How I Sharpened My Professional Skills During a Layoff

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How I Sharpened My Professional Skills During a Layoff

By Jennifer Berkemeier | Mar 18, 2021

I sat in my office conference room, heart pounding. Staring down at the sleek board table, I listened as our HR director impassively described the terms of my layoff, detailed in a stack of papers pushed toward me.

Working in the city’s convention center in July of 2020, a facility that hadn’t hosted an event for nearly five months and with no events scheduled for the foreseeable future, I had half been expecting this. Many of my hardworking event industry colleagues had already been laid off due to the pandemic; every day I learned of another venue shutting down. Still, there is nothing that can prepare a person for the cold, unbending reality of losing a lifetime of work in a moment.

Waking up jobless that first Monday was an unforgettable shock; the disruption a layoff causes in a life cannot be understated. With a brief, four-minute conversation, my world had completely changed. Being a single mom to a young daughter, the burden felt especially heavy. The list of immediate, practical things I needed to do included file for unemployment, find affordable healthcare, set up a basic home office, communicate with friends and professional associates, write a new resume, update my headshot and research current job-seeking trends. Days turned into weeks, and I settled into life at home. And as the shock gradually wore off, determination took over. 

In my nearly nine years of employment at the convention center, I had developed a highly effective work model. My new life situation required an entirely different model, one that would address a unique set of unfamiliar challenges. To avoid the pitfalls of trips to the kitchen for snacks and texting with friends, it became necessary to set goals, sharpen my focus and achieve a success mindset.

To avoid the pitfalls of trips to the kitchen for snacks and texting with friends, it became necessary to set goals, sharpen my focus and achieve a success mindset.

I turned to apps such as Flipboard, which offers curated articles on a wide range of subjects, including self-improvement. I have been able to ignore the lure of the couch and Netflix by reading dozens of articles designed to strengthen discipline while serving as my own boss.

Recognizing the critical need to maintain and expand my network, I have kept in touch with professional colleagues through LinkedIn, forging new relationships and fortifying existing ones. A course on LinkedIn branding has helped me to reinforce my professional attributes and strengths while struggling to define my productive value. Having my sixth grader home and attending online classes has taught me how to accept and incorporate sudden distractions into an efficient time-management structure

Finally, through several high-level job interviews, I have honed my communication and messaging skills. The unique circumstances of being indefinitely unemployed have caused me to forge a new “at home” work model, one that is based in discipline, organization and clarity. The emerging version of myself is more educated, confident and aware. 

Throughout my professional life, I have been a consistent volunteer. I was an active participant in my former company’s social media and green teams, as well as a longtime member of Meeting Professionals International (MPI), the meeting industry’s largest association. In addition to my MPI membership, I served on the board of directors for five years and later assumed a volunteer position with MPI’s inaugural Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force. Many of these volunteer responsibilities carried over and even expanded after my work stoppage. Through my continued participation in these roles, I have furthered my education, maintained and expanded my professional network and pushed myself out of my comfort zone by accepting new, diverse tasks.  

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Since my layoff, I have been a virtual meeting presenter to industry peers to raise awareness about human trafficking; contributed to an official city handbook that will dictate the rules on hosting green events in the city of Detroit; and created content, including graphics, for dozens of communication pieces sent to 700+ industry professionals. Recommitting to initiatives and organizations has enhanced my collaboration and leadership abilities, taught me new skills and kept me sharp while maintaining a sense of professional purpose.

Thanks to a highly competitive online market, continuing education options are abundant for anyone interested in expanding their knowledge base. Platforms such as Udemy and Coursera offer a wide range of both professional and personal courses, with varying costs and levels. In addition to my volunteer work, I have taken advantage of my free hours during the day to explore professional development in subjects that will enhance my workplace abilities. I have dedicated several hours per week to these online, on-demand tutorials. To date, I have completed courses in project management, communication/writing and the Microsoft Office Suite products. Attending online classes has not only enhanced my knowledge in key areas, it has also helped to increase my typing speed, raise my awareness of professional trends and add necessary structure to my day.     

This pandemic has brought sickness and tragedy to thousands of households. It has closed restaurants and eliminated jobs, and nearly wiped out entire industries. There is one thing it has given me, and that is time. Time to reconnect, both personally and professionally. Time to hone crucial professional skills. Time to give back and support the organizations that have helped develop me along the way. Time to pursue special interests and expand my knowledge base. If there is a silver lining in this, having more time may be it. In this moment of great uncertainty, there is one thing I do know: When I do finally get that call to re-enter the workforce, I will be ready.



Jen photo
Jennifer Berkemeier

Jennifer Berkemeier is a 13-year event professional, most recently working as an event sales manager at TCF Center in Detroit. In the past, she has also enjoyed working as special events director at the Fillmore Theatre in Detroit. Jennifer loves the creativity, organization and client interactions that go hand-in-hand with the meetings industry!