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Don't Be a Layoff "Survivor" - Graduate!

By Susan P. Joyce

The dictionary says that to “survive” is “to remain alive or in existence.”

Surviving is certainly MUCH better than the alternative, but "graduating" is more positive.  And, often, more appropriate!

How Is a Layoff Like a Graduation?

However, think back to the last time you graduated from something. For most of us, a graduation is the beginning of a new phase of life. We take what we have learned in the recent past, and apply that knowledge to move in a new direction.

1. A layoff is VERY educational.

Some of the things I learned when I was laid off in 1994 coincide with what other layoff graduates have told me they learned from their layoffs:

  • "Logic" in who remains and who leaves is usually missing. Being in the wrong place (department, pay grade, job title, function, etc.) at the wrong time (headcount reduction time) determines who is laid off and who is not.
  • Large employers tend to view employees as “resources” to be added or subtracted from the headcount as dictated by the stock market.
  • Large, even VERY large, companies are not “safe havens” from economic realities.
  • Some things are beyond my control (e.g. the economy, skill of my employer’s senior executives, etc.).
  • Some things are NOT beyond my control (e.g. who I work for, the job I have, the industry/profession I work in, etc.)
  • Waiting for the proverbial “ax to fall” is high stress.
  • Still working for an employer after layoffs have begun means more work for fewer people with important things going undone. And morale is in the toilet.
  • It’s kind of a relief to know that the “the worst” has happened. No need to worry about it any more.

2. You don’t have to explain in detail why you left.

Like graduating students leave school, laid off employees leave the employer.

All you need to do is say you’ve been laid off as the result of a down-sizing by your employer that reduced, or eliminated, your department or sub-group.

Particularly with very public layoffs in the past (Lehman Brothers or Enron, for example), it’s clear why you’re in the job market.

3. A layoff is the start of a new phase of your life.

This could be the time figure out what your dream job is and pursue it.

People who were laid off from the same high-tech employer I was became:

  • A potter (as in maker of pottery) – new field
  • A competitive intelligence professional – new field
  • A supply chain project manager – same field
  • A corporate trainer – new field
  • A freelance writer – new field
  • An author – new field
  • A career coach – related field (was in HR)
  • An attorney – new field
  • An executive in a software company – related field
  • Several entrepreneurs – ice cream store owner/operator, independent trainer on effective teams, computer tutor, and many more.

My Most Important Lesson: A Career Is a Journey, Not a Destination

Just like a graduation or a layoff is a beginning, as well as an ending.

No one employer or job is “your career.” They are part of the process, way stations in the journey that is your career. I think I know where the journey is taking me, but it has made a few unexpected turns in the past, and there are probably a few left in the future.

Bottom Line

From the beginning, I considered myself to be a layoff “graduate.” I often got funny looks from fellow “alumni” but I think it helped me see the experience in a more positive light.

In the long run, that layoff was a gift to me. Of course, it didn’t feel that way at the time. That first “payday” with no paycheck to deposit was terrifying. But, the layoff freed me to do this, to run Which I love.

And, I’m not done learning, yet, I hope! I may not have a new degree or certification, but I am still learning new things.  And, in 2013, I became a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Who knows what's next!

What can you learn from your layoff? What do you really want to do next?  Who knows what great things are waiting for you!

Susan P. Joyce About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.

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