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Breaking the Cycle of Grief After a Layoff

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Despite the positive headlines on employment overall, each career is a personal journey. Even when the economy is doing well, changes in how businesses operate can lead to layoffs. Whether driven by technology, regulation or competition, these business changes can create what’s known as structural unemployment, where the skills people built over their careers don’t match current business needs in their industry or region.

This type of unemployment can often be long-term, requiring people to rethink their careers.

On the spectrum of traumatic experiences, losing a job is up there with death of a spouse and divorce. Studies indicate that people who experience sudden unemployment often find themselves in the throes of all the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

The problem when you become unemployed, however, is that while you’re riding that emotional roller coaster, you still need to find a job. And that takes work — and confidence.

Rebuilding confidence

Piecing together a meaningful job search after having the rug pulled out from under you is a tricky task. Just as you may be questioning the qualifications you took for granted before losing your job, you need to present a picture of confidence to future employers — some of whom may be offering jobs you never thought you’d be interested in. How do you rebuild that confidence?

In a piece published on Medium, writer Elizabeth Rosalyn described her experience being laid off as tossing her quickly into a “dark state of mind.”

“As one of the early employees, I had attached a huge part of my identity to my role, so to have had my position eliminated and subsequently be let go in such a swift and immediate manner was devastating and disorienting.”

Lifting yourself out of that state of shock and grief long enough to look for and apply for jobs can be overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to transition into a new field. Being rejected for new positions can perpetuate a cycle of hopelessness that makes it harder to keep trying. And while your confidence is low, that increasingly long gap in your resume may start to worry you, too.

First, know you’re not alone. There were nearly 1.4 million long-term employed people — people who have been without a job for 27 weeks or more — in September 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Overcoming the resume and skills gap

The good news is that you often don’t need to start over from scratch. Even people experiencing structural unemployment have developed skills that are useful in other industries. While the context may change, the need remains for professionals who can work hard, communicate clearly, manage people or processes, or understand how complicated systems can be improved. In many cases, a career transition not only puts someone back to work, but positions them for greater growth in the future.

For many workers, working in contract positions can be a bridge back to permanent employment and new skills. Working with a recruiter can help you identify transferable skills and introduce you to fields where your unique experiences and strengths will be appreciated. Having worked with other job seekers in similar situations, experienced recruiters build an understanding of where you are coming from and what steps you can take to move forward. Opportunities to get training and experience can then open the door to even greater opportunities. And, even if you personally don’t know people in the industries that are hiring, working with a staffing company like Aerotek can put you in touch with the employers who need skills like yours.

Contract work can help break the long-term unemployment cycle by giving you a space in which to reinvent yourself, mentally as well as practically. Not only does a temporary assignment help scrub away some of the discouraging mental residue that comes with unemployment, it can lift the financial burden of joblessness while expanding your opportunities to explore new ways to use the skills you have.

Are you looking for a way to move past your job loss grief? Spend some time exploring our jobs across industries and locations, and apply to ones where your skills match the requirements. Or sign up for an account to receive weekly job alerts that match your interests. Good luck hunting — we believe in you.