The Layoff Survival Guide: 2010

5 Action Steps for Turning a Setback into a Springboard for Greater Career Success!

By Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC

Recently, Sun Microsystems announced that it was dismissing a total of 1024 employees nationwide including 301 from the Colorado payroll.  The cuts come as part of Sun’s worldwide reduction that have eliminated a total of 444 local positions—and Sun expects to lay off more people the company reported.

The fact is, workforce reduction is an ongoing event in Colorado and elsewhere, and shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.  Today’s economic model is one of capricious ebbs and flows with companies now needing to change directions at light speed or risk losing ground to the competition.  As costs to produce products and services increase, companies are continually looking for effective ways to manufacture a quality product at a fair price and maintain their competitive advantage.  Sometimes, this means doing more with less and reducing the workforce and/or shipping certain jobs overseas, known as “Outsourcing.”

But there is good news too. A layoff can be a wake up call to seek out a better position, expand your skill set, reevaluate your goals, or make that career change.  There are some highly effective strategies that a laid off worker can employ to soften the blow and speed up the job search process and even improve their career situation.  Here are five proven action steps that any worker can employ to turn a setback into a springboard and launch themselves to the next level of their career and greater levels of success:

1. Stay positive, stay focused, and develop a proactive mindset.

For many people, shock, anger, resentment, negativity, and sometimes even depression can all be byproducts of a layoff.  But the bigger problem is the devastating effects that becoming habitually negative and pessimistic can have on our attitude towards work, the job search, and our life.

The more we dwell on any subject, good or bad, the more we program ourselves to move in that direction—just like a guided missile.  Continually dwelling on what happened, how it happened, why it happened, and running scenarios back and forth thorough your mind like a tape player will only make matters worse and set you back even further.  Certainly we are all human and have human emotions.  It’s okay to get angry, upset, mad, etc., the key is not to DWELL on it.  Accept it even for what it is and resolve to move on.  This takes practice, patience, and self-discipline.  The more you dwell, the more you program yourself to achieve your own self-fulfilling prophecy.  Nature is neutral which means we don’t get what we want in life, we get what we expect and what we think about all day long.

Stay positive by embarking on productive activities that give you the greatest levels of pleasure and boost your self-esteem.  Surround yourself with positive people who will encourage you.  Take some time to write out new goals.  Use positive affirmations and read motivational material on a daily basis.  You need support right now, not critics, so try to minimize your exposure to pessimistic people.  Ditch the negative mindset and employ an attitude of positive expectancy.  This is the step one in making any successful job, career, or life-altering change.  Get involved in a volunteer activity as a means of keeping your skills sharp, networking, and giving back to your community.  You’ll feel terrific when you feel like you are making a difference!

2. Approach the job search as a full time job.  Set daily goals, to-do’s, and make a schedule.

Look at the job search as an opportunity to better and further your professional career.  Most people never take the needed risks to make exciting changes in their life until they are finally forced to the front lines via a layoff or firing.  Use this time as a means for reevaluating your key strengths, skills, and interests, and how you can parlay them into a BETTER position.  Don’t just settle for what is thrown your way, be proactive and carve out a more fulfilling career!

Approach your search as a full time job, listing and planning out all the key elements of a successful job search.  They may include things like researching companies, networking, tuning up your resume, looking for viable positions, assembling cover letters, portfolios, and business plans, and devising an interview strategy.  There is a lot to do and stay busy with when the job search is done right!  Block out days and times when you’ll accomplish each task.  Regularly schedule meetings and lunches with old coworkers and networking contacts and develop momentum.  You’ll feel better about yourself and how you are spending your time when you stay productive and maintain a regular schedule.

3. Get help!  Bring in an expert to help identify your marketable skills and assemble a job search plan that works. 

Unless you were most recently employed in a career counseling field, you’re probably not at an expert level when it comes to job search techniques and strategies for today’s job market.  But solid help is available.  Because the job market and economy are changing faster and more rapidly than ever before, an entire new profession has emerged to assist people in finding fulfilling employment and mapping out a successful job search strategy.

The Denver-area employs numerous high-quality career coaches and career counselors that can assist you in determining your market value and transferable skills, assembling a solid resume, and working with you to detail a job search plan that will work per your particular needs and goals.

Some career coaches charge a per-hour fee and others are free and can be found through local Colorado Workforce Centers.  Interview a number of career coaches to find one that will work best for you.  The time and money spent on seeking professional advice will almost always equate to you landing a better job more quickly.

4. Don’t rely on just one or two job search methods—employ a multi-faceted approach.

One of the biggest faux pas’ I see is that job seekers seem to always gravitate towards the simple and easy.  Certainly the Internet, newspapers, and putting the word out to friends and peers all have some merit in the job search.  But the most effective job search strategy in any type of economy is cold calling the companies you want to work for as 70-80 percent of all jobs go unadvertised.  This means companies that you want to work for are looking for good candidates but simply may not be advertising their open positions.

Employ a multi-faceted approach when looking for potential positions.  Much like an automobile engine, your job search will run better when all cylinders are firing at once rather than just one or two.  In addition to using the Internet, networking, and recruiters, assemble a target list of companies you are interested in work for and state your case for employment to them.  Also, ensure you have a social media strategy for your job search. LinkedIn and Twitter and the two best sites to be on for any job seeker. Tapping into the hidden job market is the only job search strategy where the odds are actually with you.

5. Go to work on YOU.  Embark on a self development plan to sharpen your skills and take your game to the next level.

A down period in your employment is a golden opportunity to take a class, get some professional career assistance, attend some seminars, take an assessment test, or do some volunteer work.  Many of these resources are low cost or even free.  Unfortunately, most people are comfortable with the status quo and don’t put forth any effort to sharpen their skills or assess their career direction, even during a layoff.

The people who are paid more money, promoted faster, and usually the last to be let go are the ones who are learning and growing at a faster rate than everyone else and can contribute the most value to their company.  It doesn’t happen by accident; these people have a plan for success and continually view themselves as an ongoing project—just as a pro athlete trains and practices everyday to further sharpen their game and skills.

So take some time and revisit your goals, both personal and professional.  Where do you want to go?  What is your next career move and how are you going to get there?  Then, when asked during your next interview what you have been doing during your work hiatus, you will be armed with the bulletproof answer of improving yourself, your skills, and assembling a plan for taking your career to the next level.  Making a commitment to professional development and self improvement can be the single-most powerful decision you can ever make on your path to achieving greater success in work and life.

The positive news is that most people look back favorably on their release in that it allowed them to further define what they are truly looking for in the their career and life and then actually pursue it.  So if you have recently been laid off, terminated, or maybe see the possibility of reductions looming in your future, stay ahead of the curve and employ a proactive attitude.  Assemble a plan to take your career to the next level.  Set new goals and commit to lifelong learning and continual professional and personal improvement.  Use this opportunity as a positive springboard to bigger and better things.  Remember, it’s not what happens to us in life, but what we do with what happens!

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a training and consulting firm for businesses, professionals, executives.  He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at