A person with a contemplative expression rests their face on one hand, illuminated by a soft light against a dark background. The contrast highlights their face, particularly their eyes, creating a dramatic and thoughtful mood akin to someone deep in executive coaching reflection.

I’ve spent a lot of time helping clients who have been laid off to navigate their stressful and challenging journey. In the ever-changing landscape of today’s corporate world and in these complex economic times, it’s not entirely unusual for executives to find themselves facing the unexpected challenge of a layoff.

While the impact of a reduction in force can be a daunting experience, it also presents an opportunity for growth and transformation. By implementing strategic measures, executives can effectively navigate this transition period and emerge stronger than before. In this article, I’ll share the steps I recommend for clients who have been laid off.

Embrace Emotional Resilience (AKA “Feel the Bad”)

The first and most important step is to take a moment and feel all the negative and unpleasant feelings that come with a layoff. Oftentimes when we feel sad or hopeless or angry, we push away the bad feelings. It’s really important that you allow yourself to feel these emotions. So scream, cry, write angry letters you don’t send…really let yourself get into the spirit of wallowing in the sadness.

If you don’t let yourself experience all the emotions – if you, say, jump right into being proactive and searching for your next gig – those feelings will impact you later. That is, sometimes they come back with a vengeance and they come back at precisely the wrong time, like in a job interview or when you’re talking to your partner or spouse. Shoving away unpleasant feelings can also lead to depression, anxiety, and physical health issues. So cry in the shower, punch your pillow, and sit with that pain and be present with it. Notice where it shows up in your body and notice where you hold tension.

Please note that you want to feel the feelings, not necessarily show them. So be careful not to take them out on your spouse or let them show up at work. Feel them, process them, and then move on to a proactive approach.

Assess the Situation

The next step for any executive facing a layoff is to objectively assess the situation. Understand the reasons behind the layoff, evaluate personal performance, and consider the broader economic and industry trends influencing the decision. Take some time to evaluate your package Take some time to evaluate your package (if you get one) and assess what resources you can leverage. Evaluate your professional network, and make sure that you ask as many colleagues as possible to write recommendations for you on Linkedin before you leave (and write as many as you can for your fellow impacted colleagues!) Also, assess your finances. How long is your runway (the length of time before you have to “take off” at a new job)?

Strategize Career Reinvention

While you might not have wanted to leave this role, a layoff is a good time to assess what you’d like to do next in your career. If you were in your role for a while, then you may want to take this as an opportunity to level up. Take a moment to pause, reflect on your career, and decide if you want to level up or make a lateral move.

Use this period of transition as an opportunity to reassess your career goals and aspirations. Explore potential career paths, identify transferable skills, and consider new industries or roles that align with personal interests and strengths.

Three people stand close together, smiling and laughing in an outdoor setting. The person on the left wears a black hat, the person in the middle wears glasses, and the person on the right has blonde hair and is wrapped in a large shawl. Their camaraderie hints at shared experiences in leadership development. The image is warmly lit, suggesting a sunset.Do What You Must

When you’ve been laid off, it’s time to do what’s most important to you. That is, you can stop trying to impress the higher-ups. You can stop working extra hours at your current job. It’s time to triage. Focus your efforts on doing the bare minimum of what you need to do at work so you still do your job, but stop doing anything extra, because you need all extra time and energy to go toward your job search. Some leaders won’t like that I’m saying this, but the reality is that now is the time to focus on what you need and that means you can’t focus on what the company that just laid you off needs.

Invest in Skill Development (maybe!)

All executives should continuously invest in skill development to remain competitive in the job market. This is something you should be doing on an ongoing basis. Consider pursuing certifications, attending workshops, or enrolling in online courses to acquire new skills or enhance existing ones, particularly in areas relevant to emerging industry trends. While it’s unlikely that this is what you need to move forward in your career, an extra certification or two never hurt anyone. Still, make sure you’re carefully assessing whether you truly need to put in the time, expense, and energy toward new skills and earning new certifications, or if that time would be better spent on your job search.

Build a Robust Network

Now’s the time to expand your professional network, if you don’t already have a robust one. A recent, massive study indicated that new job opportunities actually come from your “loose” ties, much more than from those who know you well. This is the perfect opportunity to engage in networking events, connect with industry peers, and actively participate in online forums or LinkedIn groups relevant to target industries or roles. I also recommend connecting with recruiters, just to be on their radar. You might also opt to join a coaching group where people in similar circumstances can collaborate – while you might feel like “circling your wagons” and hoarding financial resources, investing in coaching support to help you be your best and perform at peak levels in interviews can only benefit you.

Craft a Compelling Personal Executive Brand

Every executive should develop a strong personal brand that highlights unique expertise, accomplishments, and professional value proposition. This is something you should already be doing before a layoff, but if you haven’t been keeping this up, it’s time to hone in on your personal, executive brand. Update your LinkedIn profiles, resumes, and online portfolios to effectively communicate personal brand messaging to potential employers.

Seek Mentorship and Guidance

Seek guidance from mentors, executive coaches/career coaches, or executive advisors who can provide valuable insights, perspective, and support throughout the job search process. Their experience and expertise through executive coaching can offer invaluable guidance in navigating career transitions effectively. Additionally, many coaches (like me) can show you how to rock your interviews so that you not only stand out in the crowd but also position yourself for advancement…before you even get the job.

Maintain a Positive Mindset

Cultivate a positive mindset and maintain confidence in personal abilities and potential (If you’ve done the first step, this will be easier). Approach each opportunity with enthusiasm, resilience, and adaptability, recognizing that setbacks are temporary and opportunities for growth abound. Sometimes you might need to curl up in a blanket and feel a little sorry for yourself. If you do that, set a time limit and then get right back into action.

A small pug is wrapped in a light brown, tattered blanket, only its head peeking out, giving the impression of being cozy and snug on a white bedspread in a softly lit room. Much like executive coaching nurtures development as a leader, this setting provides comfort and security.

It will be okay. I promise.

While a layoff can present significant challenges for executives, it also offers a chance for personal and professional growth. By embracing resilience, strategic planning, and continuous learning, executives can navigate this transition period effectively and emerge stronger and more resilient in their careers.

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