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February 4, 2009 > Counseling Corner: Laid Off? How to survive and thrive

Counseling Corner: Laid Off? How to survive and thrive

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

"Being laid off was one of the best things that happened to me," said a Bay Area resident who not only survived his layoff, but used it to create a life he wanted for himself and his family. Before the layoff, he had a steady job that paid well. The only bad thing about the job was that he enjoyed it about as much as a root canal without anesthesia. Yet he would not have quit voluntarily because it was a good job with benefits. Being retrenched gave him the impetus to take stock of what was truly important to him.

He ended up starting his own business in an area he was passionate about. Now he has the time and flexibility to do what he wants to do with his business and family. Best of all, he looks forward to going to work each and every day.

I hope his story will inspire you, especially those of you who have been laid off or fear a layoff.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not trying to say layoffs are a good thing. Quite the reverse - job loss is one of the top stressors a person can experience in life. It's right up there with illness, loss of a loved one, and divorce. A job loss can stir up feelings similar to grieving - anger, shame, depression and denial to name a few. These are all understandable and normal feelings when you are handed a pink slip.

When a layoff happens, give yourself some time, patience and compassion before planning your next steps. You might even want to take a small vacation as a first step. Before you launch into a job search, take time to regroup and regain the energy and vitality needed to put your best foot forward in your job search.

When you feel sufficiently ready to face the world again, ask yourself the following five questions and put your answers in order of importance. Answering these questions will help you prioritize your job search and focus your energy:

1. Do I want to work in the same job and in the same industry?
(If yes - focus on renewing and developing contacts in your industry and job level.)

2. Do I want to work in the same job, but in a different industry?
(If yes - pinpoint the industries you are interested in and start developing contacts. Rewrite your resume to showcase your skills in this new area. You might want to seek help from a professional resume writer to develop a resume that will attract interviews in this industry. Attend job fairs focusing on your new field of interest.)

3. Do want an entirely different job, but in the same industry?
(If yes - redo your resume to reflect the change in interest. A trained career professional can help you develop an appropriate resume that will highlight your qualifications, even in an entirely different job.)

4. Do I want an entirely different job in a different industry?
(Consider going to a career professional to help you discover what careers you are interested in. After you have done some exploration, you can develop an action plan that might include retooling your resume and getting additional training.)

5. Do I want to be my own boss with my own business?
(Research and interview other entrepreneurs to find out what it takes to own a business.)

No matter how you answer the questions, try these action steps to ensure you survive and thrive in a layoff.

* Get out and talk to people. Try striking up a conversation with those around you, whether it is someone waiting in line, a fellow passenger at the airport, or your mail carrier. You never know who might have a job lead for you. Have a meaningful conversation with as many people as you can, telling them about your situation and asking for their help and suggestions. Even if the person cannot offer you a job, they can still give you the names of people who might be helpful in your job search. Whatever you do, don't bunker down and avoid people!

* Join an employment support group. Finding a job can be a lonely process - it helps to talk to people in a similar situation. Best of all, knowing more people expands your networking contacts.

* Have your resume reviewed by a professional. Although money may be tight, a terrible resume won't do you justice and might cost the chance to interview for your dream job. One or two sessions with a good career counselor can help you create a standout resume, as well as help you figure out strengths and skills you never realized you had.

* Ask yourself what skills you need to learn or upgrade. Consider taking a class, either to upgrade your skills or learn something fun. Local community colleges like Ohlone College in Fremont and Chabot College in Hayward offer inexpensive classes in a wide range of disciplines.

* Spend at least 20 to 30 hours a week on your job search. This includes searching on the internet, talking to people about jobs, attending job loss groups, going on interviews, and writing follow-up thank you notes after an interview.

* Do informational interviews with people in jobs you're interested in. Informational interviews are a way to get to know more about a job. They are not job interviews in the traditional sense, but can be tremendously useful in giving you inside tips in a specific career track.

* Get out and explore what's out there, even if it's not necessarily in your area of interest. One woman was recently laid off, but decided to attend a small business seminar in Fremont rather than stay home and mope. She didn't know if she wanted to start a business, but believed it was better to get out there and talk to people rather than stay at home. This woman's attitude toward her layoff was wonderfully healthy and puts her out there to take advantage of hidden opportunities.

* Volunteer your time. When you were busy working, you might have wanted to volunteer but didn't have the time. Now that you have some free time on your hands, consider helping out a charity or your children's schools. Not only will you feel good doing good, you will also meet people who might help you in your job search.

* Update your professional web presence, such as your personal website or your linkedin, Facebook or MySpace profile.

* You've heard this advice before - eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. This commonsense advice is important for anyone, but especially if you are going through the stress of a layoff. Consider joining an exercise or hiking group. Meet new and interesting people and stay healthy at the same time.

Some Don'ts:
* Don't badmouth your former company, particularly in a job interview.

* Don't take the layoff personally. Yes, it hurts to be let go. However, remember that lots of people are getting laid off right now. You are not singled out for punishment.

Even if the job market looks bleak, there are still many opportunities out there and you can take action to get those jobs or create the life you always wanted. You can absolutely survive a job loss if you adopt the belief that you have the power to make something positive out of a bad situation. Do something wonderful with your life!

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