Getting Laid Off
There’s nothing quite like waking up to find out that, by the end of the day, you will no longer have a job. This was my recent experience and, at the time of this writing, I do not have a job. I have been laid off. I do not have any opportunities lined up. Although I am applying and interviewing, I have yet to receive an offer. I may or may not be forced to relocate away from my family. I may or may not run out of savings before I receive an offer. This is my situation. However, I know I am not the only one so I thought I would share some thoughts on what I have learned and what I recommend in regard to what I am going through.
I loved my previous company and understand their decision to initiate lay offs was not an easy one. They were gracious about it and very forthcoming about what we could expect and why this decision had been made. And I thank them for that. The truth is, anybody can get laid off. It happens every day. And, although it is a completely unique experience on an individual level, it is really just part of how business is done. When a company no longer has the financial means to support your contribution, it’s time to go. Harsh but true.
Here is what I have learned.
Don’t take it personally
Taking anything personally in general is probably the worst thing you can do. This is because it disconnects you from the situation and causes you to look for fault in yourself. “Is it because I’m me?”
“They had to get rid of someone so they chose me. It must be because I deserved it and they didn’t really like me anyway.”
“I really am useless. I mean, honestly, what a piece of garbage!”
Thoughts like this are not constructive in any way and ultimately make taking any real action immensely more difficult by several orders of magnitude. The truth is, regardless of what we think of ourselves, we really are probably somewhere around average when compared against the rest of humanity. Layoffs are based on cutting down human capital so the business can proceed forward without going under. Nothing more and nothing less.
The reasons why you were included may vary but they never diverge from this underlying reason. Sometimes it’s because of the region you’re in. It may be the department you’re in or the fact that you haven’t been there that long. Other times it may be that, while you’re good at what you do, they can continue paying another person less than you and more or less get the same job done. We are rarely privy to the actual reason we specifically out of everyone else in the company is being let go so it’s better to just understand that it has happened and you don’t have any choice about it. Water under the bridge, so to speak.
Objectivity can literally be a life saver. Any good soldier or martial artist will tell you that it’s the person who focuses on what has to be done, not how scary it is, that succeeds. Having a certain degree of control over your mind and being able to choose how you respond can maximize your effectiveness in taking action. Yes, the situation sucks. Yes, you’d really rather not have to deal with it. Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if it had never happened? Thoughts like this will throw you into a tail spin of inaction and self-pity. You can end up losing a lot of time and energy without having actually done anything whatsoever at all.
In my opinion, it’s better to focus on what you can do in real time. You don’t have a job? Find a new one! While that may seem an oversimplification, it’s not. But I am not saying it is easy, either.
Instead of dwelling on the misery of the situation and essentially soaking your head in negativity all day long, why not block out some time to take action? Start dusting off your resume. Start applying to jobs. Start reaching out to recruiters to let them know you are back on the market. Once you get the ball rolling, it can be surprising how quickly the opportunities and interviews start to come in.
Use your time wisely
While getting laid off is arguably one of the most inconvenient things you can ever imagine dealing with, there is a silver lining: time. Not having to go to work 5 days a week means you suddenly have a lot more time than before. And while, yes, it may be tempting to stay home in bed all day binge watching Netflix while burying you’re sorrows in chocolate chip cookie dough and otherwise hiding from life, there are other options available to you. Among them I would recommend study, exercise and socializing. These three elements generally take a back seat to the responsibilities and stresses of working life. We are often too tired, apathetic or plain burnt out to make time for things like going for a run, hitting the gym, taking a hike, learning a new skill or studying for a new professional certification. We also tend to let our social connections fade if we aren’t making a conscious effort to maintain them. Why not make a point to schedule lunch with a friend? Or maybe see a family member you haven’t talked to in awhile. Maybe organize a hike with someone.
Once you get into the swing of things post-layoff, there comes a point where you learn to appreciate the strange opportunity to live more and work less. I think that, as long as you are making a solid effort to find a new role/have the financial means to take a break from looking for one for a given amount of time, it is completely ok to enjoy some of your new found time. It won’t be long before you’re back to the grind and you may end up regretting not making better use of the time you had between jobs. And you may not get quite such a chance in this life again. Regardless of our working situation, it’s important to be able to slow down and not be so obsessed with your career and making money. This is something I have struggled with a lot over the years so I am speaking from experience.
While study, exercise and socialization are always beneficial activities, I believe their role is enhanced when you are in the strange in between of having been laid off and are looking for a new role. In the order mentioned, here is how I believe they are helpful:
One thing I learned post lay off is that I should’ve been more prepared. Not that I expected to lose my job, mind you. It’s just that it would have been smarter of me to have been more engaged in continuous learning. I was working through books on Linux, learning about networking and dipping into cyber security but it was all on a relatively superficial level. It would have been better for me to focus on a top certification I could have used to expand my skillset and to have been working toward it or to have already been certified. If we are not learning and expanding our knowledge and skill set then we are not growing.
But, to be fair, I was also working full time while helping to raise 3 kids. So, time was not exactly on my side.
However, when you find yourself between jobs, you have been gifted the time to work on your skills and learn something new. It may even become directly beneficial in terms of leading to your next role. Many recruiters I have spoken with have said that, if you have a certification or a working familiarity with something a company is looking for, it can help get you the job even if you have no professional experience with the skill in question. This is not always the case, of course, and is largely dependent on the other skills you bring to the table.
Also, being actively engaged in learning something new naturally deters your mind from dwelling on things you can’t control. This is an added benefit when it is all too easy to go down rabbit holes you shouldn’t.
While often time consuming and difficult to find motivation for, exercise never fails to improve your mood. Personally, I’ve done more hiking since getting laid off than I have in years. That’s largely because I live next to a mountain and can be deep in the forest within 20 minutes of leaving my front door. Still, though, I almost never took advantage of the situation when I was working because, well, I guess it just didn’t cross my mind.
For those who don’t live next to a mountain, there’s always going for a walk or a run. You can even look into HITT or cross fit routines in your room if you don’t have any other resources. Whatever exercise you choose, it won’t be a bad choice. Nothing in your life is going to get worse if you decide to take care of your physical health. It can also help you concentrate and make better use of your time. It’s just easier to stay positive when you are healthy and being positive is enormously helpful any time let alone times of uncertainty.
Human beings are naturally social. It’s largely what makes us the dominant species on the planet; our ability to communicate and work in groups composed of vast numbers of individuals. While this has it’s benefits on an evolutionary level, it also has benefits on an individual level. In times of strife, it is natural for us to want to be with other people we feel close to and to be felt and heard. While you don’t have to turn it into a pity party of wailing and melo dramatics, although there may be times where that feels like the thing to do, it can be a good idea to share what is going on with a few close, trusted friends. But certainly not everyone in your life.
Discussing things with friends triggers a sense of empathy and understanding. It can also be a way for you to process things in a lighter, more conversational and healthy way. The massive, frightening shadows in your mind have a way of becoming less so when you are talking with friends. It can also be a way to bond and grow closer. Maybe even to learn a little bit more about compassion along the way.
If necessary, take a mini-vacation to process things
While the advice I’ve suggested above focuses on moving forward and “getting back on the horse”, so to speak, I do not for one second intend to dismiss the fact that this may initially feel utterly impossible. The truth is, getting laid off can be emotionally and psychologically devastating. As a father of 3 young children for whom I do everything I can to provide a safe, supportive and nurturing environment I can say it is no small thing to have to face the thought that you may not be able to provide as you once were. It is a frightening thought that threatens the very core of who you feel yourself to be.
Regardless of your life situation and responsibilities, getting laid off is essentially like having the rug pulled out from under you. Your world is suddenly tipped upside down and you do not know how or when you can set it right again.
While we may feel that we should start applying and interviewing as soon as possible, that may not always be the best course to take. It may be that you need to take some time to process things in order to come to terms with your new situation. Getting laid off can lead to real trauma. And no one is at their best when they are traumatized. You will not present well, you will be forgetful and overly emotional. There are always opportunities out there whether you are looking for them or not. It can be a mistake to rush toward one when you are unable to put your best foot forward.
Assuming you can, I believe it is completely acceptable to take some down time to deal with the emotions and uncertainties arising in your mind as best you can. Everyone is different. Some can take it in stride. Some cannot. Some may immediately start focusing on their next position while some may feel like they’ve just lost membership to their family. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to know yourself and your limits and to not push yourself beyond them.
Get back on the job hunt sooner than later
While it can be important to take some time for yourself, I think it is equally important to come to terms with your new reality and to start doing what you can to improve it. For me, this meant getting on the job hunt as soon as I could. There is know telling how long it will take and what kind of changes to your life style you are going to have to make. I am the type that likes to be prepared and to take action. I don’t like to rely on others or to believe that things will “work out for me” purely through wishful thinking. That is not to say that that is the wrong approach. It is simply not for me.
Having experience starting and running my own business, I am of the mind that nothing will happen unless you take action. It doesn’t have to be an epic effort that exhausts you day in and day out. It just has to be targeted and consistent. As long as you are putting in the work of applying to positions and networking, you can rest assured that things will happen down the road.
I’ve found the trick is to avoid getting emotionally invested in anything until you have signed the contract for the offer. You can have the best series of interviews and connect with everyone along the way only to find that “after careful consideration, [they] have decided to pursue other candidates” with no other explanation at all. And it can really get you down if you’re not careful.
It helps to keep in mind that opportunities are coming and going all the time. It’s just a matter of connecting with one that you’re a good fit for. And the best way of maximizing the chances of that happening sooner than later is to hit the job boards and start applying. There is no telling what may come your way but you can rest assured that, if you don’t go looking for it, it will be nothing .
Take care of your health
While activities like exercise and socialization are guaranteed to maintain or improve your health, it’s helpful to make a special effort to avoid any activities that will drain your energy or affect your health in a negative way. Any behavior that stresses your finances or physical and mental health would best be avoided at a time like this. Engaging will not increase your chances and may actively work against them. There isn’t much to celebrate until you land your next position so save the partying for then.
Leverage your network
Gone are the days of having to belong to a special club or needing to know a secret handshake to get in touch with people who may be able to help you land your next position. In today’s online world of unprecedented inter-connectedness, it’s never been easier to connect with people and create your own community of like minded individuals who know people.
Personally, I had my first interview within a week of getting laid off. Obviously, since I’m writing this article, it did not lead to an offer. However, the point is I was interviewing within a week. And that is no small feat when you consider I live in rural Japan where there are no real tech opportunities for about 500km/300miles (not kidding at all). If I can do it, you can do it. The secret is to already have been networking before you got laid off. If you that’s not what you have been doing, there’s no time like the present. And it’s not as hard and won’t take as long as you might think.
First, get in touch with the network you do have and, unless you’ve been living alone in the wilderness since early childhood, you do have a network. Even if it means picking up the phone or emailing people you haven’t interacted with in months or even years (that’s what I did when I started an English school from scratch), it is still forward motion. You may not believe it but people love to help each other. It’s how our civilization has gotten this far in the first place. If you reach out to fellow professionals and recruiters to let them know you are looking for a new role, you can literally 10x your returns on opportunities to apply and interview. And I’m not joking at all.
You may have hesitations and feel awkward about it but it’s really no more difficult than saying something like the following:
“Hello [name]. I just wanted to let you know that I am back in the job market and currently looking for a new role in [industry or general area]. If you know of any opportunities or perhaps someone who you would recommend reaching out to, please let me know. It would be very much appreciated.”
Naturally, you may have to adjust phrasing and tone accordingly but, the point is, if you reach out and reach out consistently you are almost guaranteed to get a response and you may be surprised by how big it is.
Don’t be afraid to be excited about your next opportunity
It’s all too easy to focus on the negative aspects and challenges that come with temporarily losing your livelihood. In fact, it’s hard not to. However, with time and adjustment, it becomes easier to focus on a new start in perhaps a better position. I’ve found that, once you’re locked into a role, it can be quite difficult to move out of it from within the same company. It’s just the nature of the beast. Even the loosest of start ups will usually have you assigned to role X. And, while they may be accommodating in you cross training for role Y, they will likely still need you for role X and all of its responsibilities. You are kind of stuck in a way barring transfer to something completely separate and new.
It turns out there is a lot of crossover between roles while the specifics may convince you otherwise. By opening yourself to new opportunities you are also opening yourself to something potentially more fulfilling. It may be that, in unexpectedly losing one role, you may be opening yourself to something much more fulfilling in every way. The key is to have the initial openness and to put effort toward finding something.
Understand this is part of your career growth and also your growth as a person
No one can deny that getting laid off is a challenge to say the least. However, in exposing yourself to the market, you are exposing yourself to the probability of getting laid off. There is no way around it. The market is unpredictable and the race to maintain revenue can be ruthless. It has its casualties and sometimes you may be one of them.
While it is tremendously difficult at the time, being laid off can serve as a learning experience. It can teach you to constantly be building your skills and network. To be careful with your spending. To be more objective with your life and to be constantly seeking new opportunities and respectfully moving on on good terms when you choose to pursue one.
It can also teach you to be more appreciative for the job you do have and to leverage your position more skillfully in order to better guarantee future opportunities. But, naturally, while a lot of this realization may only be possible to come in part during the interim, it will only be when you secure your next position that it will stabilize and become more integrated into the way you see the world.
Have some compassion for everyone else going through the same thing
Compassion is an often misunderstood term. However, I believe that when we experience hardship, we have a more intuitive understanding of its meaning. This is not to say that we need to undergo hardship in order to feel compassion; only that hardship is a good opportunity. It can be helpful at times like this to step back from our small sense of self and to put things in perspective.
Many of us struggle whether openly or in quiet to make ends meet. The reasons vary but the suffering doesn’t. Perhaps we can use our sudden change in status and income to open our minds and our hearts to the struggle all around us. I believe that, in doing so, it makes us better, more focused and more productive people.
I hope you liked what you’ve read here. While I have not mastered the points I make above, I make a point to aspire to doing so. It is my hope that in that pursuit I will grow as a person and become a more positive force in the lives of others.
Thank you for reading.