Leaving you is sometimes easy

Believe it or not, layoffs are not always a bad thing.

Granted, there’s the gut-churning worry about making the mortgage and all the other payments, and that’s as real as it gets, especially if you, like me,  have been living paycheque to paycheque and not setting anything aside for the bad times. That is unequivocally double-plus-ungood.

But for your head and your heart and even your career, a layoff or buyout can be breathing space, a time to sit back and consider just what it is that you really want to do with the next five years — or the rest — of your life, and maybe take some tentative steps toward that thing.

I was talking the other day with a woman whose company seems to be moving toward layoffs and she’s pretty sure that if they come, they’ll come for her. And she’s fighting the feeling of relief that this is bringing. She feels like she’s been swimming in a toxic muck for years. Asked why she hasn’t just up and left before now, she admitted that her current workplace has drained whatever self-esteem she might have once had — she’s not confident enough to go out and sell herself on the job market.

Boy, did I understand where she was coming from. I spent the best part of my career working for a company whose mission I believed in — still do. It was the only place I wanted to work when I graduated from university. And many of the people I worked with were wonderful. But it was an extraordinarily toxic workplace for me because while I was frequently seconded to work at a higher level, my bosses made it clear over and over again that I lacked that certain je ne sais quoi to actually get promoted to that level permanently. I was of far more value to them as a pawn on the board that could move anywhere. Not only did I come to lack confidence in my skills, the lack of a saleable job title on my CV was evidence of my employer’s lack of confidence in me, so even when I applied for jobs I got hit by the double whammy. I did eventually get out and move on, but my lack of progress there remains my secret shame. I still can’t explain it, and that doubt remains at the back of my mind.

It’s really hard to believe in yourself when others don’t believe in you.  And even harder to just quit a sure paycheque, as harmful as it might be to earn it, on principle when you’ve got no safety net. So no judgment, please, about this woman’s failure to get out of the poison pool.

But she is taking steps, and that’s a positive thing. She’s getting therapy for her self-esteem issues. She’s getting her ducks in a row so that she’ll be ready when the layoff comes. And she’s trying not to be too overtly relieved about the idea about getting paid to leave her job. I told her to stop fighting it and embrace it as a natural result of the way she’s been feeling about her job. Because sometimes a layoff is freedom. You no longer have to work with the people who were making your life miserable. You leave with severance pay so your immediate concerns about paying the bills are assuaged, giving you time and space to think about your next move — which might be completely different from your last one.

Here are some ways to prepare yourself for a layoff:

  1. Use your benefits. If you need new glasses, get them. See your dentist. Buy your prescription meds. Get the massages that you never get. Take advantage of all of it — you’ve been paying for it, there’s no sense leaving money on the table. And if your company has an Employee Assistance Program that provides a certain amount of free counselling, use it. It’s confidential, won’t come back to haunt you at this workplace or the next, and could be the key to getting out of whatever rut you’ve been in.
  2. Put together a list of contacts, complete with contact details. People who’ve been helpful to you or to whom you’ve provided good service.
  3. Set up a non-work email address and use the first email to send yourself that list of contacts. Also make sure that you have copies of — or access to — any work product that you’re particularly proud of — papers or reports or whatever. Your personnel assessments. If you’ve received emails telling you what a great job you did or thanking you for going above and beyond on something, make sure you have copies of those too. You’ll want to be able to show this stuff to your next employer, plus it’s always good to look back on the work you’ve done and say to yourself, “Damn, I’m good!”
  4. We all know we’re supposed to put aside money to keep us going for a few months, but few of us actually do it, mostly because there’s always something to spend the money on, like gas for the car or a new roof. It’s hard to plan for an uncertain future when the very certain present has its hands in our pockets. But if you know something’s coming, start cutting back where you can, and pay off what debts you can. Start getting used to reduced circumstances.
  5. Sometimes you can see layoffs coming from miles away. If so, look at your resume and check for holes. Is there a course you can take — online or in person — that will fill that hole, either by upgrading existing skills or adding an in-demand skill? Your current employer may have a budget to pay for continued learning, but be careful — if the training isn’t directly applicable to your current job they may not pay for it.

Well, it WAS my layoff

OK, the truth can now be told — I’ve signed my offer letter and I have a new job. I’m pretty excited about it — the work itself, qua work, is familiar (editing) but the milieu is new.  I’m moving to the dark side, in journalism-speak, out of the newsroom frying pan and into the PR fire.

And for all that I’ve written about tapping networks and cold-calling employers of your dreams, I got this job the old-fashioned way: saw an ad, wrote a letter and sent a resume, and they liked what they saw well enough to invite me in.

That’s where this stopped being the same-old, same-old, however. Possibly because I’d had another interview earlier that week, which was a little rocky — I was a little ambivalent about the job for many reasons, and they were a little ambivalent about me, but a dear friend had referred me to someone high on the food chain and they couldn’t ignore me, and I believe it showed on both sides — I rocked it. I’ve never felt so positive about an interview in my life.

I said in an earlier post that I don’t interview well, and it’s true, as a rule. But I think I had two three several things going for me when I walked into that interview room: 1) the earlier interview. I was pretty sure I’d blown it, but it gave me the chance to practice some of my “script” — where I’ m weak, where I’m strong, and so on; 2) the second interview is in a field I know very little about, and they told me beforehand that I would be expected to pitch two story ideas on specific themes. It meant that I spent the better part of the week doing research, immersing myself in the company’s website, and in the field’s current issues. In a word, I had to do my homework and it paid off. 3) The transit schedule gave me the option of being half an hour early or 5 minutes late. I picked the former, and I also compiled a bunch of notes to go over in that free time — my French is a little rusty and the position called for a bilingual candidate so I wanted to make sure I knew the vocabulary. But I got turned around when I got off the bus and hadn’t written down the street address so I used up all but five of those 30 extra minutes trying to find the place. No chance to review my notes, or dither, or get nervous. Did me a world of good. 4) I had nothing to lose when I walked into that room and faced my interviewing party of five. I’d done my homework, I had the credentials, so put myself in the hands of the Fates, and was, finally, just myself. And they liked me.

Lucky as hell, that.

A number of people have asked me since what will become of this blog — will I change the title, will I keep writing it. And at this point the answers are no and yes, respectively. It’s no longer my layoff, but it was, and the number of people — former colleagues and others — I’ve had asking me for advice, as if I know anything, suggests to me there’s a market and I’m happy to keep producing for it. My new employer doesn’t have a problem with it as long as I stay away from proprietary issues, and that shouldn’t be a problem. But for now I’m taking a wee vacation. See you when I get back. In the meantime, if there’s anything you’d like me to write about specifically, let me know, and I’ll take it on.


Show them you’re worth the money – CBsalary

Quantifying your value to the company is a toughie in the newspaper industry, where you can’t say for sure your work retained clients or brought in new ones; there are no statistics you can point to to show that you increased sales or whatever. This article talks about how to put numbers in your resume.

Show them you’re worth the money – CBsalary.

My serenity prayer

Did you know that Jesus’ most frequent words of advice were “fear not”?

That’s according to Quentin J. Schultze, author of an informative and interesting guide to resume writing that I skimmed before sending my own post-layoff CV into the world. (Things I did differently because of the book included introducing myself with a one-line zinger: “Writing and editing professional with 20 years experience in busy national newsrooms”; and starting off with a listing of my skills highlights, where once I would have started off with experience or education). I’ve had two direct responses to my CV — a former colleague advised me to take the “conversational tone” out and use bullet points instead, advice I’ve taken under advisement; and another contact, a former CEO and former journalist, who said, “I LOVE your CV. It’s clear, it says what you do, and no weasel words.” (I paraphrase everything after “I LOVE your CV” — I was a little taken aback.)

Anyway, Schultze’s point when he quotes Jesus is to say that once you’ve sent your resume out into the world, you can’t worry about it. It is what it is, and you can’t change it. There’s no point worrying that you’ve got the wrong degree, or the wrong kinds of experience for the job in question, or that you’ve highlighted non-professional experience to sell yourself to employers.

And one reason why you shouldn’t be sweating that stuff is if you’d done the work beforehand, ya great freakin’ idiot, all those concerns could have, should have, would have already been addressed. Even if you’re not quivering in your shoes about your resume (and seriously, who among us doesn’t fret a little bit about whether we’re saying the right things, or  have the most up-to-date style) you should show it around a bit. For proofreading purposes if nothing else (because Spellcheck and autocorrect sometimes create more problems than they solve). Show it to people in your industry, to friends and colleagues who can be trusted to tell you the truth and not just blow smoke about how it’s perfect and you’re perfect and the world is sunny and bright and la la la la la.

This isn’t Schulte’s script here, it’s mine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — other people often have insights into your abilities that you simply don’t see. And people in other industries can be helpful too. I once gave my resume to a friend with a PhD in English literature who was working in a government department and she turned it into something I didn’t recognize — I was creating solutions and impacting outcomes all over the place (I like to believe that the language she used hurt her as much as it hurt me). The point is she used words I wouldn’t have used to sell myself — and the resume was far more effective for that. I’m straightforward — I do this, I do that — and I’m no salesperson. Are you?

There’s really no excuse for having a bad resume, after all (and I’ll admit I prefer the Latin Curriculum Vitae here not because it sounds more scholarly, but because I don’t know how to do the accent aigu on the Es and it pains me to be writing resume). There are resources for free in the library in the form of books — and sometimes in the form of seminars; there’s a ton of information online (pick and choose here, as with all online resources); and there are job-finding agencies and groups that live, I say LIVE to help you out. It’s their whole reason to exist. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, that will hold you back more than a bad resume. CV. Whatever.

And in times of trouble, repeat this to yourself: “Grant me the serenity to accept that these are the skills I have to put on my CV; the courage to put myself forward as a competent professional; and the wisdom to know when I’m being too humble.”


Another day, another five job applications

I have sent out at least one job application each working day for the last nearly seven weeks — to both actual jobs and to companies I’d like to work for which had no posted openings. That’s a minimum of 35 — I suspect the real number is higher. So far I’ve had two interviews, one of them pretty positive, and received two no-thank-you letters (both in response to cold-calls). I have had one cryptic non-official offer of a job I don’t know that I’d take, and another cryptic communication that sounds like it might be an offer in the making but it’s sure taking its time cohering into something I can put on my CV.

Even though I’m trying to spend as little as possible, I feel like I’m watching my bank balance trickle away. The bills still need to be paid, after all; I still need to eat.  I’m someone who’s not particularly suited to counting pennies if there are quarters in the jar. So when my enabling neighbour knocks on my door and asks if I’m interested in an outing — to the grocery store, or that store where you have to have a membership and you buy toilet paper rolls by the gross, or the nearby big-box hardware store — I go, promising myself that I won’t spend a dime, but I always end up seeing some small thing I can’t live without. Drip drip drip goes the money…

My mood, which was unrealistically bright and sunny seven weeks ago, is becoming darker. I’m yelling at the cat, impatient with myself and my friends — and about to come to blows with my ISP. The little no-see-ums that are impossible to escape on the front lawn reduced me to tears the other night (and the Off clip-on that I bought to combat them and the mosquitoes in the back was useless against them).  I’m becoming tired of penny-pinching and frustrated at the lack of action on the job front.

My job search hasn’t even dragged on that long, relatively speaking. I just started with such good energy, it seemed like it would be impossible for it not to pay off in some way, and  quickly. It’s hard not to measure myself against the success of my fellow layoff victims. Of the ones I know about (there are a couple that I’m unsure of) about four or five have landed in a better position than they left (though three left the province to do so); a couple of others have regular freelancing gigs; a bunch took lower-paying jobs at our former employer’s new workplace; a couple more are back in the old office as summer interns. I may have come flying out of the gate, but I’m currently one of the very few among those original 25 who is not re-employed in some way. And that’s freaking me out, say what you will about the relative “success” of those who took their old jobs back for less money.

I’ve started to be assailed by self-doubt, imposter syndrome, wondering if maybe I’m not as good as I think I am and worrying about what happens when the money runs out. And I don’t care if this is something that happens to everyone in my position. My position is that I have years of experience, have been told I’m really good at my job, have been told I’m doing all the right things to find a job, and have been told that there’s lots of work out there for someone with my qualifications. When the sum total of all those parts is continuing unemployment, I figure it’s my right to feel like hitting something.

You know what’s funny? I actually wrote about the exact position I’m in while I was still employed — about being over 40 and out of work and not being able to sell employers on your fabulousness. I have to be better at following up on applications I send out, but otherwise I’m managing to avoid the traps I described in those articles. I’m beginning to think, however, that there are pitfalls to this job search thing that I failed to warn me about.