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Editorial
Just Got Laid off? Avoid These 9 Knee-Jerk Reactions
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Jane Scudder

Downsized. Redeployed. Terminated. Laid off. These words can cut deep and forever change a career. But losing your job is not the end of the world, and believe or not, it can be a launch pad to something great — that is, if you handle it properly.

As a professional coach, I work with a large number of individuals who have been recently laid off, or who have been laid off at some point in their careers. Everyone handles these things differently and while overwhelmingly I see my clients as resilient professionals who ultimately turn lemons into lemonade (often interesting and more rewarding lemonade!), there are mistakes and missteps. Here are the top nine things that you should not do when you are laid off.

1. Vent on social media

The advent of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and other outlets makes it easier than ever to connect with and stay connected to other people across this world. It also makes it extremely easy to post grievances to an audience and get responses which, let’s be honest, can feel good.

But this is an ultimately shortsighted and the very real risks by far outweigh the rewards. What are those risks? Well, on top of the fact that potential employers might see your sour words and feel less inclined to interview or hire you, you also might be unintentionally breaking a termination agreement that states you cannot air such grievances.

Even if you are free to speak your mind, consider the fact that nearly 80 percent of all jobs in the United States are earned through connections. Your connections are your former colleagues but also your Facebook friends and Twitter followers. If you are posting endlessly about how you were wronged, how you can't stand your former boss, or are relieved to be done with that mess of a company, be aware of that your neighbor down the street who might have been planning to reach out about possible opportunities at her firm will be less inclined to do so if you are perceived as a loose cannon.

If you need to post something I challenge you to first ask yourself, “Why am I posting this?” If it’s for validation, pity or something else explore a different method to get those emotions out and processed.

Note: I simply left LinkedIn off of this list, since don't you dare vent about a past employer on the #1 career networking site in the world...

2. Complain to former coworkers

Along with being careful about not posting grievances, you should be careful about sharing them with the wrong people. Who are the wrong people? Anyone still employed by your former company.

You might be upset but they might still be happily employed, or simply trying to maintain a positive outlook. Be careful about projecting onto these people. Why? Depending on the specifics of your departure, your still-employed, former colleagues might be some of the most sympatric to your situation and helpful to your job search. They probably can’t get you a job where they work (because, well…) they might end up being well connected to a hiring manager at another organization you’re excited about. Don’t let a desire to bad-mouth a leader, teammate or whole organization tarnis that relationship and any potential connections it might bring.

3. Not complain at all

Paradox? Not quite. There’s research to support that venting enables us to be free of negative thoughts. The trick here is to find the right outlet and not get lost in a pity party. A trusted friend or loved one can be good starting points. A mentor can be better to offer industry perspective. And a Coach can be helpful because she will help you be objective, offer reality checks and accountability to help you move forward.

4. Lose touch with your former colleagues

I mentioned earlier that 70 to 80 percent of all jobs in America are earned through networks (70 to 80 percent!). Who makes up your network? Current and former colleagues (along with family, friends, former and current classmates, etc.) One of the worst moves someone can make during job loss is to intentionally lose touch with colleagues. It can feel awkward or uncomfortable but I promise you your former colleagues are not crowded around the coffee machine laughing at how crazy it is that you added them all on LinkedIn. In fact, most people want to help. It’s vital that you work to nurture your network; this will be a key component to helping you get back on your feet.

5. Not give yourself a day, a week, a month — whatever — to process this change

I'll say it: Being laid off sucks. Even if you were going to quit and wanted to be let go for the severance package. Even if you “knew it was coming.” Even if it wasn’t about you but simply a business decision, a team re-org, or terms of a purchase. Whatever the circumstances, it sucks.

As humans we have pride and this hits us hard there.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is not giving themselves the right amount of time to process this life and career change. This is different for everyone. You may need full on mourning for a week. You may need to talk about it over a glass of wine with a friend. You may need a few days of not thinking about work and getting the house in order.

Whatever you do, take some time — even just one day — to begin to process just what exactly happened and how you feel about it. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, nor is there a right or wrong way to feel; the only wrong thing you can do is ignore the fact that a big life change just took place and you had little to no say in it.

6. Not do a needs and wants assessment

After you process be sure to do a needs or wants assessment. This is essentially an exploration of what you need and want as you move through this transition. This includes everything from taking a hard look at your finances to determine how quickly you need to get a job as well as determining what you need or want your days to look like to make the most of your transition time. Sure it might feel nice to be able to sleep in 10 am and be on your second bowl of cereal in time for The Price is Right on a daily basis, but is that what is going to get you into your next role? Moreover, will that set you up to feel good about yourself??

That said if you need to do that a few times to help process what’s happened, by all means do it! The point is to ensure you don’t slip into patterned behavior that inhibits you from moving yourself along in your career and life, and that you take the time to discover what you want and need to do that.

7. Not explore what you actually want to do next

One of the silver linings of job loss, especially if a severance is a part of your departure, is that it offers you time to reflect and consider what you want next. Note that I didn’t say it forces you to do this. I wish it did. But the reality is that it’s super easy to become focused on getting your next job — any job, rather than the next, right job.

In fact, when I work with someone months or years after job loss one of the things they express regretting most is not considering what they truly want next and not being choosey about their next role.

8. Not add to your running list of accomplishments (Note: This is different from your resume.)

When you leave a company without freewill it’s common to have the mindset of, “I can’t wait to forget all about them!!!” (Exclamatory marks required.) Resist this urge — at least until you reflect an capture your successes.

I believe every professional should have a running list of accomplishments — like brag sheet high school counselors suggest students use in applying to college. This is (much) longer than your resume since it captures everything including relevant metrics and results. It can help inform versions of your resume but it holds everything — all successes, all metrics, all awards and accolades.

Try to update this as soon after leaving a role as possible so that what you did is fresh in your mind as are results and metrics. (In fact, I recommend all professionals do this every six months, but it tends to come up when someone is going through job loss). This is useful in updating your resume as well as preparing for interviews since it will keep all successes in one place.

9. Not take advantage of coaching or other resources within your severance package

If you’re fortunate enough to have a severance package be sure to use it! They often come with a lot more than money. Paid trainings, 1:1 coaching, and access to proprietary tools are some the common features. Ask your HR representative what your package includes and how long you have to use it.

If you’re connected with an outside training company or coaching firm they might have some outcomes or objectives they want you to meet (e.g., a refined resume) but be open and honest with them about what you are hoping to get out of your time. Maybe you decide you want to really boost your interviewing skills; ask to then spend a few months with your coach or trainer really strengthening these techniques. Or perhaps you feel good about your resume (though I always recommend getting multiple eyes on this important document!) but know you could use some help updating your LinkedIn. Ask for that. This is an ideal time to work with experts in these areas at no cost to you! 

So you just got laid off from your full-time job after years of working for the same employer. At the end of the day no one likes losing their job. As a culture we tie up so much of our personal identity in our work that it can feel like an affront to us as humans. So losing your job isn't an easy pill to swallow, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world. While you conduct a job search for positions at new companies, you can file for unemployment to reel in some unemployment benefits and unemployment compensation to keep your money situation stable. Plus, many companies even offer severance pay for about a month or more. And if you take an objective and thought-out approach to this time, you can come out on the other side as a stronger, more deliberate and effective professional.

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Jane Scudder is a certified leadership and personal development coach; she helps individuals and groups get unstuck. She builds and leads original workshops and training programs, consults with organizations of various sizes, and is Adjunct Faculty at Loyola University Chicago. Find out more at janescudder.com.

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