Until May 2010, I was truly blessed to have been with the same organization for over twenty-two years. During that time, I was fortunate to have had many great opportunities as a software developer, systems administrator, project manager, and IT manager. Then one day, without warning, it ended. Like so many others during the recession, I was laid off, and my days with that company were over. But in less than a month, I was back to work at a new job that I absolutely love.
The job market can be rough, and it’s likely that you either have been or will be let go at some point in your career. Here are some tips to help make that transition as quick and painless as possible. Be aware, these recommendations take an investment in time and money. There are no “magic bullets.” Like the rest of your career, you will only get out of it what you put in to it.
First and foremost, you need to be prepared. Sounds simple, right? After all, you prepare for other unforeseen circumstances in your life. Who doesn’t have car, life, or homeowners insurance, or a 401(k) (or other retirement) plan? Are you investing as much in your career insurance? My guess is, probably not.
Build Your Network
The first step is to build your network. This comes easier for some people than others. To be blunt, if sticking out your hand and saying “Hi, my name is _____” is outside your comfort zone, get over it. It could save your career. It certainly did for me. In March 2010, I attended my first HDI annual conference. One of my objectives was to grow my network, and I met a lot of terrific people. A month later, I attended the ServiceNow Knowledge conference in San Diego and was reacquainted with Wade, a man I’d met at the HDI conference a few weeks before. We had dinner together and I proposed he consult with me on a change management implementation. Then, without warning, I was let go a few days later. I quickly contacted Wade to let him know my situation. He was very helpful in getting me the names and numbers that helped me land my new job so quickly. If I hadn’t introduced myself to Wade in Orlando just a few weeks earlier, my career transition could have been a very different story.
So is it as simple as a few handshakes? Of course not. There’s a little more to it than that. To start with, don’t discriminate when building your network. If you don’t have the opportunity to attend conferences, introduce yourself to people you meet in your community, online, and from other departments at work. If the majority of your network is at your current company, you’re in trouble. There isn’t a lot of value in tapping contacts at your old employer for new job leads.
Also, think of people outside your industry. You might be surprised where new job leads can come from. My entire career has been built around IT, but I also write books, produce and host podcasts, and have several other interests that could be potential career paths. Some of the executives I respect the most have said that they learned more from jobs that were outside their comfort zone than within it. A CFO I once worked for said she went from being an accountant to spending a year in order fulfillment (shipping). She really got a “frontline” view of what the business was all about and it helped her become a better CFO.
Track Your Career History
Next, keep track of your career history. One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is to keep a career history document (CHD). It’s similar to a résumé, but it’s more comprehensive. My CHD contains a detailed register of all of my career accomplishments and skills. It also includes things I do on the side, like writing, podcasting, karate, and any education, training, volunteer work, and awards. Your résumé is a select group of entries from the CHD, targeted to the job opening you’re going after. To use a cooking analogy, your CHD is like your pantry, and your résumé is what you make out of the ingredients you have on hand.
Review your CHD regularly and add any new accomplishments, training, skills, and so forth. By regularly updating your CHD (and résumé), you decrease the workload during “crunch time” by having all your facts at hand, and you reduce the risk of forgetting important facts. I like to review mine monthly so it’s easier to remember. You can even put a recurring appointment on your calendar to help you remember this fifteen-minute task. This will make creating a new résumé quick and painless when the time comes. You may still have to spend thirty minutes tweaking a résumé, but that’s far better than trying to remember the past five to ten years of work history and ending up with a second-rate résumé.
When compiling your résumé, listing your accomplishments in terms of what you did for your previous employer(s) makes the greatest impact. A typical (and bad) example might read, “Maintained 250 servers across five sites.” This isn’t an accomplishment; it tells the reader nothing other than the scale of what you did. Were you any good at it? Were you supposed to be downsizing the footprint by virtualization? The hiring managers screening your résumé have no idea what this means, and they won’t know if you don’t tell them. A more effective accomplishment might read, “Reduced recurring server costs by five percent through virtualization in five global data centers.” Listing your accomplishments like that will ensure that you get and keep your reader’s attention.
Also, don’t be afraid to add what you might consider insignificant accomplishments, especially if you are just starting a new position. Remember, your CHD is just the pantry; it has all the ingredients you could ever need. You can always weed them out when choosing the best “ingredients” for your résumé.
Leverage Social Media
Another way to grow your network is to leverage social media. If you’re not using social media, it’s time to wake up and get with the times; the social media age is upon us. You need to be using social media sites to get in touch—and stay in touch—with others. Some sites, like LinkedIn, are more appropriate for showcasing your professional profile, while others, like Facebook, are better suited to sharing family photos. The key thing to remember is, once you put information out there, it’s public—even if you think you’ve marked it private. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “Watch your character.” And you better, because your potential employers are, too. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 90 percent of employers are watching their employees’ online profiles. Before I posted something, I used to think, “Is this something I want my mom to see?” Now I add to that, “Is this something I want my boss to see?” We all have opinions to share, but be wise in what you choose to share and whom you connect with.
Growing your online network is very much like growing your network in the real world. Start by looking for coworkers, colleagues from HDI local chapter meetings, and friends from high school. Get in touch and use the Internet to keep in touch. As with real-world relationships, if you aren’t communicating in some form on a regular basis, the relationship will decay. To help myself remember, I set aside part of my Thursday lunch hour to review a list of the 100 people I want to keep in touch with and the date of my last contact with them. I don’t write or call each of them every week—that would be way too much work! I reach out to three or four a week. I can write an email in about five minutes, so I can take care of each small group in about twenty minutes. If I do this every week, I touch base with each person on the list a few times a year. Usually what happens is that I get a response from someone on the list, we chat back and forth a few times, and then the conversation dies down until the next time I get to that person on the list. Then I go back to the email archives, review the last conversation we had, and I work that into the new email.
Back Up Your Contacts
Getting laid off is an abrupt process. In short order, you can find yourself without a laptop, mobile phone, or any of the other gadgets you once relied on so heavily. What value is your network if you can’t reach them? Just like you do with your CHD, make a recurring monthly calendar appointment with yourself and export your contacts. Once you’ve got a system down, it’s a simple matter to maintain it.
Another tip: Be careful which file format you choose. If you export to an Outlook PST file, but you have a Mac at home, your PST file probably won’t do you any good. If you choose an electronic format, such as CSV, make sure you can import it into something like Gmail or Hotmail. Even a hard copy is handy in an emergency. And just like your company’s IT organization would, be sure to test your disaster recovery plan before you actually need it. Those email addresses and phone numbers will become invaluable if you find yourself suddenly unemployed.
Remember all those people you connected with on social networks like LinkedIn? I discovered another advantage of having these connections over having someone in your contact list—they are great if your “connection” moves. Consider this: most people give you their work email addresses and phone numbers. The trouble is that, over time, people switch jobs and your contact information becomes obsolete. You have no way to stay in touch, and those relationships begin to wither and die. But if you’re connected to your contacts socially, you can ask for their updated contact information.
The Deed Is Done
One day you find yourself in that conference room with your boss and the HR manager. What now? First and foremost, remain positive. Shake hands, smile, and go out on a high note. Don’t burn any bridges! You never know what the future holds.
In my case, my former employer became one of my customers. If they don’t tell you why you were fired, don’t dwell on it. They might tell you that IT is being restructured, which could be true, but the real reason for your separation is more likely financial or political. Again, don’t dwell on it. Just move on. You have more
important things to focus on. You’re prepared for the next chapter in your career.
However, be sure to take notes at your exit interview. Your mind will be focused on so many things that it’s going to be hard to remember what was said and by whom. If the organization is well prepared, you’ll get a folder full of things to review, but be sure to ask any questions you have while you are there. Your mind is probably running circles—“What am I going to tell my wife and kids? Where is my résumé? What do I do now?”—but you may not get a second chance to ask about your 401(k), severance pay, pay for unused vacation, and a dozen other things. Write down as much as you can and stay focused; the rest will sort itself out.
Telling Your Family
When it comes to telling your family, don’t delay! Tell them right away. I’ve heard stories of people who were laid off, but would leave the house at 8:00 a.m. for weeks to give the illusion that they were still working. Seriously?! Look, marriage is based on trust, honesty, and communication. If you’re indulging in nonsense like that, you’ve got bigger issues. Don’t do it. Be open and honest from the get-go. Put your ego aside and turn to the one person who pledged to support you through the good times and the bad.
If your kids are old enough to understand, tell them right away that you’ve been let go. It’s a fact of life, and isn’t teaching your child about life (partly through your experiences) a major part of your job as a parent? They are likely to face the same situation someday, and they’ll remember how their mom or dad handled it. And don’t forget, your kids have networks, too. It could be that one of their friend’s parents is in a similar situation, or has a lead on a job.
Don’t be afraid to tell others that you’ve been laid off. Some people feel ashamed, which is understandable. After all, your job is your livelihood; it’s a big part of who you are. But don’t be afraid to talk about it. Just do it carefully. Remember, it’s not only what you say, but also how you say it. Always remain positive and enthusiastic. How you present your message is as important as what you have to offer.
From the moment you meet new people, you are being weighed and measured. Think about what you say before you say it. Rather than saying, “I don’t know what happened. One day I’m winning an award, the next day I’m being stabbed in the back,” try something like, “I was let go, but now I’m looking forward to new opportunities to share my skills and experience.” The former sounds angry no matter how you say it; the latter will lead to a much longer, more productive conversation.
Leverage Your Network
Now is the time to leverage your network. First, update your online profile(s). If you are directing people to LinkedIn, be sure it doesn’t say you’re still at the company that just let you go. Get that stuff up-to-date as quickly as possible. Next, start reaching out to your social network. Send emails to those people you have been keeping in touch with and let them know you’re a free agent (or how ever you choose to phrase it). If you’ve been keeping in touch with these people, they won’t be surprised to hear from you and they will be more likely to help you.
And don’t automatically include your résumé with every correspondence. If your contacts can help, they’ll ask for it and you can respond quickly with a current résumé (because you’ve got a CHD, right?). Instead, start with a short note. For example, “Bill, I hope this note finds you and Melinda well. I just wanted to let you know that my company had an IT reorganization and I was let go last Tuesday. I’m very excited at what the future holds and would appreciate it if you would keep an eye out for any opportunities that you think might be a good fit. I’d prefer to stay in the Midwest doing IT service desk management, but am open to other locations and opportunities.”
Of course, that message is way too long for Twitter. For your dozens (or hundreds) of followers, you’ll want a shorter note, something like, “Just got let go. Future looks bright. Help appreciated.” Include a short link to your LinkedIn profile. You’ve told the truth, said nothing bad about your former employer, and if they can help, they can find more information with a single click. Do something similar on the other social networks. Remember, you never know where that next opportunity may come from.
In the wake of a layoff, you’re likely to get a lot of advice about interviewing—some good, some not so much. I could devote a whole article to interviewing, but rather than add another five pages to this article, I’ll leave you with three simple guidelines: stay positive, focus on your accomplishments, and admit when you don’t know something.
Back in the Saddle Again
Fast-forward a month, three months, six months, to your new job. Things are looking bright again. So…you’re done, right? Wrong! Start by thanking the people who interviewed you, and maybe even a few people from upper management, like your director, the VP of IT, and even the CIO (if she’s available). Your thank-you can be a simple smile and a handshake, with a “Thank you for the opportunity. I’m very excited to be on board.” If you prefer, a handwritten thank-you note is always appreciated. If the opportunity presents itself, invite them to breakfast or lunch. You might get turned down, but don’t be discouraged—you’ve likely made a positive impression.
Now’s also the time to go back to your social network. It’s time to update your online profile (again) and let your network know about your new situation. Thank anyone who may have been helpful, even in the smallest way. Email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook—people only know what you last told them (or they heard through the rumor mill). If they think you’re still out of work, that’s what they know. Tell them you’ve got a new job and give a quick status update: “Really excited to have started at Acme Corp. last Monday. Finished with new-hire training and already contributing to the incident management team.” Update your résumé and CHD, too. You may not have any new accomplishments yet, but you can at least identify your key responsibilities. And keep up the habit of refreshing your CHD with a recurring appointment.
Your new job is also an opportunity to continue growing your internal and external network. You’ve got a whole new circle of people to connect with. Don’t put it off because you’re busy. When are you ever not busy? It only takes a few seconds to write a short message and connect on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Start now. You never know when you might find yourself in that conference room with HR again, wishing you had more connections.
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I know this is a lot of information. Start with one or two things from this article and build on that. Focus on being prepared and remaining positive. It’s tough. I know; I’ve been there. I also know that people remember your attitude and outlook, so make ‘em good. It makes all the difference.
Chuck Tomasi has nearly thirty years of IT experience, ranging from software developer to global service desk manager. Currently, he is a senior solutions consultant for ServiceNow. He is also the author of three books, the host of several podcasts, president of the Titletown HDI local chapter in Appleton, WI, and founder of the Fox Cities Managers social group.