What do you do when you suddenly don’t have a job for the first time in over a decade? That was the position I found myself in last summer, when I was made redundant from a job I’d loved for six and a half years.
Aside from the three days I took off between leaving one company and starting at the next, I’d been working for 11 years straight. Then, just like that, I was unemployed.
Well, officially, I was self-employed. Like so many other redundant media folk before me, I had the cushion of going freelance, albeit a scary cushion that didn’t feel comfortable at all. I’ve been freelancing ever since and was even getting the hang of it, with consistent work and two promising interviews for jobs that I really wanted. Then the coronavirus happened and without warning everything was cancelled or put on hold.
I lost over £1,000 worth of work in one week, while the jobs I was crossing my fingers for every night were snatched away with apologetic emails talking of a ‘recruitment freeze’ and ‘uncertain times’. As the world around me went into lockdown, I felt waves of panic as I realised I was back to where I started: for the second time in under a year, I was out of work.
Though I had time to get my head around redundancy thanks to the painfully slow process, it was still a shock. That's something many people are now experiencing, having suddenly lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The coronavirus crisis has caused a heartbreaking number of casualties, with thousands suffering losses far greater than an income. Yet those who survive are being hurt by its economic effects as budgets and jobs are swiftly cut.
The government support schemes will help some but not all of us (my only option being universal credit) but being furloughed can be just as disorienting. Your job may be safe but the removal of all routine when you’re used to spending 70% of your time at work can be alarming at best, devastating at worst. So how do you cope?
It's not you, it's them
Even with a bit of lead time, redundancy hit me hard. My confidence was knocked and there was even a sense of grief, not to mention anxiety over how I’d pay my rent. But while it may feel like it’s all about you, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s not, says Victoria McLean, the UK's leading career expert and founder and CEO of City CV.
"Although it feels agonisingly personal, it isn’t a reflection on you as a person or as a professional," Victoria tells me. "Be kind to yourself and keep reminding yourself that you haven’t lost your skills, talents, achievements and experience."
The same is true for those who have been furloughed. "Furloughing is a new situation for us all and it can feel really unsettling; you’re not at work yet you haven’t been made redundant either," explains Victoria. "The most important thing to remember is that your employer is doing this because they really value you and want you back."
For anyone going through redundancy, the self-doubt you’re feeling is normal and it’s understandable if you want to sit in your pyjamas for a few days and wallow – you’ve earned it. But take it from someone who’s been there and realised that jogging bottoms lose their novelty after a week or so: you will feel better if you don’t do this.
"My advice is to do everything you can to stay in work mode," agrees Victoria. "Try to set some structure to your day and come up with an action plan for bouncing back."
Victoria recommends starting with small, confidence-boosting steps, such as pinning up a list of your achievements, taking a free online course and writing down what’s important to you to build a clear picture of what you want. Positivity and productivity are your allies. "But again, be kind to yourself; you will have days when you don’t achieve very much. Having an action plan is about giving you the tools and mindset to ensure you’re in the best position to handle whatever comes your way."
Keep the faith
Something will come your way, too; one thing I’ve learned over the past year is that just as you think you’re at rock bottom and will never work again, in pings an email that could change everything. It’s important to see the situation as temporary.
As an anxiety sufferer, a self-made mantra I’ve found to be helpful is: "I will get through this, because I have to." Okay, so it might not be up there with Instagram’s most motivational quotes but it’s true – what other option is there?
It might feel like it right now but it won't be doom and gloom forever. You’ve most likely quipped to a friend who’s been let go in the past that it’ll be "the best thing that ever happened to them!" before buying them another bottle of wine to help drown their sorrows. It's a bit like a breakup.
It sounds like a platitude but honestly? It might just turn out to be for the best. "Every member of the City CV team has an uplifting story to tell about clients who have experienced redundancy but gone on to land a better job or create a whole new career," Victoria tells me. It won't be easy at first and we shouldn't make light of the economic consequences of this pandemic but I have plenty of friends who have leapt from redundancy into more rewarding roles in the end. Although I’m still shifting between rungs on the career ladder, I know I’ve progressed more as a freelancer than I ever would have had I stayed in the security of my job.
Get yourself seen...in the right way
Whatever your next move, it’s time to spruce up your CV. "The job market has changed beyond recognition in the last few years. Firing off your generic CV to dozens of potential employers might feel like a positive action but it’s unlikely to lead to a great opportunity. You’ll need to be a bit more strategic," stresses Victoria.
She recommends regarding your CV as a marketing document – you’re the product that you’re pitching. Canva has some great templates that will make anyone’s career history look attractive but you’ll also need to tailor your CV and cover letter to each role as 90% of recruiters now use applicant tracking systems, which filter your application based on keywords relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Don’t forget your social media, either. "Rework your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it’s fully complete and keyword optimised," advises Victoria. "LinkedIn is a great way to tell your career story and be visible as a positive, proactive member of your professional community. We’re all desperate for good news right now. If you post uplifting stories on LinkedIn about what you’re doing to make the best of this situation, you may not get immediate results but people will remember you as someone who is determined and made them smile when they needed it most."
I found that being honest on my social networks was helpful, too. Being out of work makes you feel incredibly vulnerable but when I posted on Instagram that I’d lost work due to the virus and was looking for new opportunities, I received not only much-needed encouragement but emails about potential work, too.
Put pride aside
When you pride yourself on your work ethic and the job you do, all kinds of emotions can come to the fore when it’s unexpectedly whisked away from underneath you.
In the last year I’ve felt shame, fear, envy, grief and helplessness but I’ve also had rushes of happiness, excitement and gratitude when the tide has turned. The real key to getting through it is acceptance – something we all need in the current crisis.
Accept that it has happened, accept that you can’t control the future and that things might be hard before they get better – even if that means taking a side step, or joining the thousands of volunteers until you find paid work.
Since the virus wiped out my work options, I’ve set aside my goals of earning a certain amount or finding the perfect role and instead focused on one priority: earn enough to keep a roof over my head (which in turn will alleviate the stress of the past few weeks). I’m lucky that a freelance reporting role came my way which I’ll start this month, all thanks to a LinkedIn message I sent last year. While it is less of a side step and more of a backwards shuffle, I’m just happy that I’ll be back at my desk where I belong.
"A lot of people worry about how taking a more junior role or a job in a different sector will look on their CV," muses Victoria. "My advice is: don’t worry about it. This is an unprecedented situation and many of us are having to pivot."
I suppose that's the lesson: be ready to pivot, be ready to embrace change, be ready to do things you never thought you'd be doing and, above all, do not take this personally because an unprecedented global pandemic is many things but it's certainly not about you.