In early 2015, my company eliminated my job along with another 3 dozen or so of my colleagues. I had worked there for 15 years, and it came as a shock. Granted, my company wasn’t in growth mode, but it wasn’t on the verge of bankruptcy either. I was caught in a big department shakeup.
It was my first layoff experience, and while it was a blow to the ego, I managed to survive with sanity intact.
I took me a few months to regroup, or “reboot” as I refer to it. With uninterrupted time, I wrote several books and concentrated on starting my own business. Three months turned into 6, and now I’m engaging in a job search to find a new position. My time off gave me perspective to know what I’m looking for in my next gig.
Fortunately, my company provided me with a short period of outplacement service with a company that is in the business of helping laid off people find new jobs. After delaying my program start for several months, I recently went to orientation with 30 freshly laid off people.
I wasn’t like the others who showed up that day. The big difference was that I had distance—5 months to be exact—whereas the others took no time off and were still nursing their wounds. To say it was awkward would be an understatement. Upon staking out my seat, I introduced myself to those around me, but nobody would make eye contact or say where they had worked. There was embarrassment and shame. Later, we all went around the room to introduce ourselves. Several people were from my former company (they had laid off even more) or from other large employers in the area.
Nearly everyone got more comfortable as the session went on. We had a terrific coach leading the class, and she helped us realize we were all in this together.
At one point, the man behind me asked, “What is the best way we can get revenge?” Everyone nervously laughed, but an open question hung in the air. The woman next to me seized on it, “Yes, I want revenge too!”
Accustomed to such an emotionally charged atmosphere, the instructor successfully evaded the question well enough to get the point across that our best course of action was to move on, take action, and land our next job.
The question and the energy in that room got me thinking. What had I learned about getting laid off after contemplating it nearly half a year?
In fact, I had authored a book on the subject of being let go that I had written immediately after getting notified. Back then, the layoff was fresh in my head, and events were still unfolding.
But what about now, after I had stepped back and taken time off? Here are 27 lessons I learned from a layoff.
1. Repeat the Robin Williams mantra from Good Will Hunting, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.” More often than not, the decision to lay you off wasn’t personal, but was a result of economic conditions, poor management, or some other circumstance beyond your control.
2. When you get laid off, you will go through all 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The longer you were with your company, and the more your identity is wrapped up in your career, the harder it will be to get distance. Things will get better.
3. The best way to get revenge on your old employer is to do something amazing. Clearing out your Netflix queue does not count.
4. Don’t burn your bridges. Don’t send an angry blanket email and flame out. Turns out it’s an incredibly small world out there.
5. Take a week to feel sorry for yourself, sleep in, and binge watch TV. After that, get on with things.
6. Whether you start job searching right away or not, get into a daily routine. Keep a schedule. Set your alarm and get up at the same time every day. Make your bed.
7. Take the time to work on your physical self. Go to the gym. Get lots of sleep and eat well.
8. Write down the names of 5 people you’ve been meaning to get in touch with, but haven’t had time for when you were working. Reach out and set up lunch or coffee.
9. Take out a sheet of paper and write down things you’ve been wanting to do for some time, but couldn’t because your job was too busy. What one thing can you start on today? What activities do you love that you can reconnect with? For me, I rediscovered my love of writing, something that I didn’t have time for while working a demanding job.
10. If you choose to take time off (to reboot) like I did, set 1 or 2 big goals. Inevitably, your time will expand with little things, and you’ll find yourself extremely busy even though you’re jobless. Staying fixated on a goal can help you come out of this time period with accomplishments.
11. Do new things. Go to a museum during the middle of the day on a Tuesday. Go sit in a coffee shop and work on your computer so you’re around other people.
12. Take the opportunity to up-skill. Sign up for a Udemy course and learn something new. Add that skill to your resume.
13. Reach out to someone you respect who can be a mentor. Say hello and see where things go. If you don’t have a mentor, read books until you find one.
14. Applying for jobs is not fun. At all. The online application process for many companies can consume hours. You should write a cover letter for every job that is tailored to the specific company. Give yourself a goal to hit every day, and start small (e.g., apply to 2 jobs per day at first). Think about building a pipeline of job activity—the more activity in, equals activity out.
Fuel your job search by networking. See someone you know on LinkedIn who works at Company X? Message them and ask what it’s like to work there. They just may help you out or put in a good word for you. Work your network as much as you can without being annoying.
15. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn account, get one. Start engaging with connections there. Don’t ask for a job; instead find out what people are up to. What is it like to work at their company? What’s happening in your industry? What interesting projects are going on?
16. It is okay to ask for help. You will be amazed at the people you didn’t expect to be so supportive. You may be disappointed to find some aren’t so supportive.
17. Your former company is not thinking about you. Life there moved on without you. No disasters happened because you left. They aren’t going to contact you and offer your old job back. The best thing to do is move on and find an amazing new job.
18. Take care to get your financial house in order. Immediately after you are notified, contact the unemployment office, or find out what you need to do depending on your home country. In the U.S., always register with your state’s unemployment office even if you’re receiving severance. If you wait too long, your benefit may expire.
Before your last day, find out any paperwork you need for moving your retirement savings, health insurance, and other benefits. Be sure to get everything that is owed to you—unused vacation, severance, etc. Find out whether they provide outplacement assistance. It never hurts to ask.
19. Learn about social media if you aren’t into it yet. Expand beyond just Facebook and check out Twitter and Instagram. Experiment.
20. Writing is therapeutic. Journal every day for 5 minutes. Answer the following questions: What went well yesterday? What will happen today to make it the best day possible? Who can you help today? If you’re feeling really ambitious, start a blog or write a book in 30 days.
21. Take a walk outside every day.
22. Do you have friends that are entrepreneurs or small business owners? It’s incredibly tough and risky to start your own business. Help support them. If reasonable, buy their product(s). If not, ask what you can do to help them. Should you decide to start your own business, you’ll realize what they are up against.
23. Donate to a charitable cause. If you can’t afford it, donate a few hours of your time.
24. Get involved in meetups or networking events in your community/industry. Aim to meet 5 new people a week.
25. If you got laid off once, it can happen again. Never place all your bets on one company or one charismatic boss. Never settle. Make sure you are constantly learning and gaining new skills to make yourself more marketable.
26. Never give up. Recognize the precious gift you have in simply being alive on this earth, experiencing a new day.
27. Adopt an unwavering, positive mindset. Practice saying positive things about your former employer because you’ll be asked during interviews. Recognize you will grow and learn from this experience.
Ultimately, getting laid off was advantageous because it forced me to step back and understand myself better. After working hard many years, I finally had time to focus on things I wanted to do, and I took some risks. My “layoff reboot” experiment is still ongoing. I hope these lessons learned help you in whatever situation you find yourself in.
Have you been laid off? What did you learn from the experience?
Read more about my layoff experience in my book, Layoff Reboot. Click here to buy.