From Elon Musk’s mass firings at Twitter to LinkedIn posts starting with “So this just happened,” the layoffs lately have been loud. Within a few short months, we went from talk of the tightest labor market in decades to a frenzy of entries on layoff-tracking websites.
The good news for those affected is that the US economy is still adding jobs, albeit at a slower pace. So why does it feel like everyone is getting laid off right now?
A few reasons. For one, a lot of the layoffs are occurring at high-profile, household-name companies. Tech: Meta, Twitter, Amazon. Media: Gannett, CNN, Paramount. Wall Street: Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Barclays. Many of these cuts are happening in industries with heavy social-media presence, so those affected might be turning to those networks now to publicly announce their job loss and hunt for the next thing.
And finally, it’s December. The end of the year means companies can often count severance packages against 2022 budgets and start the uncertainty of 2023 a bit leaner.
The real bottom line, though, is that layoffs suck. I spoke to more than a dozen victims past and present, career coaches, and other experts for their best advice on how to get through it.
I was just laid off. Now what?
Your instinct might be to immediately refresh your resume or send out a flurry of panicked cover letters. Resist.
“Treat yourself like a person who has just experienced a traumatic event,” says Theola DeBose, the founder of JSKILLS, a career-change academy. “A layoff is a gut punch. Your first instinct is to punch back …That ‘do’ first approach is all wrong. It’s a plan for your career, but not for you as a person. Manage your emotions about a layoff up front so that they don’t haunt you later.”
She and others say the first step after getting laid off is to just “be.” Let yourself react and make sense of what just happened.
As you create your mental narrative of what just happened, take care to not blame yourself. “Framing is important—choose to under-personalize, not over-personalize,” says Shoshanna Hecht, an executive and personal coach and host of the podcast, Your New Life Blend. “In these wild job-market times, there are clearly larger forces at play, and that’s not about you. Of course, there may be something to learn, ways to move forward differently, and certainly we can all benefit from doing that. But in this initial phase after a layoff, the single most important thing we can do is to manage our inner critic, and focus on moving forward realistically and with intention.”
Okay. What do I actually do, though?
For those who define themselves by their work, the sudden quiet or emptiness can be another struggle. DeBose suggests the following:
– Get a journal and write out how you feel.
– Take care of your basic needs, like eating regular healthy meals and exercising.
– Give yourself a set amount of time to mourn, especially if you’re feeling angry or stuck. (“I’m going to be angry about this for a month, and after that I’m not allowed to complain about it.”)
Spend some time figuring out what you need, suggests Phoebe Gavin, a leadership and career coach. “It’s important for newly laid off people to take holistic stock of their needs, especially if they have the privilege of a financial cushion. If you need time to emotionally recover, take that time to do things that are comforting, replenishing, and fortifying so you’re in the best position to hit the job market in January.”
Oh $%#*$. It’s Christmas. Nobody’s hiring, right?
Yes and no, say the experts.
It’s okay to wait out the year, says executive coach Sushil Cheema. “If you are laid off around the holidays, rather than sending out tons of resumes and cover letters in response to posted jobs, it could be a better use of time and energy to reconnect with people who may be able to help you find a job,” she says. “Finding a job is a full-time job in itself. In general, if you find yourself facing a layoff at the holidays, take the time to rest and reset, as much as you can, while making a plan and job-search strategy for after the New Year.”
“It’s not the best time to line up interviews,” agrees Cat Bradley, a product marketing manager who once launched an app for the jobless to connect with each other. Instead, “You want to build a portfolio and prepare materials to make you stand out.”
Shift your mindset from seeking interviews or overt networking to asking yourself, “How do I have more interesting conversations?” People are generally more relaxed in December and more willing to have low-stakes, casual informational talks. “That can very quickly turn into job interviews two weeks later, a month later,” Bradley says.
And if you’re ready to forge ahead, recruiters say the truth is that many sectors are still hiring—and aggressively, so, especially in healthcare, education, engineering. Larry Graham, founder of The Diversity Pledge Institute, a career-advancement program, says there’s never a better time than now: “Apply for as many jobs as possible as soon as possible. Considering the economy, you don’t want to wait a single day because who knows when or if things will improve.”
What do I want next?
It’s not a coincidence that many of the places experiencing layoffs are big employers. “Companies that didn’t have explosive growth over the last 18 months are in a better position to not do layoffs,” says Jermaine Murray, founder of JupiterHR, which focuses on diversifying the tech sector; he has placed 351 Black people in tech jobs since 2019. “They are scaling organically and still hiring.”
Be open to contracting or freelance opportunities, which may be more plentiful right now. “The work these companies were doing still needs to be done, and their current workforce is working over capacity,” Murray reminds.
After being laid off twice, product manager Kim Fox began keeping lists of “what I do/what have I done” and also created a “values list.” The latter, she says, helps identify the employer or opportunity you want next.
“For so much of my career I was ‘following my gut’ and felt like I was riding along in a bumper car. Sometimes I got it right, but often I crashed into other cars,” she says. “When it comes time to apply and filter through job opportunities, it’s super-helpful to be clear on your values, allowing you to determine the type of work you want to do, and more importantly, the type of people you want to surround yourself with every day. It’s a really emotional time and having a list like this to help anchor you can be helpful.”
That strategy helped her land her current job as the director of reader experience at Hearst Newspapers. “I came to realize the deep importance of relationships to me—working in an environment of collaboration, acceptance, understanding, teamwork, caring and encouragement,” she says. “I used that as my number-one north star, and refused to compromise, and it landed me in a wonderful environment where I’m incredibly happy.”
What about those of us not laid off but wanting to help?
I asked layoff victims about what or who helped them most when they lost their jobs. What surprised me is the simplicity of their answers: Many were simply looking for commiseration, an empathetic ear, or questions like “How can I support you?” or “What do you need from me right now?”
“The most helpful thing that someone said to me was that they had been through a layoff, and knew how awful it felt,” says Leslie Forde, who runs Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, a company advocating for caregiver-friendly work practices. “It helped for someone to acknowledge and give voice to the feelings.”
Don’t forget job leads and networks are an invaluable thing to share. “Just hearing from folks was always an emotional boost, but the biggest help was from editors who’d recommend me for jobs,” recalls Graham, who has been laid off before. “During my first layoff I didn’t think I needed the help and I was wrong. The second time around I leaned on my network and I had a new job in weeks.”
One person who has been laid off twice and requested anonymity says he was grateful when people took him out for lunch: “Take the extra step beyond saying ‘Just let me know what I can do for you.’ Think of which connections in your world would make sense for the affected person, and make them.”
The best support Bradley got after a layoff was a lawyer friend who offered to look over her paperwork and severance package. She says everyone shows up in your text messages right after the news of a layoff—but just like with any other life event, it’s really in the two or three weeks later that you might need their support.
What should we not say?
“This is for the best.”
“This too shall pass.”
“One door closes, another door opens.”
“Oh, just relax.”
“Take some time off.”
Advising someone to take time off or not panic tends to come from a perch of privilege—and a paycheck. “For people of color, and others who lack generational wealth, a job is like air,” says Forde. “Most of us are not only working for identity reasons. Losing a job regardless of the circumstances, is traumatic. And each time I experienced it, the negative financial impact for me and my family was traumatic.”
How do I find the next thing?
As a manager, DeBose says she never hired anyone still bitter about their past experience. And yet explaining the narrative of work history is key. She suggests creating a “what happened” statement that describes why your last job ended and what you are looking for next.
“The most attractive job candidates could describe their unwanted job change in neutral language and convey a sense of hope and excitement about where they were going next,” she says. “Laid-off jobseekers need to work to eventually be that kind of job candidate.”
Everyone I interviewed who was laid off says it changed them profoundly, from bouts with insecurity to learning new work habits. Said one: “Always have a plan for what you’d do tomorrow if you lost your job.” This person is now happily employed as a manager and happens to be hiring through the holidays. Nonetheless, he says, he has a game plan if he were to be laid off tomorrow.