Maybe you saw the early warning signs: budget cuts, hiring freezes, key projects getting placed on hold. Or maybe you were caught completely off guard. Lay-offs in November seemed impossible, cruel. No company would lay people off just before the holidays, right?
In fact, year-end layoffs are fairly common. And while it may seem downright inhuman to take away someone’s job just before the holidays, think about the alternative for a minute. It is often during the fourth quarter that organizations come to the awful realization that, for the financial survival of the company, multiple positions must be eliminated. Given that reality, when is the right time to wield the axe? It may seem more kind-hearted to wait until January, giving the poor, unsuspecting employee a worry-free holiday season. But in that scenario, an employer is intentionally withholding critical job and financial information from their employee. And under this false sense of security, the employee sails into the most expensive time of the year: several weeks of holiday celebrating, gift buying and traveling. If you’re like most of us, January (the month when bank accounts are depleted and credit card balances are bloated) is the worst possible time to find out you’re losing your job.
But waxing philosophical about your boss’ good intentions is no help to you now, when you’ve just been handed a pink slip.
So, what is helpful? In those first critical days and weeks after the rug has been pulled out from under you, here are five specific actions you should take immediately. (And a few tempting little reactions you should avoid at all cost.)
Say your good-byes with grace and gratitude.
As tough as this may sound, do it. Emotional outbursts or ugly talk will only burn bridges you may need over the next several months. More importantly, you gain so much when you walk away in a dignified and magnanimous manner. Beyond earning the respect of people whose references you may soon be requesting, you will simply feel better about yourself. And isn’t that what you really deserve right now? How can you accomplish this? Keep it simple. Make a short list of the 1-5 things you appreciate (or appreciated) about your job. Did you learn new skills? Gain valuable new perspectives? Did you work with smart people? Kind people? Helpful people? Now weave these sentiments into two documents: 1. Simple talking points (or a full-on script) that you practice until you can say it with effortless, smiling dignity, and 2. A short farewell email. Send that and nothing else. Don’t tackle twitter. No Facebook. Don’t even update your LinkedIn profile yet. Just manage your communications with the people in the workplace. You will get calls, texts and emails from former coworkers. And when you do, your prepared script and farewell email are your roadmap and your safety net. Without them, you may say things that you will desperately wish you could un-say later.
Vent privately. Market publicly.
Dealing with your feelings after a layoff is intense. Over the holidays, it’s a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride. Until you’ve had a few days to absorb the reality of your job loss, cry on the shoulders of close friends and family only. Get the tears, bitterness and snarky comments out of your system -- or at least securely limited to this safe circle of friends. Then, start working on how you’ll tell the rest of the world that you’re suddenly available and ready for the next opportunity. In the same way that you scripted yourself in step 1, above, craft your message carefully. Portray your competencies and cast your sudden departure in their most positive light. What job do you really want? What job are you now qualified to take on? How did the last position prepare you to climb that next, great mountain? You don’t need to use phrases like “laid off” or “lost my job.” You need to let the world know that you’re excited to put your amazing abilities to work and that you know what kind of company you’d like to join. Now get that story out there, starting online. On Facebook, change your current work status to a job title that describes the kind of work you’re now seeking. Phrase it to make your job-hunting status clear. Something like, “successful marketing manager seeking new opportunities,” works. On LinkedIn, do the same. Then get your resume updated and posted as quickly as possible.
You have a new job now: job hunting.
Hey, it’s the holidays. And this lay off feels like a sucker punch. But don’t think that means you get to take a few weeks off to lick your wounds until the New Year. It doesn’t. And you can’t afford that kind of down time. But don’t freak out and launch an all-out assault on the online job boards, either. After developing your personal narrative (step 2, above) develop a clear plan for your job hunt. Figure out what kind of organizational culture best suits you. Take an honest inventory of your skills as well as your career goals. What kind of work – and work environment – energizes you? How are your interviewing skills? If you find these questions impossible to answer honestly, consider getting help from a career counselor. Once you’ve figured out what you want to do and where you want to work, make a short list of the organizations that most appeal to you. Start reaching out to your network of friends, family and former colleagues - and network with them. Find out who knows someone who works where you want to work. Then boldly ask for introductions and informational interviews. And if you haven’t already done so, join professional associations that provide additional networking opportunities. Finally, seriously consider working with an executive recruiter. A great recruiter is paid by client companies to find ideal candidates. We know what employers want – and we’ll be honest with you about how your resume stacks up against your job-seeking competition.
Work those holiday parties.
Right now, party invitations may feel like the ultimate insult on injury. You don’t want mingle among the happy, employed people. You want to hide under the covers. But mingle you must. Don’t force your elevator speech on every person at the hors d’oeuvres table. But do share your current job goals judiciously. You will find that holiday gatherings are not only helpful to your job search, but a source of kindness and encouragement from holiday well-wishers.
Hold your head high. Be kind to yourself. And stay true to your goals.
Getting out of bed might feel hard some mornings. Getting out of your pajamas may be even harder. But do these things every day. And pursue your dreams. Make two more lists and hold them close. First, write down a list of your accomplishments – those things you’ve done and experienced that define your best self. And second, make a real, hand-written list of the friends you know will be there when you feel wobbly. Keep these lists with you at all times. Draw strength from them. They are yours. And even though it feels like the Grinch just tried to steal Christmas, rest assured that no one can take the most important things away from you.
Know your worth (salary).
Download a free salary guide, and go into your next negotiation with confidence.