The recession still blazes on, and people are still losing their jobs right and left. A friend of mine was recently fired and as we sat drinking coffee in our other office, the question was “how do I handle this?” Handling being fired is not easy, it is not meant to be easy; it is a rejection, and few of us like rejection. It is also in some ways a betrayal, because look at all the extra hours I put in or all the extra things I did for you outside my job description. And it is also part of who we are, many of us define ourselves by what we do, who we work for, and what size paycheck we bring in.
As I sat with my friend, we discussed strategies for what she was going to do next. One of the first things we agreed on was that she will never badmouth the company, or speak well of the company. She will simply admit she worked there. For companies that rely on word of mouth for attention this is important, you do not have to say anything bad, or good, rather say nothing at all speaks volumes. Plus not saying anything bad means you get to be the adult in the room. When it comes down to interview time at your next possible gig, be honest and say you were let go, but also say that you saw this as a huge opportunity to retool, retrain, and revise what you wanted to, and this is why you are here interviewing now.
One of the other things we did was read Penelope Trunk over on her blog, she has two very good articles on how to manage being let go from a company. The two articles were on her own experience being let from Yahoo, and another one on some of the tougher financial decisions that she and her husband had to make when they decided to strike out on their own.
Another thing we talked about was survivability, or the “backup plan”. She had one, which I thought was rather interesting, which was to keep her skills up by volunteering at various non-profits and other organizations. We talked about the Seattle Startup Scene as one way to approach this, and we also talked about taking minor equity in some of the smaller startups for work she was doing for them. When we ran the numbers, it was a good way to defer income for later on, but she also needed to pay the bills now.
Getting income now is always going to be a challenge. There are always bills to pay, cats to feed, and gasoline to purchase. No money in means changes in lifestyle, that weekly pizza bill for 25 dollars a week could be a savings of 100 dollars a month if not spent. Not everything has to go out the window, but money management just became a needed skill. The good part is that she is married, so there is some income coming into the house, but belt tightening is in order. She decided against unemployment filing for now, hoping that she can find something in the short term.
She also discussed becoming an “a-dasher” with any one of the consulting firms here in town as a possible option. Realistically, it is much easier to become an “A-dasher” (Microsoft contract employee with an orange badge) than it will be to find a decent long term job in this market. At the very least it will show that she was working soon after being let go.
One of the more interesting things to come out of the conversation though was the idea of “never again”. She really did not want to work for another company that saw her as a cog in the machine. That means she needs to start her own company, her own startup with what she knows and the people she knows outside and inside the company she used to work for or other companies and friends. I have seen this a lot in people as the recession grinds on into its third year, people worked hundreds if not thousands of extra off book hours at their job only to find out that they were replaceable. There is a certain amount of resentment on that idea of “look at all the free work I did for you”. The reality is that technology is a 60 to 80 hour work week regardless of where you are; she thought it might be refreshing to only have to work 40 hours as a contractor and spending the rest of the time working on her own safety net. She really liked the idea of starting her own company doing something she loves to do, and taking that big risk was very important to her. She needs to work out the logistics of it with the people in her life who will be most impacted, but it looks like this is something she is going to seriously do, and being the general advisor that I have been for years will help her get started.
The gamut of emotions wandering throughout the conversation was also something that needs to be discussed. Being fired is never going to be easy, and in many ways the person being fired goes through the same process as grief, we deny, we get angry, we discuss, until we finally accept that indeed this thing happened, and now it is time to do something different. There is no easy way to manage this process, there are no hard and fast answers, and while there are jobs out there, finding one that pays a living wage is difficult. What makes this interesting is that this is a hit home for me, I have been there in the past and came to many of the same conclusions that she has come to. Work can be transitory for some people, it is accepted practice to work about 3 years in a job now without taking any weird questions at interview time. What a person does with that knowledge is important, as they will be continually planning their next three year plan to make sure there is always a safety net.
Job loss is never easy, as I stated in the opening paragraph, it is not meant to be easy for multiple reasons. Hopefully though you have someone, friends, family, compadres who can help you get support you do need. There is a huge mental toll on being fired, there are huge financial risks to being fired, and there is a hugely uncertain job market right now as well. Even though Silicon Valley is hiring, things are a bit quieter in other locations. If you have been fired, drop me a note here and let me know what you did to survive it and how you overcame it. I will share these with my friend.
- Personal Branding Interview #2: Penelope Trunk (personalbrandingblog.com)
- Your #1 Job As CEO (eladgil.com)
- Should Startup Founders Keep Their Day Job? (businessinsider.com)
- I was fired for returning a stolen phone (ask.metafilter.com)
- ADP Estimates U.S. Companies Added 201,000 Jobs in March (businessweek.com)