Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What to Do When Your Job is Dead - Top Ten

Starbucks, Zillow, Redfin and now Insight and Circuit City - these are just a few of the organizations who have recently had tech-related layoffs and it wouldn't be surprising in the current economic climate to see continued impact on the technology sector. Most notably in Seattle, it's likely a number of Washington Mutual tech workers could be on the streets soon with the redundancies in operations expected with the JP Morgan acquisition. The question of what to do if you find yourself caught up in the midst of a lay-off comes up regularly, so here are the top ten tried and true tips that I've used myself and passed on to others with some success.

1) Take time to grieve - There's no way around it, losing your job sucks. If you see it coming, you've had plenty of time to get anxious over the possibility that you'll be involved and if you don't, you'll be blind-sided. Either way, you'll be feeling bad about it for a while, so give yourself some time to deal with the emotional fall-out. The key is to make it a planned, limited amount of time so that you can quickly get on with the business of the rest of your life.

2) Take stock - What areas of your life are in need of critical attention and what tangible and intangible assets do you have? Where are you ahead in the game and where do you need to begin playing catch-up sooner rather than later? Whether you've got some pleasant surprises or some serious concerns, it's always better to know exactly what you're dealing with.

3) Schedule your priorities - To avoid devolving into a total pity party, make yourself a schedule that moves you forward and stick to it like you would stick to a job schedule. I like to establish a healthy mix of job hunting, skills development, networking and some fun - approximately in that order, but you decide what's important for you. Presumably, job hunting is your top priority, so make sure your actions back that up. But that doesn't mean it should be your only priority to the exclusion of everything else. Remember to have fun along the way and nurture your other needs in addition to keeping up your efforts to track down another source of income.

Part of keeping it a healthy mix means making what time you do spend job-hunting really count. Target the job boards (are you more likely to find work on Dice or LinkedIn? Monster or Yahoo?) that are most likely to carry your kind of postings and stay current with them. And whatever you do, don't forget to target specific companies that are appealing to you.

4) Learn something - Time spent unemployed is great for brushing up on your technical skills and these days, there are lots of low- (and even no-) cost options for doing so. I have spent time between jobs teaching myself skills such as JavaScript and XML. Back when I was working in television, I'd turn the sound down on the weather reports and practice the sort of on-air patter common for broadcast meteorologists. Make updating your marketable skills a priority - it will improve your resume and you'll have something to show for the time.

5) Stay positive - This one's a two-fer. Staying positive means avoiding both cynicism and pessimism. The best antidote for cynicism is to develop a philosophical attitutude. It may be someone else's fault you are where you are, or it may be your own but in the end, it doesn't really matter a whole heckuva lot. Blaming yourself or others won't help you find another job and in fact, could cost you opportunities if you come across in interviews as too negative. What you don't want to is to get stuck in the past and that's all that cynicism or dwelling on problems will do for you. Work hard at finding what's good in the situation and use that to propel you forward.

Pessimism is best dealt with by focusing on the possibilities, however unlikely they may seem at first. You may have legitimate reasons to be concerned about finding work or making ends meet in the meantime but it just keeps you stuck to spend your time thinking about it. Instead, keep your eye on what might be possible and do whatever you can to increase your chances that you'll be one of the few to buck the odds. Somebody out there is still hiring geeks and someone will get those jobs, even if they're far and few between. Do what you can to be one of them. For some geeks, that learning time mentioned in #4 might be better spent on developing soft skills like those used to develop good working interpersonal relationships than on learning Ruby on Rails.

6) Keep (or start) networking - Keep in touch with people you know from past jobs and other aspects of your life. If several of you find yourselves out of work at once, consider meeting for coffee on occasion to help each other through this tough time. You can look over each others' resumes, offer job hunting tips, and practice interview skills. Lunch 2.0 events help reduce your grocery bill and increase your networking opportunities; take advantage of them. If getting together in person doesn't work for you (and even if it does), you can and should also keep in touch electronically. Email and social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can be great tools for staying in contact with people who might be able to help you land your next position.

7) Set goals - Whether it's networking contacts or job applications, make sure you identify interim objectives and track your progress. Not only will it keep you motivated to keep going, it will also keep you pointed in the right direction and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment along the way, even before all your shots on goal land you a new job.

8) Get involved - Use the skills you would bring to a job to help out some charitable organization. They benefit from your expertise, you stay current in your skills and have something worthwhile to show for the time you spend unemployed, and everyone wins. Or participate in events like Startup Weekend or 6-hour Startup as an alternative to drive-by carding-type networking events. Online, you can build credibility by offering your expertise on sites such as LinkedIn and Experts Exchange and other forums.Who knows, in getting involved, you may even meet and impress someone influential in your job search.

9) Reinvent yourself - Sometimes lay-offs are an opportunity to look at things from a new perspective and start fresh. If you're thinking that could be true for you, you owe it to yourself to set aside any fears you have and look at the situation with an objective eye. Do I really want to go in a new direction? What would it take to improve my chances of success? Books can be a huge help in figuring out your position on the matter. What Color Is Your Parachute is a perennial favorite of mine and if you like a bit more structure, you may appreciate my other favorite, Now What - 90 Days to a New Life Direction.

If you're thinking of starting a new business, know that it is likely to be tough but doesn't have to be impossible. Sometimes it's no more risky to go into business for yourself than it is to wait around for the next paycheck, especially if you've had some money set aside. If you're smart about budgeting and business plans, you may be able to turn chaos into opportunity. For those of you not in Boulder tomorrow, be on the watch for notes from the panel discussion, Crash Course - Growing a Startup Amid Uncertain Economic Times as a step toward being better prepared.

10) Get help - Geeks tend to operate in a meritocracy, which is all well and good until we get to the point where we think that means having to be able to do everything ourselves. Sometimes getting help is the best thing you can do for yourself. Another perspective on matters is often very beneficial and don't forget the additional value of making yourself more available for other pursuits more worthy of your direct involvement; sometimes you just can't know and do everything. Help can come in the form of a self-organized support group or an informal buddy system just as readily as from a coach. If what you really want is to work with a career transition coach though, find out about coaching rates and don't assume that it's out of your price range just because you're out of work. Perhaps you know others who are looking for similar services making it possible to band together for group coaching and share the costs.

You can also consider asking the coach to negotiate rates. I've found a lot of coaches and prospective clients really like the formula F = 0.1*(V-A) + A , where the coaching Fee is calculated using V for the Value of the engagement and A for the amount deemed by the client to be Affordable, as a way of preserving value in the coaching relationship while making the coaching services workable for the client.

The upshot is that we all know there are fluctuations in the tech sector - there have been for a lot of years now and some would argue that we never did fully recover from the bursting of the dot com bubble. Still, my sense is that technology is here to stay in one form or another, and that means there will always be tech jobs out there somewhere. If the work isn't going away entirely, it means that we have only to figure out how we fit into the new paradigm and do our best to adapt.

What adaptations will help you survive the downturn?