It’s OK to be Angry (or anything else) After Job Loss

I was leaving a store one day when a former co-worker called out to me. This was the first time I had seen her since the company lay-off, and I wasn’t really expecting to see anyone I knew (I never am), so I was surprised when I saw her in the store’s uniform. After talking with her, she told me that some other former co-workers were employed there, and about what a struggle it had been for her family since the lay-off. It made me think about other former co-workers. The store’s new employees were hard-working overachievers; if they were struggling, how had my other, less skilled co-workers fared? It brought up feelings of empathy, disappointment, and anger for my situation and theirs.

If you’ve been through a job loss, company closure, or something similar, it can cause you to feel all kinds of negative emotions. And that’s okay. It’s how you handle those emotions that can help (or hurt) your career transition. Here are some ways to help you navigate that sea of feeling. (Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or a therapist or other job-change expert, just someone who has been there. Hence the empathy.)

  1.  It’s okay to feel anger. A company has downsized you despite your great work ethic, your innovative idea, or your great management skills. How messed up are they? Do they not realize what a wonderful employee they’ve lost? Do they not realize what they’ve done to your life? You’re completely valid in feeling this. Businesses thrive on effective strategy and  execution and “the numbers.” That’s how business works. That means there’s little left over for compassion, feelings, and fairness. But we’re humans, we don’t work that way.
    1. Do: Let that anger out in a productive way by expending some energy (playing with your kids, doing chores, or exercise), or even screaming or singing out loud (when appropriate). Do talk to a trusted professional or supportive friend about what you’re feeling.
    2. Don’t: Direct that anger in a harmful place (harming yourself or others); that’s going to compound your life’s problems. And don’t keep it bottled up inside; bottled-up anger will come out, and in a place you probably don’t want–like a job interview.
  2. It’s okay to feel helpless. How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to find another job? What do I do with this time?
    1. Do: Seek support. There is job search support, mental health support, financial support. There are organizations and people who can help you make positive and productive steps toward re-employment.  Use your time to find these agencies and non-profits. Your former company may even provide some of these resources.
    2. Don’t: Don’t avoid asking for help. And don’t expect someone to hand you a job. A job search that’s done right is a full-time job in itself (30-40 hours a week). The biggest don’t: don’t look for help in the wrong place. Help cannot be found at the bottom of a liquor or a pill bottle, for instance. You can’t fix negative emotions with negative behavior.
  3. It’s okay to feel disappointment. I’ve applied for a lot of jobs – jobs I know I can do. Jobs that I am currently teaching students how to do, that’s how knowledgeable I am. I’m a great writer: I’ve been writing since I was twelve. I’m an obsessive editor (being a writing teacher means you have to be); I am the person that while I read for fun, I find grammar errors. And on top of that, I have experience in creating communications, marketing materials, and content (even though it may be under the title “Admin Assistant”). I’m good. I know that, but why have I not had people jumping at the chance to hire me? You may be saying the same thing with regards to your job search prospects.
    1. Do: Understand a few things about today’s job market, and know how to apply this to your job search:
      1. Most of your resumes will not be evaluated by a person at first. If you’re applying online: most of the time an algorithm tosses resumes that don’t match the criteria. You have to 1) fit the job description and 2) customize your resume to show that you fit the description.
      2. Most jobs aren’t even out there to be seen. You have to network to increase your chances. And of the ones that are out there, HR managers are trying to eliminate candidates ( which is the opposite of your objective). Stand out in a good way.
      3. Today’s potential employee has to sell companies on him or herself (see ii above). You are your own brand. Make your brand seen, consistent, and a must-have for a potential employer on all platforms: digital, print, in-person. (No drunk selfies!)
      4. Hiring managers pick employees like most of us pick presidents: it’s about who they like, who they trust, who they want to hang out with for 40-70 hours a week. Qualifications between candidates can be very similar at the interview stage. Be likable and trustworthy if you want to work there. (Remember you have to like them as much as they have to like you.)
    2. Don’t: Be afraid to ask an employer why you weren’t selected if you have that avenue. (Learn from the experience). Don’t be wallow in disappointment. Don’t narrow your choices; broaden your horizons by looking at your transferable skills (skills you can use in more than one industry). Volunteer to gain experience–don’t stop learning because you have stopped working.
  4. It’s okay to feel alone, but know that you are not alone. Just because the Great Recession is over, it does not mean everyone is back to work. In fact, the economic landscape indicates that the only thing we can be sure of is job change. And some of that change will occur in ways that we don’t like, despite our efforts. You do not have to feel alone. (For more info., see my post on Friendship During Transition.)
  5. It’s okay to feel happy when you get a callback. I suggest doing a little happy dance whenever you get positive news. Get your hopes up. Remind yourself that this is one more step in the right direction.