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August 20, 2015 8:00 AM EDT

Losing your job can be one of the most unexpected and confidence-crushing experiences you’ll have in your working life. But, going through it doesn’t have to dampen your spirit—or ruin your career.

“Everyone I know who has ever been laid off ended up in a better place because of it,” says career expert Suz O’Donnell, director of client services and lead coach at Thrivatize. “Some of them stayed in the same role, but went to a company they liked better and others completely recreated themselves by finding something they found more meaningful.”

Of course, before you can find the unseen benefits to a layoff, you first have to get through it in one piece. Here’s what you should do from the moment you get the news.


Within the First Hour

Let yourself cry/scream/laugh…alone. You’re going to have a lot of emotions after you get the news, whether it’s through a face-to-face meeting with your boss or via email. As soon as you can, find a place you can be alone (your car or an uninhabited office without windows) and give yourself the space to feel what you feel, in solitude.

Put the news in perspective to keep yourself from panicking. After your initial reaction, resist wallowing in how this layoff will reflect on you, especially now that you have to find a new job. In short, try not to take it personally. “A layoff is only a black-eye on your resume if you treat it that way,” O’Donnell says. “Layoffs reflect more poorly on company performance than your personal performance so be sure not to let it get you down.”

Tell your work BFF, significant other, or parents. It may help to talk to someone you trust right away about what happened—this can give you an even better perspective on what a layoff means for you and help your feel better in general.


Within the First Week

Meet with a career services coach. “Layoffs often come with some sort of career services, so be sure to take advantage of those free tools and coaches,” O’Donnell says. “The agency your company uses will mostly likely have self-assessments to investigate your passions and strengths, career coaches to help you build your resume and translate it for new opportunities, and special access to recruiters who look at resumes they submit first.”

Network and fortify connections at your current company. Before you make your final exit, be sure to chat with those whom you have good relationships with at your current company to let them know your situation and that you’d like to stay connected in the future. Make sure these people have your personal email so they can reach out to you after you’re gone.

Pack your desk and clear your hard drive. Before you leave, if you can, clear out all personal items from your work space, as well as wipe everything off your work computer. (Different types of computers and operating systems have different instructions for doing a reset.) If you have files at work that you want to keep for the future, bring your own external hard drive so you can grab those. Also, as tempted as you might be, don’t steal office supplies on your way out. Keep things professional, despite how you feel about the situation.


Within the First Month

Brainstorm new positions and job roles for yourself. O’Donnell says your layoff can be a great opportunity to consider tweaks in your role that suit your strengths and passions better. Make a list of all the skills you have and tasks you handled in your previous role. Ask yourself: Which responsibilities did you enjoy the most? Which ones would you like to not do again? Now’s the time to redefine what job role you’d like to fill in the future.

Research dream companies and locations. Getting laid off is also an opportunity to find a better, stronger company with greater upward mobility, O’Donnell says. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to work in another city, or even abroad. Now that you’re not tied down to your job, the world really could be your oyster.

Go on vacation. It might seem crazy to spend money on a trip right now, but if you were offered a healthy severance, take advantage of it. You don’t need to go on a pricey or long vacation—just get out of town and allow yourself to recharge. A change of scenery can give you a change in perspective and offer you some time to think.


Within the First 3 Months

Send out resumes and cover letters, and perfect your interview skills. Apply to any and all jobs that interest you. The more resumes you send out, the more inquiries you’ll get from potential employers wanting to see you or talk over the phone. Go on as many interviews as you can to flex your Q-and-A skills and to explore multiple opportunities.

Interview and follow-up. After you meet with new potential employers, send thank you notes and follow-up with every person you spoke to. This is not only courteous, it also ensures you’ll be remembered. Also keep in mind that some interview processes can take months—be patient and the right role will be yours.

Take up a hobby. To keep yourself from going stir crazy, make sure you have a creative outlet or activity you can pursue in tandem with your job search. Either revisit a hobby you didn’t have time for when you were working or try something new. Plus, you never know how something you do “just for fun” can lead to a job or business idea in the future.

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