Being laid off can be a traumatic experience – for some as devastating as a divorce, or even the death of a loved one.
Fears of being unable to financially support your family, anxieties about prospects of being re-hired – even doubts about your self worth can have a very unhealthy effect on body and mind.
On the flip side, maintaining a positive attitude after losing a job can be crucial to one’s mental – and physical – health.
It definitely improves your odds of finding a job – and career counselors are unanimous about that.
Upbeat folk, who are able to deal with stress well, are more successful in their job search and appear more appealing to employers, says Dave Opton, CEO and founder of ExecuNet Inc.
Norwalk, CT-based ExecuNet provides executive career management services – bringing C-level executives and recruiters together.
While remaining sanguine and stress-free isn’t easy, Opton and other experts we spoke to offer proven stress-busting strategies laid off knowledge workers can pursue to stay on top of the job hunting game.
Here are eight.
1. Get perspective – and don’t feel bad about feeling bad
The first thing people should understand is feeling badly about losing a job isn’t unusual, said Opton.
It helps put the layoff in perspective when you remind yourself that this is but a minor aspect of your overall career experience.
This realization, he said, should help you find healthy ways to deal with your concerns, while staying optimistic about your skills and capabilities.
People should also understand the layoff has nothing to do with them, personally.
Layoffs are happening because of an ugly global economic situation, not your own skills or performance, Opton noted. “So don’t be discouraged. Remember the skills that made you successful in your previous job can be brought to a new opportunity.”
2. Create a plan
After being laid off, many people have a tendency to over-react, the ExecuNet CEO said. He cautions against that.
Rather than look for a job immediately, he said, it helps to sit down, assess your finances, and create a plan for moving forward.
It’s a view echoed by Robert Bacal, CEO of Bacal and Associate, an Ottawa-based career advice firm.
In fact, he says, knowledge workers should have a handle on their financial situation at all times. “You never want to be in the position where you’re laid off and can’t feed family.”
If you do lose a job, he said, “sit down, do an honest appraisal of your finances, and make decisions based on that knowledge.”
If you have a nice cushion, he says it may even be a good idea to take a few weeks off and try to relax. But don’t spend time at the beach if you’re going to be stressed out the whole time, he said. Only do it if helps you calm your career worries.
3. Consider a career change
Professionals may also want to use this time to consider a new industry or career, says Kate Wendelton, president of Five O’clock Club, a career counseling company for executives in Canada and the U.S., headquartered in Manhattan.
She offers an interesting statistic: 58 per cent of executives who use the services of the Five O’clock Club end up changing careers.
Think about whether your previous job made you truly happy and whether it’s the type of industry you want to continue working in, Wendelton said.
Many individuals go into careers for the wrong reasons, she noted, and a layoff can be an opportunity for them to pursue something new.
4. Have fun
When people are laid off, there is a tendency to want to withdraw from society, spend long hours at their home den, and make themselves invisible to others. Bad idea.
Many experts advise taking up an activity that gets you out of the house and focused on something else – rather than spend every waking hour job hunting,
For instance, Opton suggests joining a soccer team or volunteering with a non-profit outfit, whatever interests you.
There are real psychological benefits to getting out as well, he says. “It helps people understand they are not alone and there are others experiencing similar things. It can be comforting to hear advice from others.”
And there may be other benefits directly related to your job search, says ExecuNet’s Opton.
People you meet at these events may recommend you to their employer or introduce you to someone in a similar industry. “Everyone is connected – you never know who you’ll meet.”
Wendelton agrees and recommends assigning three hours of your week to having fun and doing something that you wouldn’t be able to do, were you working full-time.
5. Ditch the potato chips
If you’re laid off and suddenly have all this time on your hands, the worst thing you could do is let yourself go to seed, physically.
Wendelton recommends using your time off work to focus on nutrition and exercise. Regular physical exercise and a healthy diet can help to reduce tension and stress,
Job hunters should also avoid drinking alcohol – which is a depressant – and focus on eating nourishing foods, which provide more energy and help you feel and look great for your next interview.
6. Stop reading the (bad) news
All career coaches agree reading each day about fresh layoffs or the tough career market won’t help you remain optimistic or provide motivation for phoning up the next company on your list.
Wendelton recommends being selective about the news and information you absorb. “Read about job hunting suggestions, but not doom and gloom stories.”
The news also won’t always provide you with an accurate perspective on the economy. Many companies are still hiring, Wendelton said, but the media doesn’t report it – because it’s not news.
You should also avoid talking with negative or other laid off folk who are pessimistic and can depress you.
7. Be persistent – learn to accept rejection
The Five O’clock Club tells clients to treat job searching as a full-time job. Spend 35 hours a week pursuing opportunities, Wendelton said.
A high-quality job search should involve engaging six to 10 people at once, she said.
“Five opportunities will fall away due to no fault of your own, so forgive yourself for that, but the more opportunities you create for yourself, the better.”
Have a list of companies you want to work for, she says, along with the names of senior executives from these firms who are in a higher position than the one you want.
Rather than respond to job boards, which are a long shot, Wendelton recommends contacting the companies you want to work for directly – even if they say they are not hiring.
“Only six per cent of jobs are filled by ads on job boards,” she noted. “Spending all your energy responding to ads won’t be an effective use of your time, as these companies receive more than 400 résumés in response to a typical post. Large companies receive more than a million résumés in one year – and this increases when the economy’s in bad shape.”
Of 10 opportunities you pursue, five will fall away for no reason, she said.
While this shouldn’t be taken personally – it underscores the importance of being persistent with all of your leads and ensuring you are constantly going after more than one job at once.
Five O’clock clients who pursue the ‘six to 10’ strategy find a job in 10 to 12 weeks, she said.
8. Try the direct approach
While a lot has been made of networking – as an aid to job search, Bacal notes it can also be difficult for a lot of people.
Not everyone feels comfortable asking strangers for advice, and that’s okay.
He said networking shouldn’t be the only tactic people pursue, nor should those who aren’t good at it stress about it – there are other ways to find jobs.
She said the most effective strategy is direct contact – phoning the senior executives at the company you want to work for directly, rather than going through a third person who knows them.
“Networking sometimes takes longer, if you don’t know the right contacts, and it’s not as effective,” she said.