Overcoming A Career Setback

The first steps to getting your career back on track

We are going through one of the most turbulent times in living memory, at least for most people.  Whether in work or out of work, we can all face career setbacks and challenges that leave us damaged, scarred emotionally and lacking confidence. How we respond to these challenges changes what comes next.

It is well documented that losing a job is one of the most stressful life experiences we face.  Whilst there is a mass of literature out there about “picking yourself up” and taking practical steps, it is not that easy.  People often get stuck in a cycle of despair that becomes self perpetuating.

[private]We recently interviewed two people for a role. Both were unemployed, looking for work having been made redundant. Both had taken voluntary redundancy following conflict at work.

One person was angry and still frustrated at the circumstances that led to the redundancy. They were stuck in a downward spiral, unable to understand why they couldn’t get another role despite significant positive work experience and track record. The jobs were out there, but they weren’t being chosen, whilst less capable or less experienced people were beating them.  Their confidence was blown; with every rejection they became angrier and lost more confidence.  They were becoming less appointable and a higher risk to potential employers because of their reaction to each rejection.

The other person had already picked themselves up. They took control and focused on what they can bring to their next role; they took time to understand what they had learnt and they have tried to remain confident and upbeat.  They were still going through the emotional turmoil, but it was less apparent.  They had started to draw a line under the past but were able to discuss how it had made them better.

Who would you choose?

Remember what we’ve already said; employers’ first consideration when recruiting is the risk of getting it wrong and the cost of failure.  The first person presents an enormous risk – employers simply don’t want the baggage. The second person has shown resilience and positive coping skills.  The first person is still looking for work and has alienated many people who could still help, while the second has already found a new role – not a perfect role but good enough. Ironically, the first person is probably better at their job.  Have a look back through this section of the site to help identify the different responses and how to address them: Your feelings

Breaking a downward spiral is not easy. It takes time to rebuild a reputation and starting again is rough.  It’s not supposed to be like this and it can feel unfair.  It is tough, but sometimes you just need to move on, regardless of the rights or wrongs.  Draw a line under the past. We’re working to rebuild the first person; to get them focusing on what made them effective for more than twenty years.

Rebuilding Yourself

How do you do this? Start by making a list of all the good things you have, family, friends, pets, cars….whatever makes you happy. Then think about all the good times, holidays, celebrations, successes. Now think about the successes at work, the adversity you’ve overcome, and how you did it. Make a list of the skills you’ve used and developed, of the positive characteristics you’ve demonstrated, explore the things you’re good at.  Identify your achievements. Reconnect with people you’ve helped in the past, or people who’ve offered help. Resist the urge to keep recycling the bad times and concentrate instead on the long list of positives.  Also start an honest dialogue with yourself – do you want to go back into a similar role, is it time for a change or is this a chance to try something else? Has the career setback told you something you didn’t want to hear? What can you do about it?

And then each day, when you awake look at some of the positives (maybe three or five) and before you sleep write down five positives. Don’t just read them, spend a few minutes reflecting on them.  You may only need to do this for a couple of weeks, but slowly you’ll start to turn it around.  You can begin to look forward, to build an army of helpers and friends who will support you. Your confidence and self-belief should start to return. If need be, get professional advice.

Remember to be kind to yourself.  We can learn more from things that go wrong than from never having to face and overcome challenges. Employers want to understand how you overcome adversity, so you can turn this into a positive.

Once you’ve started to regain your focus and belief, and have a clear sense of purpose with an understanding of what you can contribute to an employer, you’re ready to get back into the market.  Before this, there’s a danger of poor decision making and a determination to “prove them wrong” rather than deliver for the future.

Always remember, you are never alone, others have been through this and have come out the other side. Remember to work back through What you bring.

To get through such setbacks, the first steps are emotional and internal rather than practical and market focused. Too often people get stuck at anger or denial, don’t take time to address the residual emotional damage of a career setback or just ignore it.  All these reactions present a risk.  You have to understand and accept these emotions before finding the positive experiences, feelings and insights that will give you the resources and confidence to bounce back and look forward.

You can do it. Good luck.


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