Career Transition

Dealing With a Career Setback: 7 Ways to Bounce Back

career setback; dealing with a career setback

Career setbacks can be devastating but shouldn’t be unexpected. Most of us go through a career setback at least once in the course of our careers. Take Roberta Matuson, for example. Today president of Matuson Consulting, when she was 23, she was laid off from her dream job. “I thought I’d never work again,” she says, acknowledging that this was perhaps “a bit melodramatic.” A year later, she says, “I was sitting in the executive suite and running my own department!”

How did that happen? She reached out to her network, just one of a number of recommendations that she and other consultants and career coaches had to share. What are some things you can do to bounce back from a career setback? Here are 7 ways to deal with a career setback based on input and advice from career coaches and those who have experienced setbacks of their own.

Face the Facts

Don Maruska is founder and CEO of three Silicon Valley companies, a venture investor, Master Certified Coach, and the author of Take Charge of Your Talent. “Don’t try to dodge the facts of what happened or put all the blame on others,” Maruska says. “In today’s connected world, people will learn about the situation.”

This, obviously, can be tough to do. Consider turning to a trusted friend or colleague who can help you take a clear, unvarnished and objective look at the situation.

Learn From the Experience

Gain clarity around what you can learn from the experience; there is always something that can be learned from any setback. “Anyone who is trying to do something challenging will encounter setbacks,” Maruska says. “Employers and investors want to know that you’ve learned from your setbacks and are ready to move forward.”

Setbacks can be a source of feedback, suggests John Arthur, the author of Manage Your New Career: Learn Quickly, Avoid Pitfalls, and Start Your Career With Momentum. “Don’t dwell on the fact that something did not go your way, but instead identify what that setback taught you. For example, if you were passed over for a major promotion, think about what feedback is embedded behind the scenes. Maybe you are not on the perfect career track for your skill set, or perhaps you need to become stronger in a certain area.”


Also read: Demystifying the Hidden Job Market


Focus on the Positive

Elene Cafasso, MCC, is an executive coach and the founder and president of Enerpace, Inc. Focus on the good, and the things you can control, says Cafasso. “Even though you’re having a setback, are there any aspects you’re grateful for?” For instance:

  • A short commute?
  • Your coworker who’s become a friend?
  • A fun project, even if it was in the past?
  • Health insurance and paid vacation?
  • The experience you’ve gained that makes you more marketable?

Focus on these things, she suggests, until you can make a move.

Then, focus on what you can control, she says, like a marketing plan to get your career moving forward. “Start putting together the pieces—update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Find out what resources are available to you for little or no cost through community colleagues, career ministries, professional associations, and the school, or schools, where you got your degree.”

Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L, president and CEO of Rehab U Practice Solutions, recommends cultivating “a growth mindset,” a way of thinking that focuses on positivity and possibilities rather than personal failure. It works like this, he says: “You experience a failure. Instead of seeing it as a learning opportunity or a minor speed bump, you equate that failure to your worth/value as a worker/person/employee etc. That starts a negative feedback cycle. Every time something doesn’t go right, your brain tells you ‘it’s because I’m not good enough, I don’t know that, I don’t have that skill,’ etc. You wander down a path of self-fulfilling prophecies until you find yourself near the end of a mediocre career wondering where all your time has gone.”

Instead, says Salazar, “the best way to combat or prevent this type of slide towards mediocrity is to begin to cultivate a growth mindset. You need to begin to look at every challenge, obstacle, or difficult situation as a stepping stone on a path leading you onwards and upwards. This wires your brain to take every setback and say ‘what can I learn from this?,’ ‘What can I do better next time?’ or ‘How is this making me better?’ Cultivating that kind of mindset makes it much easier to bounce back from setbacks and career mishaps.”


Also read: The Real Reasons You’re Not Getting Hired


Reach Out to Your Network

As Matuson recalls, after being laid off from her dream job: “I called everyone I knew, including my former boss, who hired me at the company where she was working. She offered me a short-term position, that turned into a fulltime job. Nine months later, she was gone and I was her replacement.”

Maruska agrees that tapping into your network is a good move after a career setback. Those who have experienced a career setback can call upon members of their network to provide a third-party perspective about their capabilities, he says. “Be sure that people in your network know what you have learned so that they can support your strategy for going forward.”

Avoid Negative Influences

It can be easy to get dragged into a pity party when career setbacks occur. But, Cafasso advises, avoid the negative influences that can really bring you down. “Do not hang around with other disgruntled coworkers or complain with anyone else at work,” she cautions. “That not only burns bridges, it gets you labeled as negative, an image that can haunt you if it becomes attached to your professional brand.”

Stay Healthy

It may be the last thing on your mind after experiencing a career setback, but Cafasso advises: Mind your health. “Make sure to build lots of stress-relieving activities into your day,” she suggests. “Go out for lunch and get away from your desk—even if you only walk around the building. The fresh air and change of scenery will do wonders for your mood.” You can also stretch and twist while at your desk to keep your spine limber, she suggests, or stand and walk as much as you can—at least every hour or so. “You can do wrist and ankle circles and even leg lifts and head rolls to keep the tension at bay physically.”

Throughout her career, Matuson says: “I’ve hit bumps along the way. Most people do. Keep in mind that your situation is temporary and with the right attitude (along with discipline) you too will land on your feet and may one day look back and be thankful for that devastating event.”


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About the Author

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance business journalist and content marketer with a wide range of writing credits for various business and trade publications. In addition to freelance writing for trade journals and publications, Grensing-Pophal does content marketing for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and individuals on a wide range of subjects, from human resource management and employee relations, to marketing, technology, healthcare industry trends and more.