Humanitarians: How to bounce back after being laid off?

If you work in the humanitarian sector and you have been laid off (or may soon be laid off, or dit not get any new posting proposal), I’m speaking to you today. I’m going to explain how this layoff has affected you, and what you can do to bounce back.

It’s certainly true that when you signed up for a humanitarian job, you knew that your career path would be full of uncertainties! And yet, you never imagined that one day you’d be fired from your humanitarian organization!

It’s possible that you’re feeling a little helpless and that this dismissal is awakening doubts, fears, questioning, regrets, and anger too!

It’s perfectly normal! I’ll explain why.

Why being laid off has such an impact on you?

As a humanitarian, being laid off isn’t just about losing a job.

When you lose your job, whether you’re a humanitarian or not, you lose a large part of your identity. And why is that? Because in today’s society, identity is closely linked to professional life.

This is already a difficulty to overcome, but as a humanitarian, it’s even more complex. And why is that?

Because for you, working in the humanitarian field is much more than a job, it’s an engagement you’ve made, most probably with passion and motivation. Perhaps you were even fulfilling a dream by joining this humanitarian organization?

It’s also true that if you’ve worked in the field, with this engagement, you’ve accepted to adopt a very particular way of life, in often difficult security contexts, where your social and personal life are strongly intertwined with your professional life. And on the way, you’ve made quite a few sacrifices.

In short, you’re not just losing your job, but your whole engagement, choice and lifestyle are being called into question!

If you’re laid off while you’re in the field, you face additional challenges.

While you’re in the field, being laid off means you must leave not only your job, but also your host country, your friends, your home, your colleagues: your life there!

Being laid off disrupts everything else in your life! Not only do you have to find a new job, but also a new place to live, a new home, a new social life, and so on.

Being laid off disrupts your family’s life.

If you’re in the field with your family, being laid off also disrupts the lives of your spouse and children. They, too, must leave their home, their host country, their friends, their school, a job they found on the spot!

As long as you haven’t found a new job, you’ll have to deal with crucial issues such as your children’s schooling, your partner’s career prospects, and your family’s future home!

You’re feeling a lot of pressure to get back to work immediately.

At this point, you know you have several career options:

  • Continue in the humanitarian sector with another organization.
  • Leave the humanitarian sector for a position in another sector or field.
  • Become a freelancer or consultant.
  • Retrain for something else.
  • Start your own business.

But maybe you’re not sure which direction to go in? Or if you do, you don’t know exactly how?

And yet, you’re putting enormous pressure on yourself to get back to work as soon as possible!

Not to mention that your friends and family are worried about you too. They are giving you their good advice on what you should do immediately: rewrite your CV, apply for a job, activate your network, stop working in the humanitarian field and get back to what they consider “a normal life”, do this and do that!

I bet everyone’s asking you to act and act fast!

But you’re thinking that maybe this is also the perfect opportunity to take stock, to re-evaluate your choices, to define a new professional chapter.

Does what I’m describing make sense to you?

If so, I’d like to suggest a few ways of thinking about how to move forward after being laid off, without rushing, one step at a time. It’s this process that will enable you to step back and gain the momentum you need to bounce back from being laid off.


The path to bouncing back after being laid off.

Step 1: Be patient and internalize the change.

Stop and take a step back, before you do anything else!

Being laid off is an external change that triggers an internal transition. This inner transition is a necessary process that enables you to accept this change. Therefore, it’s vital to give it some time and attention.

To internalize this change, you’ll go through these 3 phases (also explained in this article):

  • Closing this chapter of your life.
  • Experiencing a period of uncertainty and opportunity.
  • Opening a new chapter.

The good news is that the steps I suggest below will help you internalize this transition.

Step 2: Recharge your batteries.

Starting a transition requires a good dose of energy and motivation. Without it, you can’t hope to think clearly and make informed decisions.

I’ll bet that right now, the fact that you are being laid off is occupying all your thoughts, impacting your emotions, and consuming your energy.

It’s essential, even if it seems counterproductive, to start by recharging your batteries. And how do you do that? By taking care of yourself! Or even better, by starting with a vacation!

Once your batteries are recharged, you’ll be in the right frame of mind to welcome new ideas, unexpected opportunities, and solutions!

Step 3: Reconnect with your inner adventurer.

When you made the decision to go into humanitarian sector, you didn’t take the easy way out! When you joined this sector, you knew that uncertainties about your professional future were part of the package. You accepted missions without knowing how long they would last or what they would entail, and you adapted to positions, responsibilities, contexts, and cultures that were totally unfamiliar to you at the outset.

On many occasions, your humanitarian work has shown that you can adapt and bounce back from change.

Reconnecting with your inner adventurer means realizing that, as a humanitarian, you’ve got it in you – you’re a champion of adaptation! You’ve done it before! You’ll know how to do it this time too!

Step 4: Get rid of unnecessary beliefs.

I bet you’ve got some deep-rooted beliefs that unfortunately aren’t doing you any favors.

I often hear humanitarians say to me: “It’s hard to make the most of my experience outside the humanitarian sector!”, “I don’t have the right profile: I’m too generalist (or too specialist…depending on the person)”, “I lack qualifications”, “I’m at an age where it’s hard to find a job”, “The job market is difficult right now”, etc.

What beliefs do you have about yourself and the job market? What beliefs do you hear around you?

Whether they’re right or wrong, they’re not helpful! Don’t dwell on them! Get rid of all your negative and pessimistic injunctions and adopt beliefs that will be useful and inspiring. For example, that you believe in you, that you have a profile that has a lot to offer, that age is not an issue as long as there is motivation, etc.

I also talk about these useless beliefs in this article.

Step 5: Evaluate your financial situation.

As you find yourself without a job, what’s probably weighing heavily on your shoulders is the question of your financial resources.

I meet many humanitarians who are anxious about not working and losing their financial security. And yet, these are often the same people who haven’t taken the time to do the calculations. For sure, it’s not the fun part of the process, but it’s essential to have a correct assessment of your current financial reality.

It’s time to do the sums, calculate your savings and, of course, take stock of any financial support you may be entitled to: Did you receive a compensation for being laid off? Are you entitled to paid training, or paid coaching, or both? Are you eligible for unemployment benefit? etc.

It’s essential to know exactly where you stand financially (with figures to back it up)!

Step 6: Refocus on your needs and desires.

When you work in the humanitarian field, it’s common to put other people’s needs before your own.

Now’s your chance to do the opposite and ask yourself what YOUR needs and desires really are?

What are your personal, professional, financial, social, friendship, family, physical, personal, and professional development needs? What do you no longer want, and what do you really want to prioritize in your life today? How to you want to fulfill your needs?

And also, what are your desires: what makes your heart sing, what do you like doing, what puts you in a state of flow? What are your values, those that determine what’s really important to you right now?

Step 7: Identify and value what you have to offer.

All too often, I see humanitarians begin by asking what jobs available are, or what profiles are sought on the job market.

That’s taking the problem the wrong way round! You need first to identify what you have to offer, and from there, show off your profile according to what the job market is looking for!

As long as you haven’t taken stock of what you have to offer, you’ll have an uncomplete idea of your background and skills, often to your detriment! At this stage, you need to revisit and list ALL your experiences, your successes, the lessons you’ve learned from your failures, your academic skills, professional skills, and above all your soft skills, as well as your strengths, your qualities, what makes you unique.

Step 8: Clarify what you really want.

With the first 7 steps, you’ve prepared yourself for this step! Now you can ask yourself the right questions and allow yourself to explore all possible avenues for what you really want!

Who’s your ideal future self? What’s your ideal life, your ideal job? What do you really want: not tomorrow, not in 6 months, but in 5 years’ time?

Don’t focus solely on the professional sphere and take the opportunity to include all areas of your life (professional, personal, friends, family, physical environment, leisure, financial…), everything that seems essential to you for a fulfilled life.

Your ideal vision is 5 years into the future, so there’s no need to achieve it in the next few weeks. You’ll have time to put in place what you need to get there, step by step, in 5 years’ time!

Set yourself clear, concrete, optimistic, positive, and inspiring goals!

9th: Define a plan of action and a strategy for bouncing back professionally.

Now you know what you want. You also know who you are and what you have to offer.

From there, you can draw up your action plan and strategy for this transition.

Define your options and the steps forward. Are you immediately going to look for the type of position you imagined in your 5-year vision? Or are you considering an intermediate step: steppingstone position? A training?

Your action plan will probably include communicating clearly what you’re looking for and what you have to offer, updating your CV and LinkedIn profile.

It’s also important to consider contingency plans, B or C, taking the time to imagine what the obstacles and difficulties might be. It’s always better to be prepared!

And finally, think about identifying the support you need: A friend in HR who can proofread your CV? A colleague in an organization where you’d like to work, who can give you some tips? A coach to help you clarify your next career chapter? A former humanitarian who’s been retrained and can mentor you with advice based on his or her own experience?

Step 10: Activate and cultivate your professional and personal network.

Ah, the network! That famous network! Many of you shudder at the mere mention of the word! And yet, having come this far, you’re ready to activate and cultivate your network!

The key here is not to position yourself as a person asking for something, but simply to approach it as a friendly network of professionals, colleagues, people who will be delighted to meet you, exchange ideas and benefit from your thoughts and sharing.

And in the end, you’ll often realize that you’re actually doing them a favor! Whether it’s by listening to them, taking an interest in them, sharing your thoughts, putting them in touch with someone useful or allowing them to help you (and their own network) by putting you in touch with someone who just happened to need a profile like yours!

There’s no need to demonize networking! You can see it as an opportunity to get in touch with former colleagues, to meet new people and exchange ideas.


That’s it, you’re in action: you’re bouncing back after being laid off!

By taking these 10 small steps, you’ve intentionally put yourself into action. You now have all the tools you need to land the job you want and that’s right for you.

You know who you are, what you want, what you have to offer, how to communicate it and how to get it!

Along the way, you’ve naturally made your inner transition, going through the three phases of accepting this change: you’ve closed a chapter, gone through a blurred phase, and are now in the process of opening a new chapter!

This is the path I suggest to all the humanitarians I accompany in their transitions. I know it works! In fact, I’ve created a dedicated program, you can find here: Navigating the transitions of my life as a humanitarian.

And if you’d like to talk to me directly, contact me for a free, non-binding, discovery session. Together, we can assess whether this program is what you need.

Don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on this article or video!

I wish you all the best for this transition!

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  1. Viki September 14, 2023 at 7:02 am - Reply

    Excellent recommendations and explanation, Nancy ! Indeed, the understanding of the humanitarian identity and values are the core in advancing in such situations. The “ serving “ nature of us, humanitarians, is palpable in all walks of life. Thank you,

    • Nancy Bonamy September 15, 2023 at 2:46 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Viki for your comment. Yes, we definitely agree! And you are so right to say that the “serving” nature of humanitarians is palpable in all walks of life! This is definitely true and well expressed! Thank you!

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