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When You're Laid Off

By Marty Nemko

Three months ago, GM announced 30,000 layoffs. Two months ago, it was Ford’s turn: 10,000. Yesterday, Bell South: 10,000 more.

Being laid off is one of life’s most dispiriting events. Yet it can often be turned into a positive one.

Step 1. Grieve quickly. I don’t recommend taking more than a day or two to grieve your job loss. I’ve found that the longer you wait to get back on the bicycle, the more fearful you’ll be. Instead:

Step 2. Take inventory. Layoffs usually don’t occur at random. Most employers carefully choose whom to keep and whom to let go. That means that if you’re laid off, your employer probably wasn’t thrilled with your skill set and/or personality.

That layoff can be a wake-up call to take a look at yourself:

-- Should I remediate a weakness?

-- Should I further improve on a strength?

-- Do I need an attitude change?

-- Do I need to reread How to Win Friends and Influence People?

-- Should I hold out for a job that would motivate me more?

Step 3. Aim for a better job than the one you lost. Having done your inventory and perhaps developed a self-improvement plan, identify a target job. This is the chance to shoot for something better than the position you lost. If you hadn’t been laid off, inertia might have kept you in that ill-fitting job for years. If you can’t come up with a specific job title, just identify your core skill and where you’d like to use it, for example, “use my communication skills working for a college.”

Step 3a. Consider self-employment? Don’t let the statistics about the high rate of business failure necessarily deter you. If you’re a self-starter and a good problem solver, you have a good chance. And you don’t need a lot of investment capital. Barbara Sher’s Idea Book, available only from, is a compendium of simple self-employment ideas.

Step 4. Cast a wide net. Find on-target job openings by visiting lots of your ideal employers’ Web sites. Employers more often hire employees from their own sites than from the megasites such as Monster, Careerbuilder, or Hotjobs. Perhaps more important, tell everyone you know the sort of job you’re looking for. Make sure your tone conveys that you welcome the opportunity to move on to something better. If you sound depressed or embarrassed, the person will assume you were at fault.

Step 5. Get off to a strong start on your new job. Getting off to a good start helps ensure you don’t get laid off again. Upfront, negotiate your job description to accentuate your strengths. If possible, get to report to someone respected. Also, remember that more people are laid off because of an annoying personality than incompetence. So, at the risk of sounding like a scout leader, resolve to be kind and helpful.

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