Laid Off? Make the Most of Your Time

By Kyra Sutton, Ph.D. December 6, 2019
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Laid Off? Make the Most of Your Time

This year will be ending before we know it. As it winds down, many of us will start to set goals and plan for the new year. It's an exciting time, but year-end is also when organizations may need to make tough decisions. Some will decide it's time to reduce head count and announce a round of layoffs.

And guess what: Even if you are an early-career employee or have just started a job, you could be among those let go.

If you are laid off, you may feel like your world is coming to an end. But it doesn't have to feel that way. Here are some ways to handle a layoff.

Manage Your Emotions

Most people experience a range of emotions and reactions when they are laid off, such as:

  • Fear. "What do I do now?!"
  • Peace. "I was ready to leave anyhow." 
  • Anger. "I worked my tail off. How could they?!"  
  • Sadness. "There are so many things about the job and the people I will miss."
  • Defeat. "Maybe I wasn't that great an employee."

You might feel many emotions, and each of them is valid. However, regardless of how you feel when you're laid off, things will most likely get better. But some days will be tough. You may not hear from a prospective employer for several weeks, but just remember, this is a temporary phase in your life.

Use the Time Between Jobs

You will most likely have several weeks or maybe months before you land a new job. What should you do?

1. Appreciate your free time. It may seem strange to be advised to enjoy a layoff, but once you restart your career, your time off becomes limited. You'll have time off from work, but you'll need to schedule it and maybe figure out who will cover for you. Therefore, appreciate the time you have between jobs.

2. Get mad! It's OK to get mad about a layoff, because that anger will motivate you to act. Have you ever noticed how anger can push people to surpass their perceived limitations? You may think, "How could they lay me off? I contribute to the team. I am bright and capable, and I have a lot of good ideas." 

Use your anger and frustration to either find a job where you will be appreciated or figure out how to make money from your capabilities on your own.

You could:

Never heard of the gig economy or digital nomads? Now is your time to read up and think outside the box!

3. Focus. You were laid off a few weeks ago, and you're enjoying your freedom. You like getting up late or starting the day early with a workout. You like surfing the Internet and catching up with friends at night and on the weekends. Enjoy the time off, but remember to set new goals.

Figure out what experiences and training you need to move forward. Don't get too comfortable. Get ready to take action.

4. Reduce major expenses. The pressure to pay bills and manage outstanding debt often drives people to take jobs they don't like after a layoff. However, if you can figure out how to reduce your major expenses (e.g., rent, student loan, car note), do it. Move back home temporarily or stay with friends. If you don't have the stress of paying major bills, you can focus on finding a position you want.   

5. Reach out. If you've been laid off, pride can stop you from communicating with others. That is a mistake. If you're uncomfortable contacting your former co-workers, reach out to your former college professors. Look at your LinkedIn connections, and network with people with whom you've lost touch.  

Finally, connect with people at other companies you met during previous interviews. There may be current opportunities for which you are a good fit. 

6. Study up on successful early-career professionals. Sometimes being laid off is a blessing in disguise. Use it as an opportunity to check out what other early-career professionals are doing.

I keep a list of various publications that celebrate high-performing Millennials and members of Generation Z. It is interesting and helpful to read about what other people are doing, as it will show you career areas you can explore. 

Here are some resources that highlight the careers and accomplishments of early-career professionals:  

Crain's: Each year, Crain's recognizes 40 professionals under age 40. It highlights people who are successful entrepreneurs and working in nonprofits, the arts, law and more in multiple cities around the country.

Forbes: Forbes recognizes 30 people under age 30 across more than 20 industries. Most of the people on the list are leaders and entrepreneurs; several are in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. They each have a vision you could learn from.

Inc.: Inc. recognizes 30 entrepreneurs under age 30, and it's fascinating to read about the work they are doing. If you have something in common with an honoree, try reaching out to him or her.

Fortune: Each year, Fortune recognizes 40 people under 40 in business, and it's useful to read their career advice and their stories about first jobs.

World Economic Forum: The World Economic Forum recognizes young leaders who have found new ways of driving change. The organization recognizes the most innovative, enterprising and social-minded women and men under age 40 who are pushing boundaries and rethinking the world around them.

Glamour: Each year, Glamour recognizes College Women of the Year. They include women who take action in business, education, athletics and politics, among other achievements.

Finally, check out the profiles of people with whom you have a lot in common. For example:

Being laid off gives you time to reinvest in your career and figure out your path. Please take it as an opportunity to figure out what you like, what you dislike, and the industries and positions you will enjoy.

Enhancing self-awareness is something that you should do throughout your career. Continuously look for new ways to truly own your work.

Kyra Sutton, Ph.D., is a faculty member at Rutgers University School of Management and Labor Relations in New Brunswick, N.J., where she teaches courses in training and development, as well as in staffing and managing the 21st century workforce. She also has served in lead HR roles at Pitney Bowes and Assurant.


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