Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Survive When Your Company's Ship Sinks

Is there any more disturbing site than watching employees cart their belongings in a cardboard box out of a failed company?

As I watched Lehman Brothers' employees leave the building over the weekend, it reminded me of that awful scene of stunned workers leaving Enron after it went belly up.

One of the most difficult aspects of a large employer failing is that you suddenly have thousands of people in the same boat -- and not everyone will do as well as others. Some will never regain their earning power, some will fall into depressions so deep it will take them years to re-enter the job market with any real enthusiasm and others will simply drift away to less-than-desirable careers.

The key for any employee who is suddenly out of a job with hundreds of co-workers is speed. At this point, you can't afford to sit back and bitch about how unfair the world is and the employer misled you about how serious were the problems. Because while you're moaning and groaning, others are scrapping for available jobs.

You need to:

* Make a game plan. Write down what are your absolutes -- the things you must have in a job. If it's health insurance, living in a certain city, specific hours, etc., then you know not to waste time looking at jobs that don't meet those criteria.
* Rally the troops. Get together with family and friends and let them know the situation. Brainstorm about people they know who might be able to help you submit a resume or get an interview. Remember: Most people still get jobs based on who they know.
* Contact a career coach or alumni association. Many universities are already geared up to help those who have been hard hit on Wall Street. If you don't think you can afford a career coach, consider giving up some of the extras in your life (a gym membership, eating out, cable television, etc.) which can can help you pay for a coach.
* Don't immediately think "entrepreneur": Times are tough right now, for everyone. Starting a business may be a dream, but it may be wiser to put it on hold until they economy brightens.
* Pride goeth before the fall: Keep in mind that there are going to be potentially thousands of people looking for a job as this financial debacle unfolds, so you can't afford to let your ego get in the way of a potential job. Be realistic about what you can accept as a salary, and don't get caught up in a job title. Keep in mind that if you get a job offer, you can usually negotiate a bit on the salary and benefits.
* Be ready to get the hell out of Dodge. I know people who live in New York City are passionate about the place. They can't -- and don't -- want to imagine living anywhere else. But the truth is that you may have to consider other cities if you want to land another job. And, even if you have kids, they can adapt to a relocation easier than they can to losing their home if you don't have a job.

And finally, if you find yourself out of work, remember to be good to yourself. Surround yourself with positive thinkers, take care of your body with proper nourishment and rest, and do whatever sustains your soul, whether it's yoga, gardening or attending religious services. Do not hesitate to ask for help from friends, family and colleagues. Most have been in -- or will someday be in -- your situation.

What other steps should someone take who has lost a job?


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Anonymous said...

I have a friend in real estate, and when the mortgage bubble burst, she tried to act like nothing was wrong. We would go shopping, and even though you could tell she was worried, she kept spending money. I think one importtant thing is that you should really set up a pretty conservative budget for yourself if you think your job might be in trouble. Your friends don't care if you have money or not, they care about you.

Anita said...

Great idea. Not only is it important to cut costs when you're worried about your income, but it's something the whole family can help with. That makes everyone feel more empowered than being told nothing is wrong. I really like your last line about friends caring more about you than how much money you make -- a good thought for all of us.
Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I think it's also important to think different in a situation like this. Everyone from Lehman Bros. is looking for a job now and they all have similar bakcgrounds. It may be time to think of using your skills in another industry so as to give yourself more opportunities.

Unknown said...

I can't tell you how it feels to be put in that position. Your entire world is coming down on top of you. As a single mom, there could be nothing worse. I think you gave great recommendastions. I would also suggest to begin networking from Day 1. Keep talking to people, go to lunch with someone to hear what is happening in the workforce, and stay connected. Once you go into the fetal position to suck your thumb for awhile, it will only make things worse when you lift the blanket...

Anita said...

Excellent point. To expand on that thought, think more about the skills you used than your job title. And, how those skills can transfer to different kinds of companies. Were you good at team-building, strategizing, developing new products, customer service, etc? Those are skills that any company can use -- including non-profits.
Thanks for posting.

Anita said...

You're absolutely right. Single parents are in an even more dire situation, and SPEED is the most important thing. They've got to get a job that's a good fit for them, as soon as possible. You're also right about networking often, and keeping those contacts within the working world. Pulling the covers over your head may sound appealing, but as you said, you'll pay a big price for doing so.
Thanks for sharing your story and advice.

Anonymous said...

First watch 'Office Space' & just to laugh at the bad stuff in cubical life.
Another thing I did during the .com bust & have suggest others to do is to take a continuing education course at a local college/university, they can
- Prepare for the change in direction in career/role
- Network with new classmates & teacher (most of the people are usually working)
- Use the schools career center resources
- Lessen the pride with the excuse of studying at school (while job hunting)
- Just to have some accomplishments as the days/weeks passes when job hunting

I know this can works for junior people or recent grads, but would this be too slow for people with kids & mortgages?

Anita said...

I absolutely agree that going back to school is a good option if that's what you need to do to position yourself better in the marketplace. You make terrific points about the advantages. I do know parents who have done just that, while the other spouse supported the household. That may be much tougher to do if you are a single parent. However, there are temp jobs or even part-time jobs that you could do in order to return to school -- employers understand that parents must do whatever they can in order to support their children.
I would suggest, also, that if parents find themselves in this position that they immediately assess their finances and meet with a community credit counselor to get a handle on how they can survive this situation until a fulltime position comes along.
By the way, love your suggestion on remembering to laugh and find ways to still enjoy life. A positive attitude is critical.

Anonymous said...

Full-time studying is a good option with quite a bit of commitment; Although something lighter, like courses with evening classes once a week in project management, excel, presentations ... It might be easier & getting alot of benefit.


Anonymous said...

Use your network (which you should have been nurturing during the better days so that you can use it in bad times)