Advance Your Career: Blog

Advance Your Career: Blog

Career Services

What to do after a job loss

Losing your job, whether you have advance notice or not, can be a traumatic event. In addition to immediate financial and practical needs, you should also attend to your own mental and emotional health in the immediate aftermath of a job loss.

Sybil Pressprich is a senior career counselor who helps people facing a job loss.
Sybil Pressprich, a senior career counselor at UW-Madison.

You’ll likely want to take practical steps right away. First, try to understand why you were let go and what to expect in your personnel file. You may want to consult with an attorney before signing any paperwork from your employer. At the very least, carefully review anything you are asked to sign and don’t be afraid to ask questions. File for unemployment and explore your health insurance options. If necessary, work with your bank and other creditors to deal with debt obligations.

At the same time, pay attention to your mental and emotional health. In addition to being a source of income, research from Marie Johoda shows that jobs fulfill five specific life needs: time structure, social contact, collective purpose, status and activity. Left suddenly without a job to anchor our lives, we can experience feelings of isolation and a lack of purpose, ultimately contributing to poor mental and physical health.

The key to weathering a job loss is to find anchor points outside of work:

  1. Time structure: Keeping a regular schedule is essential. Set up a daily schedule, allocating time for job hunting, building skills, exercise, and social activities. Some job seekers also find the added structure of a part-time job helpful.
  2. Social contact: People often feel guilty or embarrassed about having fun or socializing while unemployed, but focusing exclusively on your job search can be isolating. Interacting with others keeps you engaged socially and helps build your network. Look for free or low-cost social events, community education classes or meet-up groups. Even going to a coffee shop to work on your job search, rather than doing so alone, can make a difference.
  3. Collective purpose: Losing a job can mean losing a sense of purpose in your day-to-day life. Consider getting involved in a cause, volunteering or helping out at your child’s school. Purpose can come from a number of places, not just our work.
  4. Status: Finding another source of identity is challenging because social status in the United States is so tied to employment. A key first step is learning to tell your story in a way that’s truthful and comfortable for you. You’ll likely have to tell it to friends, family and potential employers. Try to objectively evaluate what you can learn from the experience and focus on the positives you bring to an organization.
  5. Activity: Finally, keep yourself busy with activities that provide social engagement and a sense of purpose, two needs crucial to your well being.

Keep in mind that it’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions. If you feel angry, sad or even relieved, it’s better to deal with those emotions than to ignore them. Find supportive friends and family members or talk with a counselor. If you find yourself unemployed, the best approach is a balanced one that takes care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Sybil Pressprich is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at UW-Madison. Pressprich helps adults with career transitions and continuing education through individual sessions and workshops. Contact her at sybil.pressprich@wisc.edu. 

Additional job loss and job search resources are available on the Division of Continuing Studies website.

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on June 12, 2016.


Career Corner: Get hired regardless of physical disability

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 just 17.1 percent of people with a disability were employed. Among them, one third worked part time rather than full time.

Career counselor April McHugh: Find your strengths and be exceptional in those areas.
Career counselor April McHugh: Find your strengths and be exceptional in those areas.

Those figures may seem daunting, but experts offer many strategies for job seekers who have physical disabilities. To start, figure out your strengths, and be exceptional in those areas.

Jim Hasse is an accredited business communicator, global career development facilitator, and a leader in disability employment issues. He also has cerebral palsy.

“I talk and walk with difficulty—but I am an outstanding people manager,” says Hasse. “So, during a 24-year span, I attracted some of the most accomplished individuals in corporate communications by offering them the opportunity to gain recognition for tasks that I could not do as well, while I stayed in the background. We all succeeded.”

Many physical disabilities are not immediately visible, so job-seekers wonder when they should acknowledge their disability.

Jim Hasse
Jim Hasse is a disability-at-work expert who helps people navigate their job search.

Success from the start

Hasse encourages setting yourself up for success from the start. When your disability is evident, it’s important to get clear, upfront agreement on the accommodations you may need for completing the application and engaging with people during the selection process.

He also urges job seekers to disclose a physical disability at the onset. In fact, he advises highlighting it as a competitive advantage.

In your cover letter or follow-conversations, help the employer understand how your experiences match their needs. What problems have you solved that are relevant to the employer’s goals? Did you learn complicated terminology, use new technology, create communities, or work on a project in support of a cause (perhaps related to your disability)? How does your experience with your disability make you a great employee?

Hasse notes the value of professional career management tools, such as LinkedIn. These tools can help applicants gain an understanding of an employer’s true commitment to inclusion. LinkedIn and other social networks can also provide direct connections to individuals who are employed by highly inclusive employers, as well as to people affiliated with disability rights organizations and other communities of interest.

sign-language-webAs you search for potential employers, here are a few key things to look for:

  • Are the company’s mission and management philosophy clear and meaningful?
  • Do their daily business practices align with what they say?
  • How does the company promote inclusivity in their hiring practices and to their employees?
  • Does the company’s social media presence reflect their commitment to inclusivity? Do individual employees appear to echo that commitment?
  • Are their diversity values reflected in meaningful and useful information for customers or clients?

If you target your application to businesses that meet these criteria, you will be assured that hiring managers are focused on what’s really important: discovering why you’re the perfect fit for their workplace and their culture.

April McHugh is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. McHugh helps adults with career transitions and continuing education through individual sessions and workshops. Contact her at april.mchugh@wisc.edu.

This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.