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Bounce back from a layoff…higher, healthier and happier

By Anita Caputo & Lee Wallace

As an HR professional, you probably are or have been heavily involvedin the process of laying workers off in times change. As arepresentative of the company, you appreciate that most layoffs arebusiness decisions, but you are faced with people, not statistics. Itis even more difficult for you if these are people you know and like.How do you help them, in some way, as they go out the door? Unless youhave been there yourself, it is hard to imagine how you can help thembe optimistic without sounding trite. This article offers usefulinsights from the experience of successful job-seekers in a verydifficult job market.

During the tech bust of the early 2000s, there were record numbers of workers out of work, with higher levels of education and more credentials in their resumés than Canada had ever witnessed. Job layoffs are commonplace in many sectors of the economy. But in the tech world at that time, it was an unexpected turn of events for many unprepared, highly skilled employees. It hit hard and long. In fact, many technical people have switched gears completely after failing to find work in their chosen field. Despite the terrible job market, many workers did find new and even better jobs. How?

The truth is that it matters less what industry people work in, and more what they are willing to do find the perfect job. What they were doing before may not be their ideal work now.

"To a greater or lesser extent, we're all defined by what we do. It is worse yet if we're not doing what we think we should be doing, if we're not 'living up to our potential' (an angst-ridden phrase if ever there was one). Mid-career people, in particular, struggle with issues of identity and career, of who they are and what they should be doing with their lives," says Anita Caputo, co-author of Learn to Bounce: From a high-tech layoff to your ideal work (Creative Bound International Inc., 2007). Anita knows first-hand what it's like to experience job loss in a volatile environment.

She re-evaluated her career direction after a layoff from a nearly six-figure paying job at a high tech company in Ottawa. She decided to start her own company, but it took her a year before she was able to generate much income. Today, Anita has her own successful speaking and coaching business and says she's happier, healthier and feels life has more purpose because of her journey. She offers the following 10 strategic "attitudes" to others who want to learn how to bounce back from job layoff. You may want to pass them on to your own workers or clients.

10 Key Attitudes of Learning to Bounce

[span style="color: rgb(204, 51, 0);"]1.  Stay Positive:

Attitude is so important when you are looking for work.[/span]

Almost everybody Anita and her co-author interviewed for their book emphasized the importance of staying positive right from the day you are laid off, or even before that. No matter how difficult things have been, stay positive and you will be attractive-to networking contacts and to employers. If you come across as desperate, negative or hopeless, they will avoid you. These characteristics are poison in relationships, and they will certainly be counterproductive in job hunting. As an employer who could choose among a number of capable applicants, would you hire someone who was negative in any way? If you were a networking contact, would you refer such a person to your friends and colleagues? Not likely.

[span style="color: rgb(204, 51, 0);"]2.  Let Go of the Past:

Acknowledging your feelings and managing your sense of pride are key elements to moving forward. [/span]

Regardless of your circumstances, it is important to let go of the past. You can't manage one minute of the past. A chapter in your life has ended and a new one has begun. Focus on the future. Be open to making a shift and look for a direction that is a good fit for you.

[span style="color: rgb(204, 51, 0);"]3.  Be Optimistic:

Being optimistic, having faith that things will work out, even in the most difficult times, helped most of those interviewed. [/span]

"It's a matter of time…and timing," says Anita. Faith, by the way, is much more positive, optimistic and confident than hope. You might want to remove the word "hope" from your thinking and from your vocabulary.

[span style="color: rgb(204, 51, 0);"]4.  Look for Opportunities:

Wherever you think opportunities come from, it is important to pay attention to them.[/span]

Many people miss opportunities that are right under their noses: connecting with someone they meet and initiating a conversation, acting on an idea that comes up, following up with a contact, asking for help. Any one of these and many more could open a door for you into work that you want. The opportunity may show up, but you have to take it. The door may open, but you have to walk through.

5.  Focus on What You Have, Not on What You Don't Have: It is very important to focus on what you do have going for you, and be grateful for it, not on what you are lacking. Stay focused on the half-full glass. You can always learn or compensate for what you don't have.

6.  Don't Limit Yourself: One thing that helps many people move forward in their lives is to focus on their intentions rather than expecting a specific outcome. For example, you open yourself up to more possibilities if you focus on what you want to get from a new job rather than on a very specific job. You may find that the job opportunity that has the attributes you want, the one that gives you the satisfaction, the feeling of contributing, the problem solving you enjoy, the work relationships you want, the perfect boss, the lifestyle you desire and anything else on your list, actually is work quite different from what you expected.

7.  Do Whatever It Takes: If you do change your field of work, be prepared that you may have to start at or near the bottom. Embrace whatever you need to do…invest in it; train at it; do what it takes to be the best. It is important to understand what price you are willing to pay to get what you want in the long run.

8.  Be Self-Disciplined: In the process of  job search, it is easy to find something else to do, rather than doing what is most important. If you want to get results, you need to push yourself beyond your comfort level. Don't just think about it. One way to move forward is by simply building structure into your day when you're at home. Book appointments to be away from the computer, exercise or walk the dog at regular times. Treat finding work as your full-time job, but build in breaks.

9.  Help and Support Others: Many of the individuals that Anita and co-author Lee Wallace interviewed for their book found great satisfaction in helping their friends and colleagues. Providing for others what you want for yourself often attracts what you need. By giving, you receive. Helping others can also help lighten your mood and increase your energy. You are reminded that you have a lot to offer and you can keep some of your skills sharp.

10.  Change Your Perspective: Ask yourself this key question in any difficult situation: "Is there another way for me to look at this?" You can make your attitude, and your results, much more positive by finding a different point of view. Even if you are the only person laid off, understand that the job you were in was not the best for you and that there is a better fit waiting for you.

Be grateful and appreciative of your situation, no matter how difficult it may be, as things could be much worse, in terms of life, health, family and financial situation. You'll be fine. There will be another, perhaps even more satisfying, job. Things work out. There is a purpose.

When the long, winding road leads you to where you don't know where, know that you are right where you are supposed to be, as uncomfortable as it may feel. You are strong and will overcome whatever obstacles come your way. You will learn and grow from your experience and will come out stronger.

Supporting Your Workers as They Transition Out

Career transitionservices have been proven to be very effective. If your company doesn'talready have a contract with an outplacement firm to provide careertransition services, there are many companies that do this work, fromlarge multinationals to independent career counselors. You will find avariety of programs at different price points that will fit yourbudget. Lee Wallace, for example, works at both ends of this spectrum,running his own career counseling business ( working as a senior associate with Right Management, one of the biginternational companies.

If you are concerned about thewell-being of workers who are being laid off, beyond their need to findwork, there are ways you can help. Look into the possibility ofextending your employee assistance program to them for a short time. Oryou could contract a counselor or therapist to help them. At least havea list of community social service agencies prepared that you can giveto any worker who may need additional support. Many communities havedirectories of community resources that would help you prepare yourlist.

Anita Caputo conceived the idea behind Learn to Bounce as she found her ideal work after being laid off by her technology employer. Co-author Lee Wallace contributed sound strategies and sage advice, based on his 30 years of experience as a coach and counselor specializing in career transitions. For more information on their new book, please call Creative Bound International Inc. at 1-800-287-8610 (Ottawa) or visit

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