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Your Loved One Has Lost Their Job. Now What?

A Q&A with Alan Kearns, Founder and Head Coach at

We’re in the middle of a pandemic and a lot of people are losing their jobs. If someone you care about has lost their job, here are some tips to help them through this difficult time:

Recognize the Loss

They’ve not just lost a job, but also community, income, and contribution. There’s a grieving process that needs to happen. They can’t just watch a meme and the anger goes away. Work is a very important thing – it’s usually not just a paycheck. Most people want to be working and enjoy the people they work with. They’ve been in demand their entire career and have never dealt with a job loss. It’s not personal, but it is deeply personally impacting. Recognizing this complexity can make it easier to accept, even if they don’t want or like it.

Understand What is Needed Right Now

Food, shelter, and clothing. They can do a baseline in each of these categories, work out what resources they have, and what support they will need. Is there government support available? Did they get a transition package that includes job search assistance? So many of our clients are offered job search help, but don’t use it. This is the time to take advantage of all the support available.

Ask for Help

They should look at who in their network can help with their mental health, financial health, and job search. Allocate and name those people, then reach out to them. They are likely only two phone calls away from finding someone to help solve a problem. I have found that in transition, people get upset over the things they have no control over but aren’t getting support around the things they CAN control. Not everything will change immediately, the market is unstable, but there are still things that they can do, and the sooner they can get their tracks laid out and take control, the better.

Set a New Routine

They should create new routines for their day. What will mornings look like? Part of the new routine will be job hunting, but they can’t do that all day long or they’ll get frustrated and burn out. Build time for a job search, community time, and family time. This will bring structure to the day and help them establish a positive mindset.

What advice can you offer to people who are looking for work right now?

There has been a disruption in every sector and that will continue beyond the pandemic. What companies need will be narrow and hyper competitive. This is a great time for candidates to be courageous and to make themselves standout. Look at a job search as a campaign, not just updating a resume. Now is the time to work on one’s personal brand, resume, pitch, and network. Figure out what they can offer the market now, not before, but now.

There are multiple elements to a campaign, and this includes self-analysis and a benchmark of one’s talents, skills, values, and passions. What is it the job seeker brings to the market that makes them unique? They need to think of themselves as a brand, not just a category like a CFO or a business analyst. People don’t hire categories, they hire people. I once met someone who referred to himself as ‘a fundraiser who’s a data geek’. This person knew their brand and made themselves stand out. I like to use the Justin Trudeau principle as an example. He has a very distinctive brand, like it or leave it, and this is how he won the election. He’s not just a politician, he’s ‘Justin Trudeau.’

The job seeker must think about who they are and what makes them compelling. Someone who is looking for a job doesn’t need 100% of the votes, just enough within the market for people hiring them.

How can someone network during a pandemic?

I’d argue that it’s never been easier to network; more people are available and they’re less distracted. It’s easier to get a hold of people. Remember, networks are built over the long haul. A job seeker should look at their network as multidimensional not unidimensional: it includes one’s faith community, friends, professional community, etc. Then, they should lead with a giving hand. Their attitude should be about what they can do for their network, not what their network can do for them. They should reach out to people and find out how they’re doing, how are they managing things? It needs to be genuine and authentic.

People often say to me, ‘I’m not good at selling myself.’ You should never be good at selling yourself, you should be good at marketing yourself. Instead of selling yourself, find out what the other person’s needs are and how you can help them. Networking is about being yourself and finding ways you can add value. This is effective job hunting.

Should someone who is newly unemployed be reaching out to recruiters?

I think it can be helpful, there are jobs out there and they can maybe help with referrals. But it’s important to remember that recruiters work for the people that pay for them, not for the job seeker. There are more people on the market now and more companies are going direct by hiring through LinkedIn and Indeed so they don’t have to pay a fee. Job seekers should understand the tools out there and how they can help.

It’s also good to remember that a lot of companies aren’t putting out opportunities right now, but the hidden job market will be really strong and there will be quiet hiring happening. To find out about these opportunities, a job seeker should be going to their network.

What are the advantages of working with a career coach?

We’re going into a hyper-competitive mode and this isn’t the market to DIY a job search. It will be razor-thin margins. One mistake on a resume, one off question in an interview and they probably won’t get the job. Job searches are like political campaigns and a good coach is like a campaign manager. They can help position the job seeker while being honest with them about what is working and what isn’t in their ‘campaign.’

Once someone has decided to use a coach, it’s a good idea for them to ask for a recommendation within their network and check Google reviews. Make sure the coach has been around for a while and hasn’t just put up their shingle. Professional firms have a track record with organizations. They work with big companies and know their demands. It’s helpful if the coach understands the job seeker’s industry, but a team of coaches that work in diverse industries might recognize skills that could be applied to another industry.

What exactly does a coach do?

A good coach will first figure out what the job seeker is trying to achieve. They will do an assessment of their skill set and determine what might be transferable. Maybe the person’s skills are more in demand in another part of the country? They will determine what makes the job seeker unique, then work with them on resume building, their LinkedIn profile, and their messaging with recruiters and hiring managers. They will help identify the key players in the industry and best practices, do mock interviews, look at a cover letter, and advise on cold emails or calls. A coach can also help with mindset and evaluating why the job seeker might not be as confident as they need to be. Coaches offer accountability and support, and help set goals like talk to 4 people in a week and how did that go?

A job search or transition coach is a trusted advisor, not a friend or spouse and that’s a good thing. A loved one has a role in supporting the job seeker, but it isn’t to review their resume.

Is this a good time to brush up on professional skills?

Being unemployed is a great time to grow. If they don’t do it now, when would they do it? Someone who is recently unemployed could learn that new database but could also learn piano or a new language. When someone learns a new skill and starts to enjoy it, it’s good for their focus, mindset, problem-solving skills, and confidence. Learning something new can help all areas of life. I don’t want to deny the challenges that people are facing right now or how people feel, but I also don’t want to buy into the attitude that it’s just a crappy time. I’ve been amazed at how resilient and how helpful people can be.

Any advice for people who think a layoff might be coming?

They should get prepared. Get their finances in order, if they need a line of credit or a mortgage it’s easier to do this while employed. They should talk to their network quietly and take the mindset of a Cub Scout. They can be prepared, or be scared, those are the choices right now.

Alan Kearns is a leading thought leader on all things work. Author and contributor to The National, The Globe & Mail, National Post and CBC Radio, he shares the latest trends and changes in the Canadian workplace. Voted one of the Top 40 under 40, he is the Managing Partner and Founder of CareerJoy, an award-winning national boutique HR services firm serving 2,300+ leading Canadian organizations including World Vision, Shopify, The United Way, Toyota, CHMC and The Government of Canada.