Survive a Layoff with an Effective Job Search Action Plan

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Tips to manage the financial and emotional turmoil of a layoff and learn to structure a job search to land a job
         A sudden layoff in today's job market may not be surpris¬ing but it can be devastating, both financially and emotionally. Recouping your self-esteem is the hardest part of the job search process, since losing a job is an emotional separation from which it is natural to grieve. Knowing there are many highly qualified people who are unemployed through no fault of their own offers little comfort. While you need time to process feelings, the best way to recover is to take action. Creating a plan of action, starting your job search, establishing goals and brainstorming with others will restore your energy and make you think about the future instead of brood about the past.

          Many times job seekers start each morning declaring "Today I will find a new job!" This is a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure. By breaking the job search process down into small, manage¬able steps, you will avoid feeling overwhelmed and subsequently para¬lyzed.

Before you even begin your job hunt, there are a few preliminary things to do.

1) Negotiate your severance agreement. Realize that despite everything, you still have some bargaining power even as you are walking out the door. Your former employer would like to remain on good terms with you. Ask for anything that would be helpful to you. At this point, you have nothing to lose. You may be able to negotiate severance pay, continued use of an office or other space, or secretarial, voicemail or e-mail privileges. You should clarify the employers' position on these issues before you actually leave. Remember, those that don’t ask, don’t get.

2) Request References. You should have a conversation with the person or persons who will act as your references and come to a mutual agreement as to what will be said. You can initiate this conversation and actually tell them, to some extent, what you would like them to say. They are likely to agree with any reasonable suggestion. 

          In many instances, company policy will only permit the organization to confirm dates of employment. If this is the case, consider instead requesting a “testimonial” from a manager who has supervised your work. A testimonial is not an official company position, but rather one professional commenting on the work product of another.

3) Apply for Unemployment and Health Benefits. You may be entitled to unemployment benefits although any severance payment that you collect may affect the amount of unemployment benefits you receive. You should register for unemployment right away, as it may take some time to receive it. The good news is that you can get every check except for the first one mailed to you at home from most employment offices. You will not necessarily lose your health insurance coverage either. You are entitled by law in most cases to extend your health benefits (although you have to make the monthly payments) for up to eighteen months under COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. You may also want to check with professional associations to which you belong to see if they offer group health coverage to members.

4) Tend to your finances. How much money do you need to earn in order to maintain your current lifestyle. Before seeking a new position, write out a detailed budget for yourself and your family. This prelimi¬nary investigation into salary will help you later on as you approach salary negotiations. Also, inquire about loan deferments and contact credit cared companies to discuss reduced payment options.

5) Acknowledge the feelings. This is the hardest part for most people. Being associated with a particular company, firm or organization can be such an important part of a person's life and identity. Being laid off not only creates a tremendous sense of loss of structure and interruption of "normal" daily routines but also a sense of betrayal. The organization loses its caring, collegial atmosphere as the blame gets spread around and becomes anonymous, with nobody taking responsibility for the decision. The financial blow and the change in consumer status can be equally devastating.

           During a challenging search, your emotional well-being deserves attention and care. In fact, your productivity and ultimate success depend on it.  Since people need to feel they are making some progress in order to keep pursuing their goals, job hunters faced with frequent setbacks and disappointments may eventually lose all hope of finding a suitable position. Typically the "job market" treats candidates with little consideration or care. The trauma of the downsizing followed by a protracted search may paralyze them with depression, anxiety, frustration and anger. When you are feeling overwhelmingly discouraged, how can you recharge emotionally and get over the "Why bother?" hump?

  1. Feel the feelings. Allow yourself to be emotional--for 3 days. Cry, hide under the covers, punch a hole in the wall, eat comfort food, feel miserable, but for no longer then 3 days. On the third day, you MUST RISE and take action to shift those feelings in a positive direction.
  2. Analyze the panic - what is the fear?

    "I will never work again."

    "I won't get the job I want."

    "I won't get the salary I want."

    How real are these fears? How can you prepare for, minimize or render any of these scenarios temporary.

  3. Focus on what you can control. Understand that each stage of the hiring cycle has lengthened. There is little you can do to speed up the process. You can not make employers waive requirements, create openings or return your calls. The more you try to plan or control these factors, the harder and more frustrating your search will be. Fuming over the fact that companies rarely confirm receipt of your resume or that they run blind ads is wasted energy. What you can control is the quality of your cover letters, resume, image, interviews, follow-up and networking. You can determine how fast you respond to leads, ideas and events. Concentrate your energies in these areas and let go of the rest.
  4. Share your anxieties with friends/family. Not only are these people great sounding boards but they can also help you spot flaws in your search. Remember to ask for what you need! Well meaning spouses and parents can drive a job seeker crazy by trying to be helpful or asking too many questions or by just plain nagging. Enlist their help as a mate as a coach or consultant if you think it would be productive. Otherwise, politely ask them to leave you alone while you sort through things. Keep in mind a change in your life naturally means a change in the life of your family members. They may be scared or have questions too. Do not try to protect loved ones by acting in control. They will be more supportive if they know what is going on and understand how they can be helpful.
  5. Address negative preconceptions. Many people, searching for a logical reason for their predicament, create barriers for themselves by accepting perceived deficiencies about themselves. Recent graduates accept that they will not be hired because they have "no experience"; women and people of color retreat because they feel employers "aren't really serious about hiring us" while more senior professionals feel discriminated against because of their age and salary range. Just about every group has some reason to feel disenfran¬chised by the job market. Unfortunately, all of these perceptions create obstacles. However, they should not be viewed as insurmountable, but rather as only inconvenient. It is up to you as the job seeker to test these erroneous perceptions and convince employers that you are the best person for the job. Keep in mind; if you do not believe you are the best person for the job, you will have a difficult time convincing any employer.  Job seekers who can spot a market need, articulate their ability to fill it and challenge employ¬ers to test their precon¬ceptions about "success¬ful" candi¬dates will have demonstrated the intangible qualities so often sought by employers.
  6.  Have some fun. Whether you are in the job search voluntarily or involuntarily, there is a tenden¬cy to avoid other people. Job seekers feel guilty if every waking moment is not dedicated to their search. Because there is rejection built into the job search process, it is important to design strategies for working through the rejection so that you have the energy to move on to the next call or meeting or interview which may be the one where you land a job. Allow yourself time to be with the important people in your life who can provide support, encouragement and perhaps a few laughs during this tumultuous time. Do not feel guilty about enjoying something or goofing off periodically. Exercise, take a short trip, tackle a project or read a novel. A short time away from your job search may allow you to return with renewed vigor and energy.


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Kathleen Brady
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