laid off

Being laid off hurts. 

When it happened to me, it didn’t just impact me financially; it also affected me 

emotionally. The journey to find that next big gig can be tiring, grueling, and painful, and at times it can feel like you’re banging your head against the wall.

The pandemic hit the nonprofit sector hard. It was estimated that about one million people lost their jobs. Which leads to the question: You’ve been laid off. What do you do when you wake up the next morning?

My personal biggest piece of advice: Get in touch with your network. You might be ashamed or embarrassed to admit you’ve been laid off, but that’s natural. When the time is right, contact colleagues, friends, HR people, and anyone you think might be able to help. Your network sees plenty of job opportunities. If they know you’re looking, they’ll be happy to pass along the relevant information. 

But don’t take it from me. Read what Lisa Chmiola (Chief Fablanthropist at Fablanthropy), fundraising pro Mimosa Kabir, and Sarah Willey (founder of Sarah Willey LLC) have to offer you: Expert advice, best practices, and tips to help anyone who is considering their next job move. 

You wake up and you have to search for a new job. How can you get that process started after you’ve been laid off?

Mimosa: Create a plan. I think that any time you’re transitioning, it’s an opportunity to realign and figure out what your priorities are. Then you can look for alignment in a job. However, if you can take the time to reflect on where you want to go, then plan how you’ll get to a certain level or leverage an opportunity into a different playing field.

Sarah: Take time to process! There may be some grief or trauma related to being laid off. Take time to deal with the emotional things and then start working on your plan.

Lisa: When you’re ready and you tell your network, try to provide them with as many details as possible: what type of job you’re looking for, whether you’re staying local or considering moving to another city, etc. Prior to that, take the 30,000-foot view of your career and plan out where you’d like to land.

You’ve started applying for jobs and have lined up a few interviews. How do you prepare for interviews?

Lisa: 1) Don’t just prepare an answer for the “why do you want to work here?” question. Consider your response to the inevitable “why are you looking to leave where you are?” question. Tell your story of being laid off in a respectful and sensitive way. 

2) Research everyone who will be interviewing you, whether it’s one-on-one or a panel. Know a little about them and try to find commonalities. 

Mimosa: 1) Pull up two screens, the job posting and your resume. Look for all the

alignments and examples of situations where you’ve had the experience listed in the job 

description. You don’t have to meet 100% of the listed expectations. You want a career you can grow into. You’re going to get bored if you already do 100% of the job. Look to fill at least 70-75% and speak to that as your strength.

2) Know the answers to these three questions: What are your strengths? What are your motivations? Are you the right fit? Know your own experience and how to speak to it.

Sarah: 1) Learn what you can about the organization. Review their 990s, budgets, annual reports, website, whatever you can find. Be prepared to ask questions about the organization’s mission and where they’re headed.

2) Tap your network. Reach out to someone who either has already worked at that organization or has some other connections to the people who might be on the hiring panel. Get some inside scoop from them on what they are looking for in this role. You may find out it won’t be a good fit for you.

How do you go about getting a recommendation from an employer who just laid you off? 

Sarah: First see if you can find a co-worker who would be willing to serve as a reference. Not everyone leaves a job on good terms and that narrows who you can ask. Keep in mind that you can request a reference from other places you’ve worked, not only your most recent employer. 

Lisa: It’s important to remember that in some larger organizations, no one is allowed to give an official reference or referral except human resources. So it could be that former colleagues at the organization who laid you off won’t be able to talk to a potential employer. 

Mimosa: I have pushed back during interviews where they required a reference from my current manager and I had to say no. I hadn’t yet discussed with my manager that I was leaving, and I felt really awful about putting them in a position where they would find out and then have to speak while trying to navigate what my transition out would look like. Pushing back is something we don’t always think we have the power to do when you’re applying for a job, but it is a two-way street. You want it to be a good fit for you as much as they want it to be a good fit for them.

Salary negotiations: We all know how difficult it can be, but it’s even more difficult for female employees. The data shows women earn 27% less than men at the same job in the nonprofit sector. How can you negotiate for a salary that meets your personal budgetary needs and doesn’t undervalue what you bring to the organization?

Mimosa: Ask them for the salary range. One of the reasons cited why women make less money is because they don’t ask. Know your worth, know what you bring to the table. Keep in mind you’re not just negotiating salary. You could be looking for flexibility with vacation days or remote work.

We tend to undervalue ourselves quite a bit in the nonprofit sector. You want to do good, but you feel nervous about asking for more money because you’re mindful of where the money’s coming from and the good you’re trying to do. But you absolutely need a livable wage. Therefore, it’s really important to learn to discuss salary even if it makes you uncomfortable. The worst that’s going to happen is they’re going to say no, right? 

Lisa: At the point where you have an offer from a potential employer, you have the cards in your hands. They want you, so it doesn’t hurt to ask for what you feel you deserve. And quite frankly, they’ll say yes, they’ll say no, or they’ll meet you in the middle. 

There are some organizations where they have salary ranges, and it’s very hard for them to get exceptions beyond those numbers. That’s where you can get creative and consider what else is meaningful to you. Coverage of professional development? Paying your AFP dues? What kinds of things can you add to make this a happier situation for yourself?

Sarah: I love to have data. I’m a member of AFP and they publish a salary report that gives me a great deal of information for what is a reasonable expectation for a given role. Those kinds of resources really help. 

Go in with a bare minimum for both salary and vacation days. If I don’t get that minimum? I’ll walk away feeling empowered and that helps boost my confidence when negotiating the next time.

Tip: If you’re not comfortable discussing salary, find a friend, mentor, or someone to roleplay a little bit and practice having the conversation with them. 

Now let’s talk more about preparing for interviews, getting recommendations, and salary negotiations. 

Here’s what Lisa, Mimosa, and Sarah had to say about working with recruiters, adding a cover letter to your resume, job transitions, and more.

What tips do you have for dealing with the transition to a new organization?

Lisa: Have a strong support network around you because when you are going through a transition, you’re learning new coworkers, a new supervisor, new donors, new volunteers. There’s a lot going on. Have someone outside the organization to speak with, whether it’s friends, family, or other colleagues you trust—someone unbiased with the outcome and is there to support you and help you sort through the transition. 

Remember that a transition doesn’t happen overnight. I will never forget what one of my early supervisors in my career told me. 

It was about the six-month mark, and I said, “Oh, I really feel like I’m starting to get the flow.” She said, “Yeah. It really takes a year for you to feel that you get the whole flow of the organization, what’s happening.” 

Give yourself a little grace. It’s going to be tough. There will be hard days. You might make mistakes. It’s okay. It really is.

Sarah: In the past, I have typically been able to completely take off a week or two in between jobs when I’ve left one intentionally. I have a goodbye date, close out all of my projects, and all of that. Then I know I have a solid week or two off to just not be working anywhere and do whatever it is that’s restful or helps me reset. I also know there’s a start date on the calendar for a new job that’s kind of a fresh go. That helps and is nice to have. 

Mimosa: Even with remote work becoming more prevalent, try to create relationships outside of Zoom meetings. Zoom meetings always try to have a purpose, and it’s not the best way to get to know someone, especially if you’re in a new role.

When you’re new to an organization, both listening and asking questions are critical. You want to ask direct questions. You want to really be mindful of not just creating those relationships, but also getting to know what the organization has done. It often happens that you’ll have an idea and the organization might be like, “We already tried that.”

Informal relationship building helps create a collegial culture, which can be hard to build

nowadays. A lot of people feel that everything feels more transactional now. Look for ways to remove the transactional piece.

Do you have one key piece of advice as it relates to being laid off, transitions, and negotiations?

Sarah: It’s about building and cultivating a strong network and good relationships within the field and within your personal life so that you have that support structure in place, both to help you with emotional processing when things go wrong, as well as to help you find the next move and get through that process with some support.

Mimosa: Apply for that job even if you don’t think you fit all the requirements. You’ll be surprised at what you might be able to do.

Lisa: Trust the process and realize this is a journey. Someday this will be part of a story that you look back on and share with others. It is hard in this society of instant technology and instant gratification to have to wade through this and wait, but in the end, the right match will come along. But until it does, there may be a lot of tough days.

Would you suggest people seeking their next job work with recruiters?

Mimosa: Yes and no, depending on where the opportunity’s coming from. A benefit of working with a recruiter is you can ask them questions because they are trying to provide a service to their clients. It’s your opportunity to almost get insider knowledge about a role before you’ve even applied or gone through the interview process. In those ways, I think it can be really beneficial. 

I think the hard part is it’s a middleman. You’re getting the message from a third party, and it might be a little bit harder to get to know the organization. In the end, recruiters are there for the organizations and not you per se. So if that’s the channel you have to go through, make it work for you the best you can and still keep applying for things on a direct level as well.

Lisa: For some people, it’s been some time since they’ve been in the job market or gone through a job search. You might want to seek out someone willing to coach you and prepare you for interviews (some recruiters do this). It might be a little bit of an investment on your part, but if it helps get you to a point where you can walk into interviews with confidence, it’s totally worth it. 

Also, consider working with someone who can look at your resume and suggest changes, maybe help you with some of the tough interview questions, and coach your responses.

Resume cover letter: Yay or nay?

Sarah: Absolutely. I’m a big fan of the cover letter. The cover letter is really your chance to tell your story. The resume’s got all the stats but that cover letter really says why you’re passionate about them. Personalize it enough so it’s written for that particular organization and not just a form letter sent to every place you’re applying. It’s your chance to really highlight one or two special things. 

It could be something on your resume that doesn’t stand out the way you want it to. The cover letter lets you get that front and center to an organization and say, “I have super relevant experience and maybe you didn’t pick up on it in my resume, but I get to tell you that detail. I want you to know right here.” So definitely do the cover letter. Make it good.

I hope this advice helps you approach the post-layoff transition with a little more peace of mind. Just remember: This isn’t forever. Laid off fundraisers, keep going and you’ll find the next right role for you.

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Ephraim Gopin
Ephraim Gopin is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which will partner with your nonprofit to help you raise more money through smart and effective marketing and communications. He is always happy to connect with nonprofit pros on Twitter, LinkedIn, via his daily nonprofit newsletter, YouTube channel or his weekly podcast.