What to do After You've Been Laid Off
Recently, RiseSmart Certified Career Coach, Katie B. Smith appeared on Straight Talk Money’s Self-Made in America.”She joined hosts, Peggy Tuck and Chase Robertson, to talk about layoffs and best practices for people who have been impacted by a corporate downsizing or layoff. According to Chase, you should, "Be prepared to be fired three times." He acknowledges that sometimes it's hard to bounce back on your feet.
The following is a recap of that conversation. You can listen to the radio show in its entirety here.
Peggy: One of the things, and we've been seeing this a lot in the news, and we've talked about that on our regular show, "Straight Talk Money," about layoffs. Whether it's whatever industry, there's all kinds of layoffs that have been going on and stores closing down.
When you find out that a pink slip is coming your way, what’s the first thing that you should do?
Katie: The first thing is to not go into panic mode, which is often our first reaction. We automatically go into the fear. The reality is layoffs are part of our business environment. They have been for years. So, it's inevitable that you may be laid off or fired at some time during your career. It's not the end of the world. It's really important to establish a whole different mindset around losing a job. Instead of thinking, “I'm a failure,” start thinking about, how this is an opportunity to create the next iteration of yourself in your career. Look at the possibilities versus the negativity associated with job loss in our culture.
Peggy: In the first 24 hours, what do you do? Kick back, relax, and take stock in yourself?
Katie: I think that would be very wise. A lot of people initially go into panic mode and immediately start looking at job boards and sending their resumes to people. This shouldn’t be your first response because you need to get your branding, messaging and strategy in place. You want to be presenting yourself in the best possible way as you go out and start spreading your message. So, kick back, decompress, take a breath and just allow yourself to feel what's happening—know that you've more than likely been in worse situations and you've gotten yourself out of those. This is not a bad situation.
Peggy: Sometimes it's just a matter that it's your number that comes up. It has nothing to do with your productivity or anything. It's just the nature of the beast. It's not always that you've done something wrong.
Katie: Absolutely, you hit the nail on the head. It's not a personal attack to you. It's not about your performance. Mergers and acquisitions create layoffs and growth creates layoffs. Layoffs aren’t typically based on performance, they’re based on the bottom line to improve organizational effectiveness. That's one of the things we talk about at RiseSmart—crafting your exit statement. How are you going to talk about being laid off?
Peggy: There are some housekeeping things that you should get with the HR department about:
What if you were covered by insurance and how to apply for unemployment benefits. What should people do there?
Katie: One of the first things you should do is get your personal finances in order and be really clear about it. Definitely talk to your company about insurance benefits and options and go to your workforce center and apply for unemployment. In addition, the workforce center has so many resources, including grants for additional certifications, lists of job postings and classes to improve your skills.
Meet with your accountant, your tax person and your finance planner, because you really want a good idea of your financial runway. You may be able to take a year off. You may need to be back to work in three months. You may be able to retire sooner than you thought. That financial information helps you decide how much time you have before you need to jump back into work. Of course, you want to make sure your family is taken care of it and that you have your benefits and insurance and all of that in place.
Chase: Let's say you're 55, and you definitely know you want to put another five years in. What are some great strategies if you're an older worker?
Katie: Companies are now taking a second look at older candidates that possibly they would have not looked at in the past. Our whole workforce is changing. We're having more virtual jobs. There's a lot of bigger companies that are now hiring part-time employees and giving them healthcare and benefits. There's so much more flexibility when it comes to how you choose to work in your life and how you want to iterate the next part of your career. I think the number one thing is don't get stuck in the mindset that you’re too old and will never get a job. Remember that you bring value, you have wisdom and you have experience.
Always be looking for opportunities to learn and be on the cutting edge so that you can compete with that younger person as well as bring the experience? It's important that you show that you have energy, flexibility and adaptability. So many companies are going through so much change, that they need to find employees who are going to be adaptable and nimble, who will bring their wisdom and be okay being an intern and learning from someone younger.
Peggy: Let's talk about what you need to do and the so-called etiquette that's going to set you apart and get you that great job.
Katie: The first thing you want to focus on is your brand and your messaging. How you are articulating who you are and what you bring? Make sure your exit statement's clear about why you are no longer with the organization and craft smart stories, which are stories to answer the interviewer's questions around how you brought value, how you bring what they're looking for and how you can solve their pain.
Get really clear on your values, what's important to you, what's going to make you happy and what do you want to grow in yourself next? Get clear on what that is and what values you want this next role to have, and what you want this next culture to have. The number one thing CEOs look for in their people is, are they a culture fit? Are their values aligned? If they are, they're going to have less turnover. If the values aren't aligned and people are taking the position because of money, then more than likely, they're not going to be in that role very long. And you want to be happy in your next position, you want to grow in the next position and you want to bring your strengths to the next position. So, get clear on what your values are and articulate them.
Peggy: Let's talk about how things have changed in the whole interview process.
Because now we have technology in place and things have changed, so you have a lot more resources available.
Katie: The whole application process has changed. When you apply to a job now, your resume goes into an applicant tracking system, ATS, and it's read by artificial intelligence. So, you have to make sure that it's keyword optimized, that it's formatted correctly and that it won’t get spit out with a rejection letter. There's the whole technology piece of applying, but the bigger thing that I think is most important to put attention on is networking. We know that 70 percent of jobs are landed because of who you know and 60 percent of jobs aren't even posted.
Peggy: Can you give us an example of some of those keywords that you would want to include on your application or your resume?
Katie: Keywords are based on what's on the job description. When you're applying to a job, it's important that you look at the job description. There are technologies out there now where you can download the job description and you’ll get a word cloud of the keywords in that job description. Those are the keywords to put in your resume. Because when it goes into the ATS technology, it's looking for a keyword matchup. So, there's not particular keywords, it's based on the job you're applying to. You should be tailoring your resume for every job you apply to, not just sending your resume out blank.
Chase: I'd like to get your thoughts on resume length. You know, one of my biggest pet peeves as a hiring manager is if it's not PDF, it's totally tossed out.
Katie: It used to be that the applicant tracking systems would spit out PDF, but now the technology is so advanced that PDFs are fine. As far as resume length, it’s typically best not to go back longer than 15 years. Sometimes, it depends again, if you've been in the market for a long time or if you’re a higher-level executive, your resume may be longer. But ideally, you want to keep it maximum two pages. You really want the top portion of the resume—where your professional summary is—to engage that person to keep reading the resume.
Whatever you're putting on that top portion where you're doing the summary of your career and who you are needs to be inviting enough to keep them reading. What are your career highlights? What are your core competencies? Again, here at RiseSmart, we emphasize creating a section where individuals list their core competency because, number one, they're keywords. It's important that you speak the language of the job. In fact, there's a whole methodology to resume writing, and at RiseSmart, we have professionally certified writers that are fabulous. If you are struggling with your resume, you may think about hiring a professionally certified writer because they're experienced at formatting for those ATS systems.
Peggy: I'd like to address attire.
Is it a good idea to lose the nose ring and if you've got a full tattoo down your arm that you might wanna make yourself fit in, unless it's a job that fits the description.
Katie: That is so dependent on the company you're going to interview. And I think the big thing is to dress for the next level up. You want the interviewer to think, “This guy has it together,” or “This woman looks fabulous.” I think it depends on the age of the person you're interviewing with. You have to create a connection with the interviewer. So much is going to depend on the culture of the company, the size of the organization and the kind of space they play in. But most importantly, you want to feel really confident in what you're wearing. You want to feel your authentic self. And you want to look together and polished.
Peggy: There's generally a key interview question that everyone should probably have a prepared answer to.
And maybe it's a trick question that allows the interviewer to find out something about you.
Katie: The first question that came to mind that everybody always asks is, “What's your greatest strength and what's your greatest weakness?” And, you know, you can spin that a couple of different ways. You can talk about how you have a great sense of urgency, but sometimes that sense of urgency comes off as impatient. Then, talk about what you’re doing to improve like taking a breath before you respond and not react. Say something like, “I have learned that I don't have to jump and answer emails immediately. I've learned to prioritize and I've really been able to incorporate that sense of urgency in an effective way in my role.”
If you’re looking for more advice about what to do following a layoff, whether you’re a business owner or an individual, RiseSmart’s #SmartTalkHR blog has the answers to the questions you may be asking.