Laid off. Downsized out of your job. Fired. Call it what you like, it’s all the same thing. One day you have a job and a paycheck to go with it and the next day the alarm goes off at 6 AM and you have nowhere to go.
I’ve been there. More than once.
The first time was when I was living in Washington, DC. I knew it was coming, but I still panicked. Actually, first I shut the door to my office, called a friend, and cried. Then I panicked. I was embarrassed. Things like this did not happen to people like me. I was the perfect daughter, the A student, well-liked by my staff and peers. Until then, I had been a rising star in my company. I didn’t get into trouble. I did all the right things.
But it didn’t matter.
That experience taught me that you can be all those things and still be a company casualty. Sometimes it’s because the person above you is not doing their job very well and using you as a scapegoat, sometimes it’s because the company is not doing well, and sometimes it’s because the company is doing well, but they want to deliver more money to their shareholders and you are the collateral damage and sometimes it’s because you and your immediate boss no longer see eye to eye.
They used to call getting fired getting a pink slip.
It’s an old phrase that dates back to a time when companies would let people go from their jobs by slipping a pink notice into their paychecks. That was long before things like automatic deposit became a thing.
The first time for me it was a meeting.
I was handed a pink folder filled with all sorts of documents they wanted me to sign on the spot, which I refused to do until I had someone with legal expertise tell me what I was signing. You should do the same.
These days it’s an email – if you’re lucky.
Goldman Sachs laid off 3000 employees, supposedly emailing the afflicted calendar invites to a “meeting” that turned out to be a mass group firing. You can’t make this stuff up.
Sooner or later it happens to the best of us.
You’re more likely than not to one day find yourself on the receiving end of a termination notice. In the current climate layoffs seem to be quite fashionable. TechCrunch is keeping a running list of layoffs in the tech sector. Crypto.com is laying off 20% of its workforce. So is Coinbase. Microsoft announced they are laying off 10,000 employees to “cut costs.” And let’s not forget Elon Musk who let go of 50% of Twitter’s workforce within days of acquiring the company and has continued to cut staff since. By the time you read this, there will likely be more companies to add to the list and more people facing the loss of a job, many for the first time.
All this at the same time that unemployment was down to 3.5% in the US as of December 2022. There are lots of viewpoints from people like Scott Galloway who are more qualified than I am to explain that differential. That is not the point of this post. The point is to offer advice from someone who has been at the receiving end of losing her job more than once.
That would be me. So here goes.
#1. Take a minute to grieve the loss
This is a big deal. Even if you hated your job and secretly hoped this would happen, this was your livelihood. Give yourself some time to mourn the end of the relationship. How much time you give yourself to grieve is going to differ depending on your personal financial situation and whether or not you were given any severance to tide you over. If you can only afford twenty-four hours, so be it. If you can afford a year, lucky you. Whatever it is, set the timer and then get to the business of mourning your loss.
Get out the black clothes and cover yourself in ashes if necessary. Listen to your favorite sad music. Write a hate letter to the company and then toss it in the fireplace if that helps to release your angst. Just don’t post it on social media!
I realize we are living in a tell-all world (think Prince Harry and Spare) but I prefer to go with Patti Davis’ advice and remember “not every truth has to be told to the entire world.” Give yourself some time to think and process before you burn all your bridges, have a lot of regrets, and make yourself unemployable.
#2 Take a pause before you start interviewing.
There is no surer way not to get a job than when you are still seething over the fact you just got fired.
Before you sit in front of a potential new employer, it’s wise to get clear on what you want to do next. Maybe it won’t be another job doing the same thing. Maybe it will. Maybe this was the Universe telling you it’s time for a change.
The first time it happened to me my phone started ringing with job offers as soon as word got out. It was very flattering and hard to say I wasn’t ready to even talk about new opportunities, but I’m so glad I did. The truth was I did not like living in Washington and in the end I decided to leave and move back to my hometown of New York.
There will be a host of people suggesting you get out there, right away without pressing pause. Don’t listen to them.
#3 Practice self-care.
Exercise. Go to the gym. Play tennis. Take a daily walk in the park. Eat healthy. Make sure you take a shower and get dressed and out of the house at least once a day.
It’s no secret I like my martinis, but avoid excessive alcohol. Remember this is a loss, imbibing too much will only make you feel worse.
This is the not the end of your story, it’s the beginning of a new chapter you are about to write. The first time I lost my job was the first time I became acquainted with Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way and the concept of morning pages as a way to journal. That process helped me to get clear on what I wanted next, a pivot from radio to television advertising and a move to New York. It’s a practice I continue to this day.
#5 Get clear on your personal brand story
In today’s digitally connected world we’re all brands, whether we like that terminology or not. You know what your story has been to date. What do you want the next chapter to look like? You are not going to get there without some reflection and vision.
My workbook, Getting Your Personal Brand Story Straight has been helpful to many people. It may be for you.
#5 Renovate your LinkedIn profile
Hopefully you’ve been active on LinkedIn all along and that profile is not too dusty.
In any case, when you’re ready and you have an idea of what you want next to look like, you’re going to want to take a good, hard look at it and see if it’s telling the story about you that you just got clear on.
Many will tell you to start with your resume. I say, start with LinkedIn. Resumes are a necessary evil, but most wind up uploaded to a portal and scanned for keywords and if you’re lucky the algorithms pull you to the top of the list. LinkedIn gives you a more active role to play and a platform to showcase the whole picture of who you are. It’s often the first touchpoint a potential new employer encounters.
#6 Avoid negative people
In case you hadn’t noticed there are a lot of people out there who are insistent on telling you the sky is falling and you better run scared because there is just “no way, ever,” you are going to get a job again, with things “the way they are”. They’ll say you’re too old. Too inexperienced. They prefer to see the hole while others see the donut. Stay clear of these types. You will get another job. But not with that kind of energy surrounding you.
#7 Keep your sense of humor
Above all remember to laugh. You lost your job but you did not lose your life. Watch funny movies or a Netflix comedy special. Monitor your time with the news. It’s too depressing these days.
There is no doubt things might be tough for a while, but you will get through it – if you believe you will. In fact you may do more than just get through it. This can be an opportunity.
After the first time I was fired and was settled in my new job in television in my new city, a colleague told me I should call up the person who fired me and thank them. He pointed out how much better my life was now and how much happier I was.
What at the time had been a devastating event turned out to be just the kick from the Universe I needed to make my life better. It also made the next time it happened a lot easier to handle!