Turning pink slips into pink lemonade


We write what we know, right? I’ve been laid off. Twice. It’s bound to happen to many of us. Particularly if you are like me and take risks like joining a start-up or taking on start-up type role in established organizations. Getting laid off doesn’t have to be scary and depressing if you change your thinking about it and look at it as the bridge to a more fulfilling destination.

Get upset…later.

The first time I was laid off, I knew it was happening to me when I couldn’t log on to my computer. I’d walked in the office and heard the water cooler buzz  –  anyone that couldn’t log on was being let go. I was a little sad because I really enjoyed the job and my colleagues. I also knew intuitively I was marketable and would land on my feet. I had saved some money and got a pretty generous severance. I said my goodbyes to my colleagues and then I went swimming with the dolphins in the Pacific ocean off of  Costa Rica. It had been something I’ve dreamed about and you know what? If I hadn’t gotten laid off during the Internet bubble bust, I might never have gone. 

Let yourself feel all the typical emotions that come with this change , file for unemployment insurance, assess your financial situation and then make plans for something fun as you work on the job search. Learn something new, spend more time with loved ones, take a class, visit a new place, volunteer in your community, train for a road race. Whatever floats your boat. Doing something you really like not only alleviates the stress but puts you in touch with like-minded people you’ll enjoy. Remember that layoffs during times of economic upheaval are usually not personal and generally have nothing to do with performance issues. Remain calm and professional and take the high road. Your colleagues and manager will remember how well you handled it. Trust me.

Get some insight.

Use this time for some reflection and change, unless of course you are absolutely sure you want to do the exact same thing in the exact same industry. There are a lot of on line assessment tools and some of them are free and fun to try out.  Suzanne Blake, Business  Coach, recommended the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. The assessment was developed by individuals that worked for Gallup. I liked this a lot. You use an on line assessment tool which gives you a read out of five key strengths. The book dives deeper into the strengths and how to apply them. This was much more useful to me that the career assessment I took in 7th grade that told me I should be a forest ranger.


I also like to do my own inventory and then ask colleagues, friends and family members to answer these questions:

  • What do you think I am really good at?

  • What are five adjectives you’d use to describe me?

  • If I wasn’t doing (insert your role) in a (insert your industry or organization), where could you see me working?

  • What key ingredients do you think need to be a part of my next job for me to be happy?

Not only does the feedback make you feel good, but it reaffirms what you know about your core strengths and helps you uncover some insights you haven’t thought of. It also gives you a way to concisely talk about what you do. Some people call this your elevator speech or your brand platform ( e.g. I’m creative and I like to build things. I help build brands, businesses and high performance marketing communication teams).

You could also start your inventory with a list of things you know you don’t want, get those out of the way and make room for the things you do want.

Here’s one of my mine:

I don’t want to work for an organization that mandates a dress code that requires me to dry clean more than four times a year. Saves me money and better for the environment. I don’t want to be called “a suit” ever again.

Get a support system in place.

Surround yourself with people that will motivate you, support you and make you laugh. Stay away from those that keep asking, “So, how’s the job search? Are you worried about the economy?” Consider working with a career coach. This can be particularly helpful if you are thinking of changing careers or starting your own business. It is also helpful if you are really feeling stuck and need some help getting an action plan together.

Get an action plan.

So, you’ve started to make your list of what you want to do and the types of environments you want to do it in. Next it is helpful to develop a list of target companies or organizations in your geography (or whatver distance you are willing to commute) that you can begin to learn more about. People are really willing to help but you’ve got to do some homework first. When you are asking for advice and information, you need to give the network contact a sense of your background and what you want to do. Talk about the types of industries and even specific companies or organizations you are curious about. Here are some sources I’ve found useful for target list development: Hoovers, One Source, and American City Business Journals. I use the Boston Business Journal book of lists and it it includes private companies, non profits and then it segments by industry type and size. Your library may have a subscription to Hoovers and One Source that will save you a few bucks.

Create a positive mindset.

I’m big on visualization, I learned it from my high school track coach. Before a race, I used to visualize myself running effortlessly with a very relaxed look on my face. I pictured myself passing other runners with ease and I imagined a huge time clock at the finish that posted the time I wanted. I’m confident that this technique coupled with a good training schedule helped get me to the state finals and run that sub six minute mile that has eluded me ever since.

Sports psychologists have been using this for years so why not apply it to your work life? Create a vision for what you want to do and where you want to do it. Turn the visualization into a positive affirmation. Visualize what you want, write it down and put it somewhere where you have to see it every day.

Get out and network but remember to add value.

Most colleges have put their alumni directory on line so check out what your school has in place. I find alums are so willing to lend a hand in networking. In terms of social media, I find LinkedIn has more traction that Plaxo or Naymz. ZoomInfo is an interesting research tool because it aggregates articles that mention the individual you may be researching. Facebook is more social for me, I have some overlap with my Linkedin account but not a lot.

Just remember the networking tools have changed but the principles remain the same: networking is most productive when you approach it as a time for discovery. You should graciously ask for people’s ideas, advice and perspective on companies, industries or the market. If you are just asking people about job openings, you’ll limit your resources and opportunities. Let people know if you are interested in short-term consulting opportunities while you look for full-time work. Get creative. You could land a consulting project that evolves into a full-time position in six months. Before you send a thank you email think about including some information that you give back to them. Share an interesting industry article that may be useful. Maybe you want to introduce them to a contact in your immediate network that they may benefit from knowing.

Get moving but remember to give yourself a break.

Create a to-do list for research, calls, meetings and emails that you want to make between Monday and Thursday. Keep track of your accomplishments, it will give you a sense of momentum. Use an hour Friday morning to plan for the next week and take the rest of the day off. Really try to relax and have some fun. It will help you appear more upbeat and confident. This vibe opens more doors than fear and anxiety. Add this affirmation to your visualization exercise: “I am enjoying meeting so many interesting people and they are opening so many new doors for me.”


2 responses to “Turning pink slips into pink lemonade

  1. Great thoughts Sarah
    And BTW I can’t believe how big Jack is!

  2. sarahmontague

    Thanks, Jeff. I added your Digitas blog to my media links too. Good resource!

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