When Ashley Watkins was a corporate recruiter for a bank and about to buy a house in 2006, she received upsetting news – she was getting laid off from her job. It was about two weeks before Christmas, she said.
“At first, I was numb. I was already looking [for a new job], but I wanted it to be on my terms when I left that job,” Watkins, who is now a career coach, said about the cycle of emotions she went through after her layoff.
She’s not alone. The holiday season can be a time of celebration, but it can also be a time for companies to complete restructurings and conduct mass layoffs. After a failed attempt at an initial public offering, WeWork announced in November that it was laying off 2,400 employees. After GateHouse’s merger with USA Today publisher Gannett, the executives of the combined company said there would be layoffs. Gannett has laid off at least 216 employees, according to Florida Times-Union journalist Andrew Pantazi, who has been keeping track of December layoffs in a spreadsheet. This is part of a wider trend – according to Columbia Journalism Review’s tally, 3,385 media workers lost their jobs in 2019.
Getting laid off means you are now part of a club. You may not have wanted to join this club, but there are many people who have lived through this common transition who are with you in solidarity.
HuffPost talked with professionals who have lived through a layoff, and asked career coaches for advice on how to take care of yourself during the holidays.
Process The Emotions
Before you can tell a job interviewer about your career story, you need to know how to tell it to yourself. That includes knowing how to feel about your recent layoff.
“I literally felt like somebody died,” Watkins said about her layoff emotions. “I felt like I could not go on. I had to cycle through all of these emotions first before I could get myself together enough to perform well in interviews.”
It’s normal to feel intense emotions like grief and anger after you lose a job, because when you lose a job, you can also lose a community of colleagues and a sense of purpose.
Kate Zimmer is now a senior technical sourcer for Mozilla. But in December 2018, she lost her recruiting job at the American Cancer Society due to staff reductions. “When I received that news, it was very hard to comprehend at first. This had been really the only place I had known from a professional standpoint,” Zimmer said. “I had amazing relationships with my colleagues. I had a direct connection to the mission.” Zimmer noted that she knew it was a business decision and that she had a positive separation experience, but it was still “a tough pill to swallow.”
Accept that this transition is emotional. “Realize you’re in mourning. Losing a job can be a blow to your identity, finances and self-esteem. It’s normal to go through a range of emotions, including shock, anger and disbelief,” said Melody Wilding, a career coach and licensed social worker. “Give yourself at least a week to process what’s happened. Remind yourself that it won’t last forever and that you are more than just your job.”
Make New Holiday Traditions
After her layoff, Watkins said she made homemade Christmas cards and told her family that she would be unable to buy gifts this year. “I didn’t know how long I was going to be without a job, so I didn’t want to use funds on gifts,” she said.
Watkins told her close family in an email that she would accept Christmas gifts related to her job hunt. “I asked them, if they felt compelled to buy me something, that they could give me gift cards for gas to go to and from my interviews, to help me with interview attire,” she said, adding that “the overwhelming amount of support” she got from her family after this note helped her believe in herself.
Let People Know About What You Can Give During Holidays
Recognize that part of taking care of yourself means knowing when you do and do not need to receive unsolicited help and commentary on your layoff.
“If the topic feels too raw, let your family know that while you appreciate their concern, you’d like to keep talk about the layoff and your professional situation to a minimum,” Wilding said. “Offer other topics you can discuss that aren’t so emotionally loaded, such as news about your kids, podcasts, TV shows, recipes, etc.”
If someone is being pushy with well-meaning advice on your job search, speak up for yourself that this topic is off limits. Wilding said you can do this kindly with language like, “Thanks for your concern. I’m still processing what happened and I’m not ready to talk about it yet. I appreciate you understanding and respecting that.”
The goal is to put yourself first. If you want to be alone, be alone. If you want to hang out with people, make it on your terms, not theirs. Watkins said when people asked her to go out with them, she would tell them she was on a strict budget and offer free activities like seeing Christmas lights.
Give Yourself The Structure Of A Work Day With Breaks
A job gives you structure for your day. When you lose the job, you have to create a new routine for yourself.
“All of a sudden I had a very open schedule. I held myself accountable and set out blocks of time when I was going to look for a position,” Zimmer said. “I would say, ‘My goal is to apply for X number of positions this week,’ or ‘I’m going to ensure my job search is a minimum of 5 hours or 10 hours a week.’“
Giving yourself structure means taking time off for yourself, too. You cannot reasonably hunt for a job 24 hours a day. “I Understand the urgency and don’t believe it has to be all or nothing,” Wilding said. “Give yourself a break for a few days to spend time with family, friends, and to rest and heal.”
Zimmer said she sought out volunteer opportunities and used going to the gym as a “stress reliever.”
Let People Know You Are Looking For A Job
You never know who might have a lead for a job, so tell people in your network what kind of job you’re looking for.
“I was embarrassed the first week,” Watkins said about her layoff, before she “let all of the former bosses I kept in contact with know. I called them all, and let them know I was no longer working to find out more things I could work on that they maybe could tell me more candidly than when I was their employee. I also needed that validation that I didn’t suck at what I was doing.”
She recommended employees sharing a career update with their network on social media about what kind of job functions they are now looking for and what they can bring to the table.
Spread the word that you need a new job and don’t feel ashamed about this normal career transition. “Being unemployed is part of being employed,” Zimmer said.
I myself went through an isolating holiday season after a layoff, where all I wanted for Christmas was a job. The tough time got easier when I was more open with what had happened to me and emailed people I knew for help. One of the kindest moments was when a mentor figure showed up for me and took me out to dinner.
He gave me the space to vent and he offered up contacts. The next day, he introduced me via email to three professionals who could help me get to where I wanted to go. That act of encouragement got me through a lot of the noes and email silences that would follow.
Use The Time To Build Your Skills And Make Connections
Take hiring managers’ silence as an opportunity to work on your profiles so when they do answer, you are ready. “Take some time to update your résumé and work on your LinkedIn,” Wilding said. “Getting these materials in order during the quieter days of the year can help you hit the ground running come January.”
When you’re job hunting, it can seem like all that matters is getting a job offer. But that discounts the positive moments that it takes to get you there.
“A lot of people think, ‘Getting the job offer, that’s the only reward in the job hunt.’ No, it’s not. Getting someone to respond to a LinkedIn message, that’s a win. Applying for a certain number of jobs that you qualify for, that’s a win,” Watkins said. “Don’t overlook the good things.”