Top Jobs 2008: A Guide to Layoff Survival

FastCompany.com offers you a guide to layoff survival and the job search. From the practical to the philosophical, get expert tips on how to survive the fall, and get back in the game.

The Axe is Falling

Amanda did not see it coming. Her most recent performance review was strong, plus she had a great rapport with her manager, so when the year-end layoff rumors began circulating around the office, she thought she had immunity. She should have known better. She, along with the thousands who were axed, never received an invite to the Christmas party and got the worst gift of all -- a severance package.

Sadly, Amanda isn't alone. As of November 2007, at least 1,408,852 people have lost their jobs due to mass layoffs, a 6% increase from 2006, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that figure only reflects those who claimed unemployment insurance from employers who cut 50 or more employees at a time.

To make matters worse, employers don’t seem to be hiring; the unemployment rate went from 4.7 to 5% in the space of a month (from November to December 2007), the largest increase since April 1995. Monster.com’s own employment index, which tracks online recruitment across career sites and job boards in real-time, also posted its first-ever decline in online job ads in November 2007.

While companies downsize for a plethora of business reasons -- to reduce redundancy after a merger or acquisition, to revamp corporate strategy, or to improve the bottom-line -- much of the current job shortage has direct links to the subprime mortgage collapse still reverberating across the country in 2008. Just a few days ago, Citigroup reported record losses ($9.83 billion in the fourth quarter) due to bad mortgage-related investments and loans and will reportedly be slashing 4,700 jobs. With housing prices nosediving and credit becoming ever more difficult to obtain, jobs in manufacturing and construction have been hardest hit, totaling 47% of mass layoffs last year. White-collar jobs are hardly any more secure. Companies that service the housing industry (insurance, mortgage, real estate brokers and banks) were quick to downsize; jobs from media and technology to the usually strong biotechnology/pharmaceuticals also followed suit as a reaction to weak performance in a slowing economy.

Yet some experts believe there's no cause for real alarm. "A 5% unemployment rate is not tragic … not every cylinder is going down," according to John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, who works directly with laid off workers to get back on their feet. "Companies are constantly hiring, growing, changing so there are always openings." On average, his clients have been able to find work within three to four months, even in this gloomy labor market. He still sees strong growth in healthcare, energy, technology and anything with a global outlook. The unemployed could also consider work in government: in November alone, government agencies were responsible for 30,000 new hires.

You may not be at risk of being laid off but there is definitely anxiety over job security in the workplace. If you follow the news at all, it certainly feels as if everyone and everywhere is downsizing. So how can you avoid being the sacrificial lamb for your company?

According to University of Colorado Denver management professor, Dr. Wayne F. Cascio’s research on the culture of downsizing, there isn’t much individuals can do. Downsizing has simply become the de-facto quick fix to address business woes in the US, so being laid off is an unavoidable aspect of corporate life. "A young adult should expect to be laid off three to four times before he turns 50," he advises.

Others like Challenger, however, believe that personal relationships are heavily instrumental in a company's decision to let someone go. From his experience, those who have had "a relationship breakdown" with their employer are far more likely to be handed a pink slip than "a top performer." In other words, work hard and maintain a positive working relationship with your boss -- you just may avoid the axe.

While there may be optimism in the job market, being laid off can wreak havoc on your psyche, which could play a bigger role in your ability to rebound than you think. No matter how you got the news -- you were denied access to your office via a deactivated security pass or gently let down by your manager -- you’ve lost your livelihood and in many cases, your sense of self. Like a relationship gone bad, losing your job can be incredibly painful and life-changing. But it doesn’t have be tragic. We spoke with everyone from a layoff survivor-turned-entrepreneur-and-author, to experienced career coaches and downsize experts, for some words of wisdom and helpful next steps.

 

Pulling Yourself Together

 

Allow yourself to mourn: When you lose your job due to layoffs, you’ll feel as if you’ve been dumped by your employer. You’ll feel betrayed, hurt, dejected and angry, which are common emotions associated with grief. "Mourn the loss of your job so you can regain the strength to find a better one," advises Nick Lore, career coaching maverick and founder of the Rockport Institute. In fact, Challenger encourages his clients to take a few weeks off so they can get some emotional distance.

Be resilient: "You’re bound to encounter rejection in your job search, so you need to be resilient," offers Dr. Andrew Shatté, co-author of The Resilience Factor. He believes you can train yourself to be mentally stronger by knowing your own thinking patterns and counteracting against your natural inclinations. You can uncover your innate resilience factor online (click on "How resilient are you?").

Talk it out: From Lore's experience, women tend to refocus and start their job search faster than men. Why? "Because they’re more comfortable talking about their needs and anxieties to family and friends, and doing so helps them move beyond the shock and anger to start thinking about 'What’s next?'"

It’s not that men have nothing to say -- they just need to find the appropriate support group to open up to. When Test-Drive Your Dream Job author Kurth lost his dotcom job in 2001, he and a few other job seekers would meet every week to share job search experiences over coffee and bagels (a.k.a. "Unemployed Bagels"). He recalls how all the members in the group eventually managed to bounce back and find jobs they love.

Set a budget: You’ll need to put together a budget to reflect your newly unemployed status. "One thing I cannot stress enough is that it is very important you continue to make your [health] insurance [payments], especially when you’ve been laid off," says Kurth. Whether you go through COBRA or finance your own policy -- Kurth remembers financing his health insurance with his own unemployment insurance check -- make every effort to budget for this even if it means cutting your spending elsewhere.

 

Getting Back in The Game

 

Set goals: As Kurth was brainstorming on what to do next with his family and friends, he made sure he got his ideas down on paper "so I could stay organized and focused."

Make a list of all the things you loved, hated, and would like to change about your life and ex-job. From here, you can begin brainstorming about your short and long-term goals. What other careers have always intrigued you? Are you an entrepreneur at heart? Would switching fields require additional training? If so, where, and how much would it cost? Above all, share your plans, however preliminary, with your support group so your friends can keep you on your toes.

Network, network, network: In Challenger's opinion, you can learn a lot about being work-ready from politicians: "Be like a presidential candidate. Be upbeat and positive even if you're not feeling that great about yourself." Make a point of getting out of the house and interacting with people. The more people you meet, the better.

Create your own network in addition to attending professional networking events. A good way to ensure you get out there and do meaningful work is to volunteer your time for a charitable cause, according to Challenger. You never know who you will meet and what connections they may bring.

Both Kurth and Challenger recommend that you try to identify people whose work appeal to you in some way and make a point of meeting them. Offer to take them out to coffee or even lunch. You'd be surprised how helpful people can be.

And by all means, get up to speed with all the major social networking sites like LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook. Get reacquainted with your acquaintances. "Just don’t expect these tools to magically land you a job," cautions Challenger.

Through all your networking efforts, stay organized in order to make best use of your contacts. Kurth, during a year long hiatus after his layoff in 2001, conducted over 200 informational interviews; he organized all the contact information in a simple Excel spreadsheet.

Limit your computer use: Challenger believes you’re wasting your time if you devote all your time responding to online job ads. That is why he recommends that you "use your computer to search for jobs after dinner." You should spend your day meeting and interviewing with people, not in front of your computer.

Take breaks: Whether it's going out for dinner once a week (within your means, of course), going for a run every other day, or both, taking breaks from your job search is essential to your mind-body wellness, which will help you stay energetic and motivated.

There is no denying being downsized is difficult, and bouncing back, harder still. But it is not impossible. Kurth spent a year exploring his options before deciding to start Vocation Vacations, a company that helps clients test drive their dream jobs as vacations. At the time, he had three mortgages to pay off, and both he and his partner got the pink slip on the same day, but they found a way to survive. So can you. "[Being laid off] can be a tragedy or an opportunity," offers Lore. "Turn it into an opportunity of a lifetime. What do you have to lose?"

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  • Frank B. Leibold, PhD.

    Where Have All The Jobs Gone?

    Frank B. Leibold, PhD.,July 20,2010

    Increasingly newspaper headlines across America are asking this question.

    In addition to cutting jobs due to the recession and to increase profitability, companies are looking overseas to save money in labor costs. And there are those who feel that the US economy has 'absorbed' the current unemployment level through innovation, re-structuring and productivity gains. With 70 million baby-boomers ready to retire the workforce is at its peak to accomplish this. In my view these 15 million underemployed jobs are structurally gone! The Labor Department's DLS indicates that there are six job seekers for each job opening – a historical high.

    According to Forrester Research, over the next fifteen years over three million US service industry jobs and up to $136 billion in wages will move overseas to countries including India, Russia, China and the Philippines. Forrester also notes that 88 percent of the firms said they got better value for their money overseas and 71 percent said overseas workers did better quality work.
    A Deloitte Research survey reports that the world's 100 largest financial-services companies expect to transfer about $356 billion of their operations and two million jobs offshore over the next five years. It's not just technology jobs that are leaving the United States. Jobs in just about every sector are going abroad including mortgage processors, claims adjusters, financial analysts, telemarketers and a variety of other job titles.

    Protecting American Jobs
    What can be done to protect American jobs? One suggestion is to remove tax incentives to American firms that are shifting jobs. Former presidential candidate, John Kerry, said in an AFL-CIO interview that "...companies move offshore simply to avoid paying American taxes, yet they still get all of the same benefits, including government contracts. We should penalize these companies and deny them government contracts."

    In addition, labor unions and technical worker alliances are lobbying Congress. While states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and South Carolina, are considering legislation to prevent tax-payer funded jobs from being shifted overseas.

    Closing America's Global Skills Gap

    Many American companies find themselves ill-equipped to grow because of a lack of skilled workers according 2005 report by the National Association of Manufactures The Growing Skills Gap. Interestingly, the skill gap is no longer in the high technology area but rather in workplace attitudes of dependability, attendance and the basic skills of the 3 R's. But the skill gap is also not just a "large manufacturing company" problem. A 2002 U. S. Chamber of Commerce report Keeping Competitive indicates that 73 percent of surveyed small companies with less that 50 employees are experiencing "severe" or "very severe" problems in hiring qualified workers. The study also indicated that 40 percent of all job applicants had "poor or no employment skills." So those going from high school directly into the workforce (80 percent) don't have adequate global skills.

    The National Business Alliance (NBA) co-sponsored, along with the American Council on Education (ACE), the Business Higher Education Forum (BHEF), a group of CEO's and university chancellors examining and speaking jointly on issues of national concern. The BHEF has issued three reports Spanning the Chasm: Corporate and Academic Cooperation to Improve Workforce Preparation , Spanning the Chasm:A Blueprint for Action and in 2008 Corporate Investment in College Readiness and Access. All three focus on the connection between higher education and the world of work, specifically how well the linkage works for employers, graduates, and institutions. America's competitive edge in the 21st century global economy will greatly depend on a healthy spirit of collaboration between business and higher education as colleges and universities prepare graduates to take their place in the nation's workforce.

    The American Council on Education indicated in 2002 that “the quality of the nation’s elementary and secondary schooling is inadequate to meet the needs of the 21st century.” The US Department of Education’s 2001-2002 biennial survey of over 35,000 faculty at 358 American colleges disturbingly revealed that the surveyed faculty believed that only 32 percent of new students are academically prepared for college.

    In 2003 ASTD issued a white paper titled The Human Capital Challenge. It indicated “now more than ever the success of public and private organizations in the United States depends on the knowledge and capabilities of their employees.” Followed in 2006 by ASTD’s Bridging the Skill Gap, which focused on talent management and the coordination required between training and human resources to develop lacking 21st century skills in the workforce.

    In 2005, Deloitte Consulting surveyed human resource executives nationwide and more than 70 percent of the 123 respondents said incoming workers with inadequate skills pose the greatest threat to business performance over the next three years, followed by baby boomer retirement (61 percent) and the inability to retain key talent (55 percent). They also found that respondents indicated that they expect to lose 11 percent of their workforce by 2008 due to boomers’ early retirement at 62. These findings are highlighted in the Deloitte Research report It’s 2008:Do you Know Where Your Talent Is?

    This American 'awakening' of the lack of competitive global skills and how damaging it is to our international competitiveness has been most recently addressed by US president - Barak OBama, when he addressed the nation to discuss his 2009-2010 budget and the national priorities of his administration. “The only way we can compete globally is to provide our young people with a world class education,” he said. Unfortunately, we have only made marginal progress as a nation in the last two decades since the problem has been documented, and its cause has been squarely place on America's public school system. The president is pushing for not only higher standards but longer school periods - “the Japanese have had longer school days – including Saturdays, for over two decades.”

    The accelerating trend towards an increasing number of careers and job changes is then explored which leads to the need for LTCs. Invented Here: The Report on the Future of the South, issued by the Southern Governors Association (SGA) says, "A regions performance in the knowledge economy can rise no higher than the sum of the knowledge of its people." At a recent conference concerning human capital strategies held by SGA, the U. S. presidents of Mercedes Benz, Toyota, and Michelin spoke on their rural Southern workforce. Their factory workers make $60 to 85,000 a year managing computer integrated manufacturing lines that control robots at several work stations. Employees rotate jobs on a daily and monthly basis, meaning that workers need to know how to perform eight to ten different jobs. The skills these workers need to succeed are related to their knowledge and conceptual talents. Success in the new technology-driven economy will require new skills and competencies that allow people to perform multiple assignments; have over a dozen different jobs and five to six distinct careers - necessitating possession of universal portable 'core' competencies.

    So, transferable skill-sets, or competencies, have become the new currency of success and future employability. In the near future skills defined as critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication and collaboration (the four Cs) will become even more important to organizations according to a new survey conducted by American Management Association (AMA) issued in April 2010. The AMA recommends that public education merge the four Cs with the traditional three Rs in its curriculum.

    Losing America's Economic Dominance

    In 2006, the US Conference Board surveyed 431 human resource managers and issued its report, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnerships for 21st Century Skills. It revealed that America’s future workforce was “ill prepared” for the required 21st century skills; 70 percent of those surveyed indicated new employees had work skill deficiencies; and almost four out of ten didn’t have a high school education.

    A 2006 report by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), America In The Global Economy looked at America’s last 50 years of economic dominance and concluded:

    1.The US superiority came from scale, innovation and educational achievement.
    2.That 5,000 companies were spending 2.7 percent of GDP on research and development..
    3.Through the late 1970s, America “far exceeded” other nations in the 25-64 age bracket of those who had graduated from high school.
    4.In the late 1990s we had the most college graduates.
    5.From 1980-2000, 58 percent of the workforce had some college education.
    6.However, by 2030, India’s population will exceed China’s, and…
    7.China will have the largest economy by 2040.
    8.Now Canada has proportionally the most college graduates, and shortly Russia, Norway, the Czech Republic and Japan will have more high school graduates than the US.

    So America’s scale advantage will be exceeded soon by China and India and its educational advantage has slipped to sixth. Additionally in 2004, the US graduated 70,000 engineers, India over 280,000 and China greater than 800,000—potentially threatening America’s third dominance factor: innovation.

    The Six LTCs

    These six LTCs, are reflective of new millennium challenges. They are not traits, habits, or specific activities; but individual competencies that require a sub-set of related activities that must be mastered.

    To succeed today one and one's organization must be driven by satisfying the changing customer's needs. Your customer may be either external or internal. All organizations need effective and efficient problem solvers who can utilize technology to meet the customer's need in a response time that provides a sustainable competitive advantage through added value and service. In order to perform effectively in today's multicultural society it is important to have a global perspective and cultural understanding and sensitivity. One must be motivated and persistent for the right reasons; realizing that you can increase your motivation substantially to face unforeseen future challenges. Managers must also motivate their organizations towards the same goals. The root of all effective motivation is a healthy amount of self-esteem. Managing one's career to have multiple and varied job assignments, including an international position, will develop the needed skill-sets. A formal career plan, along with feedback from candid and trusted friends for realism, and a mentor to assist you is navigating one's career moves is critical to career success. Finally, living a balanced and healthy life with time devoted to family and outside work activities are now recognized as also essential to life, and career success.

    “The Conference Board's research confirms that American business finds new entrants to the workforce lacking in the skills required to be globally competitive both today and for the demands of the coming years. Frank Leibold, in his new book-“Competencies That Close America's Global Skill Gap”- recognizes and analyzes this deficit and offers individuals specific guidance on how to overcome these skill gaps. His advice is important for those just entering the workforce who may find they need skills heretofore unlearned. However, his advice may be even more critical for those more seasoned workers who are challenged by having to reinvent themselves in this new economic reality, where companies are requiring employees to take on more responsibility for their personal and professional well-being?”
    -------- Mary Wright, Project Leader, Workforce Readiness Initiative,The Conference Board

    Summary

    Despite a $862 billion job stimulation legislation last year the slow and unsteady economic recovery has been jobless. Some claim that the uncertainties of new medical and financial legislation has prevented companies from spending an estimated $1.3 trillion. Others point to moving jobs to lower wage rate countries. I believe that the US economy has absorbed these lower manning levels through innovation, re-structuring and productivity gains. However it's clear that tomorrows jobs will require new competencies that close America's well documented global skills gap.

    Frank Leibold after a distinguished 30-year business career with three multinational corporations and nine jobs-culminating in the position of Group President-re-tooled himself and obtained his PhD.. Frank then became a nationally recognized university professor of marketing while founding his own global management consulting company. He and his wife reside in South Carolina and spend time traveling to visit and spoil their nine grand-children–two in Australia. His new book: The Key To Job Success In Any Career will be published in October 2010 – excerpts form the basis for this article.