Articles / I got laid off! Now what do…

I got laid off! Now what do I do?

Too many programmers and sysadmins know the personal realities that lie behind the statistics of the dot com bubble's burst. What do you do when the spotlight's gone and the future no longer clear? Is the time between jobs a tragedy or an opportunity?

Part 1 -- Exodus

Realize that this will happen to most of us at some point in our careers. It is normal. Like most things, business activity is cyclic. It goes up and it goes down. Many of you started your careers in a period that saw the longest economic expansion in history. You haven't had to worry about losing a job or even about getting a job. Your biggest worry has been which job to take. Well, kids, welcome back to the real world. It's going to hurt, but the pain is normal.

To give you some perspective, I'll describe my first job in the Bay Area. Think 1987 and recession. It was a consulting programming position that paid twenty four thousand dollars a year. That is about what school teachers made at the time. I had just sold a custom programming business back in Florida, so I felt I was uniquely qualified. Indeed, I was hired after five rounds of interviews. Once hired, I learned that the company ran one ad in the paper, used no recruiters, received more than two hundred resumes, interviewed more than seventy people, and finally picked me! The next couple of years are probably going to be more like that than the last couple of boom years. Get over it right now. You're going to have to scratch and fight for your next job.

You find yourself standing outside the conference room with your last paycheck in hand. What now? Let's first get you out of the building in as few pieces as possible, given that your work life has just been shattered.

Show me the money

Verify the finances. Final paychecks are often done by hand. Go over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Make sure all the details are correct. Count the number of vacation days you have left and how many days were deducted. Make sure the severance amount is correct. Check everything financial! Twice! Go sign up for unemployment as soon as possible.

My lawyer will call you

Companies often use the exit interview as an opportunity to protect themselves. You may be asked to sign releases or indemnifications. Be wary. You don't have to sign anything. Read everything. Take your time, check it all out, and seek advice. Don't make any hasty decisions you'll regret later. You are in a fragile state of mind and shouldn't be asked -- and can't be forced -- to make important decisions on the spot.

You've got your health

Don't even think of going without health coverage. Get all the information regarding your health insurance and either get your own coverage or continue with the company's. US residents can elect to use COBRA, but it is expensive and you will be canceled when the time limit runs out. If you get really sick on COBRA, you will have a very difficult time getting alternate coverage. Do not take the issue of health coverage lightly, no matter how young and healthy you are now.

Polish your image

You probably feel like committing some violent act against the company or your supervisor. Refrain from doing anything that can be construed negatively. Take only your personal items and leave everything else. That goes for your workstation, as well. Nuke your hard disk, and you could be charged with destroying company property. Don't do it.

Keep in mind that while you may never come across the business people at your company again, you will most assuredly encounter the technical people in the future. Have some class. Help the people who have to clean up your mess. They will remember and appreciate it.

Don't use the company email system for personal mail. It's never a good idea, but in volatile times, it's even worse. If you must send and receive mail from work, use Hushmail or another free, secure email service.

Network

Take a few minutes to connect with everyone before you leave the premises. Get everyone's contact information and future plans. You never know if you might need them, and you'd be surprised how fast everyone will scatter to the winds. Many hires come about from personal referrals. Make sure you have some.

Keep in mind that you are going through one of the most stressful events in your life. Expect some fallout. Take care of yourself and give yourself time to process this. At the same time, realize that this process is now part of the employment landscape. Like any other part of your career, you need to put effort and thought into how to do it and how to do it well.

Part 2 -- Nobody Loves Me

You got through your last day with your dignity, reputation, finances, and health insurance intact. Now you've been home for a few days, and the reality has begun to sink in. You've lost your job in a down market and you don't have another lined up. No recruiters are calling. Your last paycheck has been deposited, and you aren't likely to see another for a while. If you're like me, this is when the numbers at the bottoms of bills start to loom large and a little anxiety starts to build.

It's also at this point that you start to doubt yourself. Many people use their job as a way of defining themselves. It's natural to doubt your skills, your marketability, your value to society, and your value to your family when you're laid off. Instead, view this situation as a normal part of a lifelong relationship with work. Like any relationship, it requires effort and tending, and still many don't last. That's fine. If you start to think about this situation in a negative way, you can easily get depressed. Let's go over how can you turn it into a positive event in your life.

Get in control

Uncertainty is a breeding ground for fear and stress. In order to gain power over the fear, you need to reduce the uncertainty. Much of your reaction is a personal choice. Move away from this as an event that happens to you. Make it one that you control. Don't be a victim. Don't whine. Don't let people whine to you. Get busy on the next phase of your life.

Make a plan

Before you start a technical project, you perform an analysis, collect and prioritize requirements, write a specification, and then get it approved. This is Project Management 101. Why not do this for your career, as well? You now have time on your hands. Rather than flail about grasping at whatever crumbs fall your way, take some time to decide what you would like the end result to be and what tasks are required to achieve it.

Establish a routine

It's OK to lay around the house for a few days in your robe and slippers. You've probably earned it. Longer than that, though, and it's likely to drag you down. Set up a "work" day routine that you follow. Include plenty of exercise. Having a regular schedule deflects some of the self doubt, and exercise insulates you from depression.

Use activity goals

Sales people operate in an environment in which people are constantly telling them "No!". The good ones take this in stride, knowing that for every X number of Nos, there will be a Yes. They are happy for every No because it brings them closer to the Yes. Is this self delusion? Yes, but it works. Make your goals activity-based. Send out ten email messages this week, talk to three recruiters, and have one face-to-face meeting at a company. Start collecting Nos to get closer to that Yes.

Get real

This was just a job. You'll get another. Think of how many times you complained about that job. Take this as an opportunity to make some real progress with your life. Carpe Diem.

Recent comments

27 Sep 2001 12:56 Avatar emacsuser

Re: Asking price
* Don't lowball... it gives the impression you're not qualified. Give the same impression of confidence they might expect from someone more experienced.

* Find out what a position like yours is worth by checking salary surveys.

* Give them a range eg. 35-45,000 for an entry level programmer and tell then you're flexible.


> Lately during interviews and screenings
> for a potential interview, many
> employers have been asking me salary
> requirements. This is kind of a dilemma
> sometimes. I have no work experience,
> but I did tons of projects during
> college and as a hobby along with being
> involved in a college computer club.
> I've been telling them above $30,000
> annually, but I am lowballing it big
> time as if I'm putting down my own
> skills. On the other hand, it's a bad
> economy and there are plenty of people
> looking for work that do have work
> experience. So if I ask for too much,
> they can easily dismiss me and go with
> someone with work experience. Any
> suggestions?


27 Sep 2001 09:24 Avatar JBHoren

Things to do in Denver, BEFORE you're out of work
1. Keep your resume current.
2. Keep your resume in digital form.
3. Keep your resume in HTML format.
4. Get and use a PDA.
5. Keep in-touch with colleagues from past jobs.
6. Be active in local user/professional groups.
7. If you have to use credit cards, pay them
off completely, each month.
8. Exercise daily.
9. Drink a glass of good red wine daily.
10. You're not indespensible, but let the kids
work weekends and 24/7.

24 Sep 2001 20:29 Avatar ally

Re: Be sure you also read this article
I was told by one company that they just "didn't think you would fit in well with this envornment", other than that, I knew people inside and had been told by them that I hadn't been hired because of age or sex. Not by inexperience. I had the experience, I'd been working for sony online for 2-3 years at 17, a company who hired me on a whim because I had motivation and needed college experience. (started off with low pay, part time, and no benifits, but it was a job with a good-name company), and since I was still a highschool student in college classes, I didn't have to get permission to work from the state, so it was easy on their part to hire me. So yeah, that ramble wasn't really necessary, except basically, i DID have the experience, i HAD been programming for quite some time, and it was a no-shit company that I had the experience with. Perhaps I'm just a rare case :X

-kyvie

>
> Hmm .. do you know for a fact it was
> because you were female? Did they say
> so? Or was it maybe just because of
> inexperience?
>
> I ask because when I graduated with a
> CompSci degree from University I also
> struggled a bit to get a job, in spite
> of me being male (and having a degree,
> not even just out of school).. the
> reason was, *nobody* seems to want
> people with no experience. Of course, I
> already *had* programming experience in
> industry, but that was part-time, so as
> far as they were concerned that
> "didn't count", they wanted
> full-time experience. I gave my CV to a
> number of recruitment agencies, who
> completely ignored it, and after nagging
> them a while I gave up and found myself
> a job, where I had worked before (and am
> happy there now). But they didn't throw
> my CV away .. instead, they waited six
> months or so, and then *started phoning
> me* (once I had a little experience) and
> actually wouldnt leave me alone for
> months. I was pretty pissed, when I went
> to them they wouldnt give me the time of
> day, and then they expected me to do
> them a favour once I had a bit of
> experience? Not a chance. They could've
> at least had the decency to tell me they
> didn't do graduates up front. Anyway, in
> general, virtually every job I looked
> for wanted people with n years
> experience in some very specific thing,
> and almost no companies were interested
> in training people. It gets so
> ridiculous, I remember there was a
> company advertising that they wanted
> people with "at least 5 years Java
> experience" - when Java was only 3
> years old! Some of those companies went
> months without filling available posts,
> because they weren't interested in
> training people but wanted people with
> ridiculously specific experience.
>


24 Sep 2001 19:42 Avatar djoffe

Re: Be sure you also read this article

> Not anymore, no. When I was activly
> looking for a job, i was 17 and barely
> out of highschool. Most people didn't
> give me the time of day because I was a
> chick, and was young. Perhaps it was an
> individual basis, I dunno. I just know
> that where I was living, in olympia (I'm
> in florida now), there was no market for
> females in programming fields. Your only
> hope was to go apply somewhere as
> something else and hope you could
> squeeze your way into a good programmin
> position. Portfolio or not, it just
> wans't accepted. *Shrug*

Hmm .. do you know for a fact it was because you were female? Did they say so? Or was it maybe just because of inexperience?

I ask because when I graduated with a CompSci degree from University I also struggled a bit to get a job, in spite of me being male (and having a degree, not even just out of school).. the reason was, *nobody* seems to want people with no experience. Of course, I already *had* programming experience in industry, but that was part-time, so as far as they were concerned that "didn't count", they wanted full-time experience. I gave my CV to a number of recruitment agencies, who completely ignored it, and after nagging them a while I gave up and found myself a job, where I had worked before (and am happy there now). But they didn't throw my CV away .. instead, they waited six months or so, and then *started phoning me* (once I had a little experience) and actually wouldnt leave me alone for months. I was pretty pissed, when I went to them they wouldnt give me the time of day, and then they expected me to do them a favour once I had a bit of experience? Not a chance. They could've at least had the decency to tell me they didn't do graduates up front. Anyway, in general, virtually every job I looked for wanted people with n years experience in some very specific thing, and almost no companies were interested in training people. It gets so ridiculous, I remember there was a company advertising that they wanted people with "at least 5 years Java experience" - when Java was only 3 years old! Some of those companies went months without filling available posts, because they weren't interested in training people but wanted people with ridiculously specific experience.

24 Sep 2001 13:20 Avatar ally

Re: Be sure you also read this article
Not anymore, no. When I was activly looking for a job, i was 17 and barely out of highschool. Most people didn't give me the time of day because I was a chick, and was young. Perhaps it was an individual basis, I dunno. I just know that where I was living, in olympia (I'm in florida now), there was no market for females in programming fields. Your only hope was to go apply somewhere as something else and hope you could squeeze your way into a good programmin position. Portfolio or not, it just wans't accepted. *Shrug*

-kyvie
>
> I don't think you've looked hard
> enough for a job. Where I work there is
> no gender bias. Heck, we've been
> *asking* for female progammers :)
> Seriously though, its a small company,
> and we currently *need* good C++
> programmers. I guarantee you there is NO
> gender bias. We look for one thing only
> - *good programmers*. We already have a
> female programmer, and actively evaluate
> more if we meet them. If you're
> reasonably good at C++ and have at least
> a little bit of a university-level
> math/physics background, I guarantee you
> we'd hire you today. If it weren't for
> the we're-based-in-South-Africa problem
> of course...
>
>
>


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