In March 2019, I was cruising through the first months of what I had deemed would be My Year.
I’d brought home my dream doggo in January, I had a (seemingly) great job and was performing well. M and I were talking about buying a house and had begun dropping into Open Houses and we were planning a little trip for just us. F was doing well with school and sports, I was in a great routine, and it felt like I was becoming the person I always wanted to be.
Nearly four years (!!!) later, I can see that the writing was on the wall before I had that surprise Tuesday morning meeting. But on that morning? It was the career success equivalent of a sucker punch. And y’all? I was mortified.
In hindsight, I was probably laid off as a direct result of going to my boss and highlighting the fact that the work I was being asked to do by others was something I was neither experienced in nor qualified for. I worked for a law firm and was being asked, my lawyers, to work on projects that I simply couldn’t support. I’m a marketer, a communications professional by training – I’m not a lawyer, paralegal, or otherwise trained in legalese. It had been a conversation I’d had on the Thursday prior to being laid off.
My lay-off was singular. There wasn’t dozens of us. It was just me. From the outside looking in, I knew what it looked like. I worried people would assume I had been bad at my job or done something wrong. I was terrified it would damage my career.
What people didn’t know was that I had been questioning whether my job was right for me. I didn’t enjoy the work – I exclusively responded to RFPs – and I couldn’t maintain my freelance projects. I felt like a fish out of water in the office environment, too – I wasn’t, you could say, the best “cultural fit”, though I had enough experience and wherewithal to make it work.
Being laid off taught me a lot about myself, my career, my passion, and about being successful.
There’s no such thing as a lay-off proof job.
Prior to my own lay off, I’d seen many colleagues laid off in the past. Acquisitions and mergers meant some roles became redundant. Tough business times occasionally resulted in slowdowns that necessitated layoffs due to work shortages. I’d watched exceedingly smart, talented people, some of whom were my friends as well as my colleagues, be let go for one reason or another… from entry-level all the way to executive-level roles.
You have to be as picky as employers.
When I first began my job search after being laid off, I applied for everything – and I mean everything. My first job offer came later in the spring; it was at a university, it was within a field I’d previously worked, and I had liked the people I met during the interviews. But, the pay was dismal and the role felt junior to me. So I passed.
That fall, I decided to shift my approach in interviews. Instead of taking the one-sided approach that I needed them to hire me, I began looking for interviewers to “wow” me. You have free snacks? Cool. Tell me more about how you support your employees to develop their skills.
Sometimes you make your own opportunities.
By the time summer rolled around, I was still applying for jobs but I had decided to take a completely new approach. I’d freelanced before; why not make a go of it? Within a couple of months, I had enough client work to pay my bills.
As I met with clients, I was honest: I needed to increase my income and, ideally, I wanted a steady job again. I set up meetings. I emailed my network. I called up old favours. In the end, a recruiter reached out to me after seeing my posts on social media. It didn’t happen overnight, but it was well worth both the effort and the wait.
Fortitude and resilience are muscles you need to work to strengthen.
Do you know what’s really hard to do? Apply for another job when you’ve heard “no” repeatedly. In the 10.5 months between being laid off and landing my next full-time job, I made it to the final round – including reference requests – not once, not twice, but six times. I won’t pretend I didn’t have days where I felt like it was hopeless. I did. But I reminded myself that I am capable, smart, and hardworking and that if I just kept trying, it would work out.
Your network is everything.
I’d always known that having a strong network was important but it wasn’t until I found myself genuinely job searching that the true value was shown to me. But, it’s a two-way street. Over the course of my career, I’ve always tried to ensure that I’m referring, introducing, or sharing job opportunities within my network because I genuinely believe that we have a better chance of success when we invest in the success of others. Investing in your network, building relationships, and taking the time to stay in touch pays off in big ways.
And remember: never burn a bridge by accident.
It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
I have always had a bad habit of letting my job become my identity. When I lost my job, I felt a bit like I lost myself. It was a bad feeling, but in the immediate aftermath I learned to let go of that. While my job is what I do and not necessarily who I am, there is a lot of overlap! I am a writer, after all.
It was both fun and stressful to “reinvent” myself. The shift from Ashley, the RFP Gal to Ashley, the Freelancer and then to Ashley, the Startup PR Manager wasn’t a total 180 but it was pretty close. In the end, it felt a bit like coming back to who I’d been before I’d started the job I was laid off from. A coming home. But, what I learned was that I could still start over. (And you can, too.)
Being laid off is a stressful experience and it’s not one I’d wish on anyone. Trying to make the most out of a bad situation is never fun when you’re in the thick of it. But, almost four years, two accepted job offers, a baby, a maternity leave, and countless memories and projects and experiences later I can say with absolute certainty that the layoff I thought was going to ruin my career was actually the best thing that ever happened to me.