So, you were laid off? Don’t panic

Getting laid off isn't a mark of shame. It could be the start of an entirely new career path.

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While I’ve never been laid off, I was fired twice in my younger years. It was both very traumatic and unexpected. The most embarrassing experience was being fired from my first full-time job as a dish washer in an unairconditioned kitchen. But I was a kid then and living at home. Later, when I was fired after a forced takeover of the business I worked at, I was living paycheck to paycheck — and went into a panic that led to a lot of really poor career decisions focused more on getting any job rather than rethinking my career.

Since then, I’ve covered a lot of layoffs — and were it to happen to me again, I’d approach the problem differently. One is to avoid companies that do layoffs regularly; there is no upside whether you’re laid off or kept on the job. Not only do the people let go experience a lot of trauma, but those that remain have survivor’s guilt, wind up doing their job and the work of those laid off, and work under the perceived threat of being culled down the road. 

If you’re laid off, here’s what I recommend.

Don’t panic – and don’t get angry

There is no worse time of year to be laid off than the holidays. You have vacations planned, gifts purchased, and family get-togethers that now will be embarrassing. Your self-confidence and personal well-being will take a hit. First, immediately cut back on spending; you’ll need every cent you have as a buffer. You can re-plan vacations around low-cost activities (and staycations) since you don’t know how long you’ll be out of work.

Watch your temper. It is easy to act out during a layoff. I know of a CIO who, when laid off over the phone, used his credentials to wipe the company’s servers.  It not only destroyed any chance he’d ever work again in IT, but landed him in jail with massive fines he couldn’t pay. Unlike being fired, which can be very personal, layoffs are impersonal; experienced recruiters know they are more about being in the wrong place at the wrong time than a reflection of your capabilities.

Take time to plan your next step

Right now, there are still more job openings than there are people, so you have time. First, when you’re laid off, there are often resources you can use to both find a position in another part of the company or look for a job outside. Those resources can include interview training, resume services, and counseling. One thing to immediately focus on are the medical benefits you’re due. Stress can lead to a medical emergency; you’ll want to make sure your family is protected, as an uncovered major medical expense on top of losing your job would be catastrophic. 

Take at least a week or so to rethink your career, what you want out of life, what is best for your spouse and family. Then come up with a plan based on where you are now. You may find that selling your expensive home and moving to a more affordable area — and focusing on lower-paying opportunities that allow remote work and a better place to live (better education for the kids and lower living costs) — are better options.

This is the time to decide what is important in your life, and move in a direction  that improves your life avoids the same type of job (in the same area) you’re already in. There may be career paths that work better for you, and places to live that work better for your family. We often make career choices when young based on criteria that are either incomplete or focused on what we wanted when we were young and single. Those criteria may have changed over the years.

I know people that have completely changed their career trajectory and gone into the legal marijuana business, hired out as consultants, or joined analyst firms. (That’s what I did; it changed my life.) Another option: working for yourself.

About that last one, move cautiously: I see people going into businesses they know nothing about, such as farming, only to fail miserably. While starting a business in a field you know can be risky, starting one in an area you don’t know is recipe for failure. See if you can get a job learning that business from someone else before going out on your own. Take classes in the industry you’re eyeing  (junior colleges often have inexpensive courses). And develop skills in accounting and business management.

Summing up: a layoff could point the way forward

While every firing I’ve been through was traumatic, most of the time the change put me on a different – and better — career path. (After getting fired by that restaurant owner, I got a job at Disneyland, one of the most fun and exciting jobs I’ve ever had.) And my success as an analyst is directly related to having to think through what I like doing — putting me in my own business, where I’m happier than I’ve ever been working for someone else. 

So, a layoff could be your first step to a better life, but only if you actively work to assure that outcome. Don’t get angry. Look ahead and push for the future you want. This could be the first step toward a better tomorrow — if you make it so. 

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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