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Maintain control of your career when the unexpected strikes

Tips for dealing with sudden job loss

How did you react last month to the Carnival cruise ship engine failure news coverage? If you had a friend or relative on-board, you were probably keenly interested and certainly sympathetic to real discomfort suffered by the passengers. Otherwise, I suspect it simply caught your attention, if at all, as an unlikely and perhaps interesting predicament. Since a safe outcome seemed clear, many people reacted without much empathy, and I’m sure some even chuckled at a less than luxurious turn of events for leisure travelers.

This is what I thought about: inside counsel in mid to late career, enjoying good runs with stable employers. And I thought about the kind of phone call I get once or twice every month. It’s a call for help from an attorney who has been laid off but truly did not see it coming. Total unexpected engine failure in the midst of a seemingly smooth cruise.

The event is traumatic for the attorney experiencing it, and family members certainly share in the discomfort. But the outside world is pretty much unmoved by the plight of unemployed attorneys. Unemployed auto workers, new grads struggling to find work and starving artists have the general public as a supportive rooting section. When I’m at a cocktail party with nonlawyer friends, mention of an unemployed attorney yields a yawn at best, and candidly the reaction can include a smirk or smile. There is not much sympathy out there for inside counsel who experience personal engine failure.

Ok, so this won’t go down as my most uplifting column. But I think the psychology of sudden job loss merits some attention here, if only to say that recruiters do “get it.” I may maintain a clinical-style distance when discussing options with attorneys who call our firm, but I do appreciate the gravity of this situation. In addition to outplacement counselors and career coaches, I have referred some inside counsel to therapists. Anyone who is truly blindsided by a termination needs to get through the emotions of anger and loss, and quickly. Most people try to do that in their own silo.

For any newly unemployed inside counsel seeking a practical Rx for this situation, you know there is no magic pill. But here is the correct formula:

1. Force yourself to take 48 hours to breath before taking action. Emails and calls made immediately after a layoff tend to be full of emotions and mistakes.

2. During those same 48 hours, gather all of your relationship contact information and prepare a call list.

3. If you are at all unsure about how to approach your network with the news and for help, see a career coach or outplacement counselor before proceeding.

4. Contact everyone, be thorough, and don’t be embarrassed or hesitant. You will get help from unexpected parts of your network.

5. After the initial break-in period of steps one through three, make the search your full-time job and refuse to prioritize anything above it. If you do, you are making excuses. I know this kind of “I need a job” networking activity is painful. Break it up with exercise, family time, and an evening cocktail if you like, but discipline yourself away from procrastination.

Your family and friends will be sympathetic and help you, but they won’t push you. My tough love advice is to push yourself very hard and approach your search with complete and absolute tenacity. Your next employer will hire and respect you for it. 


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Mike Evers

Mike Evers recruits attorneys for corporate legal departments throughout the United States. Please visit His...

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