How to Rebound from Career Setbacks

Like most ambitious, hard work professionals, you may have suffered a career setback at some point in your journey. For all of us the circumstances and experiences are different. Maybe you…

  • Accepted a job that was below your capabilities because you were in a hurry to leave a toxic work environment
  • Joined a startup company without asking the right questions about funding and growth opportunities
  • Were downsized as part of a company-wide restructuring effort and didn’t see it coming
  • Got fired from a leadership role that quickly overwhelmed you and caused you to not perform effectively
  • Took a lateral move position with the hopes of career advancement, but ended up being stuck for several years

Whatever the reason, whatever the career situation, the question is how to you rebound and recover so you can move forward with your personal growth.

Step 1: Figure Out the Why

In order to rebound quickly and successfully for career setbacks, be willing to take a look at the entire situation from an objective point of view. Without being stuck in grief, guilt or self-blame, evaluate where you might have contributed to what went wrong.

What was influencing and driving your decisions at that time? What are the lessons learned and what you do differently the next time around.

If you have a trusted group of friends, peers, colleagues and mentors, ask for their feedback and assessment…the idea is to use this insight for growth and development moving forward.

Step 2: Figure Out What’s Possible

Take a mental break, unplug for a few days, regroup emotionally…do what is needed to get back in planning and strategy mode.

Looking back is okay for assessment, but moving beyond your current situation takes being practical and realistic.

Ask yourself “What’s next, what’s possible, what’s available?”

Whether it means sitting down with your current boss or HR leader to explore a different role with your company; investing time and resources (resume writing, personal branding) to launch an extensive job search or actively exploring a career / industry change.

  • Have things changed in your company that created new career opportunities?
  • Is it time to reflect on your career accomplishments and update your resume so you can quickly respond to recruiter calls or referrals?
  • Can you transfer your skills and experience to start fresh in a new industry?
  • What is the best strategic career moves you can make now to still achieve your top career goals?

Keep thinking ahead and be proactive in solving your situation rather than being paralyzed by it.

Step 3: Figure Out How to Land on Your Feet

Shifting perspective and mindset takes the same amount of energy and focus as changing jobs or switching companies. Gather info, do your research and put actions behind a plan. Once you are clear on your ideal end goal, it’s easier to get motivated and get active again.

What will it take to get a new job? It means being more active in networking and professional activities; reaching out to others in your personal and professional circle and bringing them up to speed on your immediate career plans.

Are you comfortable with interviewing and scheduling a few informational sessions to get you acclimated again?

Does it mean that you have to repair broken work relationships? Are you willing to go back to the department or division you left and giving it another try from a new mindset and perspective?

More importantly, have your priorities shifted since the career setback? Is work and career success still the central focus for your happiness or can you be okay with a less prominent role to have more time for family and hobbies?

Think about the last time you landed on your feet and what it took to get you there. Draw on the memories of that success to remind you of what is possible and how you can be successful again.

Step 4: Figure Out Your Formula for Success

Nothing ever goes 100% according to our plans in career or in life. Learning to reframe your career setback and personal losses opens your mind to new possibilities in everything:

Responding initially to setback or bad news – remain even tempered and evaluate from all perspectives…get input and tough love advice for trusted network

Working through the setback – reflect on what role you may have played, but quickly shift your attention to next steps and preparing for new career opportunities

Moving forward with purpose – take time to re-discover career goals, personal interests and current life priorities before taking full action

When was the last time you faced a career setback and how did you handle it? What advice would you give to others?