how to hold onto your personal value after a layoff

As a career transition coach with Randstad RiseSmart, my first coaching sessions with clients are usually soon after they’ve learned from an employer that they’ll be losing a job. Some have worked at the same company for 15, 20, and even 30 years, and they assumed that this company is where they would comfortably retire. For them, the news hits like an earthquake. For others who more recently started a job hoping for career stability and growth, it’s still a jolt. 

As the initial shock wears off, grief often follows, then anger. What comes after that is quieter, but more invasive. And that’s the feeling of failure. On these early calls, when we begin to map out the next step in their professional lives, my clients can be so overcome with emotion that it’s hard to speak. In these difficult moments, my role is clear - to help them understand how to hold onto their value during a job search.

Repeat after me: It’s not personal

If I were to suggest one mantra for the aftermath of a job loss, and the subsequent ups and downs of the search for work, it would be “it’s not personal.” This simple phrase may sound counterintuitive in the face of what feels like stinging rejection, but it’s one of the key tools for staying resilient and moving forward during a job search. When companies cut staff, whether it’s due to a restructuring because of a merger, outsourcing or other cost-saving measures, it’s rarely performance-based, and I write this having coached many people at the very top of their fields after they’ve been let go. If like them, you’re struggling with the “why me” question, I encourage you to do everything you can to resist creating a narrative about the layoff that diminishes your self-esteem. As a start, try mouthing the words, “it’s not personal.” Then, say it again. And keep repeating the phrase, even if you don’t believe it at first. Allow the words to sink in. It’s really not personal. It’s business, and a reality of the modern workforce.

Soak in your accomplishments

With the dejection of a job loss, the sense of success may seem like it’s in the rearview mirror. But if you’re looking for the next job, you’ll need to pull your accomplishments up close in order to talk about them during the interview process confidently. One way to refresh your memory is by making a detailed inventory of your unique strengths, experience and impact. And a good framework for this is to start with one achievement on the job that you’re really proud of, whether it took place a month, a year or a decade ago. Give that achievement a title, and put it at the top of a piece or paper, or however, you document things. And then jot down all the steps you took to make it happen, with all the twists and turns - which could include mapping out a comprehensive plan, getting consensus among a range of stakeholders, leading or being a part of a persistent team, even in the face of obstacles. Make a note of them all, and what impact your achievement had on the company where you worked. Soak in each detail, large and small, and then begin to build your “winning” narrative.

Hold onto your value by staying in touch

For many high-achieving professionals that I coach, their work is inextricably linked to the definition of who they are. And with a bruising job loss, particularly after a long tenure, it’s can be initially difficult for them to feel whole. When I was unexpectedly faced with unemployment, I’d been a part of a tight-knit community of colleagues in the film industry for 20 years. And for the first time in decades, without a professional identity to rely on, I wondered how to be in the world, or talk about what had happened to me. Out of shame, my ill-fated instinct was to retreat from my work-related network. But in doing so early on, I missed out on the opportunity to connect with the people who could probably help the most in securing my next position.

Having made that costly mistake, I am now especially eager to guide people to take another route. And that is, to make a point to stay in touch with the different circles of people in your life - whether close family and friends or the broader circle of colleagues, dog-walking neighbors, exercise buddies, professional affinity groups, and people with whom you worship. Share your story. Don’t shy away from telling them that you’re at a career transition, and let them be a source of support and an expansive set of eyes and ears who can alert you to a larger array of job opportunities. You’ll be surprised at how many others have had a similar experience at some point in their career (maybe even right now!) and will be eager to help.

Tune out the noise

On a recent coaching call, a client who works in the mortgage industry, which has been particularly hard hit by layoffs, admitted how difficult it was for him to hear about the coworkers from his company who had already secured new jobs, while he was still persistently looking. The news led him to a barrage of negative inner chatter, in which he ended up doubting his value, and concerned that with all the others in his field also looking for work, he would never find employment. These sentiments are understandable after a job loss, especially in a competitive market. But they need to be acknowledged and then, corralled. And by corralled, I mean, fenced in and ultimately ignored, so they don’t sap confidence and momentum, which are both essential to moving forward in a job search. One of the challenging aspects of the hunt for work is that it’s packed with minefields beyond one’s control. The surest way to survive and thrive through it all is by tuning out the noise, holding on to your value, and doing the daily tasks that will eventually get you to a satisfying offer.

Reimagine your personal value beyond the job

It’s hard to envision a career transition as an opportunity, given all the stress of looking for work. My clients are an inspiration for how it’s possible to expand in the midst of it. Many tell me about feeling grateful for the opportunity to be more hands-on with their kids, where beforehand, they’d been too busy on the job. Others stepped up to take care of aging family members who really benefitted from their help. A project manager in the healthcare industry turned his focus to a long-overdue home office remodel, doing all the construction work himself. One of my clients, a senior marketing director, started lending his professional services to a non-profit raising money for Ukrainian refugees. An executive vice president at a film studio joined the advisory board of her alma mater. During my career transition, it took me a while to shake off the self-pity and be productive. I finally learned to hold onto my value when I got trained as a community organizer, eventually becoming part of the Mayor’s task force in Los Angeles on behalf of immigrant rights. And though, I didn’t get paid a dime for my efforts, it was probably the most impactful work I’ve ever done. 

Practice mental Jujitsu

I realize the challenge of what I’m suggesting here - repeating the mantra “it’s not personal,” even when you’re furious, or ignoring the sense of being left in the dust when colleagues quickly find work, and most important taking pride in your accomplishments, on and off the job, even when at a low ebb. Practice, and you’ll get there. This is the gateway to hold onto your value. You’re worth it!

wendy braitman, PCC.

career development coach

08 September 2022

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