I suppose when I’m an old man, I’ll be able to sit my grandkids on my lap and tell them about how the Great Recession affected me in a cranky old man voice. I’ll be sure to tell them about the first round of unemployment in 2008 when, after working for the same company for 10 years, I got laid off one day before my work anniversary. Yeah. That was truly special. Then, I’ll have to remember that after seven months of unemployment (with only one interview and no offers), the very same company called and hired me back to run their promotions and marketing department. Not really the best fit in terms of interest (from me), but I took to the job, turned the department around, hired some very capable people, and had some good promotional campaigns that helped increase the radio station’s visibility in the community. Plus I did a bunch of other jobs that I wasn’t compensated for (ain’t that the case with most jobs these days?) that went way beyond my job description — but fell under the category of “other tasks assigned by the manager.” Hey, it was a job, I did it well, learned some new skills, and was a reliable and loyal employee. Plus, I “made it” to management — which can be a unique ring of hell at times.
And then after three years and a few months…
I took a couple of days off for my birthday, came in on Monday morning to the news that I was being laid off (The owners of this company have impeccable timing, don’t they?) So, what was the reason this time? Same reason as 2008: budget cutting due to a decrease in revenue. If you think because you’ve “made it” to management means you’ll be able to weather the storms of lay offs a little easier, think again. For me, the combination of age, salary, and benefits meant that they found someone younger and cheaper to do my job.
Sounds like age discrimination, huh. It is.
Well, after that ended, I picked up some contract work at a production company directing a TV show (I wrote about this in another post). That was a kind of hit and miss thing. Lots of big talk by the CEO about “sacrificing now for bigger budgets and paychecks in the future,” plans to take the show national, and blah, blah, blah. I was partly hopeful, but mostly skeptical that he could realize his goals because of his inherent cheapness and inability to fully understand what it takes to produce a TV show for broadcast. Nevertheless, the money wasn’t bad, I was able to sharpen my multimedia skills, and write some shows that were informative and well-received. The plug got pulled on my show because more money was going out than coming in. Why? Well basically, they produced a full season of shows before they got sponsors. I wasn’t on the sales and marketing side of this “Gonna take over the world” media company, but even I knew that in Hollywood they put all their money into a pilot before moving ahead with a full series. If you don’t get picked up, at least the initial investment in the pilot won’t bankrupt your company. Not the genius behind this company, though. He was a big believer in “If we make it, they will come flocking with bags of cash”
Well, after that debacle, I was back to hitting the proverbial bricks. After months of applying to the black hole known as “Apply Online,” shaking down connections on LinkedIn to get my resume in front of hiring managers, I finally tried “Plan C.” Plan C was simple: see if I could get work doing traffic and news reporting again. I was good at it when that was my job years ago, and I still had contacts in the radio industry. So, because I had internal folks willing to recommend me, the hiring manager called and asked if I was interested in working for them. There was no hesitation on my part. I said “Absolutely. Thank you for the opportunity!” Starting next week, I start training to work for Total Traffic Network in San Francisco. This is also a union job, so now I’ll finally be a member of SAG-AFTRA. Who knows? Maybe I can get some TV work out of it, too.
Yes, it will be good to be working again. But what have I learned about falling in and out of work in the last year? Well, let me bullet this out for ease of reading:
- Keep your networks fresh! Don’t connect with people you already work with. They can’t help you get a job if you’re laid off. They are trying to hang on to theirs. Connect with people who are out of your immediate circles of friends and co-workers. If you can, connect with them while employed and see if there’s anything you can offer them.
- If you have to “apply online” for a job, use LinkedIn to see if you are connected to anyone at the company you’re interested in. If you are, reach out to them first. It’s not a guarantee that’ll you’ll get an interview, but it’s a better method than going through the front door — where if you don’t have at least 80% of what the company is looking for, your resume will end up in a black hole.
- Let people know that you’re looking for work — and tell them what you’re looking for. If you don’t know, take time to find out what you want to do. Don’t say “I’ll do anything.” If you do, it’s not likely that your connections will help you. If you see a job notice that looks like a good fit with your skills and interests, tell people this is what you want to do.
- Looking for work should not be a full-time job. Make it a part-time job — because making it a full-time job will drive you crazy.
- Do things for yourself that are fun. I bike ride because it gets me out of the house and I generally feel good after a ride.
- Keep you skills sharp by working for free or for very little money. I write for Popdose and host and produce a video series for Truthout because I want to keep my writing and interviewing chops fresh. Plus, it fills up my week with projects that are infinitely more interesting than writing cover letters or revising my resume.
- Lastly, you will get depressed. You will feel like “I’ll never work again.” You will get resentful of others who seem to coast from job to job without experiencing what it’s like to be unemployed. It will be incredibly difficult, but you must push those feelings away. For me, the best way to get rid of those negative emotions is to exercise. The post-workout rush I get is better than any kind of drink, drug, or box of chocolates.
So there ’tis. The Great Recession taught me that you have to be a very flexible worker who shouldn’t stop learning new skills. It’s also taught me that you shouldn’t get comfortable with a company. Businesses are always evaluating ways they can increase efficiencies (i.e., how to save money), and they will lay you off if it helps them balance the bottom line. They are not going to change, but you as an employee will have to shift your mindset to be as calculating as they are. Loyalty is rarely rewarded anymore, so don’t think that’s a virtue. Certainly, do the best job you can for the company you’re working for, learn new marketable skills, but build a plan like businesses do. Yes, you will make friends at these companies, but the corporation is not your friend — nor is it your enemy. It’s a place where you offer your skills and talent in exchange for money and other benefits. That’s the simple transaction. When your skills and talent are available for less money, a company will go the cheaper route if it makes economic sense. The company doesn’t care that you have a mortgage, kids to feed, a car payment, and all those other things that go along with life. The company cares mostly about profit, leverage, and market share. That’s why you shouldn’t care about leaving a company for a better opportunity if you have one. You need to make money, too. You and your family depend on it.
Don’t get drawn into an emotional situation. If your boss pleads, begs and offers you more money, decide if it makes economic sense to you. In other words, is he or she offering you a good deal? Or is this offer just a stop-gap to keep you until they can hire someone cheaper? At bottom, though, The Great Recession taught me that I have to think like the people who run a company. Now doing so won’t win you or me any loyalty points, but it may impart knowledge that could lead more control over one’s career.