A job loss can be a gain for your career: Tips for a successful transition

dismissed female worker in office sitting near carton box

You’ve lost your job, and now your head is spinning. You’re wondering why it happened or what to tell your loved ones. Anger, sadness and frustration are jockeying for the driver’s seat. Or perhaps you’re too worried to feel much else.

Moira Kelley: Grieve and then grow after a job loss.

Phyllis Pleuss, a professional who used to attend a job-search group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies, remembers this disorienting anxiety.

“My career meant so much to me,” she says. “What would I be without it? I was afraid I’d melt into a puddle of nothingness.”

Don’t let these feelings take control. Instead, take a deep breath, compose yourself and gather any materials you might need later. Speak with the human resources department if you have questions about a severance package, health insurance or other benefits. Then exit the scene without making a scene.

This isn’t to say you should bottle up your emotions following a layoff or firing. Whether you didn’t see it coming or saw the writing on the wall long ago, accept the situation for what it is: a loss. Grieve and then grow. Here are six tips on how to do it:

  1. Find your bearings: Take time to mourn and reflect. Even if you need a new job immediately, consider a short vacation to help put your old job behind you.
  2. Identify opportunities: Why not find a job or workplace that’s a better fit? You could even take your career in a different direction. Ask yourself what you liked and disliked about past jobs. List your strengths and accomplishments. Do you see any themes?
  3. Craft an elevator speech: Devise some phrases to share that reframe the loss. Something like “I see it as an opportunity to try something different” can show others you’re turning lemons into lemonade.
  4. Vent with care: Venting may be part of your grieving process, but do it outside work to avoid burning bridges with colleagues. See a therapist if anger or sadness persist.
  5. Connect: Contact people in your network to let them know about your situation. See if they can help you connect with job opportunities and other professionals who might assist. Volunteer work is a great way to build relationships while instilling a sense of purpose and gaining new skills.
  6. Explore resources: Employee assistance programs can help you manage difficult emotions and locate resources. The Dane County Job Center and UW-Madison’s Adult Career and Special Student Services office can also connect you with resources such as job-search groups.

Finally, take heart. Many layoffs are business decisions, not personal attacks. Some of the world’s most successful people—Walt Disney, for example—have been fired. Believe in yourself, keep your goals in sight and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take it from Pleuss: “I realized I could put my skills to use in new ways and that all work has value and dignity. I also discovered there is more to me than my job.”

Moira Kelley is a senior career counselor in UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She can be reached at: moira.kelley@wisc.edu. For more information, see acsss.wisc.edu or call 608-263-6960.

This article originally appeared  in the Wisconsin State Journal on March 12, 2017.

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