Continuing to advance and revive your career after a layoff

Getting laid off is a KICK in the gut. You feel like a failure. You recount through endless scenarios of what you could have done differently to not have landed on the cut list. And then you wonder how you move forward from here. Well, not all is lost. You can still revive and advance your career after experiencing a layoff. Undeniably, it can feel like a major setback when you lose your job and the promotion you were striving for is now out of reach. Like many other Americans, you must find your next paycheck quickly. But you can do it without sacrificing professional growth and turn this layoff into an opportunity to reach your career aspirations.

Re-evaluate your skills and determine what you need to revive and advance your career.

Layoffs are tough for numerous reasons. However, there is a positive aspect to consider. Firstly, layoffs compel you to reassess your abilities. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What essential skills are you lacking? What are your aspirations that remain unfulfilled? How can you attain them?

Besides your network connections, your abilities are the key to landing not only your next job but also that promotion. Many believe that given an opportunity, they can demonstrate they have what it takes to do the job. This belief is one of the largest fallacies in career growth because employers will only hire you once they are certain you possess the necessary skills. This is why re-evaluating your skill set is critical if you want to progress in your career.

Re-evaluate the tools you have in your tool belt to determine whether you possess the necessary skillset to advance your career after a layoff.

While work-related experiences from your former job may be the freshest on your mind, remember that your abilities accumulated throughout your education and background thus far. As you re-evaluate your skills, it’s important to also note how you came to acquire the skill and where you used it. Do you have clear examples to support it?

Let’s start by following these 3 easy steps:

  1. List your skills and categorize them into these four categories: Strengths, Weaknesses, Needs, and Wants.
    • Be honest about your abilities. You’re only hurting yourself if you are not truthful.
    • Keep it brief. If you’re writing a paragraph to describe the skill, then you don’t have that skill. One word is best. Two is good. Three at most.
  2. Search different postings and list the positions you believe you are qualified for.
    • Avoid focusing solely on titles (we’ll discuss more on titles another time). Consider the position based on a combination of leadership level (title) and area (department or function). For example, you want to be the Vice President of Customer Service.
    • Determine whether the positions are realistic growth. While it’s great to have aspirations to one day be a C-suite executive, each career advancement should gradually build.
  3. Finally list the skills that are required for each of the positions. This is where job posts are helpful. As you search through job descriptions, there’s always a wish list of skills the job poster is seeking for that position. Not every description will have the same requirements, but you should start to see a trend of certain skills. Keep track of them. These are the ones you’ll want to focus on.

Assess whether you are qualified for that promotion.

This is your moment of truth. Admitting that you’re not ready yet for a higher position can be one of the most challenging aspects. However, acknowledging that you still have room to grow doesn’t imply that you’ll never be prepared. The positive aspect is that you’ve already taken the first step by compiling the skills list in the previous exercise.

A good method of determining whether you’re ready is to evaluate how your strengths align with the positions you’ve identified. If your strengths don’t match at least 70% of the skills for a position, you might want to reconsider the leadership level or the department and functional area. Though it sounds counterintuitive, it can be beneficial to take a step back to progress forward. As you move into more senior positions, companies often anticipate that you already have the necessary skills to succeed. This is not the time to test whether you have the required abilities when you are trying to revive your career after a layoff.

Photo Credit: Burst. Are your current skills strong enough?

Begin with what skills the job description requires.

It’s important to distinguish soft skills and hard skills for any position. Soft skills are those abilities that allow you to interact effectively with others. In contrast, hard skills are the abilities you learn through education and on-the-job training. Job descriptions will typically list both soft and hard skill requirements, but how these skills are portrayed can give you an idea of what’s needed to be successful in that position. If the list contains mostly soft skills, then your abilities to lead and manage need to shine. However, if the list contains mostly hard skills, then the position is more technical and objective, and mastery of your hard skills will likely need to be demonstrated with clear examples.

To set yourself apart from other candidates, who will make the same skills assessment, you’ll have to also learn how to read between the lines of the job description. Most senior-level openings were not decided overnight. More likely than not, the position is a solution to issues that others internally could not successfully resolve. These issues are disguised in carefully crafted job descriptions.

For example, if a recruiter spends a lot of time emphasizing abilities to manage remote teams, measure team performance, and influence decision-making in the description, then the company may be experiencing issues communicating, encouraging, and enforcing systematic change effectively. These are great areas to highlight in cover letters or poke and prod in interviews. Your ability to better understand what a recruiter is seeking will help elevate your chances of landing your next job.

Second, apply for the positions that most closely match your current strengths.

There will never be a position that will match 100% of your skills and no employer expects they’ll find a perfect match. Most recruiters would recommend that you fit at least 80% of the job description.

One of the largest mistakes people make when applying for jobs is believing that the 80% means you have mastered those abilities. Rather, use the 70/10/20 rule of thumb:

  • 70% of your matched skills should be known strengths. These are the skills you can do easily, without much thought, and are confident in. You have concise, clear examples to support each.
  • 10% of your matched skills should be known weaknesses. Generally, these are skills that you may have but you need more exposure to really master them. But, given the opportunity, you would be able to quickly learn.
  • The last 20% are skills you don’t have. During your interview, these would be great questions to ask the recruiter or interviewer as to how important they are to the role. If you don’t feel comfortable asking the recruiter, then ask someone you trust and know who has been in that role or is currently in that role. (We discuss in another article what it means to “fake it until you make it,” but these missing skills should be ones you believe you can learn on your own quickly if they are critical to the position.)

Find time to learn new skills and keep practicing old ones.

“A learning curve is essential to growth.”

Tammy Bjelland
Career revival and advancement requires continual learning and practicing of new and old skills.

Ask any CEO and they will likely tell you that they spend hours reading each day. They read not only about their industry but also about other industries, hobbies, inventions, climate, history, and everything and anything else. The most successful leaders accept they still have a lot more to learn. And you should too.

Start with the “Needs” and “Wants” skills list and determine if any of those skills are essential to the position you want.

How many of those skills fell into the 20% of skills you didn’t have? These are the abilities you want to focus on since mastering these skills will increase your 70% of known strengths. The more your strengths match the job posting, the better your chances of reviving and advancing your career after experiencing a layoff.

There are a lot of different resources available to learn hard skills whether that’s enrolling in a formal training course, working towards a certification, or learning online. Gaining soft skill experience may be more difficult. Volunteering at different organizations, especially non-profits, can provide additional exposure.

Lastly, but most importantly, take time to learn how a business makes money.

This is more than understanding a financial balance sheet. Behind every business, there are fundamentals that most employees rarely take time to understand, but these are the things that keep executives up at night. To get to an executive level, you have to know how the inner-workings run. You’ll have to research, read, and ask questions of others in the business and industry to gain this knowledge.

Renown author and mountain enthusiast, Paulo Coelho, once said,

The way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think. Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near is still very far.

Layoffs are like that. They can make something that once appear within reach seem very distant. No doubt, there’s an emotional and mental toll, but it’s not the end of the road. If you put in the necessary work upfront, you still have a chance after a layoff to revive and advance the career you worked so hard for.

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