Coping with a Layoff

Common euphemisms include early retirement, down-sizing, and transitioning, but they all amount to a layoff. Many of us define ourselves by our work, and losing a job can be shocking and difficult to comprehend. In addition to suffering a bruised ego, we often find ourselves without a social network or daily routine, as well as financially unstable. Whether you are an entry-level engineer, mid-career manager, or C-suite executive, “losing your job changes your view of who you are in your family and in society. It permeates every aspect of your life,” says Marjorie Kavanaugh, job coach and president of Panoramic Resumes.

The right mindset changes everything

Actively managing your mindset can help you come to grips with your loss, says Kavanaugh. Understand that getting laid off is almost never about you. Layoffs are typically based on business decisions beyond your control, such as a merger, an acquisition, or an organizational restructuring. “Knowing it’s not personal can help you maintain a positive attitude. A layoff doesn’t erase the value you offer or the relationships you’ve built,” she adds.

While this is a good place to start, it does not discount the fact that losing your job is traumatic and you need time to deal with the grief. Dave Ferguson was laid off after 12 years as an operations manager in the oil and energy industry. “For the first two weeks after the layoff, I was in shock. Then, as I went through the normal stages of grief, I realized I needed moral support from friends and family to help me through the dark days,” he says.

As painful as it is, a layoff allows time for reassessment and self-discovery. Charles Sanderson, for instance, used his layoff as an opportunity to take his career in a new direction. “It was something of a blessing in disguise; I had been contemplating setting up as an independent consultant anyway,” he says. Likewise, Aaron Sarafinas started a consulting practice. “After I was ‘elected to retire’ at 58, I knew there was a customer base for my skillset and much I could deliver to clients in process development and fluid mixing technology.”

Tips for moving beyond the initial impact

While we all might not be ready to turn a layoff into a consulting practice, follow this advice to help stay positive and find new employment after a layoff.

Document your accomplishments. “If you’ve written for external publications, presented at conferences, or developed other public documents, get copies of these items before your last day on the job,” says Sanderson. “Make sure you get copies of any client testimonials, performance reviews, or anything that will help update your résumé and provide interview talking points,” adds Kavanaugh.

Build your support team. Ferguson had not searched or interviewed for a job in 20 years, but worked with a coach to help him update his résumé and improve his interview skills. He also found a local support group that provided additional training, networking, and moral support. A support team can also help you maintain your self-confidence throughout the search process.

Assess your finances. Financial professionals recommend having at least six months of living expenses banked to weather a layoff. Even if you have this cushion, review your finances and take steps to economize. Determine whether you are eligible to collect unemployment benefits and apply for them. Accept any outplacement services your employer may offer, which can provide free practical advice, training materials, or workshops.

Update and restructure your résumé. If you have not applied for a job in decades, gone are the days of mailing a cover letter and résumé. Most application processes are conducted through an online interface that is powered by applicant tracking software (ATS). “If your résumé isn’t structured for ATS, it won’t be selected for the hiring manager’s review,” says Kavanaugh. A professional résumé writer can help you construct a résumé to showcase your skills and get through the ATS gate. Many recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates, so update your LinkedIn profile with your strengths and accomplishments.

Make finding a job your job. Finding a job often requires conducting a lot of research and submitting many applications. Ferguson notes that he worked six to eight hours a day every week checking job postings, submitting applications, attending training, and networking.

Connect to your professional network. “I was gratified at how many former colleagues and contacts were willing to talk to me. Some pointed me toward interesting jobs; some offered feedback on my résumé and strengths,” says Sanderson. Both in-person meetings and LinkedIn can help you stay in touch with your network.

Learn new skills. Keeping your skillset relevant can help you qualify for positions in other fields. “In my case, I’m learning programmable logic controller (PLC) programming and electrical controls because it’s better to be a Swiss Army knife than a specialized tool,” says Vincent Chirico, a technician at General Electric.

Practice acceptance. While this may be an uncomfortable phase for you, recognize that many professionals experience layoffs and continue on to rewarding work. You will get through this, too.

Share your story. “Journaling and communicating with others going through the same thing can help you feel less alone and enable you to maintain a positive attitude,” says Kavanaugh. Join the conversation online at AIChE’s Engage to share your experience and advice.

This article originally appeared in the Career Connections column of the December 2019 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at