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Surviving Layoffs

by seeker (Curate)
on May 30, 2001 at 13:57 UTC ( [id://84200] : perlmeditation . print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

The recent slowdown has led to a number of layoffs. I was laid off a few months ago, and was fortunately able to latch on somewhere else, in an overall much better setting. I doubt if this is typical.

Would those monks who, like me, have been laid off like to share how things worked for you? Was it a good experience for you? How long did it take before you were working? What advice would you share for monks who get laid off now?

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Surviving Layoffs
by footpad (Abbot) on May 30, 2001 at 18:35 UTC

    In an earlier node, I outlined a few of my experiences with being laid off. It took me some time to get over it emotionally. In doing so (and in working at other companies since then), I've learned a few things:

    • Learn how to learn new tools quickly. Also, give yourself a grounding in several tools, not just a single one. Be able to articulate why, for example, you prefer Perl over alternate technologies. Be able to do so with experience in the tools you don't like. You will be able to speak with more authority during technical interviews and who knows, you might also learn something in the process.

    • Learn tools, yes, but focus on learning the underlying skills. While there are differences between all programming languages, certain skills can be applied to any language. Yes, each language has idioms that must be mastered, but there are broader design skills as well. I'm thinking of things like good class design, well-crafted database structures, security issues for distributed applications, and so on. In other words, don't be so attached to a language that you're unwilling to learn a new one. In my experience, many companies will train you in their tools--if you can demonstrate that you've mastered the skills to use those tools well.

    • No matter how good you are, there's always someone better or more knowledgeable. By this, I mean that some of these underlying skills include listening to your users, your managers, and your sponsors. Eveyone you work with can teach you something. Negotiation and diplomacy are just as important as mastering arcane syntactic details. No matter who you work for, it's still a business.

    • No matter how successful you are in your current position, you are (sadly) expendable in today's business environment--even if you own your own company.

    • Regardless of your current job satisfaction level, do not allow your personal identity to be defined by who you work for or what you work on. Doing so will only increase the shock and subsequent recovery time when you are laid off.

    • Participate in your local community. Go to user groups, post on message boards, write articles and so on. Not only will this expose you to new problems and ways of doing things, it will also give you the chance to meet and network with other people in your local area. Collect business cards, chat with other people at various events. You'll never know when a random encounter could lead to a new offer or a safety net.

    • Keep your resumé current, preferably on your home computer. Keep personal files backed up and ready to pull. Manage the amount of clutter at the office so that you're able to depart quickly and with little fuss.

    • Also, develop a portfolio and keep your references up to date. Most agencies want at least three references; cultivate at least twice that many (preferably from different companies). Certain jobs want certain references and if you have several to choose from, you can provide a tailored list to your respective clients/employers.

    • Stay aware of positions available in your local area. Take time to scan the Help Wanted and the online postings. Again, this will provide a sense of where you might look should the axe fall.

    • Above all else: be nice (and honest) to your co-workers, your managers, and your clients/users. Do not mouth off, do not get overly antagonistic nor overly uppity. You never know when you might be working for that person you, er, don't really care for.

    • Keep your career options open. You may be a code monkey now, but a prospective employer might (if you've demonstrated these skills) want you as a business analyst, a technical writer, a tester, or even (horror of horrors) a manager.

      Case in point: When I was looking for a new position after my lay off experience, I was offered a very nice sum to test medical equipment. I eventually chose not to accept the offer, but it was nice to see that my skills were adaptable to other businesses and positions.

    • Learn who the local--and good--recruitment agencies are. For example, I asked my HR people who they use to fill IT positions and gave that short list to my wife. In turn, she was able to find a new position very quickly. It's a slightly different position and uses different tools...however, she believe it's the right fit and they're willing to train her because of her experience.

      In addition, I have a copy of that list in case the axe falls on me.

    • Proactively manage your recruitment. In many cases, it's obvious that a company will need to do something. You know when layoffs are looming. If you're suspicious that one in the offing, then be proactive and start looking before the cuts fall. Indeed, a couple of friends of mine were able to lay themselves off and negotiate better departure packages in doing so.

    • Attend job fairs and go on interviews. It's good practice and you just might find something new.

    • Don't job-hop. If you take a position and it's not working out, then you need to leave (of course). However, if you do that repeatedly, then hiring folks are going to start wondering why. My rule of thumb is ~3 years, though if I do find the perfect, dream job...I'll happily stay planted until they cart my ashes away.

    • When interviewing, don't bad mouth your current (former) employer. There are problems at any job and part of the interview process is designed to see how you respond to certain chalenges.

    • Also, do not lie about your skills or your experience. People are checking up and word gets around. Nuff' said.

    Finally, if (when?) you are laid off...DON'T take it personally--even if they try to make it so. Yes, it'll hurt. You'll need to vent and you'll need to recover. However, if you accept the decision with as much grace as possible and depart without burning bridges, you may possibly a) get called back or b) be able to form a strategic relationship with your former employer later.

    Also, if you are fortunate to find a new position right away and have a bit of your severance left, you might consider taking a few days before you start your new position. You can let go the pain and allow yourself to start the next step of grief recovery. (Note: In some US companies, you can "manage" the size of your severance by building up your vacation time to the maximum you can carry over from year to year. It's not much, but an extra two weeks' pay never hurts.)

    Getting laid off is no picnic, but in the's just business and it is *just* a job. Your ability to survive losing it will depend strictly on your flexibility. Take pride in your work, do your best possible work for each project, and keep reality in mind. Everyone is expendable. Accept that and move on.


Re: Surviving Layoffs
by arhuman (Vicar) on May 30, 2001 at 14:20 UTC
    I was laid off once too.
    (My site was shut down, and I refused to moved to a new location...)

    It was not a pleasant experience, as far as I remember
    I was afraid, angry and feel treated as just a resource not a human...
    (Things were quite different here in France where it wasn't SO easy to find a job...)

    Anyway, all I remember now, is that this laid off led me to something better...
    And I like to think that it's always the case.

    Whatever the time it takes to find the better job,
    with more experience, skills and a better knowledge of the entreprise (who said The Man ;-)
    you should be better armed to find something that suit you better...

    "Only Bad Coders Code Badly In Perl" (OBC2BIP)
Re: Surviving Layoffs
by jorg (Friar) on May 30, 2001 at 14:08 UTC
    After working for 3 years for an Investment bank giant i thought i'ld try the other side of the universe and joined a young java consultancy firm. Three months later they folded !!
    Maybe that was a lesson in humbleness (as if I needed one) but people live and learn...
    The upside is that i've now decided to relocate to Germany and find a job there, so I can spend more time with my girlfriend. I get quite good response from agencies there so I'm hoping something comes through within the next 4 weeks.


    "Do or do not, there is no try" -- Yoda
Re: Surviving Layoffs
by scottstef (Curate) on May 30, 2001 at 18:25 UTC
    I feel your pain, I have been on both ends of the spectrum. My last job ended when they decided to relocate and I told them I wouldn't go. It was treated as a personal affront. I had several meetings with VP's and directors, even was given a blank sheet of paper for a relo package. After they finally understood that I wouldn't move or make the 2 hour drive each way, they agree let me go about my job. During the time I found out, to when I left, I was treated as a totally different person. My responsibilities were whittled down to nothing. I was no longer training new people and was left out of staff meetings. Everytime I made a mistake, they looked at me like I was sabotaging the company. I really was tempted to bail on them. To make matters worse, they dangled a nice severance package at me if I stayed for the 2 months until they packed up. Really liking my managers, I agreed and then the slimeball vp started looking for ways to get rid of me right before I left so they wouldn't have to pay the severance. I hated it, felt betrayed, and used. However,I did laugh all the way to the bank after I had left and started cashing the sev checks.

    Now I find myself on the other end of the spectrum. The company I just started with in October just laid off 600 people- 200 of them from the IT department. Now they just upped the dress code to "Business Professional." I want to start looking, before the next round of layoffs, but I can't- the wife and I just started to buy a house and I can't hop jobs or else I probably won't qualify for a mortgage. I am also afraid to start looking because it will appear strange that I left a company after only being there 7 months.

    When is a good time to start looking for a job? Should I wait for another year and a half, and hope they don't lay me off? I don't want to get branded as a job hopper. What do most people use as a job hop calendar?

      I have one piece of short-term advice for you--think about your mortgage and then wear the damn tie!


      They laughed at Joan of Arc, but she went right ahead and built it. --Gracie Allen

Re: Surviving Layoffs
by lemming (Priest) on May 30, 2001 at 21:55 UTC

    I got notice in the mail that I had been laid off. I was on vacation at the time and the notice got buried under the rest of the vacation mail.
    Got back late sunday night
    Monday morning I couldn't find my badge so as I'm looking around I see a letter from my employer.
    The search for the badge stopped.

    That was in early March. So far the savings are holding out mainly due to a good tax return. It hasn't helped that I've got a medical mystery as well going on. Though I suspect it's one of the reasons I was picked for the axe. So much for honesty with one's employer.

    I think most of the advice has been given, but I'll repeat a few

  • Keep enough money around so you don't have to worry if your job is going to go.
  • An increase of stress for more than a couple months is not worth a potential amount of money.
    I went through a huge increase of stress for almost a year for a payoff. The payoff was 1/4 of what looked like a sure thing and I had a VP trying to kill my job the entire time.
  • While off, do those things you want to do.
    This last period, I've had time to do all those home improvement projects that have nagged me for the past year.
  • In terms of how long I've gone without work during other layoffs. 6 months, 1 week, 3 months, and 3+ months. That's over a 15 year period of time.

Re: Surviving Layoffs
by coreolyn (Parson) on May 30, 2001 at 20:15 UTC

    Now here's a subject I know something about! Having started from the DOS VAR world back in the very late 80's (before VAR was an acronym) My career was spent bouncing from companies that either disapeared, were swallowed up by other companies, subject to internal growth disputes, or just plain poorly managed.

    I've got to say that the 'in between times' were better professional growth periods than my 'work time'. I was able to spend that time moving from DOS to Linux, researching programming techniques and really getting a handle on what I most enjoyed about open systems work. I also attempted to start my own consulting business while on unemployment, and though it failed miserably (I am not a good manager) It has on several occasions been the item that stands out on a resume that seperates me from the crowd (as well as nicely filling in any periods of unemployment:).


      For years (in college and for a while afterward), I rarely lived in the same building for more than one year at a time, by choice, even during the 5 years right after college when I worked for this one small company.

      Then that company laid off 1/3 of the employees1 so my new wife and I gave away our 4 cats so we could move in with my parents while I looked for a new job. After 6 months I finally found work in a consulting position in Dallas so we all moved across the country. (I would have had a position that was perfect for me in Oregon instead but the "human resources" [spit] department managed to prevent me from effectively conveying my qualifications and situation to those seeking a candidate just like me and managed to delay the process by 2 months so that I had already accepted the silly consulting position by the time I finally heard back.)

      Ever since, I find that I end up changing jobs or companies about every 2 years (usually sooner) due to exactly the things coreolyn mentioned. And now it appears that the California housing providers are doing the same stuff so that I haven't been able to live in the same building for much more than a year, but not by choice. The current forced move is a killer because it looks like my rent is going to increase 50% no matter where I move (and in California, rent is a bigger chunk of your paycheck than in most places).

      During one of my "move before my department disappears" job changes, the president of my new employer was concerned about my not having stayed with the same company for very long recently. Of course, he ended up being the driving force behing selling the company to a huge multi-national using some pretty "creative" "facts", then kept the new owner in the dark for several months to cover the shiftiness of the deal, and then bailed before I did.

      Just recently that "new division" of the huge multi-national was shut down (in no small part because the "merging" of the companies was delayed way too long while the president hid the truth) and the neat stuff that me and my former coworkers were so proud of is just being thrown away.

      I'm starting to feel like I have some strange, nomadic existance. I'll be glad when I finally get the 100% work-at-home thing going so I can buy a house (again) and play tag with the shifting landscape of companies without having to tear down and rebuild my personal life annually. (:

      1The president decided he wasn't acting enough like a "big business" and tried to shift from continued, healthy, slow growth in a delightful work environment to really pushing for making profits and a tougher work environment. I could see the business suffering because of this but he wouldn't listen to me so after a year of this the company finally had a quarter with zero sales and laid off 1/3 of the employees, including me.

      I was on vacation at the time and the president left a message on my answering machine saying something "serious" had happened and I should check in when I get back into town. So I called him back at home but he didn't want to "ruin my vacation" by telling me. I convinced him that not telling me was worse. I was glad to hear the surprise in his voice when I said "Well, I have to be back in town Tuesday to close on my house anyway, so I'll drop by the office and pick up my stuff." "You sold your house!?"

      Yes, I'd seen the writing on the wall and was increasingly hating the job that I had previously loved. When I put my house on the market I told the agent that I didn't want a sign on the lawn because I didn't want to deal with the company finding out (small company, fairly small town).

      The guy who would be my new boss (who got hired right before the layoffs) kept calling saying that they'd really like to have me back (to which I always said "Then you shouldn't have fired me"). Most of the laid-off employees had family in the area (which had very few tech jobs) and so ended up returning to work at a lower salary.

      Sorry, no grand conclusions. Just another story to throw on the pile.

              - tye (but my friends call me "Tye")
Re: Surviving Layoffs
by buckaduck (Chaplain) on May 30, 2001 at 21:18 UTC
    This is a topic near and dear to my heart, since my company has recently announced that they will be closing down the location where I work and laying off all personnel.

    The nuisance is that they are offering a very tempting severance package if I stay until the termination. But that's another 12-14 months away. That's a long time to ride out a depressing site closure, and part of me thinks that it would be more worthwhile to start building bridges at a better job with a better future.

    As the song says, "Should I stay or should I go?"


      I was in a similar situation 2 years ago when my company was bought out. In my making my decision I didn't even consider the package. What I was concerned about was "was this still a place I wanted to work?" (yes or no. no waffling) I immediately had my answer and started looking for another job. Your decision might be different, but it should be based on what you want to do and not what the company wants you to do.

      Have fun,
      Carl Forde

      Having been through the stay for a sev package, I would never do it again. I would compare it to being a crewmember on the titantic as it started to go down- knowing it was sinking, knowing you had a job to do, but knowing you will be one of the last to get a life boat. The company knows you are leaving, so everytime you do anything the least bit wrong, you raise eyebrows. The company I worked for also took me out of my role as "problem fixer" and sent me back in as a plain old support rep. I also was constantly kidded about my lack of invites to meeting as what difference does it make- you won't be here. I would suggest take them up on their offer, but start looking. It is always easier/less stressful to find a job when you don't need one. You will be under no rush, and can get what you think the best fit for you will be regarding a new position. HTH
Re: Surviving Layoffs
by mdillon (Priest) on May 30, 2001 at 21:39 UTC

    *grumble* *grumble* *grrr* *grrr*

    streams of whispy white steam billow from my nose and ears. my blood boils. woe! woe!

    Quote of Node:

    pity this busy monster, manunkind,

    — e. e. cummings

Re: Surviving Layoffs
by Anonymous Monk on May 30, 2001 at 21:18 UTC
    I was lucky - and proactive.

    In autumn, I started looking for new position, although I was happy in my old. It was plain databases (PROGRESS), and I wanted something about presenting DB on internet. I found nice position, enjoy learning new stuff (I am new to perl). In retrospective, I was more lucky than proactive... :)

Re: Surviving Layoffs
by mr.nick (Chaplain) on May 31, 2001 at 17:52 UTC
    On April 21st of this year, I was layed off from my job of six years. It was the first time I've been fired from an IT job in my life. A very strange experience.

    I have a wife, a child, a mortgage and more debt than I would like to admit to. The concept of being layed off was one of the more scary things in my life: I take my role as The Provider(tm) very, very seriously. And I was suddenly very frightful of our future.

    My old job fired me without even so much of a one day notice. They called and said "As of this morning, you have been terminated. All your accounts have been disabled*." (It was not, I was promised, my fault. It was a purely fiscal decision). They did, however, provide a severance package.

    For the next five weeks I was practically in a state of continual panic. It wasn't that I doubted my own abilities, but I could not help the flood of "What ifs" that bounced around my head.

    I did everything you are suppose to do: I applied for every job I could, I applied with every head hunter agency I could. I networked with other people (and asked their help) every chance I could. That took two weeks to do. After that, I had to do the horrible: I had to just sit back and wait for the calls. There wasn't really anything left me for to do; but let me tell you: being idle while the days pass and the bank account shrinks is not an easy thing to do.

    So I gardened! :) Visited my wife and son at school a lot and took care of tons of projects around the home. Keeping busy in that way was definately the way to go. It was just SO HARD to not be able to do MORE to help the job hunting along; but I just needed to wait.

    As of yesterday I have at least one job offer and two interviews. Things are OK now; but the wait was scary.

    The moral of the story: Do everything you can; but when there is nothing else left to do, TRY to relax. Be constructive and get stuff done. Oh! And try not to fight with your spouse! And, sex helps push back that black cloud of doom that grows over your head, too.

    * I was sysadmin for a collection of Unix boxes. They didn't even scratch the surface of all I ways in I had :)

Re: Surviving Layoffs
by sierrathedog04 (Hermit) on May 31, 2001 at 19:37 UTC
    I survived a fallow period by listening to self-improvement tapes (by Anthony Robbins) over and over and over. I have a tendency to think negatively, and it definitely helped. After a semester retooling at grad school I hopped back into the job market and got multiple job offers in a week of interviewing at a $10K/year raise.

    Try to keep your spirits up with books or tapes that are inspirational to you.