Caught In The RIF

How to land on your feet quickly when there’s an unexpected—or expected—“reduction in force” in your workplace.

“Why me?” “What now?” “What comes next?” For most people, layoffs and workforce reductions can be a major source of anxiety and worry. “RIFs” affect everyone in the company, and having a strategy in mind before you go through one can mean the difference between losing ground and catapulting your career forward. When unexpected (or expected!) layoffs occur, these seven steps can help you brace for the impact, and find your next, and possibly better, job opportunity:

Step 1: Accept it and get your mind right.

There are five commonly accepted stages to grief. You are welcome to spend as much time as you want on the first four, but do your best to hurry up and get to “acceptance” as quickly as you can—the faster you get there, the faster you’ll be able to execute your plan to find your next gig. Whether you like it or not, whether you agree or you don’t, you’re here and this event happened for a reason. Believe that something good will come from it. Having the right mindset is a good place to start.

Step 2: Get your resume set. (P.S. Your resume should already be set.)

I encourage everyone to keep their resume updated, even when they have the best, most secure job in the world. Make it a point to review your resume every three to six months, and add your latest accomplishments, promotions, awards, and other relevant activities, so it will be ready if you need it (when everyone else is scrambling to update their own). At worst, it will serve as a reminder that you’ve accomplished some good stuff. At best, it will land on your future employer’s desk before he or she even has to post a job opening. But do yourself a big favor and proofread it for spelling, grammar, capitalization, and punctuation errors. I’ve seen seasoned, accomplished people get knocked out of consideration because their resumes were sloppy.

Step 3. Figure out your personal pitch.

You should able to talk about yourself and your accomplishments comfortably, balancing confidence, credibility, and capability without coming across as an egomaniac. It’s likely you will also be called upon to describe how you did what you did in a fair amount of detail. Plenty of highly competent people falter at the interview stage because they get stuck on the “what” and can’t articulate the “how.” When this happens, interviewers tend to conclude that the applicant simply “didn’t.”

Step 4Reach into your network.

Spread the word that you are looking—LinkedIn and Facebook are two great tools for this. LinkedIn can quickly put you in front of a large number of people who connect for business every day. Facebook is populated with people who know and like you. Remember, in addition to finding out if your connection or their company is hiring, you can also tap into their network. A great way to get job leads is to call and ask directly, posing question like, “What companies are hiring?” or “What companies have called recently to recruit you?”

Step 5Check the job postings, but outsmart the system.

Many job postings are garbage; they are old, expired, or never existed in the first place. And when a job posting is real, you start with several obstacles already in your way. Most resumes collected in bulk are never seen by the actual person doing the hiring. The initial reviewer who decides whether to move your resume forward or take a pass may not have the time, skill, or experience to recognize you as a strong candidate. So, you may have to outsmart the system. Here’s my favorite cheat: if you see a job posting you like and are a good fit for (if you aren’t a good fit, don’t do this), figure out who the company’s likely hiring manager is and call that person directly. Don’t mention or acknowledge the posting; call because you’ve done your homework, you love what the company is doing, and you’d like to be part of the team.

Step 6. Make looking for a job your job.

Not being formally employed doesn’t mean you don’t have a job. Until you land something, your job is “researcher.” Explore your market. Find out which companies are growing, expanding into new areas, or receiving investments from venture capital firms. (You can often find this information through a simple Google search or via websites like crunchbase.com.) Identify some people you’d like to work with, and reach out to them directly.

Step 7. Have fun with the possibilities!

Be confident that, at the end of this process, if you do it right and take a consistent approach, you will end up gainfully employed in a good position. It might not be the job you’ve always dreamed about having, but who knows? It could be the ideal job for the life you want to lead.