You’re no longer employed. Maybe that was your choice. Perhaps it wasn’t.
Over the course of a career, many people find themselves in a liminal space (fancy term for “transition”). Craig Stoss and Jeff Beaumont, co-authors of this piece, have found themselves unemployed at various times. We hope this encourages you and gives insight: what to do if and when you are in this situation. Remember, you’re not alone!
Craig was laid off after 1.5 years with a startup software company. His primary role was to lead a global expansion of the support team and scale the team to 24/7 services. After completing setting up the AsiaPac team, the company decided that Europe was no longer a priority and slowly his role became obsolete. Craig took the opportunity to expand his network, focus more on his writing hobby, and traveling. He took many interviews and meetings, and in less than three months, he received two offers.
Jeff found himself unemployed — twice. The first time, Jeff’s wife nicknamed it his “first retirement.” One was a change of directions and required a different skill set. For another, expansion plans changed and the company changed course. He treated both as sabbaticals — a reset to consider personal, professional, and spiritual goals. The forced pauses created space to consider his life, revisit dreams from 15 years ago, and perform proper self-evaluations. The difficulty of suddenly finding himself without a job turned out to be some of the best times of his life.
Take a “Day”
It is vital to take the time to process the experience. Self-reflection is an important skill and even more so with life-impacting events such as losing a job. While we would not advocate sitting around in your pajamas watching The Price is Right everyday, take time to process what happened, what you needed when you started that role, and what you need now.
Emotions & Expectations
When you find yourself suddenly out of work, emotions can run high. Adrenaline, anger, sadness, anxiety, among others, are likely pumping through your veins. For example, if 90% of happiness comes from expectations, reflect on what those are for you without letting your emotions cloud your judgement. Did you expect job stability? Specific compensation package? Benefits?
Write down your expectations — or, rather, what they were. Writing helps us process emotions. Which one(s) irritated you the most? Why? For Jeff, it centered around security and provision as his identity. Other expectations were around “things.” A minivan, travel, and upgrading the house. In the moment, it felt like the death of dreams.
To help you reflect, start with a few questions of yourself:
- If you were laid off:
- Was the company under financial or business constraints?
- Was your performance not your best?
- Was the company pivoting away from the areas with which your skills aligned?
- If you were fired:
- Reflect on what you’d do differently. E.g., Were there interpersonal conflicts you could have handled better?
- Were you listening and actioning feedback from your leaders or peers?
- Was this a bad fit for you as a company or career choice?
- If you quit:
- What expectations weren’t being met?
- Were those expectations reasonable?
- What would you ask differently in an interview to avoid this in the future?
Avoid placing blame or directing anger at a person or team. Focusing on who to blame clouds the fact that ultimately who is at fault doesn’t matter. What matters is what you took away from the experience, and what you can turn that into.
Label those emotions
Fear of the future – you may fear what the future holds. “Am I any good at my job?” (imposter syndrome, anyone?). “Can I ever get a job again?”
Realize at this time, you feel vulnerable, weak, and disconnected. You’re in the shadows.
Feel like a failure – it’s not that you “failed,” but that your identity is a failure. It’s not that I merely failed, but that I will continue to fail.
- “I didn’t perform or wasn’t good enough.”
- “I’m a failure.”
Even if you’re confident in yourself, you may feel you let down those around you (family, friends, roommates, etc.). That’s difficult if you derive some of your worth to others — friends, family, or society.
Doubting yourself – “am I worth anything?” Kids often receive awards and medals for completing rather than winning. Self-esteem was, itself, esteemed. It was a poor set up for failure. How do we process failure when we were shielded from it?
Excitement of what’s to come – Turn the page on your autobiography — it’s blank. While that’s often scary (“omg, what am I going to do???”), use it to craft your future. The night is dark, but dawn is coming.
Pruning for future growth
Self-reflection is not easy. It’s often painful. However, it’s healing. Here are some areas to reflect upon.
Suffering produces fruit. We don’t learn as much in great times as we do in stressful times. There are seasons to life. A few years back, Jeff started a winemaking co-op with friends where the very first activity involved pruning vines. Pruning requires cutting until it hurts — and then some. we have to prune our lives so much that it hurts, but we do that for a bountiful harvest in a later season.
Call a timeout. If you’re human, there’s likely a lot in your life you’ve put off. If you can, take a break. Slow down. The benefits of this emptiness are not readily visible. Michael Hyatt’s 7 Questions to Ask When Bad Things Happen helped Jeff reframe bad situations (an employee quits, someone gets sick, a kid breaks a leg, etc.). For instance, Hyatt’s first question is, “what does this make possible?”Your last chapter abruptly ended; you’re on the opening page of the next chapter. How does it begin?
Get out of the House
The free time afforded by your new situation is an excellent excuse to activate your network. Reach out to current, and old acquaintances to let them know what happened and ask for guidance, coaching, or even just a friendly catch-up. These conversations don’t need to be only professional. Meeting up with family or friends you haven’t seen in a while could help strengthen a relationship or lead to an unexpected opportunity. A conversation has never lead to less information.
These conversations allow you to ask for assistance. Does your former colleague know of a lead in their company? Does your friend you haven’t spoken with in six months know a leader at a growing company that needs your skillset? Be polite, know what you are looking for, and don’t be afraid to ask for help goes a long way.
The circumstances of your exit from the company are bound to come up in these meetings. Consider tone and presentation when speaking about your experience. Be truthful, but not overly negative. If there were legitimate problems in your previous role, make sure to present them in a way that doesn’t show bitterness or resentment. It’s good to practice this now, as it will show in interviews and could taint how others perceive you.
You just stumbled into the locker room. You’re reviewing the first half of the game and need a gameplan. The coach says, “the game is far from over.” You may be behind, but not out. What’s the new you like? You’ve received the gift of halftime.
Take the Opportunity / Side Hustle
A phrase that seems true for everyone you meet is: “When you’re young and have the time to do what you love, you don’t have the money. When you’re older you have the money, but don’t have the time.” Being out of work is a potential opportunity to take advantage of having time and money. Pick up a hobby, travel, volunteer, or try something completely new.
For Craig it was writing. He had always enjoyed writing small blog entries and spent time during his self-reflection time to write a series of articles about his experiences — what has worked and what has not. He published them on his blog, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and people read them! That was a great feeling! It helped validate that his experiences and insights could be valuable to others. This hobby eventually turned into a paid side hustle through freelancing! An excellent opportunity to expand his knowledge, do something he enjoyed, and make a little extra money.
Whatever your passion, take the opportunity. Turn the negative of unemployment into a positive experience.
Reviewing your life
This is a natural time to reflect on you Your inner-self and/or the faith you hold. Are you whom you want to be? Rarely can we answer an emphatic, “yes!”
What do you want to do, work-wise? This is a scary question, what if you make a mistake? What if you get fired/laid off (again)? If so, how will you respond to the next employer who notices a pattern of layoffs. Would they become suspicious? Would they believe you?
Use resources, ask questions, learn from peers, read online reviews, attend career fairs, and shadow others in their jobs. Over time, you will discover the skills you want to emphasize. It may surprise you.
Jeff dabbled in various areas and enjoyed areas he never considered before. He found a love for both writing customer content (right brain) and root cause analysis and process optimization (left brain)! Undoubtedly there isn’t a role called Operations and Customer Content Director. However, that took much trial and error to understand. We rarely figure out our career path in a weekend.
What personal changes do you want to make? Are you happy with the way you are? Maybe you want to tweak how you behave, how you react to situations (good or bad), or your day-to-day structure. Maybe you have a grave inability to tell others “no.”
Is your body healthy? Have you been even slightly envious when you ask someone, “So what are your hobbies?” and they respond with “oh I love hiking, backpacking, running, yoga, badminton, ….”? We have. After finding himself without a job, Jeff started jogging and is now significantly healthier than he has been in years. This derived from asking, “what does this circumstance make possible?”
You’ve likely considered your toxic (or semi-toxic) relationships. Which to ditch and which to invest in? Reflect on your real friends: Those that stick with you when you have nothing to offer. The ones who stop responding or only respond with, “well bummer, that sucks.” may only be interested in reciprocity. However, those who reach out, check in, help you network, encourage you, and lovingly admonish you when they know they don’t get anything in return are the people you should remember and cherish.
Learn to Introduce Yourself Again
Who are you and what do you want? Once you know, how do you tell people? When Craig was out of work, a mentor of his advised to have three introductions:
- 30-second intro
- Used as an elevator pitch about yourself
- Answer these questions: Who am I? Why am I talking to you? What am I looking for?
- Use this for networking events, conferences, bumping into someone at a coffee shop, etc. to help quickly and confidently get across your situation
- Two-minute intro
- Use this for a phone interview, or when someone asks you about yourself
- How did you get into your field? What type of education do you have? What are your strong skills, and how did you develop them over your career?
- “Five” minute intro
- This is for the in-person interviews
- It isn’t exactly five minutes, but it is longer than #2 and is meant to show the self-reflection, growth of your skills, and value you can provide to a role
- Talk about tough problems you have solved, or how your skills transfer from a previous role into a new one
- This intro format is especially important if your path takes you on a career or industry change, you need to tell your story
- 30-second intro
* * *
Loss. It’s not easy, no matter how much we reframe or reassess. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it. When we don’t learn from our past, we’ll likely repeat it. Many people get fired; you’re not unique (sorry). This isn’t something to lie about or hide. Be truthful. Be able to explain it. Move on.
There can be significant joy, freedom, and thrill in newness. Remember the pruning analogy in Jeff’s story? That deep and seemingly hurtful pruning yielded the biggest crop of grapes and made delicious wine (and won a local award, too!). That metaphor can serve us well. Use your time well to figure out what to do when you find yourself unemployed.
Customer Success and Operations at GitLab Inc.
Director of Support at Arctic Wolf Networks