Published here November 2009.


Musings Index

So You've Been Fired!

There is one thing that we, especially those in project management, must have learned from the recent downturn in the world's economy. It is how easy work can suddenly dry up. That is, if you are employed it is easy to lose your job, if you are no longer employed it is difficult to reenter the work force, and if you are self-employed it is more difficult to get work. Therefore, like the proverbial Boy Scout, it is as well to be prepared.

Fortunately, being "out of work", or even being threatened with job loss, no longer carries the stigma that it once did. In fact, some say that until you have had the experience of precipitate departure, "being out sourced", "laid off", "down-sized" or just plain fired, you have not yet gained "all-rounded experience"! These days, you no longer have to "pretend" to go to work each day and come home and lie about what happened at the nonexistent office today. Yet there are some that still do - perhaps because they have set themselves up for this fall.

No! While pledging absolute loyalty to whomsoever you work for, directly or indirectly, recognize quite openly that no one is indispensable - especially in this day and age. Remember, companies are also struggling; it's not just about you. So, when the "unfortunate" day occurs, you are not only ready, but also free to talk about your new opportunities and to network quite openly, even to ask your ex-employer for advice.

So, here's some good advice on how to "recession-proof" yourself.

  1. First, ask yourself if you really want to stay in the same line of work. If not, you'll have to follow a whole different path to discover what you would really rather do, what is available, whether you would be suited - and what you have to do to qualify. If you really do think "New Career" then check out the growth projections for various industries before expending a lot of time and effort in this direction. Otherwise,
  2. Start by updating your CV (biography) and keep it current. Prepare the equivalent of an "Executive Summary" focusing on the best things that you have achieved for your employers, i.e. actual quantified outcomes, not on what you were responsible for or the positions you held. And keep that down to one page, repeat: one page absolutely. Why? Because the objective is not to document your whole history, but simply to get your "foot in the door" for a face-to-face interview.
  3. Test your employability skill set by comparing how you stack up against job ads seeking people in similar positions or the next level up. To do that in tough economic times it may be necessary to research old editions of daily newspapers at the library.
  4. Obviously, if you see any gaps in your skill set, take steps to fill those gaps by reading or taking courses.
  5. In addition, review and brush up on your current skill set, particularly those that apply to the position that you would like to hold.
  6. Look for who is hiring and firing by keeping an eye on the Internet and the business sections of local and national newspapers.
  7. While being prepared is a good thing, resist the temptation to jump ship anyway. Remember your potential is greater being employed than unemployed.
  8. Remember also that no one is indispensable. So keep up your current productivity. Better still; take steps to improve your "indispensability" to the company you presently work for by "going the extra mile".
  9. Keep cheerful. It is not only good for your health but it's also good for keeping your job.
  10. Keep your finances under control and build up a reserve - six months living expenses at a minimum is recommended, a year is twice as good. If that means walking to work, so be it. That would also improve your health. And while you are managing your own costs, make sure that you are properly managing the costs to you company. That will be appreciated and recognized.
  11. Speaking of health, eat right, exercise right and sleep right. Economic stress is debilitating and requires proactive attention. If you have a partner, discuss the situation openly. Bottling it all up inside is the worst thing you can do.
  12. While cutting back on unessential spending, nevertheless make sure that your clothes are clean, smart and appropriate to the job you are doing. Not only will you feel good if you look good, but you will be recognized as being good.
  13. Make the most of leisure time by relaxing and being ready for the typical "Monday morning blues". Besides, you enjoy your work, right? In fact, you cannot wait to get started on the week's challenges!
  14. Network. That means going to gatherings of people in similar lines of work - or those you wish to target. That does not mean that you will necessarily find a new job that way, though you might. The object of that exercise should be to deliberately find out what others are doing and thinking to increase your knowledge of the field. With this background you are much more likely to impress in an interview discussion.
  15. If you have already been laid off, don't just sit around waiting in hopes of a callback from your old job. Get over it and get busy, starting from item 1 above. You've already done all of that? Then put your knowledge and talent to good use by starting your own company out of your own home.

A word to those who really are "out of work". Finding a new position is partly a numbers game. For a hundred cold calls, you are lucky if you get ten responses. Out of those ten you are lucky if you get two or three interviews. From those three interviews, hopefully you will get one offer. Of course, the really enterprising job seeker does not wait for an opening and then compete with all the others after the same position.

No, a better strategy is to research the market for the organizations that you would like to work for, select the top three or four and really try to understand their businesses. Then try and identify the key individuals at the highest possible level - maybe even the CEO - and ask for a brief meeting, perhaps to collect data on a recent project for a paper you are writing. But note, avoid the human resources department like the plague - they are not the decision-makers so their job is to filter out people from the huge pile of applications.

At the meeting with the VIP you can throw in the idea that you would really like to join the company to work on the XYZ project as soon as they need someone with your expertise. With a bit of luck that might do it. But in any case, if the VIP then hands down your credentials to the HR departement, you can be sure that it will not get added to the pile of rejects. After all, it has the VIP's handwritten note attached to it.

Now here's a big problem. You have an offer from company B with a decision deadline, but it's not the one you would really like. Instead, you really liked company A. Should you turn down company B's offer and hope for something better? I suggest you can contact company A to alert them that they are missing an opportunity to hire you. If that does not produce the desire result, then accept company B's offer.

Why? Because you are more valuable being employed than unemployed and every company knows that we live in a free market economy.

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