What to Do If You Lose Your Job

The right attitude, approach and strategy can keep you from letting a layoff morph into feelings of failure.

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Robin Madell
Robin Madell
The dreaded pink slip has arrived—with your name on it this time. You’re far from alone: The latest stats from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more than11 million people are currently unemployed. Yet in the shock of a layoff or being fired, that may not help much.

What does help is having a plan. The right attitude, approach and strategy can keep you from letting a layoff morph into lingering feelings of failure and frustration. In fact, if you work it right, a layoff just might be the best thing that ever happened to you.

“In challenging times like these, you’ve got to move forward in a positive mode,” writes Sander Flaum, adjunct professor and executive-in-residence at Fordham University, in his new book, "The Best Thing That Could Ever Happen to You: How a Career Reversal Can Reinvigorate Your Life." Flaum, who served as CEO of a global advertising and consulting company, has identified steps to help professionals pick up the pieces after a job loss and secure their future livelihood.

Below are five steps from Flaum on how to turn a firing into future success:

Avoid self-sabotage. It’s natural to have your confidence shaken after losing your job, no matter the reason. Whether you were laid off with others as part of a corporate restructuring or fired for cause, the loss of what you’ve come to define as your professional identity can send any level of employee reeling.

Remember that you are what you think. If you belittle your achievements and sense of worth with thoughts like “If I failed once, I’ll probably fail again” and “What I have to offer obviously is not that important,” then you might prevent yourself from moving forward to find a more rewarding position.

“Falling victim to a belief that the world has ended is just an exercise in self-pity,” Flaum writes. “Clear heads don’t buy into that belief—certainly not for long anyway. Clear heads take the lead in their own working lives, as you must, if you want to dispel rather than keep wallowing in this myth.”

Bump up your brand. No matter how tough the economy, there are ways to stand out among the competition and start the next chapter of your life. One of the best ways to sell yourself after a career setback is by developing a unique personal brand.

To create a great brand, Flaum recommends discovering what you truly like doing most, acknowledging that you are very good at doing what you love and emphasizing that strength above everything else.

“Once they’ve lifted themselves out of the doldrums and are eager to tackle the job market, many people immediately think, ‘Better start writing that resume right away,’” Flaum writes. “But if you’ve gone through all the soul-searching needed to come up with your personal brand, which clearly distinguishes you from the pack, you’ll be ready to do your résumé right.”

Recruit recruiters. While many people think recruiters are always the ones to do the cold calling, reaching out to recruiters can be a smart career move for job seekers. But recruiters won’t take just anyone who knocks on their door, so you should give yourself an edge by pitching the personal brand that you’ve developed to them.

If you’ve used recruiters in the past, start with those. You may also be able to develop new professional relationships with retained (niche) recruiters, who are searching to fill specific positions for companies.

“The better your relationship with recruiters, the better your chances of success in the job search,” Flaum writes. “If a recruiter believes in you [your brand] enough to try and market you, the harder that recruiter will sell on your behalf.”

Revise your résumé. If you’ve done your homework in creating a personal brand that stands out, you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to crafting a new résumé. Developing your personal brand helps lay the foundation you need for your résumé, because it ensures you are well-versed in the value you can bring to any organization.

“It all comes down to communicating accomplishments and not a boring list of all the jobs you’ve had in the past,” Flaum writes. “Whether you’re looking for a job as an engineer, IT person, writer, or salesperson; whether you’re in your thirties or your fifties; whether you’re just starting out or looking for a better job, I repeat: communicating value and accomplishments is the key to creating a killer résumé.”

Remember references. You can do a lot to increase your chances of a successful job search after a layoff, but you can’t do it alone. Having a strong network of references to draw upon can help seal the deal in confirming your claims to prospective employers about your personal brand.

It’s important to choose your references wisely, and to find out what they’re planning to say if they’re called. “Most job applicants never even ask their references what they’re going to say when the recruiter calls. That’s like an attorney putting a witness on the stand whose testimony he’s never heard before. It’s a BIG no-no,” Flaum writes.

If you take these five steps, you should position yourself well to land interviews—and ultimately, land a job that takes you above and beyond where you were before.

Robin Madell has spent two decades as a writer, journalist and communications consultant on business, leadership, career and diversity issues. She has interviewed more than 200 thought leaders around the globe, and has won 20 awards for editorial excellence. Robin serves as a speechwriter and ghostwriter for CEOs and top executives, with a specialized focus on women in business. She is author of "Surviving Your Thirties: Americans Talk About Life After 30" and co-author of "The Strong Principles: Career Success."