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So you've just been laid off - Here's how to talk about it

It’s that time of year when you find yourself at holiday parties, family gatherings, reunions with old friends and other get-togethers where inevitably those big – and potentially pesky – life questions pop up. What’s new in your life? What’s on deck for next year?

If you were one of the hundreds of thousands of people recently laid off from work, those questions could make you feel a lot less jolly and a lot more dreadful. You might even worry that mentioning your job’s untimely demise would be a buzzkill and avoid talking about it at all. But that would be a mistake.

With a little preparation, you can tell a better story – a positive, effective professional narrative highlighting the value you have and the passion you bring – that saves the conversation and your career. Here are three steps to help you do it:

1. Get your mind right. Telling a positive story starts with mustering up a positive attitude. It’s easy – and common – to get down on yourself and ruminate on all the possible reasons you were cut, but that’s unhealthy and unproductive and doesn’t get you any closer to being re-employed. Remember that layoffs are part of the business cycle, businesses expanding and contracting. Being laid off is not a judgment on your performance or character. You simply got caught up in a strategic decision. Your mindset has to be: “I’m capable. I’m competent, and I am going to go somewhere else.”

2. Have a positive story to tell. It can be very tempting to talk about the negative – how unorganized the company was, how your manager misunderstood you, how your coworker sabotaged your projects – and say things like: “I’m so glad to get out of there. That place sucked anyway.” It might feel good to release that steam, but it doesn’t help you. No one wants to listen to, help or hire a negative person. Instead, shift your focus to you and your story. Talk about the value you brought to your former employer and the value you will bring to your next employer – and do it from a place of excitement.

Answer the questions: What did I enjoy doing at my last job? How did those activities bolster my team and the company’s bottom line?

For example:

  • I am really good with SMB operators because I understand the challenges they face. In my last position, I had many opportunities to help them solve problems, and I loved it because I find watching these small businesses grow to be so exciting and fulfilling.

  • I enjoyed working in a fast-paced environment where I never knew what the next hour was going to bring.

  • I love sifting through spreadsheets and helping companies solve complex data problems.

3. Ask for opportunity. The next step is to pair your positive story with a call to action. Put it out there that you are looking for your next opportunity, and allow others to provide feedback and suggestions for how to find it. Whether you are conversing with someone you’ve known for years or someone completely new, it’s a way to activate a network. So after talking about the value you offer and the positive impact you’ve had, ask people for suggestions on how you might continue.

For example:

  • Do you know of any other companies doing that sort of work?

  • Do you have any recommendations for where I might look / who I might talk to?

  • I’m looking forward to continuing that sort of work, so please keep me in mind if you hear of any openings.

  • If you hear of that kind of opportunity, please let me know.

If someone says they are open to helping you – or even asks you to share your resume – follow up. I can’t stress enough the power of the follow-up. At the very least, send that person a LinkedIn invitation or a thanks-for-chatting email. Following up can be critical for a job search.

Remember that while some people might forget your conversation – or even that they met you – one person could help crack open a door for you. You just never know, but your chances are way better when you focus on your value and the future, not the past and a bad experience. Telling a positive, effective professional story plants seeds of opportunity – even in winter.


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