You’re called into your boss’s office, and he or she breaks the news. Your mind is racing and your heart is pounding, but your body freezes up. Even if you’ve seen the writing on the wall, on some level it still feels like a surprise. Perhaps you’ve made some mistakes, or saw that the organization was moving in another direction. One way or another, the end result is the same.
You’ve just been laid off. Here’s what to do next.
“Stay calm, that’s the first thing,” advises Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, a Boston-based talent management firm. “Don’t have an emotional reaction, if you can help it.”
Those who can’t help it, says Varelas, should try to stay composed while explaining that they feel overwhelmed at the thought of leaving their colleagues and achievements behind. Responding with anger, shouting, or violence of any kind is never acceptable. “Silence is a much better choice,” she says.
You might rapidly reflect on all the time you’ve spent at the company, how you’re going to break the news to friends and family, and what you’re going to do next—simultaneously—but it’s important to be patient and take note of your manager’s feedback. “There’s a lot of valuable information there,” says Varelas.
Of particular importance to those who have just been laid off is severance benefit continuation—including health care, 401k contributions, and outplacement, says Varelas. They should also ask about company computer and phone policies, any non-compete clauses they may not be aware of, unemployment benefits, potential for rehire, and whether or not they will receive a reference. “You can also offer to transfer information [to your replacement],” says Varelas. “That’s a tough task but very impressive.”
Once the meeting has concluded and you’ve gathered all the feedback you can, the next step is to consider how you’re going to present the news to those that will inevitably ask. “There’s a really tight circle of people to whom you can tell the brutal truth,” says Varelas, including close friends and family.
Beyond that circle, however, those who have recently lost their jobs need to choose their words carefully when describing what happened, and craft a “public statement” that sums up the situation in a measured, factual manner.
“That’s going to be something like, ‘The company changed direction, and as a result a number of people were transitioned out of the organization, so now my focus is on finding a new job,’” says Varelas.
The concise and accurate public statement can be used to provide an explanation to potential future employers in online profiles, job interviews, and while networking. It will also inevitably be used by contacts speaking on your behalf as you begin to network.
“That public statement becomes really important, because that’s the statement that’s going to travel without you, so you want that statement to serve you well,” says Varelas. “Your spouse, your partner, your older kids need that public statement as well, because people are going to ask them what happened.”
According to the Jobvite 2015 Recruiter Nation Survey, 92% of recruiters admitted that they use social media to find candidates. As a result, job hunters need to ensure that their online presence is up to date and optimized for potential future employers before they begin shaking hands and handing out resumes in person.
That includes deleting any less-than-professional photos and posts on public social media profiles, updating online portfolios and personal websites to reflect your latest achievements, and building a LinkedIn profile that sends the right message to recruiters.
LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele says that those looking for their next career opportunity shouldn’t be afraid to say so in their profile. She says that details such as the type of position they’re looking for, their location, and whether they’re willing to relocate makes it easier for recruiters to consider them for potential positions.
“Adding a summary of 40 words or more makes your profile more likely to turn up in a future employer’s search,” she says. “Review desirable job descriptions for your field on LinkedIn, and include those keywords in your profile.”
One of the most common traps people fall into after getting laid off is focusing too much of their efforts on applying for jobs on online job boards.
“People go to the online job sites, apply to lots of different jobs, and don’t get any responses because their application goes into a black hole,” says Scott Uhrig, a partner with executive search firm Whiterock Partners. “Number one, you’re not making any progress, and number two, you’re not getting any feedback, which you interpret as rejection. So you’ve just been laid off, now you’re getting rejected, you’re getting no responses, and you start this downward spiral of despair.”
While Uhrig suggests avoiding online job boards altogether, he says that if you do come across a role that seems to be a particularly good fit, there are other ways to apply effectively. “Try to network your way into the hiring manager, or contact someone you know already in the company,” he says. However, he warns that “competition for posted jobs is insane,” and that once a job is listed online, it’s probably already too late.
Those who have been laid off need to meet with people face-to-face. In fact, 85% of people [url=https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/new-survey-reveals-85-all-jobs-filled-via-networking-lou-adler]surveyed by LinkedIn found their current gig through networking.
Uhrig says that most job seekers only spend five to 10 hours of their week knocking on doors and meeting their contacts for coffee when they should be dedicating upwards of 30 hours a week to networking efforts. “It’s amazing how little time and effort people who are looking for jobs actually spend networking,” he says.
Filling a schedule with that many coffee and lunch dates may seem daunting, but it’s important to get creative with sources. Start with industry contacts, former colleagues, and others in your direct circle, but cast a wide net, suggests New York-based executive coach Ann Mehl.
“The individuals in your personal circles may not seem like good sources at first glance,” she says, adding that research has found that most people find jobs through second- and third-degree connections. Mehl advises job seekers to “make a list of names from your holiday card list, cell phone directory, email contacts, professional circles, and alumni network.”
While these steps can help, it’s important to maintain reasonable expectations. For example, Mehl advises job seekers to look at the networking process as a way of staying up to date on what’s happening in their industry rather than as a direct path to the next job opportunity.
“These are low-risk conversations; you’re simply checking in,” she says. “Treat this as an exploratory expedition. You’re getting back into the mix, gaining some data on the market, and building momentum.”
The slow-and-steady approach is far more likely to produce positive results in the long run. In fact, research has found that half of all jobs never get advertised publicly, and only 2% of applicants who submit resumes online are interviewed.
“If you start developing meaningful networking relationships with people at organizations that hire people like you, over the course of the next three to six months, there’s going to be a position that opens up, and they’ll contact you before they post that job,” he says. “Now your competition is five people, not 500.”
When it comes to maintaining a steady career, the old adage, “Hope for the best while preparing for the worst,” rings true. Once you’re back to work you can prepare for that worst-case scenario by continuing to network with your contacts, helping out others in your industry whenever possible, and keeping a running list of career accomplishments, just in case they’re suddenly needed again.