It's over two years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers precipitated the financial crisis and the recession that followed, but there is little sign that cinched-in corporate belts are being relaxed again. Indeed, one of the lessons of recent months has been that, rather than a temporary interruption of normal service, the new mood of caution and thrift is likely in itself to become normal service, at least for a year or two. Growth across the board will be hard to find, inflation and interest rates are likely to rise, and public spending cuts, while promising long-term gain, will certainly involve a good deal of short-term pain.
Consequently, many observers of the job market are anticipating that 2011 will be a tough old year, in which the axe will continue to fall and the dreaded P45 will feature all too prominently. The CIPD for one predicts that unemployment will hit a 17-year high of around 2.7 million, as small gains in the hesitant private sector recovery are offset heavily by big losses in the public services.
There's even a new set of euphemisms for getting the chop - the old favourites from the last recession, downsizing and right sizing, having been usurped by newcomers like forced attrition and employer-initiated departures.
But, although we would never suggest that losing your job is a pleasant experience, whether in the long term it has a positive or negative effect is largely down to how you react to it. So, in the spirit of preventative medicine, MT has canvassed the views of both experts and those who have been on the receiving end of the coup de grace to show that, not only is it possible to bounce back from the sack, you might even go on to better and greater things as a result. Here's how.
Learn from the experience
Dwelling on why you lost your job, whether it was fair and whether you could have prevented it, is human nature but can also be destructive unless approached in the right way. Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, says: 'What we know about those who fare better after losing their job is that they analyse what has happened and the context in a scientific way. If the factors were purely external, that can lead to a rational decision, for example, to move into a different sector, if there are declining prospects in the sector you were in. But you also need to analyse yourself.' If you can identify specific shortcomings that led to your demise - for example, being a poor team player or weak project manager - now is the time to address these issues so that you have a positive story to tell potential employers at interview. 'Use it as a way to re-develop yourself,' says Goffee.
Octavius Black, global managing director of the Mind Gym, adds: 'I would definitely put it in writing: what are the things that have helped me succeed; what would I do differently in future; how would I spend the first 100 days in my next job? That would be an impressive perspective to bring to a job interview.'
Salvage what you can
Before leaving your current job, consider what you can take with you to smooth your path into a new role. For most people, the one asset they can make use of is contacts.
Andrew Whiteley was a fund manager with New Star's commercial property fund when the company ran into difficulties and was sold to Henderson in early 2009. He was made redundant in February but, before he left in April, Whiteley says he 'networked like mad'. 'Refresh the contacts you really trust in the industry. It's much easier to do that when you're still in a job,' he advises. He was determined to stay in the fund management business and poured all his energy and knowledge into setting up a new concern buying distressed assets. But it proved too early in the game and Whiteley was instead offered a much more senior role in start-up company Hotbed. It wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been so energetic in exploiting contacts, he believes.
John Lees, careers consultant and author of How to Get a Job You'll Love, says it's vital to use contacts wisely. Useful contacts can be divided into those who can support you and decision-makers; you certainly don't want to approach any of the latter with negative messages. 'It's a good idea to start off with those who can offer pure support, help you recover confidence and point you in the direction of good people to talk to,' says Lees.
Other colleagues who may have lost their job at the same time as you could also prove valuable contacts. 'Bringing other talent across with you can be attractive to many employers,' says Black.
Get straight back in there ... or take time out
For some people, the best way to respond to losing a job is to dust themselves off and rejoin the fray. People who've been fired previously may, paradoxically, find it easier to shrug off the setback. 'Some people can bounce back in days if they have been made redundant before, whereas for others it takes 12 months,' says Lees. And during the recent spate of redundancy, says Mike Sinclair, clinical director of the City Psychology Group, 'it was the younger ones who were beside themselves, while the older workers were more likely to say: "It happens".'
For Marie-Ann Powell, getting straight back into work was a priority, despite a generous payoff. Powell was forced out of her junior management job with a London publishing company after a protracted campaign of bullying against her by a colleague. 'When told it was me who had to go, I was really upset,' she says. 'But, although it wasn't redundancy, I was given a year's payoff, which I put straight in the bank. I realised that if I could keep working, that money would be a once-in-a-lifetime windfall.' Within a week, Powell had found freelance work with a newspaper, and 12 months later she found a better-paid permanent job. 'Getting fired was horrible when it happened but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it left me better off and got me out of a very stressful situation,' she says.
Yet, for others, taking a break can be the answer. Nine months after advertising executive Nigel Marsh moved from Britain to Australia with his wife and four children under five, he was told that the company he was running, DMB&B, would be closed and he was out of a job. 'I decided I was going to take stock,' he says. 'I knew there was a lot wrong with my life and I needed to work out the things that were really important to me.'
Marsh spent a year at home with his children, eschewing job offers and making other changes like giving up alcohol and starting to write. He turned the experience into a bestseller, Fat, Forty and Fired, which is shortly to be made into a movie. 'You can get to a state where work is so dominant in your life that that is all you are,' says Marsh, 'and it was about re-discovering everything else I was - husband, squash player, father.' At the end of the year, he landed a new job with agency Leo Burnett, sober, thinner, more balanced, and no longer a wage slave. 'In retrospect, it was the best thing that ever happened to me - utterly life-changing.'
It may sound trite to describe losing your job as an opportunity, but if nothing else, it's a chance to evaluate whether you were in the right job - or sector - in the first place, and whether you should be doing something different. 'It really is a time to think: what am I passionate about?' says Sinclair. 'People fare much better when they are passionate about what they do, and yet we become institutionalised and are often not aware of how transferable our skills are.' Retraining or setting up a business in a completely different sphere carries risks, but if you've already lost the job you had, there can hardly be a better time to take that risk.
Losing your job also offers a specific opportunity to turn from being an employee to running your own show - particularly if you receive a generous payoff. If that's your plan then don't sit around, you may be able to start work on planning and preparation before you quit the job.
Stories of former City workers running boutique hotels or going into farming abound; what's most important is that you think about what you care about, what you're good at, and how you can shape your career or a new business around those factors. Peter Shaw, a coach at executive coaching firm Praesta, says: 'Ask yourself: if you were 21 now, what would you choose to do?' Make the most of help from third parties, particularly if your erstwhile employer is offering outplacement; and use tools such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder test (available in several books, listed at http://strengths.gallup.com) to identify what you are good at, suggests Shaw.
Show them what you're made of
Few experts will encourage you to use a desire for revenge to claw your way back after losing your job. Vengeance and the desire to get even are regarded as negative emotions that suggest you have not moved on from the experience of being fired, and can be off-putting to potential employers. Nevertheless, showing the world - and yourself - that you were underestimated is a powerful motivator that is often cited by successful leaders. Andy Hornby, ousted from HBOS after its takeover by Lloyds TSB, said on taking up the reins at Alliance Boots: 'I just want to get out and prove myself.' In the world of football - and The Apprentice - it's a common refrain. If this strikes a chord, Shaw at Praesta has a final word of advice: 'Saying: "I'm going to get even," can be destructive, but saying: "I'm going to do it better" is a perfectly good driving force.'