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Layoffs: The Best Ways to Find a New Job, According to an Expert

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An illustration that shows someone feeding their resumes into a computer screen, which reads "Apply."
We spoke to Bay Area-based career coach Horst Govin to learn best practices for updating your résumé and reaching out to your network about job opportunities. (Anna Vignet/KQED)

This guide is part of the KQED News series What to Do After a Layoff.

If you’ve just been laid off, how can you embark on finding a new job — especially if it’s been a while? How fast should you move, and where should you look?

Along with how to apply for unemployment benefits and how to save money, how to find a new job — preferably one you’ll actually enjoy — is top of mind for many people after a layoff. But it’s not always easy.

So, KQED spoke to Bay Area-based career coach Horst Govin, who runs the job-hunting program Job Hunt Bootcamp, about the most effective, productive ways to find your next job, how to approach updating your résumé and the best methods for reaching out to other people about job opportunities — plus how to retain your peace during what can be an often-frustrating process.

Jump straight to:

Don’t take it personally

If getting laid off has you truly freaked out, Govin says it’s important to know this is a completely natural reaction. “For a lot of people, and especially for people who it’s their first experience being laid off, the initial reaction is, ‘Oh, my God, what did I do wrong? What’s wrong with me? How can I let this happen to myself?’” he said.

As hard as it might initially feel, you have to let go of this feeling to be able to move forward effectively and find that next job, Govin said: “This has nothing to do with you. This is a decision that was made at a much higher level.”

As horrible as a layoff feels, “this is a routine matter in business,” stressed Govin. “It happens all the time, and it happens to a lot of people.” So blaming yourself, or thinking this means you were bad at your job, is just not accurate, he said: “Sometimes businesses grow too quickly. Sometimes businesses don’t plan appropriately.”

“And in many cases, the decision to lay off is made by somebody who made a mistake prior to the layoff and now is correcting that mistake with the layoff,” said Govin. “Or it’s the remains of a situation that’s out of anyone’s control — like the market.”

Realizing this doesn’t bring your job back, of course, or change the fact that other folks kept their jobs and you didn’t. But if you’re able to ground yourself, and truly understand that this wasn’t something you caused, “you can come back to where you are, from a place of security and confidence,” said Govin — and be in a much stronger position to make your next career move.

Young businesswoman looks at a computer screen thoughtfully.
If you can give yourself some time before starting the job search, reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go next in your career. (Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)

Pause — if you can — and take control of your search

When you lose your job, you may feel like you have to start looking for a new one immediately. But if you’re at all able to “just hit the pause button” at this moment, said Govin, you should — and use this as an opportunity to work out where you are, and “do whatever you need to do.”

For some, that might be taking some time to properly deal with the emotional fallout of losing a job. “If you’re having a hard time, take some time and try to reconcile what’s happened,” advised Govin.

For others, this might be a time to consider the unexpected upsides of what’s happened — even if this situation wasn’t exactly of your own choosing.

“In some cases, a layoff can be a blessing in disguise,” said Govin. “I’ve worked with people who have told me that it was the best thing that could have happened to them, because they realized that they weren’t doing exactly what they wanted to — and this gave them the opportunity, and it gave them a reason to look for something better.”

If you received a severance package, “consider this a gift,” said Govin. “You’ve got some time, and you can use that time to reflect on where you’ve been, what you’ve been doing, and also to think about where you want to go next.” While Govin says this kind of reflection is important for everyone who’s been affected by a layoff, having received a severance package is going to make this even more possible — because of the extra financial flexibility this could offer you.

Ultimately — even though “you’ve been forced to think about this now,” acknowledged Govin — this could be a moment to decide what next step feels right for you, and what you’d like to happen next in your career. Govin advises asking yourself: “What’s the trajectory that you’re on, and what’s the next best step for you? What makes sense?”

“If you’ve always been dreaming about pursuing something, either a slight step up or slightly different, now’s the perfect time to do that,” he added.

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Don’t stress if your résumé isn’t recently updated

You’ve probably heard the career advice that it’s a good idea to always keep your résumé up to date — something that came up several times on our Reddit thread about layoff advice.

But Govin says his personal “résumé philosophy” actually goes against this common advice, to an extent — and that you shouldn’t necessarily feel bad if you’re starting a job hunt with a résumé that’s gathered a little dust. For him, “the reality is, your résumé is going to look different every time you need it — so it’s actually not a bad thing to create your résumé from scratch when you need it.”

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After you’ve taken time to reflect on your next career move, making a fresh résumé — rather than refreshing an old one — will allow you to “design your résumé and target it towards what you want to do next,” advised Govin. “And it might not be what you’re doing now. It might be slightly different.” This way, he said, “you create it with where you are now, and where you want to go next, as the basis.”

This isn’t to say that keeping your résumé fairly up to date is bad advice, Govin said, but you might find it even more helpful to see it more as keeping “a record of all the things that you’ve done in your career” as an ongoing list, not necessarily in the format of a résumé.

“It can just be a simple … bulleted list of all of your accomplishments that you can refer to, and remind yourself of all the things that you’ve accomplished,” he explained. This confidence-boosting approach will also send you into your job hunt with clear objectives, and make you feel like more of an active participant in the process.

Decide whether you can afford to wait for the ‘perfect’ new job — or whether you need to start earning quickly

Not everyone can afford to take a break from working while they look for the right new full-time opportunity.

If you’re in this position, and you need to start making money again right now, Govin recommended you work to find something that lets you do that — “whether it’s a consulting job, contract work or freelance work.”

And don’t overthink it: “Find something to close the gap so that you can get income coming in, so you don’t have to worry,” said Govin. “It can be very detrimental in your job hunt if you are constantly worried about when you’re going to get your next job, when the money’s going to start coming back in.”

Stay realistic in this situation: Your stop-gap earning opportunity “doesn’t have to be your final job, doesn’t have to be your dream job,” said Govin. It just has to be “something to close the gap, so that then you can focus on finding your full-time job without the stress that comes with being worried about the money.” Read more about how to save money after a layoff.

A man wearing construction gear stands in the street, near a work area, and talks to another man that is sitting inside a truck.
If you’re reaching out to your friends and former colleagues to look for job opportunities, it may be best to contact people individually to explain what you’re looking for. (Markus Bernhard/Getty Images)

Activate your networks (without spamming people)

This is another piece of common job-hunting advice you might have heard before: Immediately let your friends and professional networks know you’re looking for a new job. But how can you do this in a way that actually works — and doesn’t put the people you know in an uncomfortable position?

First, says Govin, don’t reach out to anyone until you’ve done that internal work of establishing what you want your next job to look like. Next, he recommended that instead of “blasting out a message on social media, whether it’s LinkedIn or elsewhere, saying, ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job,’” a more effective way might be to reach out to people individually.

He recommends that you lead with honesty and clarity in these messages — especially if this is the first time you’re reaching out to people in a while — and tell them:

  • You’re on the market for a new job, and are actively seeking new opportunities.
  • What kind of opportunities you’re looking for.
  • You’d love to hear back from them if they know of any opportunities that match.

Get in touch with as many people as you can one-on-one, says Govin — and remember that most of them will want to be of assistance. “You likely have a lot of friends and former colleagues that are more than happy to help you, and keep an eye out and an ear out for opportunities,” he said.

Speaking of networks: Form a support group

If you were part of a larger layoff, you just became one of many people going through the same situation. “Take advantage of that,” advised Govin. “Use them as support. Use them as part of your community, and help each other out as you’re going through the next step in your career.”

Not only is this kind of community key for potentially connecting you with new opportunities, but it can also offer you invaluable emotional support and boost your morale — proving you’re not alone in this. It can also be empowering to give back this kind of support to others in the same situation.

Leaning on a support group of people in the same boat will also relieve some of the pressure from within your personal life, says Govin. “There’s only so much that your family and your friends want to hear about your job hunt,” he said, “so find a group of people who really can relate and who are there to support you and guide you through the process.”

Man with beard and glasses looks at his phone screen while sitting next to a desk.
‘Treat the job hunt like a marathon, not a sprint,’ said career coach Horst Govin, adding that it’s important to set time aside to do the things that fulfill you. (10'000 Hours/Getty Images)

Endlessly scrolling job listings online isn’t good for you — or your search

Govin says he advises his clients against searching for jobs every single day. While new jobs get posted constantly, “it’s not productive to be spending all of your time poring through posted jobs on job boards or LinkedIn or other sites,” he said.

Instead, Govin advised that you “dedicate a lot of time once a week to do that.” He suggests Thursdays as a good day for this, in which you can set aside a few hours and review all the new postings that have come online since the previous Thursday. “That way,” he said, “you’re batching all that effort into one time a week,” and containing it to two or three hours.

Not only can this approach be beneficial to your emotional health — rather than overwhelming you with endlessly scrolling job posts — but it also frees up the rest of your week to focus on other types of job search activities, said Govin. “Responding to job ads is only one way of looking for a job — and in many cases, it’s the least effective, because there are so many other applicants that you’re competing with.”

A more “diversified job search strategy” might also encompass “leveraging your network, reaching out to contacts, being very targeted and looking for very specific roles at companies that you’re interested in or working with people that you want to work with,” recommended Govin.

“Treat the job hunt like a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “You really need to preserve your energy and your time.” Treating your job hunt like a job also means fully logging off once you’ve done your part for the day, and doing the things that fulfill you: spending time with loved ones, hobbies, exercise or spending time outdoors.

This period of job hunting is temporary, and has an end point: when you finally find your next opportunity. But until then, “you have to pace yourself. You have to take time out to do things that will nurture you,” said Govin, adding that you’ll want to “do whatever you can to just keep every other aspect of your life on a positive level.” Read more tips for taking care of your mental health during a job search. 

Finally, keep perspective — the job market is ‘a numbers game’

You’re going to get frustrated with applying to jobs you never hear back about, said Govin, and that’s all part of the process. Like many people who have been laid off recently, you’re getting back out there — which means you’re now one of a lot of people on the job market.

Even if you’ve spent a long time polishing your résumé and crafting a killer application, the truth, said Govin, “is when you submit an application, you’re basically dropping an envelope in a black box. And sometimes that black box turns into a black hole — and it’s gone.”

So how do you keep moving forward when it feels like you’re not moving forward in your job search? Just like it’s important to realize that getting laid off wasn’t your fault, you need to also acknowledge that not hearing back from job applications “has nothing to do with you,” said Govin.

“There might be 500 other people applying for the same job,” he said, meaning that the hiring manager on the other end has “an incredible, Herculean task” to sort through them all. “I wouldn’t want to be in that role, either, because how do you sort through that?” said Govin. “How do you find the one or two or three people who are perfect for that job?”

“I always tell my clients: The job hunt is a numbers game,” he said. “For every job out there, if there are a hundred applicants, only one person is going to get the job. And 99 people are not going to get the job. And in most cases, you’re going to be one of the 99 people.”

So as tiring as it feels, he said, “you have to keep playing the numbers game — until you find the opportunity where you become the one who gets the job.”

Make sure to read the rest of our KQED guides about other steps you can take after a layoff to better support yourself and those who depend on you:

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At KQED News, we know that it can sometimes be hard to track down the answers to navigate life in the Bay Area in 2023. We’ve published clear, helpful explainers and guides about issues like COVID, how to cope with intense winter weather and how to exercise your right to protest safely.

So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.

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