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What to do when the layoff comes

An IT pro I went to high school with–he was a year or two ahead of me, so we weren’t quite classmates–got a layoff letter this past week, along with the rest of his department. It was a large, successful company making purely a financial decision to offshore a bunch of jobs, and unfortunately he got caught in the crossfire. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, so now’s as good of a time as any.

The details about his layoff and my layoffs are unimportant. What’s more important is what to do next. There are definitely things I know now that I wish I’d known years ago, so I’ll share them now.

Don’t take it personally. That’s rule #1, and it’s probably the hardest. It’s almost always a financial decision, and the rest doesn’t matter. My first time, in 2005, layoffs were an annual ritual at that place. I wasn’t in the first round of layoffs, and I wasn’t in the last, either. Stewing on such things, while normal and understandable, isn’t productive. It’s probably not about you, and you’re going to have to tell all of your future interviewers that it wasn’t about you, so the sooner you start believing that, the better off you’ll be.

File for unemployment benefits. The first time I was laid off, I was ineligible for unemployment, or at least that’s what HR told me, and I didn’t investigate it any further. The most recent time I was laid off, my then-employer urged me to file for unemployment immediately. I waited a couple of weeks, because I told myself I wouldn’t be unemployed much more than a week. That was a mistake. I ended up being unemployed more than a week, and that couple hundred bucks per week would have made it easier to buy groceries in the meantime. It’s not a lot of money, but you and your employers paid into the system, so there’s no reason for there to be any shame in using it for a few weeks while you try to find another job. And while I don’t know about other states, Missouri will help you look for a job while you’re collecting unemployment. They don’t want you to be unemployed either. None of their leads ended up getting me anywhere, but that was OK. If nothing else, it was practice. Well, and I had to track all of my job applications and interviews, and show it at the unemployment office every so often, but getting affirmation from a professional that I was doing it right was reassuring, if nothing else.

Even if you’re getting severance pay, make the phone call and find out what the rules are. If you’re getting two months of severance, you can look at it like having two months to find a job, but if you can collect unemployment on top of that and you save that money, that gives you another week or two of cushion.

Network network network. The first phone call I made after I found out I was being laid off was to a former colleague who had moved on to an extremely large, growing company. Of course I wanted to know if he knew of any openings, but I also wanted his advice. A few weeks later, another former colleague we’d both worked with ended up hiring me. He had a large project going on, and he needed someone with security experience and experience talking to system administrators, project managers, and system owners. If that’s not me, I don’t know what is. It ended up being a good fit.

You’ll need former colleagues for references anyway, so spend some time reaching out to them. Find out where they are and what they’re doing. Presumably if they know of any openings somewhere, they’ll be up front about it–all of my former colleagues always have been. It could shorten the time you spend looking for a job. Even if they don’t know of any openings, they may know a good recruiter in the area. It’s better for you to go find the good recruiter than to wait for a good recruiter to call you.

If it’s been a while, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a mock job interview either, to help you shake the cobwebs out.

Speaking of recruiters: After you find out who the good recruiters are, get in touch with them and don’t go behind their backs. You’ll get calls from other recruiters. Trust me–when there’s an opening I’m qualified for, I usually have at least two recruiters contact me about it. Don’t commit to anything right away. If someone you’ve never heard of calls you about a job, contact the good recruiters about it. They may not have seen it yet.

My reliable recruiter was the third person to contact me about one particular job. I was the perfect candidate for the job–my reliable recruiter even said I was the best candidate in the entire St. Louis area for the job. Unfortunately, I committed to the first recruiter who contacted me about the job, and she flubbed it. I didn’t even get an interview for it.

Hiring managers tend to use the same recruiters over and over, if they send them good workers. If a manager doesn’t know exactly what he or she is looking for, he or she is more likely to give that reliable recruiter the benefit of the doubt. Then it’s up to you. But I guarantee you won’t get the job if you don’t get an interview.

Stay in touch with the industry. I listened to a lot of podcasts while I was looking for jobs. It’s hard because it feels like you should be looking for job openings, but listening to job-related podcasts helps you stay in touch with the issues you’ll run into. And here’s a dirty little secret: Many of the job interview questions I heard (and still hear) come straight out of podcasts. So if you want to nail the technical part of an interview, listening to a bunch of podcasts can help you do it. The technical interviewer frequently doesn’t have time to get creative with coming up with questions, so he or she will likely mine the memory of the last couple of podcasts he or she has listened to, for lack of any easier way.

I find it more effective to listen to podcasts in the car than in my office, whether at home or at work. But if you’re at home looking for jobs, having podcasts going in the background is a million times better than having daytime TV going in the background.

Bad days. You’ll have them. Everyone’s different, so I’m afraid if I say what my worst days were it might make that day bad for you too, and I don’t want to pile it on. I can’t prevent bad days, but there are a handful of things you can do to minimize them:

  • Apply for every job you’re qualified for
  • When applying, submit a second sheet along with your resume with the employer’s job description. Next to every bullet, write 2-3 sentences talking about how your skills and experience relate to that bullet point. It makes you more likely to get an interview, since eliminating you just got much harder
  • Track each job on an Excel spreadsheet so you can refer back when the phone call comes and you can follow up once a week on anything you haven’t heard about
  • Once you’ve spent a couple of hours looking for jobs, applied for each job you can, followed up on everything that needs it, and answered every phone call, relax–you’ve done all you can do that day, so don’t stress about it

And if you need a book to read, head for the library and check out Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. It’s helpful.

And if you know someone who got laid off, the very most important thing you can say is that you give a crap. There’s nothing magical or mystical you have to say.

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