How to Approach a Job Search After a Lay-off

Job Search After a Lay-off

It’s usually really easy to spot: the nervous jitters as he talks about his most recent position, the disdain he is clearly trying to hide about his supervisor or colleagues, the glossing over of the actual job conclusion.

By the time I ask, “so what prompted you to leave” or “what brings you in today,” I can almost recite the words that always include “laid-off”, “let go”, “downsizing”,  “bad manager”, etc.

As a career coach, I encounter a myriad of clients who have a gap in their employment history.  Typically these clients address this issue with me in one of two ways.

They either shy away from the topic (think example above) to avoid mentioning it until half way through the appointment  — after the resume review — or they bring it up immediately and we spend the better part of an hour talking about this event that has defined them for the past several months of their job search.

The whole “defining” aspect of a termination is the problem and the number one factor that gets in a job seekers way.

Whether you actually introduce it at the forefront of every conversation that has slight hint of a networking or coaching component OR you skirt away from this part of your past like you have a cousin in the mafia and are in witness protection, the emotion is the same — shame.

Shame seeps from every pore of your being if you let it. It portrays desperate need for any job and scares the heck out of any recruiter, hiring manager, or potential colleague.

So what is an innocent, talented, recently laid off employee to do? Take a week off to sulk, lick your wounds, replay all of the unfair aspects of the lay-off, and talk about the numerous ways you saved the company X amount of dollars and are so much more talented than Ted in accounting, and then stop.

Stop venting.  Stop sulking.  Stop watching fluff TV all day.  Now follow these steps:

1.)    Wake up on Monday of week two post lay-off and go to a coffee shop. Look around, watch the birds outside, read the business journals, and write down 10 jobs you want (in your field), and 10 companies you want to work for. The key here is want.  This is your chance to choose where you want to and should be. Don’t take this task lightly.

2.)    Then go on LinkedIn. How does your profile look? Is your most recent position up-to-date with the amazing achievements you accomplished? How is your picture? Meaning:  Is it professional (not a shot of you with your significant other cropped out from a high school reunion) and has it been taken in the past 5 years?

3.)    Now start reaching out. Ask first degree contacts out to coffee. Talk to them honestly and authentically about what happened, what you think you are good at, where you want to be, and ask for help. People want to help. Really they do. Sometimes they just need permission to actually offer it.

4.)    Next do searches for contacts at companies you’re targeting. Use LinkedIn groups as a resource to a whole new community of contacts and search those groups by job function or company. Then invite these potential contacts to coffee and do the same. Be authentic, and give them the gist of the fact that your company had a downsizing and you are now focusing on these specific roles at companies like the one they work for.

5.)    Lastly explore the job aggregators. What’s out there? What is trending? Who seems to be hiring? Apply appropriately and then circle back to step 4.

The main thing to remember about starting the job search step after a termination is that this is an event that happened but you don’t have to let it keep happening to you every time you talk to someone.

Let the emotions that surrounded the event go and focus on all of the value you brought to your roles and the value you have to share with a future employer. Surround yourself with people who remind you of your amazing attributes, read books and articles and broaden your industry and business knowledge.

Oh yes, and by all means turn off daytime television.

Have you or someone you know experienced this? How do you approach searching a new job after a lay-off?

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Maggie Tomas is an Associate Director and Career Coach at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota. Born and raised in Southern California, Maggie moved to the Twin Cities in 2010. Her background includes teaching and career counseling at the college level, namely at the University of St. Thomas, University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), and Brooks Institute, a well-known film, photography, and design school where she served as Director of Career & Student Services. Maggie holds a BA in Liberal Studies and a MA in Psychology with an emphasis in Career Counseling and Professional Development. She is a regular contributor to the Women of HR blog, Job and Dig.


  1. Val Matta on the 12th June

    Good article. Figuring out what you want post-layoff can be difficult. It’s important to use this “downtime” to your advantage. That is, take the time to do some soul-searching, evaluate what you’d like out of a new position, do some research, and find the right position for you. Maybe you can even try your hand at entrepreneurial or freelance work. Even though a layoff can seem like a terrible hand, it could be a blessing in disguise if you look at it in this light.

  2. Cecilia Harry on the 12th June

    Thanks for sharing this! I hope lots of job seekers read and absorb your post. I am a career coach too, and I find that the sooner I can get the individual to open up to me about “the event,” the sooner we can move past it. Sometimes the person just hasn’t had someone to open up to yet about the event, which I like to call “The Professional Breakup.” It’s really helpful to spill it out to someone who is impartial and completely devoted to listening to you (no other motives like family or friends at times). It can be a very cathartic experience and allow the person to begin to reframe the experience as an opportunity for growth instead of a tragic occurrence.

  3. Maggie Tomas on the 13th June

    @Cecilia- I completely agree! The event does not need to be tragic but often the only thing that helps clients move past “the professional breakup” is working through it with someone (ideally a coach) who is outside of the event and outside of the person’s inner circle. The best thing is to process it relatively quickly so it doesn’t paralyze the person from moving forward in the job search and drastically impacting confidence. Thanks for reading!

  4. Jen on the 4th July

    I am being laid off later this month and this article was right up my alley. I plan on following the guides. I worked for the company for 10 years and I don’t want to complain too much.

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