Laid off? How to pick up the pieces and rebuild your career in 3 steps

how to rebuild your career after being laid off

Losing a job is one of the most devastating blows to an individual’s mental health that they can suffer in their life. According to a study covered in Bloomberg, being laid off has a worse effect on the average person’s well-being than the loss of a spouse, and it can take longer to bounce back from, too.

If you’ve suffered a layoff, the first thing you need to know is that you’re not alone. While up to 40 percent of workers have experienced a layoff in their lifetime, numbers are way up this year, with more than 28 percent of workers experiencing a layoff in the last two years since 2023.

sad man sitting with his head down with street view in the background

The second thing you need to know is that a layoff doesn’t have to be a death knell, and it certainly doesn’t have to be an event that you can’t bounce back from. In this article, we’ll run through your attack plan for transforming this experience into a blessing in disguise.

First, we’ll review your restrictive covenants, including the non-competition, non-solicitation, employee arbitration, and non-disparagement clauses that may exist in your old employment contract or offer letter. Next, we’ll discuss how you can find a new job by using your network.

Lastly, we’ll cover how you can brand your skills as you map out your next career move.

1. First things first: know the rules, and check your restrictive covenants

Many job seekers aren’t aware that their employment contract or offer letter could be absolutely replete with restrictive covenants (such as non-competition, non-solicitation, and non-disparagement clauses). In many states, workers who are terminated or laid off will still have to honor the terms of their restrictive covenants. Restrictive covenants are important because they can bind you to some very unfavorable terms as you’re searching for your next opportunity—especially if it’s within the same industry.

  • Non-competition clauses: non-competition clauses are perhaps the most intimidating of the restrictive covenants. They are intended to prevent a company’s former employees from working for a competitor immediately after leaving the company. To be legal, a non-competition clause must be limited to a certain length of time and geographic scope, i.e., for three months and within 50 miles. If you believe your non-competition clause is unreasonably restrictive, you should discuss it with an attorney. Many non-competition clauses are so restrictive that they are unenforceable, and in some states, they may not be enforceable at all. Either way, you should locate the non-compete clause in your employment contract if it exists, and understand exactly what it entails.
  • Non-Solicitation Clauses: Non-solicitation clauses are exactly what they sound like: clauses designed to prevent a company’s former employees from soliciting clients or other employees after their tenure with the company has ended. Typically, if you’re not starting a competing business, you won’t have to worry too much about non-solicitation clauses; however, you should be careful to read the exact terms of the clause before reaching out to your existing network.
  • Non-Disparagement Clauses: Non-disparagement clauses are designed to prevent a company’s former employees from putting false or malicious information about the company out in the open. Your non-disparagement clause may exist hand-in-hand with a confidentiality provision, restricting you from sharing trade secrets or other company proprietary information. Keep in mind that in serious circumstances, your non-disparagement clause will only go so far; for example, it never prevents you from speaking with a lawyer if you’ve been wronged.

2. Don’t be ashamed of being laid off and leverage your network as soon as you can

Experiencing a layoff can feel isolating, but you don’t have to search for your next opportunity alone. You’ll be surprised what connections you can strengthen and create when you simply reach out. Here are some simple ways you can job search within a professional network that includes contacts both old and new.

  • Update your resume and your online profiles. Did you know that 30 percent of job seekers have found a job using LinkedIn? It makes sense, given that the site hosts 57 million employers looking for their next hire. After a layoff, use some time to make sure your LinkedIn, Indeed, and similar profiles are up-to-date with the accomplishments and skills you’ve developed in your most recent role. On LinkedIn, set your status to “Open to Work.” This new feature from the social media site allows you to alert recruiters to your interest in new roles.
  • Meet new people and let them know that you’re searching. Networking has an exponential effect; you may be surprised by who is willing to put you in touch with others within their network when given a chance. If you’re able, consider seeking out in-person networking events within your current industry or a new industry of interest, and don’t be afraid to shoot a message to a new contact over a professional site like LinkedIn. Remember that if another professional is at a networking event, conference, or industry seminar, they’re putting themselves out there too—so don’t be afraid to say hello.
  • Consider partnering with an experienced recruiter. For many candidates, using a recruiter can lead to finding a good career match in a shorter period of time. Using a recruiter should be free, with the recruiter’s fee paid by the company that extends the position to a candidate. Recruiters and head-hunters may be of greater use to someone who is mid-level to senior in their careers, as they often help match candidates to specialized and higher-paying roles.

While layoffs are always difficult, the bright side of the situation is that job-searching can be an exciting time. As you’re putting your feelers out for new opportunities, take some time to develop your career map.

Ask yourself: “What do I want from my next role?”; “Do I want to stay in this industry, or explore another”; and finally, “How can I use this next move to take my resume in the direction I want it to go?”

As you’re designing your career map, begin by taking stock of your skills and passions. What did you like about your last role, and what do you want to see more of (or less of) in the next step? Is growth or a step-up in title or position a prerequisite for any new move?

What abilities and interests do you bring to an employer, and where will they be best rewarded? After answering these questions, you should have a better idea of what sorts of titles, positions, responsibilities, and seniority levels you’re open to going forward. These items form the basis of what you want.

Once you know what you want, you’ll need a plan for how you’ll execute a trade. When you’re looking for a new job, it’s important to remember that you’re entering a marketplace, after all. In this marketplace, you’re trading what you have (past experiences and accomplishments, proven results, talents, and skills) for what you want (a rewarding role that suits your interests).

To execute a favorable trade in this marketplace, branding what you have to offer is critical. You can do this by creating a cohesive, compelling narrative that summarizes your expertise, what you can offer an employer, and why you’re looking for what you’re looking for.

At first, a layoff can make you feel like the world is closing in on you. In time, you may come to understand that this experience can create an opening for a powerful growth opportunity to present itself—an opportunity you may not have come across while you were in your previous role. The ability to take control of this time as a period for career reinvention is in your hands.

As you go through your job search, remember to stay positive, focused, and open to new possibilities that may seem outside your comfort zone.


  • Cara Gray Bridgers

    Cara Gray Bridgers, JD MBA is a full-time in-house attorney for a global public corporation. In her spare time, she enjoys writing thought-provoking articles for HR professionals, managers, and employees. Cara's interests lie at the intersection of business and law (with a sprinkling of yoga and non-fiction reading thrown in, too)! logo

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