How to Recover After a Job Disaster
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How to Recover After a Job Disaster

by Margo McCall
Photos Diana Zapata | September 02, 2015

LOSING A JOB IS EVERYONE’S NIGHTMARE, BUT WHEN IT ACTUALLY HAPPENS? TAKING TIME FOR SELF-REFLECTION MAY BE YOUR BEST STRATEGY FOR A SPEEDY REBOUND.

Sooner or later, it happens to the best of us. Maybe a reorg means you’ve gained a nightmare boss. Or you’ve accepted a job that’s a bad fit and need to quit for your sanity. And then before you know it, you’ve cruised into a full-on job disaster.

Losing a job ranks high on the list of most stressful life changes, just behind divorce and losing loved ones. And it comes with a boatload of anxieties: How will this look on my resume? How long will my bank account hold out? And of course: How will I land a new job?

But before you jump headlong into the job search, consider taking some time for yourself. Like most painful experiences in life, losing a job can turn out to be an amazing opportunity for personal growth. {Click to Tweet} According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, doing internal work to evaluate what went wrong is your best bet for a quick recovery. 

"IDENTITY WORK" AND WHY IT, WELL, WORKS

The HBR analyzed data from 9,000 managers who experienced career setbacks and found they fell into three categories. One group reacted with anger, blaming others and engaging in a cycle of self-justification. A second tried to work through the setbacks but found they had trouble adapting to their new realities. But the largest group--nearly half the respondents--used "identity work," a process of self-assessment, to weather their job loss. 

Instead of blaming others or feeling stuck, the third group considered the role they played, sought out opinions from peers, and used the time off to take care of themselves through exercise, exploring new interests, and self-reflection. And they were able to move more quickly forward more quickly.

HOW TO START

Start by questioning assumptions. Why did you actually leave or lose your job? It’s useful to question yourself. Byron Katie's The Work is an excellent technique for examining whether your assumptions have much foundation. Journaling is also an excellent tool to move through the grieving process, as is surrounding yourself with supportive family and friends.

While you're waiting to start your job search or for interview requests to come in, look after yourself. Use the new-found free time to reconnect with friends or establish a yoga practice. After coping with a difficult job, you'll be surprised how good this feels.

Related: How I Traveled Alone (And How You Can, Too)

Don't be afraid to ask for "tough love." We all have friends who'll take our side no matter what. But sometimes honesty can deliver a more helpful reality check. {Click to Tweet}

Take ownership for being in the wrong. It can lead to lessons learned so you’ll avoid that situation in the future. Denial, on the other hand, can be a one-way ticket to the land of déjà vu.

Take time to reconnect with yourself. What are your talents? Is there something new you're interested in trying? Let the ideas come and be open to opportunities that present themselves.

Give yourself some TLC. And while you're waiting to start your job search or for interview requests to come in, look after yourself. Get out of the house. Use the new-found free time to reconnect with friends, expand your network, get toned up at the gym, or establish a yoga practice. After coping with a difficult job, you'll be surprised how good this feels.

Take ownership for being in the wrong. It can lead to lessons learned so you’ll avoid that situation in the future. Denial, on the other hand, can be a one-way ticket to the land of déjà vu.

Related: The 4 Worst Comments to Make During an Interview

Prepare your personal pitch. One thing you'll have to master is answering the question: "Why did you leave your last job?" If there's a shred of anger or sadness associated with your answer, hiring managers will sniff it out as a red flag. 

Putting a positive spin on your job loss may be a challenge if you were unceremoniously axed. If that’s the case, admit you were terminated but explain to the hiring manager what you've learned from the experience.  

Learn to answer the questions quickly, factually, and without emotion. You'll know you've nailed it when the hiring manager says, "Of course, that makes perfect sense."

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Call it “making lemonade out of lemons” or “winning at losing,” but taking some time for self-reflection can turn a job loss into one of the best things that's ever happened. {Click to Tweet} You'll come out of the experience with a newfound understanding that can be applied to all aspects of your life.