There’s a saying in the career development world: “You’re not in my club unless you’ve lost a job.” It’s not a kind saying, but it puts things into perspective. Many people have lost a job or two or even three. No one will ever say, “Losing a job is fun.”
To lose a job for any reason can be a blow to one’s self-esteem. Even if you were laid off because the company had to cut costs, you might think you failed.
If you were let go for lack of performance or you didn’t see eye-to-eye with your manager, this can be particularly devastating. You may feel that you’re incapable of returning to the productive employee you once were.
The same applies to having to quit under pressure. Your boss was constantly harping on you for small mistakes or accused you of missteps that you know, deep in your heart, were correct actions. But because they’re the boss, they hold the power.
No matter how you wrap your head around what happened, you can’t let go of what went wrong. You lose sight of what you did well. Negative thoughts swim around your mind.
With all of this said, there are steps to take to get back into the workforce. (These steps don’t necessarily follow in this order.)
1. Don’t deny your feelings
You might be experiencing one of the five stages of grief (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance), or a few of them. Although associated with the loss of someone close to you, grieving over the loss of a job is common. Realize that this is natural and don’t deny the feelings you’re experiencing.
You may be experiencing feelings you’ve never had before: bouts of crying for no apparent reason, short temper with family members and friends; a diminished sex drive; lack of motivation, wondering what you did wrong. These feelings, and more, are symptoms of unemployment; you’re not going crazy.
Being unable to concentrate on what’s going around you is natural. Your mind circles back to the fact that you’re out of work. You might have been told to hold it in. I believe this applies to only when you’re in public. When alone let it out, but not at the expense of loved ones. Don’t kick the family do I tell my clients.
When I was out of work, I tried to recognize the feelings I was experiencing. It wasn’t always easy, but I realized my unemployment was temporary. You should also realize your situation is temporary.
2. Evaluate the situation and be able to explain why you’re out of work
Given three reasons why you are unemployed—you were laid off, let go, or quit—determine which it was and assess the situation. People who possess self-awareness are honest with themselves and with others.
The first reason—being laid off—is easiest to explain. One of my customers said, “I had no choice. The company could no longer afford my salary.”
While this is true, it would be best to go into a little more detail, such as, “We lost two major accounts that I was working on (as a software engineer). While my work was stellar, our customers decided to pull out.”
The second and third reasons—being let go, or quitting—are a bit harder to explain. These answers must be short while giving an honest description of the situation and, most importantly, explain what you’ve learned from the situation.
One way you might explain being let go is: “My boss and I agreed that I wasn’t a fit for the position, that I lacked some of the skills. I understand the requirements of this job and know I can excel in this position.”
3. Don’t sleep the day away
You might be halfway through your job search and feel like giving up the fight temporarily. Don’t do it. Stay the course. If you need motivation, have someone check in on you to see how you’re doing. These would be a good friends, so don’t begrudge them.
As difficult it may be, develop a routine. You don’t necessarily have to rise at 5:00 am so you can go to the gym before the workday. But getting up every morning at 6:00 am, taking a walk, eating breakfast, and getting out of the house would be much more productive than sleeping until 10:00 am every morning.
You’ll feel much better if you are productive, not if you rise late and watch television. I honestly believe that developing a routine is essential to your mental health and finding a job. Another suggestion is to attend your local One-Stop career center for career-search help.
4. Take a hiatus
You’ve heard of the saying, “Get back on the horse.” This is true, but you don’t have to do it immediately. I’ve talked with job seekers who say they’ve taken a week off to regroup, to get their bearings.
While some might believe that you should begin the job search the day after you lost your job, I’m not one of them.
To get back on the horse immediately might be more detrimental than helpful, as your head will be swimming in negative thoughts of self-doubt. Or you might not have the energy you need to succeed. Proper mental health is required to be successful in your job search.
This said, don’t take a “vacation,” as some of my job seekers have. They figure summer is time to vacation, right? Wrong. The best time to look for work can be the summer when many employers have more time to entertain your request for an informational interview. Just recently our organization filled three positions.
5. Let people know you’re out of work
I tell job seekers there’s no shame in being out of work. And I’m sure they say under their breath, “What would you know?” Plenty. I’ve been out of work myself and came to find out that my feelings of self-doubt were wasted.
In order for others to help you, they need to know you’re looking for work. The people you tell aren’t limited to your former colleagues and supervisors. They should include family, friends, and acquaintances.
Don’t disregard people who live across the country or even the world. Social media allows us to hear of opportunities in various areas of the country. Your brother in New York or San Francisco might hear of position openings close to where you live.
It’s important that you tell people exactly what you’re looking for in terms of work.
6. Be willing to accept help
I find this to be one of the largest roadblocks for some people; they just can’t bring themselves to ask for help. There are two things to remember: one, your job search will be shorter if you have help.
Two, most people like to help those in need. It gives them a sense of fulfillment. Look at it this way, you’re helping others by asking for help. Psychologist assert that helping others gives people a feeling of achievement. I think most people reading this article enjoy helping others, seeing them succeed.
This isn’t to say you should approach everyone in your community and ask, “Do you know of any jobs for me?” To tell people you’re out of work (#5) should be enough. For safe measure, however, “ping” people to stay top of mind. An occasional request like, “Please keep your ear to the pavement for me” should suffice.
7. Take action to prepare
As hard as it might be, you will have to focus on four major areas in your job search. My valued connection, Erin Kennedy, outlines what job-search measures to take to update your job search and to begin moving forward. According to Erin these are steps you will take in the early phase of your job search:
Update your resume Does it convey your message and brand? Is it up-to-date with your current role? Are your most recent accomplishments listed?
Update your LinkedIn profile as well. Do you have a current photo? Have you utilized the new “featured” tool to display projects and achievements?
We are all going through this same challenging time so reach out to your contacts. Check in on them. Set up a Zoom meeting so you can chat face-to-face.
Better yet, invite others as well! This is a great time to deepen your relationships and create new ones. We need each other right now.
8. Update your written communication materials
You now have time to update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Ideally you added accomplishments you achieved while you were working, but it’s understandable if you hadn’t. Many people are guilty of this. Lesson learned.
Think about how you saved the organization costs, improved processes, increase revenue, enhanced communications; and try to quantify the positive results. If you can’t come up with the numbers, dollars, and percentages, don’t sweat it. This is also a great time to think about your greatness.
I find that many of my clients hadn’t used LinkedIn when they were working, but now they are using it like a fiend. Another lesson learned. Remember to focus on the three components: creating an optimized profile that brands you, developing a robust network, and engaging with your network.
9. Start networking
Oh no, not this again, you might be thinking. I’ll be the first to admit that networking is tough, especially after losing a job. But it’s the most successful way to find a job. The numbers prove it—more than half of positions are gained by networking. PayScale.com claims 70% of jobs are gained through networking.
While we’re slowly recovering from the pandemic, networking is still being conducted online, typically with Zoom. Many are looking forward to the day when they can network in person.
If you’re still getting over losing your job, put off networking or engage in it slowly. And if you were let go, there’s no rule saying you need to disclose it. Rarely will fellow networkers ask you the reason for your departure. But if they do, ignore the question or politely tell the person you’d rather not discuss. it.
10. Practice using video conferencing
To Erin’s third point, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to be smart about interacting with others. This doesn’t mean we can’t continue to network. We might have to do it in smaller groups via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
Using video conferencing and the phone will prepare you better for interviews you’ll have in the near future. This is how companies are conducting interviews today. So, the more prepared you are with the technology, the better you’ll perform.
You probably didn’t think it would come to the point where you’d be going through multiple phases of the interview process participating in video meetings, but this is today’s reality. At least for the time being.
11. Seek professional help
You’ll probably experience many feelings, including anger, fear, self-doubt, etc. If you become consumed with these feelings, it might be best to seek the help of a therapist.
This is not unusual, trust me. I went through a plethora of feelings and, yes, I did talk with a professional. It allowed me to clear my mind.
If it gets to the point where all you can think about is the past and present, and fail to see the future, this can be an indication of depression or stress. It’s worth talking to a therapist when you reach this stage. Most insurance policies cover mental health services.
12. Consider your job search a blank slate
It’s hard for people who haven’t lost a job to understand how difficult being unemployed can be. The above are some simple suggestions to follow. Those who are in my club of people who have been unemployed at one point can be the best people to speak with. For some of us, it’s not our first rodeo. We have some sage advice to offer. Seek us out. We’re here to help.