two doors closed and one door open
Photos by Getty Images

How to Survive a Layoff and Find Opportunity

Few career setbacks are as difficult as being laid off. But with the right outlook and a solid plan of action, you can turn adversity into opportunity. Here's how the author did it.

By Andrew Jerdonek

Getting laid off—or having your "position eliminated," to use a typical euphemism—is a tough pill to swallow. It's overwhelming and depressing, even with a history of professional success and a healthy financial reserve to bridge a transition. The switch to unemployed happens suddenly, and, as jarring as this switch is, you have to transition from unemployed to job seeker as quickly as possible, a difficult task in the best of times.

How do you manage the "surprise layoff" when it's by no means the ideal time to be laid off—say, four weeks after your wife gave birth to your first child? That's when it happened to me.

The answer is simple, but it's not easy, and it takes patience, focus, humility, and maturity. I used the following plan to help me find my next job. It was inspired by two of my closest mentors, who had personal experience with layoffs and were willing to share their wisdom. I hope this helps others who find themselves in a similar situation.

1. Take time to grieve the job loss, and find something positive to focus on. This is, by far, the step that came the hardest to me, with a newborn and a wife on maternity leave. Give yourself a couple of days before you update your resume and send out applications. You need time and space to find clarity and process the layoff. I took this time to focus on my family and spend some amazing quality time with our little four-week-old son and my wife.

2. Seek counsel. Find a trusted friend or mentor who can guide you as you get ready to seek a job—someone who can help you with your resume and cover letter, provide advice, serve as a sounding board for your ideas, and listen when you need to blow off a little steam.

Demonstrate to hiring managers that you accept and own your situation, and that you will bring this attitude to your new workplace when you accept a job offer.

3. Rebuild your foundation and shape your narrative. Complete this three-step process before you update your resume:

  • Detail your strengths, successes, and previous job accomplishments in a one-page document.

  • Use this list to identify three or four jobs you would be interested in, and determine what compensation you need. These are the types of jobs you should apply for.

  • Draft your narrative by preparing succinct and positive two-sentence answers to the following questions: Why are you looking for a job? How are you owning this challenge?

4. Update your resume and cover letter. Have them reviewed by three to five people you trust who are willing to dig in and proofread.

5. Set a schedule and be patient. Apply to jobs according to a flexible schedule that allows you to meet your personal responsibilities, but work in two- to three-hour-long blocks so you can focus on the task at hand. When you are applying, spend time customizing each cover letter, set achievable goals, and keep a log to track your process.

6. Prepare for interviews. Practice answering the two questions you considered before you updated your resume (Why are you looking for a job? How are you owning this challenge?). They will be asked, and if you answer them honestly and with confidence, your interviewers will move on to standard questions.

The most compelling advice I can give to anyone interviewing for a position in a stressful time is that you have to demonstrate to hiring managers that you accept and own your situation, and that you will bring this attitude to your new workplace when you accept a job offer and begin to perform. Turning a perceived weakness into a demonstrable strength will make you a distinct and memorable candidate, which is what every hiring manager is looking for.

Andrew Jerdonek is director of education at Solar Energy Trade Shows in Alexandria, Virginia. Email: [email protected]

Job Search