Kathleen Drum’s story of how to bounce back (twice!) from redundancy

I have been made redundant from roles twice in my life. Once, very early in my career – my second job to be exact – and once again, a little over 12 months ago. Although the episodes are separated by nearly 20 years, the process that I used to move forward was similar both times. Here’s what worked for me:

1      It is the role that is being made redundant, not you.

Just because your role is no longer required in the company, does not mean that you are a useless or worthless person. Now is the time to rally friends and family around you; for a boost, you can ask them to name a positive quality or skill that they admire in you. Remember that you are not your job! There is so much more to you as a person – you wear many hats. Maybe you’re an expert cake-baker, a photographer, compete in marathons, or volunteer at the local animal shelter. You might also be a wife, a mother, an aunt, grandmother… you get the picture.

2      It is personal

Irrespective of the logical and rational language used to tell you that job no longer exists, it is still your job that is being made redundant, so it is personal to you. This is when the really negative emotions will kick in – fear, anger, resentment, maybe despair. That’s OK. Give yourself time to process them. It may bring up long buried feelings from childhood too – especially if only one or two roles are going. You may experience “I’ve not been chosen for the team” or “it’s not fair” or “why does Sally still have a job? I am so much better at xxxx than she is.” Acknowledge the feelings, and let them go.

3      Get practical advice

Ensure that you are fully aware of what you are entitled to have by law – both from your company via your contract, and the minimum statutory redundancy benefits. Now is also the time to find out when you are eligible for unemployment benefit and whether you qualify for any other allowances such as housing or child care. This will ease your mind on the practical worries of being made redundant, and allow you to budget for the future. Don’t let your pride get in the way! You have been a taxpayer and have supported others, now it is your turn to have some support. It is also possible that your company may offer CV workshops, access to recruiters or various other benefits. Take advantage of them all. Employers are people too and most will be sympathetic and assist you however they can (especially if they are feeling guilty at letting you go).

4      Stay professional

It may be tempting to slack off completely if you are working out your redundancy period – after all, why should you care? They are getting rid of you! However, if you treat this as an opportunity to showcase your professionalism, bring a smiling face to the office each day, with a good work ethic and a decent handover of your work, this will be the lasting impression your colleagues will have. You never know when this will come in handy later. The world of work can be a funny old place – you just don’t know when you will meet your former colleagues again. It also stands you in good stead for one of the classic interview questions “Can you give me an example of how you handled a stressful situation?” I can’t think of many things more stressful than that!

5      Take a breath

Once the practical matters of cleaning our your desk, farewell parties and signing on for benefits are out of the way, take some time and catch your breath. Whether you can afford to take a week or a month, I would strongly recommend you do so. If you have already found your next permanent or temporary role, I would still recommend a small break. Give yourself time to grieve for your old job – especially if you have been there for a long time. You will meet up with former colleagues and friends, but it will not be the same – you are not the same and you will never have that specific role again.

Take advantage of time out during the day to catch up with friends, or visit a museum or art gallery that you’ve been meaning to go to, but just haven’t got around to doing. There is something quite decadent about being out and about having fun when the rest of the world is at work. Savour that feeling whilst you can and lay down your first “good” memories of being made redundant. If you haven’t yet found a new role, then intersperse your “take a breath” time with job searching and interviews. After all, you didn’t work 24/7 so your job search shouldn’t be 24/7 either.

6      What is a job?

My definition of a job is a set of tasks grouped together, in order to solve a problem. When you are applying for a job, you need to demonstrate how you are the person who can solve that problem. When applying for roles through recruitment agencies, remember that (in general) a recruiter’s purpose is not to find you a job; their purpose is to find a person that best fits the jobs that they have on their books. That is an important distinction and means that you need to be in the driving seat of your job search at all times.

The clearer you are on the type of company you want to work for and the type of role you want to do, the easier it will be for a recruiter to find a job that you will “fit”. You can also apply for roles directly with companies that you are interested in working with. A lot of the larger companies have online portals and advertise jobs directly on job boards or on LinkedIn.

7      Role research

If it has been a while since you looked for a role, be aware that both the market and the methods for applying for roles have changed. It is, at the time of writing, an employers’ market – there are more highly skilled PAs/EAs looking for new roles than there are roles available. This means employers expect more for less – you may find that the salaries offered are less than you anticipated or that roles expect you to cover a team of people or more than one manager. At this point the main object of your research is to get a feel for the market; to benchmark your skills and expertise against the roles on offer and to look closely at the words used in role descriptions.

Make a list of the words that come up a lot – these will be “key words” and will be useful for the next stage of re-entering the job market. Of course, if there is a role that you like the look of, go ahead and apply. Most agencies use online systems which are collectively known as ATS – Applicant Tracking Systems. These automatically match potential applicants to roles, using key words to describe them. This is why it is important to match your CV to each role that you apply for, using the words that appear in the job description. Yes, this does mean that it takes longer to apply for a role, but it is quality over quantity – the object here is to get a good match so that you are called for an interview and can sell yourself to the recruiter face to face.

8      Updating your CV

There is a lot of conflicting information on how a CV should look. Some recruitment agencies will ask for a full CV from the very start of your employment right through to the present day. Other employers and agencies are only interested in your most recent and relevant experience. It is a good idea to have one document that holds all of your work history for your own personal use. Be as detailed as you can in the tasks you undertook and your accomplishments in each role. You will begin to see a pattern and career progression, and it also means that you can pick and choose the items that you wish to highlight more fully when you are applying for roles.

9      Your online presence

If you don’t have a presence on LinkedIn, now is the time to get one! It can also be a good idea to set up a Twitter account as well – lots of agencies tweet new job roles before posting them to their websites – this may give you an advantage over other candidates. Your CV can form the basis of your LinkedIn account, but the prime real estate on LinkedIn is the Summary section – this is where you get to talk about yourself as a person, the skills and abilities that you have that are not obvious from your roles and where you can set out why you are the person who can solve a potential employer’s problems. There are a number of online resources which can help with setting up a profile (including LinkedIn itself).

10   Skills audit

When you register with a recruitment agency, most will expect you to undertake tests for typing, Microsoft Office products and spelling. Be brutal with yourself and undertake a skills audit. Are there gaps in your knowledge of Excel or PowerPoint? Could you increase your typing speed? Have shorthand experience but not used if for a while? Now is the time to brush up on those skills. There are a number of free resources on the internet for most of these items. If possible, upgrade your home computer to the latest version of Microsoft Office, and practice using it. Never used a Mac before? Ask friends and former colleagues who use those systems and spend some time on their machines and get used to the similarities and differences. This will give you confidence in using different technology, and also self-confidence in learning something new.

11   Networking and volunteering

Going to networking events or undertaking volunteer work are both good ways to combat social isolation, give you self-confidence and provide you with opportunities to meet new people. It is advisable to approach both of these types of events with a “how can I help you?” attitude rather than a “what can you do for me?” attitude. Volunteering is also a safe way to learn some new skills, or a new industry, without the pressure of a work environment. Look for volunteer opportunities that align with your values or hobbies. For example, if you enjoy attending the theatre, a good place to start could be with your local theatre group. Giving a few hours a week to help in either the back office or up front selling tickets may put you in front of members of the Board of Trustee, some of whom may be prominent local business people. You never know where a conversation or a shared interest may lead.

12   Crafting the perfect job

Redundancy can also be a good time to take a look at your role and separate the tasks that you enjoyed doing from the ones that you don’t. For example, if minute taking was a large part of your role, and you really don’t want to do it again, look for a role where that is a minimal part or, preferably, not part of the new role at all! If there were aspects to the role that you did enjoy, look for positions that have more of those. Craft your “perfect job” and look for roles that meet most, if not all, of the criteria. Remember that you do have a choice over which roles you apply for – a targeted approach will often yield betters results and more interview opportunities than applying for everything.

13   Appreciate the journey

In conclusion, although being made redundant is difficult and scary, it can also be the start of a brand new adventure. My first redundancy gave me the impetus and opportunity to move from New Zealand to the UK. My second redundancy has provided me with the opportunity to work on an amazing project transforming London. I’ll leave you with a great quote from Maya Angelou:

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from and how you can still come out of it.”

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Kathleen Drum is the Senior Editor at Executive Support Media. Her mission is to bring thought-provoking, timely and inspiring articles to administrative professionals around the world, empowering them not just to succeed in their roles, but to excel. As ... (Read More)

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