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The Pink Slip Blues

What to do when that pink slip finally arrives

Who remembers what it’s like knowing you’re going to be laid off? There are rumors and rumblings, of course. The causes are varied but generally driven by economics. It may be a matter of downsizing or organizational changes that come with mergers and acquisitions. Maybe it’s innovation initiatives and you don’t fit in. Perhaps you’ve inherited a new boss who just plain doesn’t like you. It also could be because you’re too old.

Thinking back at my layoff from a large bank, I find myself laughing at the way my team spent the last few months leading up to our layoff. We knew it was coming, but we were in denial. We began to realize that our emails were drying up. We were left off the distribution lists for meetings and calls. Feeling isolated, with less and less to do, we were free to restructure our time and start looking for jobs.

Making the most of our waiting-to-be fired time

Since no one seemed to want us in their meetings or calls, we had plenty of time to update our resumes, check out the job boards and try to schedule interviews. We arrived at work later in the mornings, took longer lunches and afternoon breaks. One member of our team popped out for afternoon beer breaks. Our boss lived in another city and refused to police our activities. My gay colleague in the office next door completely lost interest and spent his afternoons watching porn.

We worked for a large bank that merged with another

It was economics, of course, and it wasn’t really a merger. It was an acquisition, a takeover due to a rocky financial situation. When big corporations merge, they have two of everything. Two technology departments, two HR departments, two foreign exchange departments, etc. They identify the stronger, bigger money maker of the two organizations, and work on merging that department. It’s one unholy mess, and it takes a long time to make this all happen. A lot of people get laid off in the process. In our case, corporate marketing, it took about three years for them to work their way down to our department. Two marketing departments and we clearly were not what they called their “target environment”. That meant a great group of thirty smart people was going to be laid off. In this case, their “target environment” was the other bank, with five or so people with very little strategic experience. Go figure.

Somehow you still think you’ll hang onto your job

Even when it’s clearly inevitable, there’s a part of you that thinks you’ll hang on to your job. Sadly, our entire department was terminated. That’s the inevitable part of any merger. They wanted to keep my project partner, Tom, but he didn’t want anything to do with these people and was off to Germany to spend the summer in the beer gardens. We all got our little severance packages and continued to look for jobs. I filed for unemployment, collected my severance checks, and spent the summer frantically reading the job postings and riding my bike.

I eventually did find another job—this time–but it took longer than I wanted. It was for less money than I’d been making at the bank; this is the expectation for older workers. One of my (older) colleagues confided that she’d never work for less money than she was making now. I told her to wait until she’d been out of work for a few months in a bad economy. It’s funny how your expectations change.

What if you suspect you’re going to be laid off?

Be realistic. If you think you’re going to be laid off, you probably are. Start making plans now. But take time to grieve. This is a huge blow, both emotionally and financially. It’s demoralizing and it undermines your self-confidence. There will also be anger issues. I loved my job and the people with whom I worked. My boss was a mentor. This had all been stripped away.

Review your 401(k) and/or pension plans

If you had a 401(k) with your former employer, you have options.

  • Leave it in your former employer’s plan. If you have at least $5,000 in your account, chances are you can let it sit invested right where it is. This a temporary solution.
  • If your next employer offers a 401(k) plan, find out whether you have the option to consolidate your old plan with the new one. If so, you’ll get your retirement investments back under one roof without suffering tax penalties.
  • Open a rollover IRA (individual retirement account), and drop you old 401(k) there. You can choose from a wide variety of investment options — stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate investment trusts, and so on — or you may simply select a “lifecycle fund,” which bases investments on your target retirement date.
  • Cash out. Keep in mind that you will pay a premium for grabbing the money now–taxes will be due on the lump sum, plus a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

Register for Unemployment

You have earned unemployment benefits. While your unemployment payment is modest, it will help you pay your bills. Sign up as soon as possible. You can apply online.

Tune up your resume

Make sure your resume is easy to read and free of errors. If you’re older, streamline it. Do not include those jobs you had 15-25 or more years ago—this is guaranteed to scare a potential employer away.

Focus on the last 10-12 years and the important work you’ve done. Concentrate on what you’ve contributed. Rather than just listing your job descriptions, think problem-solving skills. Identify your accomplishments; how have you helped your department or team work more efficiently, save money and get new clients? (It may be worth working with a professional, or as us at Being Top of Mind)

Create accounts on the job boards

Create accounts and upload your resume on Indeed, ZipRecruiter, LinkedIn, Ladders. Create alerts. Who you know becomes more important. Make sure you’re your colleagues and friends know that you’re looking for work. Effective networking is key to the optimal job pursuit. Message former colleague and those with whom you’ve worked that you’re looking for a new opportunity!

As an employer, a few tips

  • Do include a cover letter. Make a good impression and include this in the same file as your resume. This means that a potential employer doesn’t have to open two files.
  • Tailor your cover letter to meet the job requirements. Something that worked for me was to create a table with two columns. In the first column, copy and paste in the job requirements. In the second column, identify what you have done to meet that requirement. For each row, you’re matching a requirement to your example. In this way, you’re clearly illustrating how you’re a good fit for the job.

LinkedIn has become an important online network

Recruiters prefer LinkedIn over other social networks: 94% of those who use social media for recruiting use LinkedIn. Update your status, provide a fresh introduction, and review your listed strengths and skills. Beef up the descriptions of your achievements.

Get out and meet people

Look for opportunities to meet people in places where you would like to work. One other thing: If your Facebook or other social media site is full of embarrassing posts, it’s time for a massive cleanup effort. I know one HR manager who always checks out the social media sites of the people she’s interested in hiring. They tell a lot about someone’s decision-making and ability to act with discretion.

Is it time to start your own business?

If it’s time to stop trying to rewrite your resume and get serious about starting your own business or consultancy, contact Being Top of Mind. We help small businesses get started–websites, branding and infrastructure.