Surviving A Job Loss
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A job loss is a painful experience, especially if it is unexpected. While there isn’t a lot you can do to completely avoid losing your job, there are a lot of things you can do to soften the impact. While you may not be expecting to suddenly find yourself unemployed, it’s still a good idea to hedge your bets against being unemployed. Planning in advance can not only help you weather a job loss, but can also give you more peace of mind by reducing your risk.
Unexpected consequences may occur from job loss if you are not prepared for it. It can wreck your finances if you don’t have money saved up, with cascading effects all the way up to bankruptcy. Money is more expensive than face value when you don’t have it. Unexpected things like tax bills, medical bills, and the like can really sting if you are already pinching pennies.
“I seriously considered getting out of development.”
Job loss can destroy your sense of meaning and control over your own life and lead to a spiral of depression. We tie a lot of our self worth around what we do for a living, and having that suddenly disappear can have a surprising effect on well-being. Along the same lines, it may force you to take a job you hate just to put food on the table. It’s well worth being prepared to minimize the risk of this as much as possible. Finally an unexpected job loss can ruin vacations, holidays, and future plans.
A job loss can be hard to take, but there are some things you can do to make the experience a little easier to bear. The best part is, a lot of this preparation can help make a job loss less likely, as it also makes you a more valuable employee.
22:40 Before Taking A Job
Find out about the company’s finances. Good, experienced developers do this. Either you ask or you find out some other way. You can take a job at a company that seems like a perfect fit, only to find that the job suddenly disappears as half the office is laid off. It has happened to me several times and I check this in advance now. It doesn’t catch all of them, but it reduces the risk. If it’s a government job, find out what the policies are around layoffs and job stability.
Budget to save money towards an emergency fund from the start. Do not live hand to mouth if you can help it (or for any longer than you can help it.) You are going to want to have savings equivalent to several months of living expenses put somewhere where you can get your hands on it quickly. Think about it like this. If losing your job means losing everything, you’re going to end up tolerating things you should never put up with.
Figure out what things they won’t tolerate, so that you can meet expectations. If being late is your boss’s pet peeve, it’s best not to find that out whilst being written up. This can often mean being in the office for longer hours, even if you aren’t working the entire time.
“On the other side of this, learning to fix technical debt can be a hugely valuable job skill.”
Figure out what job skills you can learn there that will help you after it ends. Try to avoid jobs that offer no new skills and experience, as that means your next job search will be starting from a worse place. If you get the impression early on that you are just going to be a code monkey, you need to be keeping your options open. Don’t assume that tech debt is a good reason to avoid a particular job, provided you are allowed to fix it.
29:10 While On The Job
Network, Network, Network. This is better to do before you need it. Don’t be the LinkedIn ninja who disappears until he is looking for a job. It comes across as desperate. You don’t only want to know about upcoming jobs when you are out of work.
“Don’t be stupid just because you’re making more money.”
Try to get several months worth of your expenses saved up and in the bank. This needs to be a continual practice; don’t slack on this just because you are comfortable. Don’t let a higher paying job convince you to take on more expenses until you have a lot of slack.
Keep track of your work accomplishments. Find out what something was worth to the company when you did it. It’s easier to obtain that info when you aren’t on the way out. Keep the accomplishments written down where you can get to them. These can help with pay raises as well as job searches, so don’t ignore their value.
“I have a recurring task for this about every three months”
Keep your resume up to date. Periodically editing it on LinkedIn tends to send recruiters your way, whether you want them or not. This will also somewhat protect you from having to edit it in a distressed state if you unexpectedly get downsized.
Keep your eyes open on the local job market. Participate in the community and help your friends find jobs. Not only is it nice, but the information you get is extremely valuable. This information can also prove valuable when justifying a raise at your current job.
Be cultivating references and have them available on LinkedIn. You don’t want to be soliciting these when you are out of work. Do this for other people in return. Keep your relationships with recruiters warm, if you are planning on using them. While they will help you if you call them needing help out of the blue, they can move faster if they already have all the stuff they need.
Keep your skills sharp with regular training and exploration of new ways of doing things. Your job has no obligation to train you. They might and they are smart if they do, but the sad reality is that most won’t. This means a little extra time on the side to keep up with trends and upcoming technology. This can also help insulate you from being downsized, because you are bringing valuable improvements into the business.
42:45 Before Your Last Day
Start applying immediately to jobs and interviewing if possible. Wait as little time as possible on this unless you have a good reason for doing otherwise. There are financial consequences to waiting. Remember that severance packages are essentially free money if you manage to get a job before they run out.
Find out about your severance package, if any. If none, find out about unemployment options. Unless you are fired for cause, you’re pretty likely to get a severance package, because it’s cheaper for the employer than the risk that you will go on unemployment. If you were fired for a cause, unemployment may be more difficult to get, depending on where you are.
Double check your resume and get it up to date. If you’ve been keeping it up to date, this is easier to do, but you should check for spelling errors and other problems at this point. Also get down information about the places you have worked like street address and the like. It’s easier and less frustrating to do this before the layoff takes effect. You should also lightly edit your resume at this point anyway, especially if it is on LinkedIn. I’ve found that resume edits result in people reaching out to me. Get any references you can from coworkers.
“There are ways to do it without doing it.”
Let your network know you are looking, if you are allowed to do so before the cutoff. If you aren’t allowed, then they need to be giving you a severance package to cover you for a while after the job ends. Otherwise, you are under no obligation not to disclose. Even if you aren’t allowed, unless there are severe contractual penalties, you probably should be discretely putting the word out.
Find out what your options are on insurance. Insurance after a layoff, especially in the US can absolutely destroy your savings. A material percentage of US bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses, so it is a good idea to have a plan.
Spend quality time figuring out why your job ended and how to avoid that in the future. Always do a retrospective when something goes horribly wrong. There are probably things that you missed when working that might have warned you of the pending layoffs.
51:10 After The Job Ends
Keep a regular schedule. Don’t start sleeping in and getting sloppy. This means maintaining your workout regimen. Don’t start eating junk food. Watch the excessive media consumption.
“It’s when this isn’t a planned thing, when it becomes a default setting, that it is a bad thing.”
Keep track of where you applied and keep looking. Don’t just assume that you’ll get something out of the first few jobs you’ve applied to. Keep looking. You want to also keep track of where you’ve applied so you can manage follow ups and the like.
Make sure you get your severance package and that your insurance stuff is in order like it should be. If a company screws either of these up, it can really hurt you financially before you find out. Don’t make the assumption that they got it right.
“Do try to avoid any large expenses, like coming to my wedding.”
Take care of doctor’s appointments and other things that would have burned your time off in a job. You might as well sort those out while you are out, provided you can afford them. Besides getting you out of the house, this will also keep you from having to do these things during the first weeks of a new job. Do avoid any large expenses here though, if they can wait.
Work on learning new skills to help with your job prospects. Be training during the down time. You’ll have dead time while unemployed. Use it to get ahead of the people who are having to work. This can also give you some sense of self-direction while things aren’t good.
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Tricks of the Trade
Your freedom is inversely proportional to the consequences of raising your middle finger and walking away. Focus on lowering those consequences as much as possible. While money is a reasonable measurement of this capability, it isn’t the only one and may not be the best one. Figure out how to grow your “finger fund” as much as possible. You’ll be surprised at both the power this gives you back as well as what you are capable of as the fear goes away.