luck!
Personal Stories of Bouncing Back Faster and Higher from a Layoff, Re-org or Career Setback by Sherri Thomas
Resilience at Work: How to Succeed No Matter What Life Throws at You by Salvatore R. Maddi, Deborah M. Khoshaba
The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks by Al Siebert
How to Survive Change...You Didn't Ask For: Bounce Back, Find Calm in Chaos, and Reinvent Yourself by M.J. Ryan