Karen Litzinger is sometimes brought in by companies when they’re planning to lay people off. The career counselor in suburban Pittsburgh serves as a neutral third-party who can give workers information on resources available to help them find new positions.
She has no illusions that her presence will fend off the dismay and fear that often roils people as they absorb the hit.
“Even when people know there’s a rumbling of possible downsizing, it’s still a bit of a shock because there it is. It’s happening,” said Litzinger.
The recession officially ended years ago, but Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. recently calculated that U.S.-based firms are on pace this year to cut the most jobs since 2009, when 1.3 million layoffs were tallied.
It’s hard to be prepared for such a moment, but there are things that workers should do when it comes.
Joe D’Anna, career consultant at the nonprofit Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s Career Development Center in Pittsburgh, advises getting as much as possible in writing quickly. If the employee is entitled to severance, get that in writing. Details on health insurance and bonuses are also important.
If possible, get bosses or colleagues to write reference letters that can be included later in a package with a resume.
Beyond taking steps like filing for unemployment benefits, career counselors have some additional advice for the recently laid off.
First, don’t be in an all-fired rush to start looking for a job and don’t get caught in the trap of hitting send, send, send to get the resume out into the black hole of the Internet, said Litzinger.
“The first thing is not to take too much action,” she said.
It takes a little time to process the emotions that follow a job loss. Counselors like to refer to psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her work on the stages of grief. That work wasn’t specifically targeted to the job market, but thinking about things like shock, denial, bargaining, anger and acceptance fit these scenarios well.
Many laid-off workers go through a denial phase in which they think, “Oh, they’ll call me back,” said D’Anna. Then they reach the acceptance level and decide it’s time to move on.
That first emotional period can be a good time to think about whether you’re in the right field. Did you even like that job?
Take time to assess what you’d rather be doing. Litzinger said it can take training and time to shift career paths, but some people find it’s worth the effort.
Networking is the most productive way to find new employment — not sending resumes to chase openings posted on the Internet, she said. Once the job search begins in earnest, Litzinger recommends clients spend about 30 hours a week focused on finding new work, with at least 50 percent of that time devoted to networking.
That might mean going to industry events, participating in conversations on social media site LinkedIn, or having coffee with friends and people who can talk about a particular company or field.
It’s important to have the right attitude. Employers often don’t want to hire someone who is bitter and negative — one reason to allow time to work through those difficult emotions before venturing out.
Job seekers also shouldn’t focus too much on using those meetings over coffee to ask if there are openings, Litzinger said. Just take the time to learn about what they’re doing and what skills are needed for certain jobs. If people hear about something that’s open, they’ll likely bring that up on their own, she said.
Job hunters should pay attention to their own health and well-being. Litzinger advises exercising, eating healthy foods and volunteering an hour or two a week.
Sometimes volunteering can help in the job search — if the field is related or if it creates something purposeful to talk about with potential employers as the hunt drags on. But even if it doesn’t, it can feed the need to feel productive, she said.
The way that many employers hire has changed in recent years, said D’Anna, who noted he’s seen a spike in companies bringing people in on a project basis or as temporary employees. Companies like doing that because they can more easily shift their workforces as business changes and they can identify good employees. People used to a full-time job with benefits might find it less secure.
Even if a potential layoff isn’t looming, Litzinger advises workers to keep their skills up to date. “You always have to be thinking about your next job and building your next set of skills because there is no job security in any field.”