No matter how prepared you think you are, a job loss feels like a kick in the gut. But you will get through this! And you can accelerate your recovery by following the set of best practices that I suggest in this article.
In 2020, due to the pandemic, unemployment peaked at almost 15% of the working population. In some sectors, like hospitality/leisure, the rate was almost 40%. While employment is getting back to normal, continued economic disruption through all sectors will ensure that this career rollercoaster will continue. We have to be prepared for job loss no matter how secure we may feel at any given moment.
As an entertainment industry executive for 30 years, I held 18 different positions but was fired from 7 of them. So I dine out on the fact that I’ve been fired 39% of the time in my career. Those job losses taught me resilience, and how to turn those setbacks into successes.
Not surprisingly, the first question I get asked is “Did it get any easier each time you got fired?”
Sorry, but the answer is no.
Even when I knew it was coming, or I actually felt that I was done with the job, it still hurt. I wanted it to be my decision, not theirs.
Job loss ranks right up there with death and divorce as one of the most challenging losses to recover from. You will almost certainly traverse a pathway to recovery paved with a succession of emotions. Hurt, shame, anger, resentment, self-judgment, sadness, and depression are totally normal and understandable.
You may also initially feel a sense of elation – like a big weight has been lifted from your shoulders. You may have been anticipating this event, so now you feel relief that it’s over. Perhaps you’ve been looking for another job already, so now you can devote your energy full time to that search. Be careful, however. Even if you welcome this event on some level, there’s a good chance that you will run out of adrenaline. At some point, the loss will hit you.
Remember that your job is where you spend the most concentrated part of your day. Your work colleagues, along with your family, are your most important and consistent daily relationships. It won’t be easy to undo all of the habits, the friendships, and the other personal experiences associated with your job. It will always be hard to simply walk away. You’re going to need time to process all the various aspects of your loss.
But this doesn’t mean that you can’t get right to work on your recovery process and on charting your course ahead. Even while allowing yourself the time to grieve and recover from the job loss, you can embark on your plans to move on to the next phase – even if you are not sure or only have a vague idea of what that is going to look like.
1. Review & Redraft Your Resume & LinkedIn Profile
One mistake people make is deferring or delaying this important step. I know it may feel uncomfortable, but this is an opportunity to lean into your challenge. Be willing to acknowledge that your old job is over and that a new one awaits. This is part of your resilience-building process. Here’s a quick guide to help you focus on what I think are the most important parts of your LinkedIn profile.
Here’s a most crucial tip that I wish more people would follow: Never list yourself on LinkedIn as “unemployed.”
Recruiters love initiative. They don’t want to think that you’re sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. They want to know that you are actively working on your network, learning new skills, giving back to your industry, and generally increasing the value you will provide to your next employer.
2. Adopt a More Entrepreneurial Mindset
So, on your LinkedIn profile Headline and at the top of the Experience section, list yourself as a consultant in your field. Under that title (and create a DBA), describe the experiences and skills that define you, and the value proposition that you offer to prospective employers AND/OR clients.
Get used to thinking of yourself as a consultant providing value to a client, not as an employee working under the direction of a manager. Even if you wind up back in a salaried position, this entrepreneurial mindset will serve you well, and help you define the value proposition that you offer to your employer.
The economy is becoming more freelance. Your tenure in any given position is likely going to be shorter than in the past. Companies are scrambling to keep up with new trends and business models. Just because you’re a good fit today doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be a good fit in 5 years.
Act and plan accordingly. Concentrate on developing and messaging the value proposition that you want to deliver.
3. Start a Daily Journal
For me, after getting fired, mornings were the worst. To counteract that feeling of panic and sense of uncertainty around the future, I started a brief daily journal to set my intentions for the day and talk myself off the ledge. Pretty much without fail, these 15-20 minutes helped me calm down, focus on my plan, and generate a greater sense of agency around my future.
Take a small lined notebook and commit to one hand-written page per day. It will become a welcome ritual that will become an essential part of your routine.
4. Stay Motivated
Without a regular job schedule or calendar (or time when you used to show up at work), you run the real risk of spinning a bit out of control and letting the day slide by and get away from you. This is something that you may have already struggled with during the Pandemic, even if you had a job.
Use a key habit-building technique to create a morning routine or a daily routine that you’ll be able to stick to. Start with small, measurable, repeatable steps. Make them so small that they are too easy to avoid doing. Start with one, and then go to another.
Don’t overload yourself with tasks that seem too big and too intimidating. Give yourself the experience of success by chopping these larger tasks into quantifiable bite-sized pieces that are “too small to fail.“
Start simply by saying to yourself: “The next thing I’m committing to is…” Hold the image in your mind of completing that easy task, and then congratulate yourself when you’ve completed it.
Rinse. Repeat. (Full disclosure: during tough times, this is how I was able to get from the bed to the coffee machine, to my workout, to my desk, and finally to work…)
5. Block Your Calendar
Staring at a blank calendar is a sure way to get discouraged. What a contrast with your busy schedule when you were at work!
Fill in your calendar with appointments you make with yourself to execute all of the stages of your job search plan. As you get into your networking outreach, some of those appointment slots will fill up with real people.
6. Use the Pomodoro Technique
Neuroscience tells us that the best way to build stamina in getting our work done is to take regular breaks. The Pomodoro technique is named after a cute wind-up egg timer shaped like a tomato. Use a stopwatch on your phone or use one of the innumerable Pomodoro smartphone apps to break your projects and tasks into 25-minute chunks, followed by 5-minute breaks (or 50-minute chunks with 10-minute breaks).
Instead of asking yourself what you’re going to accomplish today, ask yourself how many Pomodoro’s you’re going to complete. That will shift your attention to the process, not the outcome. If you can feel good about the rhythm and the momentum of your day, it will help you weather any setbacks, rejections, or disappointments that may occur.
Recruit an Accountability Partner
If you’ve been working from home during the Pandemic, you’ll appreciate the idea of enlisting a friend or co-worker to break the loneliness and isolation and to help you stay on track.
If you’re job hunting, that sense of isolation can really go off the charts. You will likely feel cut off from your friends from your old job, and that can lead to a bit of desperation.
Enter your accountability buddy. You may find someone who is in a similar situation, or perhaps a friend or former colleague who is working on a challenging project and needs your support.
It’s important that this be a mutual exercise. Each of you must be in a position where you need and appreciate the support of the other person.
Share your plans and goals with one another, and set up a schedule to check in on the phone or on Zoom or via chat so you can update and support one another.
Make this a structured collaboration – not an as-needed or irregular check-in. You will benefit from the consistency and the commitment to show up for one another. That’s what accountability is about, right?
7. Create a Career Mind Map
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the tasks at hand as you recover from your job loss, Use a whiteboard or a wall chart to create a mind map with all of the major areas of concern and/or the milestones you’re planning to achieve. Top-level headlines could be:
- Connect to 20 recruiters
- Research 10 companies in my field
- Identify top 1st-Level LinkedIn networking allies
- Target informational interviews with key networking prospects
- Solicit LinkedIn Recommendations from past colleagues
Putting this up where it’s visible can be a great visual aid to remind yourself of what you need to do. It will also help you manage and prioritize the time and tasks you need to accomplish. If you lose track of where you should be focusing, or feel burned out on a particular area of focus, a quick glance at the mind map will help you shift to another area that needs attention.
8. Draft a Mission Statement
Just like a company will draft a statement of values and principles that underpin management’s aspirations and goals, you would be well-served to draft a mission statement.
Setting aspirational goals is a great way to focus on your “why.” Particularly as you transition between jobs, roles, and responsibilities, you may be asking a lot of questions about yourself. You may be reviewing or judging decisions you made in your last job. You may find yourself searching for a way to learn from the past and create a more sustainable or rewarding future.
Your mission statement is an iterative document. Don’t expect to nail it in one go. Think of it as a canvas that you are constantly revising and reshaping as your thinking evolves.
Don’t put this off. Completing a resonant and authentic mission statement will help boost your confidence and certainty about what you stand for. It will help you articulate what’s important to you in the work that you do. Most importantly, it will help you build rapport and distinguish yourself with recruiters, hiring managers, and allies who will support you in connecting to your future position.
Your mission statement doesn’t have to be long. One or two sentences will do. Consider including it in your LinkedIn profile “About” section.
9. Read a Book (and then a next one)
Your mind needs to be able to shift focus. Now is a great time to catch up on the reading you put off when you were too busy in your old job. Particularly when you’re feeling unmotivated, lost, or anxious, picking up that book you’re reading will be a welcome safe haven. Reading will recharge your imagination, reset your clock, and refresh your outlook.
I often find that when I pick up the book I’m reading, my mojo for work will filter back in after a little while. I’ll start to feel motivated about tasks that seemed like drudgery only an hour ago.
Read material that captures a wide range of your interests. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about work, although reading motivational books can be, well, motivational. Experiment and go with whatever feels like a good counterpoint to your job loss.
10. Start a Creative or Volunteer Project
Beyond reading books, you might consider picking up or resuming a creative pursuit that gives you pleasure and a sense of accomplishment. It can also renew your energy and focus for work. The same can be said for volunteering for a cause or an organization whose work your support and believe in.
On the creative side, consider fine art, music, photography, sports, dance, design, or other pursuits. Whatever you do, it will be helpful to define one or more projects that you can work on and complete. This is also important on the volunteering side. A project with a specific timeline and a goal – e.g. a fundraiser – is another way to build your sense of accomplishment.
Whichever path you take, that sense of completion is a confidence builder. It reinforces your sense of self-worth and bolsters your spirit at a time when you want and need to feel valued and valuable for the work that you can do.
11. Set Up Mock Interviews
We all dread job interviews, but by rehearsing for them, you can take a lot of the fear and anxiety out of the mix. Face it, a job interview is a performance. Research and prepare for questions that you can expect in the positions you’re going for. Practice your answers by having a friend or colleague “run lines” with you until you are relaxed and confident and the answers flow freely and easily.
Connect with supportive recruiters in your sector and ask them about what you can expect in an interview. They may also give you some important insights into hiring trends and what hiring managers are currently looking for.
Getting Fired Is Not Fatal
When I worked at DreamWorks Animation, I used to take our Founder/CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg out to speak to students at the top colleges and universities where we would recruit grads.
One day during a Q&A in a large lecture hall with about 700-800 students, a kid asked Jeffrey: “Why did you start DreamWorks?” Jeffrey’s answer: “Because I got fired at Disney!”
The theater went silent. You could have heard a pin drop. Had the kid struck a nerve? Was this going to be a super-awkward moment?
But Jeffrey knew exactly what he was doing. He waited a beat to milk the moment and then continued: “And I have news for you. Getting fired is not fatal.”
He went on to share the story of how he used that unfortunate and painful job loss to bounce back and turn his misfortune into an ambitious and successful film, TV, music, and animation studio.
This was an inspiring moment for those hundreds of students. And I repeat it here to make the same point. You’ve heard the saying many times: one door closes; another door opens.
You are at the tipping point of a new phase of your life and career.
Stick to your guns. Stick to your plan. Be as excellent as you can be. Give yourself a break. When you fall off the horse (or the wagon, or whatever your metaphor might be), get back on and keep going. You will make it!