When you lose your job

Things change fast. Not too long ago, people used to join their first jobs and leave only upon retirement. If ever, people would quit their jobs sometimes to join a different company. Losing a job was less heard of and rarely happened only in circumstances such as company’s bankruptcy or acquisitions.

But last 10 years have changed everything. In today’s economy, every professional faces a certain risk of job loss – whether they’re working at a small startup or a big MNC, irrespective of the length of their tenure. As per our estimate based on this Inc42 report, more than 1000 Indian startups closed down or downsized their headcount in last 2 years, thus affecting 10,000+ startup employees.

Why this post?

Despite the growing number of such layoffs and their drastic impacts, there is not enough awareness on this topic, especially in India.

People who have faced it don’t want to discuss their experience & people who have not faced prefer to live in make-believe world thinking such things would never happen to them.

Since it can affect any one of us, it’s time we modern professionals discussed this subject more openly. Having watched such situations closely in my career and after interacting with 100’s of employees laid off by Flipkart and AskMe while running CutShort, here are some tips I’d give to people in this unfortunate situation of job loss.

What to do when you lose your job

Control your first reaction

In India, we often think of our colleagues as an extended family and our jobs are often a central part of your identity. Hence losing your job often comes as a big, cold shock.

Psychologically, your mental state shifts through the 5 phases (“denial”, “anger”, “bargain”, “rejection” and “acceptance”) described in the Kübler-Ross model. These questions start hitting your mind:

  • Denial: This can’t be true. I worked so hard for this company.
  • Anger: Why me? There are others who should go first.
  • Bargain: Should I refuse to accept this decision?
  • Rejection: Where did I screw up? What will I do now?
  • Acceptance: I need to move on

So mental conditioning is the key. Just be calm and don’t let the emotions take over. Arguing with the management will likely be unproductive – since they must have arrived at this unfortunate decision after considering all the possibilities. They won’t tell you much too since they know that in such a delicate and emotionally charged situation,  things could spiral out of the hands quickly.

(On legal options: Like in other matters, fighting legal battle is time consuming, costly and distracting. Avoid this step unless you have a strong reason to do so, such as in cases of “wongful termination” or “breach of contract”.  Consult a lawyer if you think this is the case.)

Calm yourself – It’s just a job after all

Although losing your job is hard, see it in this perspective – people today change jobs every 3 years – meaning this was only 1 job out of the 12 you’d have in your entire career! So certainly this is not the end of the road – but a mere speed bump.

After all, jobs come and go. Brian Acton was rejected by Facebook and Twitter before he cofounded WhatsApp.

acton on twitter

As we all know, he continued to learn and build and sold WhatsApp for $18Bn just a few years later.

Shake off the negativity

Events like this can make you less confident and unsure about yourself. So first thing to do is to start believing in yourself again.

If you were laid off due to restructuring or cost cutting then it wasn’t obviously your fault. More and more people now understand such situations as not only startups but even big MNCs are forced to do this all the time. When Flipkart or Askme laid off their employees – other companies were quick to throw a red carpet to the best of their employees.

If you were fired on performance grounds, it’s often not due to the quality of the work but about managing expectations of your boss or gelling with different team members. Do ask for the feedback and improvement areas and take it as a positive criticism. Review your strengths, your weaknesses and identify key improvement areas.

The bottom line – you should stop thinking about the past and focus on the future. If you stay strong, you are bound to bounce back. It’s hard, but critical to the next step below.

Don’t isolate yourself

Given that losing a job is still relatively new thing in the Indian society, your instinct might be to avoid facing your friends and families.

Fight this instinct. Believe me, your colleagues and friends want to help you but often don’t reach out since they are just as uncomfortable about this situation as you are. Opening up to them will make you feel better and might get you more help for your next move.

This is psychologically important – opening up to people will reduce your stress levels and you will stop feeling like a victim. This will set up the right mental frame of mind for the next step.

Reboot yourself

While it’s odd to not go to your job every morning, remember it is also liberating. You no longer have to mechanically go through your daily routine. You now have a fresh set of choices that you never had before.

Since you have nothing to lose now, take this opportunity to reboot yourself. Review your professional interests. What do you most like? What you don’t?

If you are strong and are prepared – you can actually turn these setbacks into opportunities. Remember Steve Jobs, who was thrown out of Apple only to return later to play one of the most impactful roles ever in modern corporate history.

jobs on firing

So to sum up – take your time. Learn a new skill, take time out for yourself and your family. Enjoy this slack time – you won’t get it again once you start your next thing!

Finding your next job – don’t lie and don’t be hasty

You need to be careful when talking to your next employers. You don’t have to scream that your laid off or got fired, but also shouldn’t hide the fact. Be honest and tell them what happened without bad mouthing anyone. You don’t need to take the entire blame, saying something like this might be enough.

My stint at the company went well, although in the end it didn’t quite work out due to some differences with the management. My work style is more X, while they wanted someone with Y.

Most mature companies know these things are normal and will appreciate the honesty. They might do a more detailed evaluation but that’s better than they hearing a different version from someone else. If they don’t move forward after hearing this truth, well it’s okay – they were probably not a right fit for you anyway.

Secondly, while I know you’re probably restless to have a full time job immediately, don’t accept any job that comes by. You are trying to recover from a bad situation right now – getting into an ill fitting role in haste could impact your future adversely. I know some very talented people who took careless decisions in short term, couldn’t perform at their next roles and grew increasingly less confident of their true worth. It’s a cascading effect that has the potential of limiting your career growth.

You don’t want to be too picky, but definitely wait for something you’re excited about. Working at a place where you challenge yourself and get to do what you do best is what will make your successful in longer run.

Conclusion

Losing your job is definitely a big jolt. And like it or not, it’s a risk every modern professional should be prepared to face today.

Prevention is better than cure – so I always recommend professionals to continuously upgrade their skills. Getting stuck in one kind of job for too long makes you a specialist, but also makes you redundant if that job faces a fundamental shift.

Remember – if you are valuable and adaptable – such situations might not hit you. And even when they do, you would be confident and readily employable by other companies who would even pay a premium for you.

If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please comment me or write to me on Twitter handle below.

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