Bouncing back from a layoff

Ken Pelczarski | TLT Career Coach November 2017

Follow these 13 steps to get back on your feet after being laid off.

© Can Stock Photo / stokkete

LET'S BEGIN THIS ARTICLE by looking at the following scenario that could happen to any of us who has an employer.

There is a rumor of an imminent layoff at your employer. You have just celebrated 15 full years of employment with the company. You feel safe because of your seniority and track record. An official layoff announcement comes, and you are one of 10 employees affected directly. How would you feel and how would you respond in this situation? 

In the above scenario, you would likely experience a range of emotions starting with pride for your 15-year milestone, followed by feelings of shock, anger and nervousness upon being laid off. How do you pick up the pieces, move forward and continue on a positive career path?

Many of us have been let go from a job at least once in our careers. Whether it be a downsizing, phasing out a position, job consolidation or a facility closing, we usually believe we have done our jobs well and that termination is undeserved. 

After experiencing a layoff, you will get the best results in a job search by maintaining confidence and a positive attitude. The biggest questions will be (1.) What strategies should you employ? and (2.) How should you use your time effectively to secure a suitable career opportunity in a reasonable time frame?

Here are 13 steps to help you get back on your feet after a layoff:

1. Plan ahead. Update your resume and list of accomplishments at least annually, even if you have not been looking for a new position. Always be prepared mentally for the possibility of being downsized. Look for writing on the wall, such as decline in revenue and/or profits, excessive cost controls, recent history of layoffs, increased micro-managing and overlap in positions. Manage personal finances to ideally have at least six months of liquid savings/assets to cover daily living expenses. Make sure you have health insurance coverage options available. If you are tightly budgeted and cannot afford to be out of work for an extended period, choose an employer carefully where your risk level of being laid off is low. 

2. Maintain relationships. Former co-workers can be a big asset if you are laid off. Maintain positive relationships with superiors, peers and subordinates by practicing a good work ethic, carrying your work load, encouraging and supporting others, avoiding gossip and being an overall team player. Past co-workers are more likely to assist you in a job search if you have been helpful to them and if they believe you would be a great employee for another company.

3. Line up references. Have a list of three to five work references available in case you need to start a job search. The number of references from your current employer is usually more limited for purposes of confidentiality. However, if things are shaky and you see the possibility of a downsizing, speak to trusted co-workers who know you well. Request to use them as a reference, and assure them that you are generally happy and hope to call upon them only if a layoff is imminent or has already happened.

4. Keep a positive attitude. It can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude after being laid off since your job is a large part of your personal identity and there is uncertainty to follow. Understand that being downsized is no reflection on you or your capabilities. Accept that you are beginning a new chapter in your life. You may even look at the layoff as a blessing after securing your next opportunity. Realize that employers place a high value on positive attitude as displayed in my 2016 survey of lubricant industry employers (see July 2016 TLT), in which attitude was ranked in the top three out of 36 desirable characteristics in a job candidate. In addition, employers ranked long-term fit and attitude as the top two factors in deciding who to hire among two equally qualified candidates.

5. Obtain support from family and friends. Gain as much outside emotional support as possible to ensure you do not get stuck in the shock, denial and anger stages of job loss. Surround yourself with positive, supportive individuals who will encourage you to keep moving forward and set new goals for your career. Understand that being laid off is not your fault and that feeling embarrassed and hiding from family and friends will limit the support you receive. Provide your spouse and other immediate family with as much information as possible about the layoff and your new job search so they can better understand your situation and be even more supportive. Friends and family also can be sources of job leads.

6. Assess career goals. Upon being laid off, you will likely find yourself at a pivotal point in your career. This is an excellent time to evaluate your career goals. You should have time to think clearly about where you have been in your career, where you are now and in what type of position you will be most excited and motivated. Consider all options that will place you in a challenging and enjoyable role in which you will achieve the employer’s objectives and your own. Being between employers can be the perfect time to take on extra risk and try something you’ve always wanted to do, such as starting your own business or working for a start-up company. 

7. Be patient. After determining the ideal next step for your career path, do not panic by accepting a position too quickly that may not be a good long-term fit. You may end up adding a short-term job to your resume when you could have been advancing your career in a more suitable role. Taking on a temporary role may be necessary, however, to help pay the bills. If you spend sufficient time on your job search, you should be able to find an opportunity in a reasonable time period that closely matches your career goals.

8. Be realistic. Try to be patient to secure the right position for yourself, but at the same time be realistic about what you are looking for. Be careful not to set your sights so high that you end up searching for the kind of opportunity that may not appear for a year or two, if at all. If you have realistic goals and work hard in your job search, you might even receive an acceptable job offer only weeks after being laid off. Contrary to what many people believe, there is nothing wrong with accepting the first offer you receive, given that it closely matches your career goals and you are confident that you will not find a significantly better opportunity soon.

9. Network. Most studies have shown that 50%-80% of professional positions are found through networking. As soon as you know that a layoff is likely to affect you, it is wise to begin networking on almost a daily basis. If you have consistently built professional relationships throughout your career, it will be much easier to broaden your network and develop timely job leads. Making networking contacts also will provide much needed hope, encouragement and motivation. Expand your network by attending trade shows, conferences and career fairs. Update your LinkedIn profile and indicate that you are searching for a new career opportunity. Work closely with specialized recruiters who will provide you with industry information and sound advice in addition to job leads through their network. Consider organizing a support group among fellow laid-off colleagues and co-workers.

10. Stay busy and productive. Upon getting laid off, there may be a temptation to sit back and relax for a while. Be careful not to fall into this trap as you may then become discouraged due to lack of activity. Remember that work you do now on your job search might not develop into an interview or job offer for several months. Stay involved in your field in any way you can. Consult or take education courses to keep skills sharp and current. Employers will recognize and appreciate your productive use of time, even if it’s for a lengthy period and even if it involves non-career activity such as a home remodeling project or taking care of a sick relative.

11. Set up a weekly schedule. When you are laid off, you lose the structure under which you are accustomed to performing a job. Job searching is frequently described as a full-time job in itself, and one in which you need to establish your own work structure. Setting up a weekly agenda is an excellent way to stay on task and get things done. Determine weekly how much time you will spend on activities such as networking, reviewing job boards, responding to advertisements, reading industry articles and updating your resume.

12. Reward yourself. When you are managing your job search after suffering a layoff, you will not have superiors, co-workers or subordinates to recognize, compliment or reward you for a job well done. You will need to set up your own reward system to stay motivated. Set daily, weekly and monthly measurable goals (e.g., writing to five prospective employers, making five new networking contacts, arranging an in-person networking appointment, setting up a telephone or in-person interview, sending 10 LinkedIn messages or InMails, learning three new questions to ask in an interview or obtaining three new job leads from your network). Reward yourself by (1.) taking the afternoon off, (2.) going out to dinner, (3.) going to the zoo or (4.) taking a mini-vacation.

13. Stand your ground on salary. The bottom line is that you are worth the same salary after being laid off as when you were employed. You still bring the same value and benefit to the employer. Start by researching the average compensation range for your level and type of experience, and then share this information with prospective employers. Gain leverage in salary negotiations by establishing a demand for your skill set in the job market. Garner interest from multiple prospective employers, and do not be shy in an interview about discussing the types of companies and positions for which you are being pursued in the industry.

I hope this article will help you strategize and be prepared in case you ever face the adversity that comes with being laid off. Aside from the initial setback, however, losing your job can mean a fresh start and an unexpected career boost, with the opportunity to gain new experience, tackle new challenges, build new relationships and earn greater financial rewards. The key is to stay positive and focused on your career goals.

Ken Pelczarski is owner and founder of Pelichem Associates, a Chicago-based search firm established in 1985 and specializing in the lubricants industry. You can reach Ken at (630) 960-1940 or at