When I was laid off a couple months ago, I had a lot of mixed emotions, but I also knew that I couldn’t let them overwhelm me. I needed to think clearly and work productively to figure out my next step.
You never think it could happen to you. But when you get the proverbial pink slip or your job is downsized, the immediate reaction is a sense of panic, a bit of an identity crisis, and a whole lot of stress. When you don’t have a job, everything seems to be out of whack until you find a new one — and sometimes it feels like that’s never going to happen.
Finding a new job is a job unto itself. I was fortunate to land a new position relatively quickly, but I worked hard and learned a lot in my month of job searching. Thankfully, there were some things I had already done to be ready for such a situation, but there are some things I want to do better moving forward.
The fact is you are completely responsible for taking care of your own professional life. That becomes particularly clear when you’re out of work, but is perhaps even more important to remember when you have a stable job and everything seems wonderful.
Here are five things everyone should be doing to prepare themselves for both expected and unexpected changes in their career.
- Nurture your network
- Update your résumé and track your successes
- Take time for yourself
- Stay in the know
- Help others in their job search
I always considered myself someone who hates networking. As a bit of an introvert, I am not the kind of person who wants to attend networking receptions and introduce myself to strangers in the hopes of getting a business card. It’s just not my ideal social situation.
That said, I realized soon after losing my job that the most successful networking happens every day — and nowhere near a cocktail party. Being a good colleague to everyone you work with means they will have a favorable impression of you and want to help you — even years later.
You’re also encountering new people at work all the time — coworkers, external vendors, visitors, clients, and more. Don’t let these people walk in and out of your professional life unnoticed, as they could hold the key to your next career move. Never underestimate the power of a LinkedIn connection.
When I was searching for a job, I realized how efficient I had been at keeping in contact with people from my previous jobs and took full advantage of that. I reached out to former colleagues in my industry and they passed my résumé around to their networks or connected me to people at some of the places where I was applying for jobs. This resulted in informational phone calls and in-person meetings to give me the inside scoop on opportunities and further grow my network.
I also made sure to announce that I was looking for a job on all of my social networks, which inspired some of my connections to proactively reach out to me with job leads or just a note of encouragement. The usefulness of these leads — which ultimately led me to my new job as well as a few freelance opportunities — far outweighed any social shame from admitting that I was looking for work.
Most important of all: Once you land a new position, don’t forget to send an update to everyone who helped you and thank them again for their support.
Being happy at the same job for nearly four years, I made one big mistake: I let my résumé collect dust. When things are going well, it’s hard to remember to update it. Once your résumé is several years old, however, it takes an awful lot of time and energy to whip it back into presentable shape.
Perhaps even more importantly, I wish I had done a better job recording my on-the-job successes, experiences, and projects. After being laid off, I was forced to wring accomplishments and action-oriented statements for my résumé from old email messages and post-mortem project reports. The detailed results of successful projects that I led three years ago had long since left my memory, but I desperately needed to present them.
Now that I’ve started a new job, I am maintaining a document that tracks what I’ve worked on, measurable successes, and anecdotes for future job interviews. This is not because I don’t like my new job — it just reflects the reality that at some point I will probably need this information, and it is much easier to collect in the moment than it is to recollect years later.
After being laid off, it was very hard to set boundaries for my job search. When you don’t have a job, it’s tempting to spend every waking moment obsessed with that problem trying to remedy it.
This is neither healthy nor useful. Since finding a job feels like a full-time job, treat it like one in every way. This means giving yourself time off on weeknights and weekends — you’ll need a break from sifting through job listings and reworking the bullet points on your résumé.
The stress and identity crisis aspects of looking for work are also very real and should not be ignored. Talk to friends and family about your feelings. Engage in fun activities without feeling guilty. Take time in prayer to discern the next path for your life. Ask God for support and guidance. What seems like a catastrophic life event could be the divine wake-up call that leads you to the work you’re meant to be doing.
Even when you’re happily employed, it’s a good idea to keep a few job search email alerts running in the background. This keeps you aware of what’s available in your industry and keeps you thinking about how you want to advance in your career. By seeing other positions and their various requirements, you will remain accountable for pushing yourself in your current role. Gaining new skills and experiences will make you an ever more valuable employee and colleague.
If you are thinking about a complete career change, keeping an eye on listings in the new field will also help you know what it will take to change lanes when the time is right.
Throughout my search, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who reached out to me with leads, tips, or just an encouraging word. I have tried to communicate to these people how much their support meant to me during this uncertain season of life. Now that my job search has concluded, I am even more passionate about wanting to help others I know who are looking for their next opportunity.
And usually it is something very simple to do: forwarding a résumé, proofreading a cover letter, brokering an introduction, or serving as a reference. When someone asks you for a favor like that, it can be tempting to convince yourself that you’re too busy or you can’t be of much help anyway. This is totally the wrong mindset.
Your minimal investment of time could be the difference between helping someone find their next opportunity or remaining unemployed. After being the one in need, you understand how reassuring it is to have a network of people looking out for you — and it’s especially rewarding to be a part of that network for someone else.
Two of my all-time favorite quotes — from extremely disparate sources — are worth contemplating when it comes to managing your career.
The first comes from the Gospel of Luke: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
The second comes from late night TV host Conan O’Brien: “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”
Both sources remind me to approach my current job and professional relationships with care and diligence — it might pay dividends when it’s time to find a new one.