How to survive unemployment with your sanity intact

There was a point in my career that I enjoyed a 5-month vacation between gigs. Well, “enjoyed” might be a stretch. OK, “vacation” isn’t the best description either.

You know the story. “There was a change in executive leadership in my company followed by a reorganization that resulted in several positions being eliminated in my department, mine included.” Thus I found myself looking for my next opportunity.

If this is you right now, you need to understand that it won’t last forever. After all, people get hired for new jobs every day. It may not seem that way while you’re in the middle of it, but trust me – if I can land in a good place (and I did), then so can you. Here are some of the things I learned along the way.

What do I do now?

Some of us have a hard time separating Who We Are from What We Do. If what we do is suddenly taken away from us, we risk feeling unwanted and invisible. At some level job loss is a form of rejection, and that stings. It’s completely normal to have feelings like this so don’t beat yourself up over it.

But you must remember that you are not your job. You are still someone who has much to contribute. Allow yourself a moment to grieve the loss, but then put your energy toward building a plan to find your next job.

What do I want to do when I grow up?

Job loss can be a very liberating moment because it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Maybe you want to keep doing the kind of work you were doing. But maybe you’ve always wished you could do something different if you only had the chance – now’s the time to go for it.

I took some time to really evaluate my strengths and interests. In the first days it was fairly easy to list my interests but I couldn’t see any strengths. After all, if I had any strengths I’d still have a job, right? That’s part of the unemployment funk that you just have to plow through.  Realize this is emotion talking, not reality.

I took online self-assessments, asked friends and colleagues to tell me what they saw as my strengths, re-read my LinkedIn recommendations – in short, I drowned out the negative emotions with real feedback from trusted sources. In time, the old confidence started coming back.

Informational interviews

At the same time, I started talking with the trusted sources about a possible career change, meeting with them in the context of an informational interview. This approach was new to me but it is an excellent one. I went to a contact and said something along the lines of, “I don’t expect you to have a job for me or even know of a job, but is there someone in [fill in the blank] line of work that you’d suggest I talk with to learn more?”

Most people really do want to help and this gives them an easy way to do it.  There’s no pressure, no awkward moment if they can’t tell you of any openings, and – best of all – they help you build your network.

I went to the people they recommended and repeated the process. “I’m not expecting a job, I’d just like to learn more about what you do and what’s necessary to be successful in your line of work.”  More fact-finding questions, and then the same close. “Thanks for your time. Is there someone else you’d recommend I talk with to learn more?”

Never put them on the spot

Throughout this process you’re creating a network of people who’re rooting for you because you never put them on the spot. This is really important – promise you’re not going to ask for a job, and keep your promise. Eventually you’re going to run into someone who’s going to say, “You know, I don’t have anything for you but So-and-So is looking for somebody with your skill set. You should give him/her a call.” Now – especially if this contact is willing to make an introduction – you’ve got a warm lead. There’s nothing like it to keep you encouraged and keep your sanity intact.

Gradually through my interviews I saw a pattern beginning to develop in the things that grabbed my attention. Even though I’d been considering changing careers, getting out of marketing and possibly going back into teaching/training or a greater focus on writing, what kept catching my eye was social media marketing. I’d already been in traditional marketing for years and thought I’d had enough. Suddenly I wanted to stay in the same field, but with a new focus. Funny thing is, it was a serendipitous alignment of what I’d already been doing and the career change I thought I wanted. The next job I landed gave me the opportunity to do a lot of these things.

Allow yourself to dream…

For me it was marketing but your destination may be completely different. Regardless, I recommend the same journey. Allow yourself to dream about what you’d really want to do if you could. Find out what it takes to get there (education or training, experience, specific skills, etc.). Stay flexible and be open to surprises. You might find your passion being ignited in a way you didn’t expect.

Do you have a job-seeking tip to share? Don’t leave without putting it in the comments section.

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