Surprise Layoffs: How to Bounce Back

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By Rachel Beck, AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — As the unemployment rate climbs to almost 10%, no industry or profession has been spared when employers needed to cut jobs. That includes fields once considered untouchable.

Big national law firms are letting partners go. Following them out the door are senior associates who were on the partner track. The same is true for tenured teachers and professors, high-ranking accountants at top-tier firms and white-collar corporate managers.

"Imagine along your career, you never were thinking about the possibility of being laid off. You might not have a financial cushion on place. You haven't spent time networking. You haven't kept up your skills," said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business.

"It is a worse situation than for folks in jobs who had some expectation that their jobs weren't safe," he said.

It's difficult to deal with the reality that your seemingly secure job is gone, but there are ways to get back into the working world. First, you need to formulate a plan:

STOP THE BLAME GAME

No one is saying you have to wake up the morning after a stunning job loss recharged and ready to pursue the next phase of your life. When you've built a career at a particular job, there's likely to be a mourning period after a layoff.

Accept that you are going to feel down, and don't beat yourself up for what has happened.

"This is such a bad economic downturn that it is crushing organizations," Cappelli said. "It's like a one-in-a-100-years flood."

Understanding that should help get you back on your feet faster.

FACE THE FACTS

More than 6.9 million jobs have been cut in the United States during the recession, and there is a good chance many won't come back as soon as economic growth picks up again, or possibly ever.

For instance, 1,004 teaching jobs in Detroit have been cut, and 397 were tenured positions, which typically means they have seniority and are covered under strict termination and due process requirements.

The layoffs were forced by economic necessity. The school district is projecting budget deficits as its enrollment plunges, according to Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

That means those teachers can't count on being rehired by the Detroit school district anytime soon. They will have to find work elsewhere.

GET SMART

It's easy to get complacent with your skills when you work at the same place for a long time. A job loss forces you to break out of the comfort zone.

Teachers might want to consider different subject areas — for example, a high school history teacher might want to think about switching to literature. Accountants might need to become proficient in other areas of corporate financial reporting or the tax code.

Sam Pollack was laid off from the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft in August 2008 as the financial crisis began to intensify. The 32-year-old had worked on deals involving mortgage-backed securities, a market that completely froze as demand for such assets evaporated amid the downturn in real estate.

"If you work hard, go to good schools, you believe you will be in a good place," Pollack said. "I knew my layoff wasn't due to my personal performance, but it still hasn't been easy."

To make himself marketable to new employers, Pollack is trying to sharpen his skills. He has taken continuing education courses in areas of the law where he isn't as knowledgeable, such as bankruptcy, and he's making sure he's up to date on new securities rules and regulations. He also is networking "like crazy," hoping that will land him an in-house legal job at a company.


Ramping up your knowledge doesn't have to be costly. Seek out free programs, which often can be found through trade organizations or businesses in your industry.

For instance, LexisNexis is offering the Lend a Hand program for out-of-work attorneys. The program includes a free six-month profile to both its Lawyers.com Web site, which consumers and small businesses use to find lawyers, and its Martindale.com Web site, which provides information on attorneys and law firms. In addition, participants can get access to the company's Martindale-Hubbell Connected site, an online community for legal professionals, and the Martindale-Hubbell Career Center, which is a resource to help attorneys find legal jobs in local areas.

DON'T BE TOO PROUD

You got to a comfortable place in your career by working hard. Unfortunately, you'll have to do it all over again.

That means being flexible in your job search. It's OK to accept positions below your previous title if it gets you into the door. Then you can prove yourself a valuable asset to your new employer, said Mickey Matthews, vice president for North America at the executive recruiting firm Stanton Chase International.

For instance, if you worked at a big firm, don't look down your nose at a boutique firm that is offering you a position as partner. Same goes for someone who was a vice president of a company but now can only get a job with a director title.

"You have to get over the embarrassment factor," Matthews said. "You can't take a job loss personally today."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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