How to get through an unexpected layoff - without settling for a job you hate

Jeffrey FleischmanJeffrey Fleischman.Courtesy of Jeffrey Fleischman

  • Jeffrey Fleischman is an accomplished senior executive with over 35 years of success in the financial services, banking, insurance, and ecommerce industries. He is the CMO of Altimetrik.
  • The following is an excerpt from his book, "Advice To My Younger Self."
  • Early in his career, he weathered an unexpected layoff, and he says that everyone should expect at least one inopportune event like this in their careers.
  • Build up a financial safety net, and be proactive about what the job market looks like. And know what you would want in case the hypothetical becomes a reality.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

S--- happens! It may not be the most elegant phrase to describe the way life throws unexpected events at you, but it's a fact. Our professional lives are full of abrupt changes that can happen at the most inopportune times. Reorganizations, downsizing, outsourcing, automation or AI replacement, relocations, and changes in leadership have become so common nearly everyone encounters them at some point. These events will test and shape you, and your responses to them can change the way others think about you.

When I was halfway through my first rotation in a bank management development program, my boss called me into his office. He had a serious look on his face; I couldn't imagine what he was going to tell me. He explained that 10% of the colleagues I worked with would be getting laid off and leaving the building immediately. I'd been in the corporate world for less than six months. I was in shock. "Unfortunately," he said, "this is something that you and your generation will very likely experience throughout your career." He was right.

This happened at a time when most companies had an unspoken rule of lifetime employment. It may be hard to imagine today, but there was a time when people started their career with a company and expected to retire with that same company. In fact, there was a stigma associated with being laid off. People would assume it was due to low performance, and it often became an obstacle to finding a new job.

Today's corporate culture is rife with layoffs. Employees are much more acclimated to the inherent uncertainty of their jobs, and company loyalty has largely disappeared. Not surprisingly, this serial layoff culture has led to the rise of the perennial passive job seeker. Many people are open to discussing potential new opportunities even when they're satisfied with their current role or company. As the saying goes, "The best time to find a job is when you have one."

Unless you're incredibly lucky, you will experience at least one layoff or change in role that forces you to look for a new job. There may be times preceding such an event when your intuition sends off a warning, but recognize that you can also be blindsided. You may have a good reputation and solid performance reviews. But working hard and being successful doesn't always lead to recognition and advancement.

What should you do if it happens to you? The first thing you should do, and it is difficult, is to not take it personally. Events that affect you may not seem fair, and in some cases, they aren't. Quickly put these events behind you, and don't stare in the rearview mirror. Remember that others will be watching, and how you choose to respond will get their attention. Pouting or complaining will be considered immature behavior. Doing so can close the door on other opportunities within the company.

Focusing on the future is the best approach you can take. As bleak as things may seem, you can always count on new doors opening and presenting opportunities for the next chapter in your career.

Advice To My Younger SelfAdvice To My Younger Self.Courtesy of Jeffrey Fleischman

The next step is to craft a plan to guide you through the transition. Understand your options, timing, and priorities. Decide on the roles you desire and companies you want to work for. Once you have prioritized these, be prepared to communicate this information to others. Create a one-page personal profile that will help others understand exactly what your career goals are. This is different from a resume or CV. A resume or CV is a recap of your experience, education, and awards. A personal profile details the roles you are interested in, your core strengths, and what kinds of companies you want to work for. The sections should include:
  • A brief career summary
  • Three to four career highlights with brief summaries
  • Specialties and skills
  • Target positions
  • Target company profiles
  • A specific list of targeted companies

As you look for a new position, ask questions. Can you envision where this job will lead, what your next role might be? Will the new job give you the potential for career advancement? Will it expand your skills or expose you to new responsibilities? Is the company an industry leader? Are employee reviews of the culture and leadership favorable?

It's important to be prepared - to have a game plan for handling the unexpected. Your goal should be to give yourself options. The last thing you want to do is make a hasty decision that takes you from one difficult situation into another. It may be hard to turn down a job, but it will be far more difficult in the long term to accept one that you really don't want.

The reality is that doors will close unexpectedly. Part of career nimbleness is being prepared to face the unknown. Make it a priority to create a financial safety net, and take a proactive approach to monitoring the job market. Have a plan to weather career detours and downturns so you won't be forced into making suboptimal decisions.

Here is a mini-survival guide:

Be financially prepared

I've read that saving the equivalent of three months of expenses is a good benchmark. I don't agree; six to twelve months is a more appropriate amount to see you through a transition. It's difficult to save money, let alone to save enough to cover a year's worth of expenses, but this is your best insurance against being forced to make undesirable career choices.

Become a passive job seeker

Know your worth for comparable roles. Stay current on what jobs or skills are in demand. Look into compensation of your skills and experience level at other companies, or work with a recruiter. Information, like savings, is a crucial hedge to hasty decisions that come from unexpected situations and change.

Network 24/7

Continuously connect with members of your network. Your network consists of former colleagues, recruiters, friends, or others you've met in professional settings. Know who the key members in your network are, and which of them you can rely on if needed. Ensure that your social media profiles and resume/CV are professionally written, proofed, and current. Be sure to include the appropriate keywords and skills for the roles you are most interested in finding. Offer to help others when they go through their own transitions.

Know what you want

Whether employed or in transition, think about what types of roles you are willing to consider. Are you willing to change industries? Can you relocate? Are you willing to take a reduction in compensation for the right role? Do you want to start your own firm? Don't wait until a job change occurs to know these answers; revisit these questions annually.

The reality is that doors will close unexpectedly. Part of career nimbleness is being prepared to face the unknown. Make it a priority to create a financial safety net, and take a proactive approach to monitoring the job market. Have a plan to weather career detours and downturns so you won't be forced into making suboptimal decisions. Most importantly, while you will experience stress when a door closes, be optimistic about the opportunities that will emerge when new doors open.

Reprinted from "Advice To My Younger Self." Copyright © 2019, Jeffrey Fleischman.

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