Recently, I found myself in the unenviable position of having my job “rationalized.” Suddenly, my financial obligations (mortgage, healthcare, etc.) felt much more daunting than ever before. While never a pleasurable experience, I did manage to minimize the length of my unemployment while also mitigating the potential psychological and financial impact. Unemployment can affect us all and I’m writing this article in the hopes that others can learn from my experience.
The early bird doesn’t get the worm, the prepared bird does
I strongly believe in being prepared for likely scenarios. For me, that means 1) a large earthquake, 2) a devastating wildfire in the wilderness canyon near my home and 3) a job layoff. Since first two have repeatedly happened in the past decade, I have developed personal preparedness plans that can be executed at a moment’s notice. So it would be absurd not to do the same for the last scenario.
1. Severance pay and state unemployment insurance are important, but I want to be in a position where I do not have to rely solely on those. Before I pay any bills, I have always paid myself first. Thus, I’ve been diligently putting money away in a rainy day fund on each paycheck that I receive. (It’s been tempting to tap into it for expensive toys, but I’m glad I had the discipline not to do it.)
2. I refresh my resume every twelve months, keep my personal value propositions fresh and always maintain a pulse on the job market in my field. Again, this is something that requires discipline as it is just too easy to become complacent.
3. I have a pre-written list of expenses that I can easily cut with short notice. I maintain a file with documentation required by the California EDD to file for unemployment insurance. To maintain the best option for healthcare coverage, I have an account profile pre-established with the CoveredCA health insurance exchange. Done, done and done.
Network before being laid off, not after
Networking truly is an investment of your time to create human connections. You are more likely to succeed when you dedicate the energy to network before being laid off rather than after. When you invest in your relationships while you are employed, then you are positioned to reap the benefits when you actually need them.
Your job search starts within 5 minutes of being laid off
I didn’t whine or panic after I was notified of the layoff. I didn’t have the time for it. My job search had already begun before I had even hung up the phone. I could do this because my resume was current and my network fairly established. By the end of that very same day, I had applied to over a dozen positions in the internal recruiting system as well as notified all my key contacts. Within a week, a significant portion of my network was aware of my situation and funneling me new job leads or writing professional references for me on LinkedIn (more on that in a bit).
I dedicated about 3 to 4 hours a day to finding and applying to new jobs, taking only one day a week off. Beyond that, I found it generally unhelpful to dedicate more time as the fairly monotonous work drained all creativity and enthusiasm out of me. The more time I spent applying, the less efficient and more error prone I became. Roughly three hours a day seemed to be the point of diminishing marginal returns for me (Yes, I’m a #nerd.)
While I’m on the topic of active job hunt, I need to throw in a pitch for LinkedIn. I found it to be the most remarkable and useful tool for generating new leads. Getting a premium membership was definitely worth the price. (And I promise, @LinkedIn did not sponsor me to say this.)
The remarkable similarities to complex sales
I had never thought of it before but it quickly occurred to me that selling myself as a candidate was not too different from selling software to an organization. Thus, I organized my entire job search accordingly. Like a master agile marketer, I defined metrics around lead generation and meticulously tracked them every day, adjusting my efforts accordingly. I created my own CRM database, developed personal value propositions, and engaged in marketing my brand on social media, blogs, LinkedIn references, etc. Leads were tracked in the sales funnel to be developed into opportunities. Any good sales person can attest to you that you don’t waste time on leads that are not going anywhere. So I followed suit, not wasting my time on leads that were not promising. (If you want to know specifics of my metrics, send me a personal message and I’ll be happy to share them with you.)
Maintain a profile on your favorite company HR systems even when you are not looking
This was my first time in nearly a decade in the open job market and I must admit that a lot has changed. In general, I have found that Applicant Tracking Systems have improved and the candidate application experience is much more positive. While it no longer requires one hour per application like in the clunky days of legacy HR systems, filling out an application and profile can still squander a good amount of time.
My learning here has been that I have to become more efficient in my job search. Consequently, I will continue to maintain a current HR profile on my favorite 40-50 companies out there, even when I am not looking. Doing so will allow me to apply for a future position in the most expedient way should the need ever arise. Efficiency is the key.
Achieve interview effectiveness
People love to use the terms ‘efficiency’ and ‘effectiveness’ interchangeably. I assure you, they are far from the same thing. I just showed you how I plan on being more efficient in the future. But my focus in my recent job hunt was more on effectiveness. I had spent a good amount of time over the past few years hashing out my personal value propositions as a marketing professional. My messaging and talking points have become highly targeted. Ergo, when meeting with the HR manager, I would emphasize communication, soft skills, company culture. Speaking with peers, I emphasized tactical skills. The hiring manager would hear about my managerial and leadership skills, as well as strategy. Executives would hear me opine about the future of the industry. It’s all highly targeted. And it is extremely effective.
Make the most of the opportunity
Though I certainly did not ask to be laid off, I made the most of the situation. As it happened, my unemployment coincided with the FIFA world cup. Anyone unfortunate enough to be friends with me on Facebook during this period can attest that I did not miss many matches. I also spent lots of time with my kids and we took a family holiday trip to Iceland (I don’t advise travel to an expensive destination abroad while unemployed but the ticket had been bought months earlier, it was sunk cost.) The point is that while I still had periodic pangs of anxiety about my job situation, I also took the time to refresh and recharge. My new employer will benefit from it.
They say when a door closes, another one opens. This has certainly been the case for me, for the third time in my career now. I am fortunate to look forward to the next stage in my professional journey. And I hope this little guide will be useful to you as well. Please share back with others, do you proactively prepare for a lay off? What are your tips and tricks for preparedness?