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Recovering from job loss: What you need to know to stay positive and get hired again

By USQ 03 Oct 2019
Male student sitting at desk with head in hands looking stressed

Whether you love or loathe your job, no one wants to unexpectedly find themselves out of employment.

If you have experienced job loss and aren’t sure what your next steps should be, reading this article is a good place to start.

The tips and advice you’ll find in this article have been collated after consultation with Deb Munro, a careers and employability expert at USQ, who is an expert in her field and has a genuine interest in seeing USQ students and alumni do well in their careers. We’ll cover everything you’ll need to stay positive and productive while you look for your next job, how to explain your job loss to prospective employers and where you can find further support.

Statistic - Over the last 25 years, Australia has lost 1 million jobs in manufacturing, administration and labouring, but gained more than 1 million jobs in the knowledge and service industries.

How to be productive and stay positive after job loss

Unexpectedly losing your job, no matter the reason, can challenge anyone’s self-confidence, positivity and drive. It’s reasonable and totally understandable if you feel shocked, upset or angry. While it’s normal to experience these kinds of negative emotions after losing your job, it’s important to stay productive and positive and start putting plans in place to help you make it through this rough patch, and find your next job.

Statistic - Automation is going to impact what we do in every job, in every occupation, it is wrong to assume that only some occupations will be affected while others may be 'safe'.

Use these eight tips to help you make the most of your time between jobs and get back on your feet.

1. Get your finances in order.

Depending on your personal and financial circumstances, you may wish to file for unemployment as soon as you can. Sometimes, the job search can take more time and effort than expected, which can be challenging for both your budget and your mental health.

If you’d like advice on the best way to reduce costs and help you stay afloat until you get your next job, USQ’s Student Wellness Advisors can provide you with free, confidential advice.

2. Try not to take it personally.

Unless you were fired from your last job, try not to take your job loss personally. In the ever-changing world of work, restructures and changes to businesses are common, and aren’t something you can solve or prevent.

If you did lose your job because your employer wasn’t satisfied with your performance, take this opportunity to reflect on whether their concerns were valid, and how you can learn from the experience. Avoid dwelling on unhelpful negative self-talk but try to be objective in identifying ways you can improve in your next job.

3. Focus on the things you can control.

Whatever happened, you can’t do anything now to change the fact that you lost your job. What you can control is how you react to and cope with the situation you’re in at the moment.

As Deb says, ‘Resilience is not something you either have or don’t have – resilience can be developed. Your response to the challenge of searching for work will both develop and say much about your character. How you handle this may well set you apart from other job seekers, because workers with a positive attitude are highly sought after by employers’. No matter the reason you lost your last job, don’t do anything rash that could jeopardise your future career opportunities. You will be the only one that gets hurt.

4. Look after your mental and physical health

In many cases, especially if you’ve been with the same employer for some time, job loss can feel like a personal loss. For this reason, many people experience the same seven stages of grief when losing a job as they would when experiencing a personal loss, such as a death or the ending of a relationship.

Even when job loss isn’t your fault, it can be traumatic. You may experience emotions like disappointment or shame, suffer a perceived loss of identity or feel like a failure. To stop these feelings and emotions having a negative impact on your mental health and holding you back from making progress in your job search, it’s important to talk to others about how you are feeling.You can talk to friends and family or to a mental health professional, but whoever you choose to talk to, it’s important not to bottle your emotions up.

5. Stay connected with colleagues.

When people think about job loss, they don’t always think that the loss of social and professional relationships they’ve developed will affect them on a daily basis. Even if you weren’t very close with your colleagues, you’ll probably find you miss the ‘lunchroom chats’ and having other people that you can talk to about work-related topics. Assuming you left your last job on good terms with at least some of your colleagues, reach out to them for LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements and arrange to meet up for coffee. You never know how your connections could help you in the search for your next job.

6. Treat your job search as a job.

When you’re working, all you can think about is that next day off or that next holiday. Even if you didn’t love your job, you’ll probably find that once you stop working, you miss the routine and the sense of purpose you had when you were employed. Not having these things can get old very quickly, so make an effort to get up at a similar time to when you were working, get dressed, and treat your job search as a job in itself.

Filling your day with career-building activities such as taking short courses (including free online courses from or, volunteering, applying for jobs and reaching out to those in your network will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your job search and provide you with the opportunity to develop skills that will get you hired.

Statistic - 60-70% of job opportunities in Australia are advertised online

7. Gain new perspective.

Many people who experience job loss can feel like they’ve lost a part of their personal identity, because they’ve spent so long being invested in who they were at work and the work they did. Your job does not define you. You are so much more than your job! If you are finding it difficult to fill that job-sized gap in your life, make some time to reconnect with the people and activities you love outside of work. Job searching can be mentally draining and tireless work, and it will help you stay in a positive frame of mind to have a break every now and then.

Losing your job can also be an opportunity to revisit your goals and values and make sure you are working towards a career that aligns with these. If you’re not sure you’re heading in the direction you want, treat your job loss as an opportunity to reinvent yourself and consider a career change.

Statistic - When someone has trained for or worked in 1 job, 44 other jobs only require 1 additional skills

8. Can you wait for Mr Right, or settle for Mr Right Now (for now)?

When you’re looking for work, it can be difficult to know whether you should apply for, and accept, positions if they aren’t quite right for you. Maybe a job is paying less than what you were getting at your last job, or maybe you’re not passionate about the type of work you’ll be doing. While only you can make the choice of accepting or declining a job, remember that you can always continue searching for the ‘right’ job while getting paid and developing your employability skills in a job that is on offer ‘right now’. As Deb suggests, ‘Having continuity of employment can also mean that you avoid the “Why is there a gap in your résumé?” question you may receive from prospective employers’.

Speaking of employers, let’s now talk about the best way to discuss your job loss to any potential new job leads to give you the greatest chance of securing your next job.

How to explain job loss to prospective employers

If you’ve lost your job, it’s likely that you’ve worried about the best way to explain your situation to prospective employers.

The good news, according to Deb, is that in most circumstances, prospective employers won’t have any indication of why you would have left a former job, and you don’t need to worry about explaining job loss on your résumé or in a cover letter. If you are asked by a future employer to explain job loss, how you handle this will probably depend on how you lost your job; for example, whether you were fired for poor performance or misconduct or were let go due to restructure or liquidation of your employer’s company.

Either way, Deborah’s advice is to answer honestly and tactfully. ‘As in most situations, honesty is the best policy, and your response can say a lot about your character and resilience.’ If you were let go from a previous job due to downsizing or liquidation, it’s fine to explain this in a matter of fact way. If you were fired from your position, this is Deborah’s advice:

‘You need to be mindful that if you are considered for the position you are interviewing for, reference checks will be conducted. While you could discuss leaving your former place of work in terms of the position not being the right fit for you, or feeling that there wasn’t a good alignment between the company’s direction and your goals and expectations, if a reference check is conducted, a dismissal is likely to come to light. A lie could very well cause you to lose this new position.

‘Therefore, discussing the situation as calmly, confidently and objectively as possible is key. In order to do this effectively, you will have needed to have engaged in some honest self-reflection about what did occur in your last workplace. Stick to the facts and avoid becoming emotional or agitated when discussing this. If there was misconduct, under-performance or a mistake on your part, you need to own this – but don’t spend too much time dwelling on this or castigating yourself. Turn the negative into a positive. Discuss what you learned from this situation, and what you would do differently in a new role if given the opportunity.

‘Do not assign blame or criticise your former employer. This never looks good. Be respectful as you present your view of what occurred and acknowledge that there were differences of opinion/approach. If you feel it was a case of wrongful termination and you are pursuing this through legal avenues – avoid discussing this. There is no need to do so, and it may cause a prospective employer some concerns.

‘Finally, if you are able to discuss some of the things that you learned or appreciated during your time with your former employer, then these would be worth concluding with.’

A lie could very well cause you to lose this new position.
Author profile image of Deb

While losing your job has probably dealt a swift and powerful blow to your self-confidence, remember that there will be light at the end of the tunnel if you can remain positive and productive during your job search. If you use this opportunity to re-evaluate your career direction and develop your resilience and other employability skills, you’ll be one step closer to securing your next job.

You don’t have to do this alone. If you need support or advice to help you get your finances under control while between jobs, to find your next employment opportunity, or you just need someone to talk to, please get in touch with one of the support teams available to you at USQ.

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The Foundation of Young Australians. (2017). The New Work Mindset: 7 new job clusters to help young people navigate the new work order. New work order report series. AlphaBeta, Sydney.

The Foundation of Young Australians. (2017). The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the new work order. New work order report series. AlphaBeta, Sydney.