Your career is sailing along just fine—until one day you get an email from HR, and suddenly it isn’t anymore. While there’s no shortage of advice out there for how to handle the loss of a job, a blow like having your team downsized or being asked to take a pay cut can leave you reeling and without a sure sense of what to do next.
The silver lining, career experts say, is that you can bounce back—and even thrive—if you make the right moves. Career experts offer their advice for turning around these all-too-common professional setbacks.
You’re passed over for a promotion. First, try to figure out what happened, says career coach Todd Dewett. Maybe you had a hand in dealing your fate, maybe you didn’t—either way, it’s better to know. “You want to know if you were part of the cause, what the main cause might be if not you, and whether or not you should expect this to happen again,” he says.
If your performance is up to snuff, consider that there could be something in the way you look or act that could be holding you back. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that bushy beards, gossiping, even keeping your workspace a mess can be enough to keep you from moving up.
You have to take a pay cut. People like to point out that money isn’t everything—which isn’t the most helpful advice when you have to figure out how to get by with less of it. There are two steps to take here. The first is to think about what else motivates you to go to work every day. “Emphasize other aspects of the job or organization that have value… beyond money and position,” says James Craft, professor of business administration at the Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh. For instance, are there social benefits or personal perks (like being to negotiate one Friday a month off) that can ease the sting of that hit to your bank account? “Essentially, redefine what the value is in this employment,” Craft says.
If you come up empty—or if your budget is simply stretched too thin—then dust off that resume and move on to plan B. “Draw on personal and professional contacts to see what other job opportunities would be available elsewhere to continue to move toward [your] overall career objectives,” Craft advises.
Your team gets downsized. If the budget axe chopped your team in half, your job just got tougher. And if the changes result in more work and less reward for your underlings, you could be fighting an uphill battle—one that could reflect poorly on you. In that case, consider whether this might be a good time to move on.
“Spend time revising your resume and be sure your LinkedIn profile is current, and consider going on the market to find an employer that may value your professional competencies [and] positive attitude,” says Dale F. Austin, director of the Career Development Center at Hope College. The job market has picked up, after all, so it might be worth putting a few lines out and seeing if you get a bite.
You get demoted. So maybe you weren’t management material. Your ego might be smarting, but it’s your reputation you need to repair. “The most difficult type of setback is any which is clearly explained by your behaviors or competencies to the exclusion of other explanations,” Dewett says. “It’s on you, and everyone knows it. “ Depending on what went down, “you might need to make amends,” Dewett says. “Then it’s time to identify needed behavioral or skill changes.” Stumped? Ask a friend or trusted colleague in confidence. It’s likely they’ll see something that you don’t.
Your closest colleague quits. Whether it’s your assistant, your boss, or the CEO, an abrupt departure can rattle nerves and create an uncomfortable climate at the office. “Bad news can be unsettling, so be sure you get all of the detail you can,” says Paul McDonald, senior executive director of HR consulting company Robert Half. Don’t assume you know what happened: “Ask questions and get clarification,” he says.
In a situation like this, McDonald advises, it’s important to evaluate your emotions and try to look at the situation objectively. “If you’re angry, frustrated, or sad, you may need a day or two to process the news,” he says. Once your emotions aren’t quite as volatile, you’ll be in a better frame of mind to address what happened.
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