Everyone’s heard that it’s easier to get a job when you have a job. If you quit without another job lined up — or worse, if you get laid off — it gets a lot trickier.
I know, because I’ve been there.
I had been working in the communications office of a college for about three years. The vice president had spent an entire school year working with a consultant on a reorganization of our team’s roles and responsibilities. She promised us adamantly from day one that there would be no layoffs, and for some reason, I believed her.
The day I got called in to her office, both she and the assistant V.P. were there, looking somber, and I knew something was up.
When I initially told people that I had been I laid off, I got mixed reactions. Sometimes I could tell they were pitying me and thinking, “So glad that’s never happened to ME.” But much more than I expected, people said, “Oh, me too. I’ve been there.” One wise woman even said to me, “It’s a badge of honor.”
And that’s how I prefer to think about it, because I know I’m so much more than the places where I’ve worked.
If you’re in the lay off club with me, you might be thinking, that’s cool, but when it comes to answering awkward questions about your last job in an interview, no amount of positive thinking is going to save you. And forget about negotiating an offer if you manage to get one. Right?
I started job searching, but ultimately decided to turn my side hustle into a full time consulting business, which is what I do now. I had to answer as many or more tricky questions about my background when I was starting up and hustling for opportunities, so I know how uncomfortable it can be.
Here are my three strategies for approaching negotiation after you’ve been laid off. Lay the groundwork that you're a great hire early and often, so that when it comes time to talk money, they're already convinced that you're worth it.
1. Own it.
You set the tone for how people perceive what’s happened to you, and whether you’re still a strong candidate. My position was eliminated, and although I had frustration and resentment, I had no shame because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. Get comfortable saying, “I was laid off,” or “my position was eliminated.” Say it out loud 100 times if that’s what it takes for you to get comfortable talking about it. If you imply, allude to, or otherwise dance around the issue, people will assume there’s something fishy going on. Preempt those questions so you can direct the conversation to how you can help this new organization, not the gossip about what happened at your old one.
2. Get crystal clear on your accomplishments.
Just because you got laid off doesn’t mean you didn’t make a meaningful contribution at some point while you were there. Take care not to diminish your achievements because of hard feelings. Articulate the value you created and saved for your organization, and put them in context so your interviewer knows that your work was worthwhile. Know your superpowers — the skills that come to you effortlessly and naturally — and be able to give your interviewer examples of how they’ve helped you succeed in the past.
3. Think creatively about packaging your experiences.
Your job does not define you. Dig deeper than your resume. What else do you bring to the table? Are you a volunteer event planner for your favorite charity? Do you run a meetup group? Maybe you write a blog about cooking or coding or another hobby. How do those skills help you succeed? What does your passion project or side hustle demonstrate about your capabilities and how can you sell it as a strength you bring to the team? Showing you have a life outside of work also shows that since you’ve been laid off, you’re not just sitting at home binging on Netflix and eating carbs. You’re a go-getter who’s ready for your next challenge, and they’d be lucky to have you.
The only catch? You have to believe it before anyone else will.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.