A layoff may just be the unexpected opportunity you’ve been waiting for.

By Jennifer Vishnevskyportrait of smiling businesswoman sitting at desk in the office working on laptopWESTEND61GETTY IMAGES

There’s no question that the coronavirus had a lasting impact on life as we knew it. For most people, an unexpected layoff added stress to an already uncertain reality. In April, the news was bleak. The Labor Department reported that the coronavirus shutdown led to more than 20 million job losses. But the path to recovery has begun. Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent—and there were even 2.5 million jobs regained.

Kellee Marlow, a career coach pivot strategist, highlights why this is the right time to search for something fulfilling. “The pandemic is pushing people to ask themselves what kind of life they want to live,” she says. “Life may not have slowed down enough before to give people a chance to ask what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Now, many people are evaluating what is important to them because they’re realizing that they can’t allow more time to go by without pursuing their passion.”



Whether you’re looking for a new job or searching for inspiration to take the plunge into a different career, these tips can help you chart your next course. “Now might be the perfect time to reassess exactly what you really want to do for the rest of your life—especially if you’ve been laid off or had your hours cut,” says Ray Giese, director of career counseling with My College Planning Team. “A career change doesn’t necessarily mean spending more money on education to develop a whole new set of skills. It may just mean reassessing your skills and interests to find out what career will best fit you in the long run.”

colleagues looking at cheerful businesswoman in meeting


In the midst of these trying times, we heard stories of renewed hope. We spoke to some readers who are living examples of turning lemons into lemonade. Not only did they take a bad situation and turn it around, but they’re happier than ever. What emerged were these feel-good success stories that can renew your faith in your career.


When Cynthia Orduña was laid off due to COVID, she decided to get honest with herself. “The thought of applying to jobs, interview, being on-boarded and having to connect with an entirely new team sounded awful at the time,” she says. “I wanted to be able to do something where I knew I could be happy and explore all of my passions.”

After her layoff, the former recruiter decided to pursue career coaching full time. “I feel the happiest and most peaceful I’ve ever felt,” she says. “I love knowing that the work I do supports other people in their career journey too. This also goes to show that when you’re doing what you love every day, you no longer have the same stress and anxiety that you did before. Of course, nothing is ever easy, but it’s easier to fight for what you love. It gives you the motivation to keep going.”


For Anne Marie Herring, losing her job as a full-time yoga teacher was an opportunity to pursue entrepreneurship. “After yoga studios closed and social distancing was the new norm, I felt it was an opportunity to take my earning power into my own hands, in a way that wasn’t going to be impacted by shelter-in-place or closed brick and mortars,” she says.

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Herring was researching the stock market and found a company that helped people launch businesses on Amazon. While researching investment opportunities, she decided to invest in her ability to grow a business. In the past few months, she’s made it her focus to learn the ins and outs of researching product opportunities, sourcing products, manufacturing processes, shipping and advertising online. “I currently have three different products at different stages of production, soon ready to be sold online,” she says. “This new career gives me freedom to travel and pursue more interests and projects, while creating a stream of income independent of changing business regulations and social restrictions.”

Marlow echoes how important it is to do the legwork for your new career to succeed. “This is a great time to explore your options,” she says. “For example, if you are looking to upskill or reskill for the career that you want, a large number of online courses are heavily discounted or offered for free. It enables you to affordably and easily prepare during this time, while sheltering at home.”

businesswoman leading meeting with colleagues



While a layoff tends to have a negative connotation, for Raven McMillan, it was a blessing in disguise. “I honestly felt relieved,” she says. “I know that’s a very strange thing to say at a time like this, but it was like I was finally released from the burden of trying to consistently perform during these crazy times.” Although she was working in public relations, McMillan was also taking classes at Pratt Institute to explore the field of UX/UI design. “I’ve been able to fully dedicate myself to online classes and continuing education,” she says. “In a strange sort of serendipity, this pandemic has given me the permission to fully pursue my passion without fear of failing.”

Although she used her unexpected layoff as the time to pivot, she also did a lot of research to feel comfortable with her decision. “The most insightful thing that I did when I decided to transition my career was make a list of pros and cons surrounding my old career,” she says. “I started to identify a trend of creative and strategy-related tasks that kept popping up on the ‘pros’ side so I started looking for jobs that involved those kinds of responsibilities and stumbled across UX/UI design.”

Carlota Zimmerman, J.D., a career coach, understands the career pivot firsthand. She launched her coaching business in 2008 during the recession. “Creating a business from scratch was the thing that kept me sane amidst all the global chaos,” she says. She recommends that budding entrepreneurs reach out to their network to get the word out. “I always advise my clients to use what they have to build what they need. Instead of bewailing all the resources you don’t have, focus on what you do, and how you can use it, step-by-step, to build more.”


Once you’re ready to get started, it’s time for an action plan to make this new career or business a reality. “List out the micro-steps that you’ll need to act upon to move forward,” says Charlene Walters, a business and entrepreneurship mentor. “It will likely start with researching options and gathering additional resources and information and then actively pursuing your goals. Attach a timeline to these steps, and identify two to three main action items per day to tackle towards this end. Step by step, you’ll get there.”

woman using laptop on a bench

Another must-do is a rigorous self-assessment, according to Roy Cohen, a career counselor and executive coach. “Before you get too far along in pursuing a new direction, it’s always good career ‘hygiene’ to test drive your new career choice,” he says. “Do your homework by surveying people who work in this role or an equivalent one to ensure that what you think is, in fact, based in reality. Many of us have a tendency to romanticize the prospect of shifting lanes without knowing for sure what people actually do on a day to day basis.”


Terry B. McDougall, a career coach, encourages people to reach out to their network and ask for an introduction. “You can also do cold outreach through LinkedIn or other networks like alumni groups,” she says. “Sometimes you can get people to agree to speak with you for 15-30 minutes just by sending an e-mail and saying that you admire what they do and you’d like to learn more about it. When taking this approach, be respectful of the person’s time, be sure to send them a thank you note, and don’t expect that they can get you a job. The purpose of the conversation is strictly informational.”

business people communicating at convention center


If you’re not quite ready to switch careers, here’s one more tip. McDougall works with clients who are parallel pathing: looking for a job while also beginning to test the waters of a new career. “It gives them the advantage of trying to get their new venture off the ground while they have time,” she says. “If it shows signs of success and they are enjoying it, they can stop their job search in their previous career and focus 100% on their new venture.” If you’re interested in a career change, this is the perfect time to re-envision your future. The world has changed and you don’t have to go “back to normal” if it wasn’t the right fit for you.JENNIFER VISHNEVSKY

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