At the age of 42, Hacy Tobias's corporate career came to a shock hiatus when she was told her services as general manager for a resource company were no longer required.
“I'd been working for the company for more than a year when I was made redundant,” she says. “I was out the door and in complete shock. I couldn't talk to anyone. Just six weeks earlier I was told that I had made an outstanding contribution to the company."
Tobias believes her job loss had more to do with her gender than her performance. “The resources sector is male-dominated and very blokey. In the end it boiled down to the fact that I didn't fit in with the culture.”
After 33 years in the corporate world, Tobias admits the experience left her jaded. “I was embarrassed to tell people I was made redundant. I was concerned that at 42, I was past my use-by date.”
Daryl Stillwell, a psychologist specialising in organisational management, says most victims of involuntary redundancy have a similar reaction to Tobias. As much as they might try not to take the news personally, most do.
“They see it as a reflection on themselves,” Stillwell says. “They think they're a failure, and they're ashamed and humiliated. Also, they are concerned about their standing amongst family members and friends. They're worried about the financial impact on their lives.”
On the other hand, he says, there are a few who are over-confident and think it's the company's loss and they will find a job quickly.
“The downside to this attitude is, if you come across thinking you're hot property, then you're unlikely to get hired,” Stillwell says.
Another extreme is the person who falls apart psychologically. They have invested everything in their job and lost not only their livelihood but also their friends because all their networks are linked to work.
“To them, the employer has effectively taken away the meaning of life,” Stillwell says.
The most common reaction to job loss is somewhere between the two extremes and it's normal to feel anxiety, fear of the unknown and confusion over what to do next.
A short break to recalibrate is ideal – if you can afford the time off. Stillwell cautions that an extended break can leave you out of the loop.
Tobias spent a few months looking for work. After several failed attempts to land a job, she decided to go out on her own.
“I wanted to do something where I wouldn't be made redundant or lose my job because there was a change of guard or restructure,” she says. “I started thinking about going out on my own. I had no idea about running a business. I got talking to other people to learn how to do it. I joined networking groups and I read lots of books.” Today, Tobias runs a home-based business and last year published a book, The Diaries of a Corporate Princess, to help others cope with career change.
Stillwell's recommendation to the recently redundant is to spread the word in a positive way that you're looking for work.
“There shouldn't be a stigma attached to this because it is so common now. People change and move jobs so regularly. Friends and work colleagues actually do want to help. Don't waste time going over what could have been. Use this time wisely, as this could be an exciting time in your life to start a new career,” he suggests.
Also, it's important to spend time updating your resume so that it captures all your experience and skills.
Finally, he adds, a change in job can turn out to be a positive experience.
“Call on help from an expert, friends or former colleagues. Having someone there guiding you through this transition can make all the difference.”
Stillwell's six tips for career change:
1. Don't hold onto the past. Use the experience proactively to focus on the future.
2. Assess your skills. Ask a trusted colleague to help identify your strengths.
3. Think audaciously and tap into your network with enthusiasm.
4. Set your sights on being better off than you were – but don't be unrealistic.
5. Don't bad-mouth your former employer, no matter how badly you were treated.
6. No one owes you anything. You owe yourself the chance to continue to be fulfilled.