How to move past the dreaded layoff

Nine months into her first job, Mary Wisniewski returned from a business trip to Switzerland in April – and was laid off.

“It feels like I dreamed it up,” she says. “I could understand being fired if I messed up, but I never would have thought I'd get laid off.”

As employers look to shed workers in a struggling economy, Wisniewski and other recent college graduates are finding their jobs are over just as they have begun.

Job counselors say an early layoff need not be career damaging. They encourage recent graduates not to take layoffs personally, to deal with the issue honestly and to quickly begin looking for another job.

“Getting let go is never a good thing, but it's not nearly the black mark on your resume it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago,” says Brad Karsh, president and founder of JobBound, which helps college students and recent graduates land their first jobs.

Karsh says those who have been laid off should try to use the layoff as a catalyst for finding a more suitable job. He recommends being honest when interviewing for subsequent jobs, adding that most employers will understand, as long as they are told the truth.

“That early in your career, it couldn't have been much of your fault,” Karsh says.

Marcia Harris, director of University Career Services at UNC Chapel Hill, urges those laid off to obtain a letter of recommendation before leaving the company, explaining what happened and why, indicating the employee wasn't at fault.

Harris says recent graduates may have to take temporary, freelance or part-time positions to pay bills while they seek another full-time job. Most won't have big savings cushions, and many will still be repaying student loans or the costs of furnishing an apartment.

Recent graduates who find themselves laid off should check with their loan providers; many can help work out a deferral of or reduction in payment during times of distress.

Robert Graber, chief executive of, a financial-services recruiting source, says recent graduates who landed their first job through campus recruiting will have to learn how to job hunt. “They may have to be more proactive,” he says.

Graber says job-seekers should do as much networking as possible, through talking with friends and associates, attending events, and participating in alumni clubs and nonprofit groups. Harris says many college career centers offer services to alumni free of charge or for a small fee.

Wisniewski graduated from Pepperdine University last year and had moved to New York for a job as an editor at a jewelry-industry magazine. She says that she has been advised that her layoff shouldn't be a problem once she explains it, as many hiring managers expect to see these situations in a poor economy.

“Losing your job isn't the end of the world of course,” she said, “but it's still like getting a black eye.”