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I've just been downsized. What happens now? Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Workopolis.com Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit www.CareerActivist.com.

Question: I'm a little in shock Mark. My job was ''eliminated'' yesterday and I was escorted out the door of my company (well, I guess it's not my company anymore, eh?). Here it is the next day and I haven't a clue what to do. My Human Resources department gave me a package before I left, and it talks about how the company is going to pay my severance. I have to sign and return this within a week. There's also something in there about ''career continuation counseling.'' And a reference to how I'll be receiving some sort of form to take with me if I apply for Employment Insurance. Now what?

Talia D., Trois-Rivieres, Quebec
Dear Talia,

I am sorry to hear that you've just lost your job. Being let go from an employer is an unsettling experience regardless of the circumstances. However it is very common these days. Here are some suggestions to help make the process as manageable as possible.

Things to do within the first five days of being let go:

Notify the people you care about most.
Let your partner, spouse, family and/or friends know what's happened. There is no shame in being downsized. The people who care for you will understand. They can provide essential support for you during this trying initial period. (Hint: they may sometimes say things that irk you, like ''why is it taking so long for you to find work?'' especially if they themselves have never been let go before. Try to shrug this off, and remember that they have your best interests at heart.

Expect to experience a wide range of emotions.
From shock to relief, to anger, fear and optimism...and back again, you are likely to feel a wide variety of heightened emotions. This is natural because job loss is a type of trauma. Don't worry. The intensity of these sensations should begin to subside as you begin to take some necessary steps, as described below.

Recognize that you are entering a grieving process.
You may well experience a pronounced sense of loss: of your job, of security, of colleagues, of routine. You will regain a sense of control and momentum when you commence your search for employment in a focused way.

Talk to someone you trust and confide in them.
Let them know how you are genuinely feeling (especially if you are feeling very angry, sad, helpless, hurt, afraid, alone). Try not to let things get bottled up inside or else your emotions might get the better of you and become highly exaggerated. If you do find yourself persistently, unexplainably sad for weeks on end and begin to feel depressed, check out this article on the signs - and treatment - of clinical depression).

Take care of details.

You must do the following:

  • Review your ''severance package'' and sign it in order to start receiving the payments you've been offered. I advise my clients to get their package reviewed by an employment lawyer first. That's because you may want to submit a counter-offer before you sign off. An employment lawyer can tell you if the offer you've been given is fair, and what you might expect if you do decide to counter. You may also want to negotiate a letter of reference as part of your package. (By the way, even though the severance letter you've been given might say that you have just one week to reply, by sending an e-mail to your employer that states you're having the offer reviewed by a legal professional, you basically buy yourself another week or so to get this proper advice. If your company ignores your e-mail and reverts to the statutory minimums, you can sue them).
  • Return any items to your employer that they've asked for, like maybe a company laptop, cell phone, Blackberry etc. that you may have been keeping at home. Likewise you will want to arrange with HR to retrieve any of your personal belongings that you left behind in the rush to leave their premises immediately.

Make an appointment to see your Career Transition Consultant.
If your severance package provides you with the services of a career coach paid for by the employer, the faster you come in to meet with your Consultant, the quicker you will benefit from their experience in helping you make the most of changed circumstances.

Within the first few weeks of being let go...

Seek out financial advice.

How will you treat the funds you'll be receiving from your severance? For instance, if it is a lump sum, will you want to shelter a portion of it from being taxed immediately? Also, you should consider doing up a financial plan or budget that allows you the maximum amount of time to search for replacement employment or to try something new career-wise, depending on what your goals are. Thus you might want to get advice from a financial planner, preferably one who does not try to sell you products (such as life insurance or mutual funds) that might bias them.

Start thinking about your next career move.
If you're intent on finding another job, you can begin to look at the online job banks to see what's out there. But before applying, make sure that you're truly prepared. A detailed list of things you should probably do first can be found here (e.g. updating your resume and having it reviewed, getting transitional business cards printed up, rehearsing for interviews, and so on). If, on the other hand, you are considering self-employment, the Canadian government provides an excellent starting point here.

Things To NOT Do:

Do Not call your contacts or recruiters yet!
The temptation to get back to work immediately is often very strong. However, you want to approach your contacts in your best light. It is better to wait until your emotions are calmer and you have had a chance to prepare yourself to be at your marketing best.

Do Not badmouth your former employer or do anything rash in public.
You will still need a reference going forward and it is best not to burn any bridges at this point (even though you might want to do something really awful to get back at them).

Do not panic You have many resources at your disposal. Over time you will find that you can regain control, begin to move forward, and do things in a planned, strategic way that gets you the best results, rather than reacting out of fear, anger, or lack of knowledge about your options.

Talia, I hope that these suggestions will assist you in these first few weeks of unemployment. As for the ''form to take with me if I apply for Employment Insurance'' that you refer to, it's called a Record of Employment. You should receive it within a couple of weeks. Make sure that it indicates that you were not let go ''for cause.'' Then, take it in to your local Human Resources Canada office (here's a list of offices across the country) shortly after it arrives so that you can apply quickly and not have to wait excessively should you need Employment Insurance down the road. Beyond that, I wish you all the best in your transition and, may exciting new employment await you at the end of your search.

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