How to Deal with a Tech Layoff

Wednesday Apr 4th 2007 by James Maguire
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In the IT world, job change is a constant. But as demoralizing as it is to lose your job, there are steps you need to take – and fast.

A quick glance at the layoff tracker reveals that IT layoffs are currently minimal – fortunately. Due to a healthy tech job market, not too many IT pros are handling the slings and arrows of layoff notices.

But over the course of an IT career a layoff is far from unusual. Tech companies are notorious for merging and cutting divisions. Corporate chieftains, in their ultimate wisdom, decide that restructurings are necessary.

It’s important to note that being laid off is not a reflection of a staffer’s skills. When upper management swings the axe, it takes both the wheat and the chaff. Many workers take it personally. Despite having spent years mastering a programming language, or having kept a data center running with just rubber bands and glue, getting the pink slip can feel like personal rejection.

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That clearly isn’t true, but until they get that next job, several dangers lurk. One, some IT staffers leave the tech field altogether (those who lost their job in the grim days of 2001-2002 are a good example). Others take a lower paying tech position and then stay there, clinging for the sake of job security.

Given the downside to losing your tech job, it helps to be prepared. If you receive that dreaded pink slip, these are steps to consider:

Before You Leave: Use Your Ex-Employer

Yes, you’re feeling profoundly negative thoughts about your employer – heck, they just sent you packing. However, they might be of use.

Many of the larger firms offer some type of transitional job placement service. There are outplacement firms like Drake Beam Morin whose core mission is helping displaced workers find a new opportunity.

“The company doing the layoffs will hire a firm [like Drake Beam Morin] to help individuals transition to new opportunities,” says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director with Robert Half Technology. “And they do everything from help workers write resumes to prepare for interviews.”

Do it Now

“Get a quick start,” says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Plenty of staffers get some severance and so are slow to start their job search, but then the severance runs out. Don’t wait for that – or for anything, he says.

“You’re most hireable when you’re new in the market. [An employer] says ‘I might be getting someone who no one else has found’ rather than ‘Here’s someone that everyone has said no to, why are they still looking?’”

Talk with Tech Organizations

There are scads of tech and IT organizations that are beneficial to reach out to. “Get involved with some type of professional organization to determine what’s happening in the marketplace,” Spencer Lee says. “A lot of cities have regional information technology associations.”

These groups offer everything from monthly breakfasts to informative newsletters. And don’t forget your local Chamber of Commerce as a source of tips about who might be hiring.

Finish Your Resume and Be Done with It

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Some professionals endlessly polish their resume, hoping the right layout or a reordered list of tech achievements will be the magic bullet. That’s counterproductive, Challenger says.

“Don’t tinker with it during your entire search. Get it done early and be happy with it.”

Post to the Tech Job Boards

Make sure you post your resume to the job boards, like Dice, Monster, Career Builder, JustTechJobs, etc. And of course search these same boards for new openings, and while you do so, check out what technologies are most in demand. Are your skills up to date in these areas?

Call A Headhunter

Sending your resume to an IT headhunter can be a way to multiply your efforts. Instead of merely looking yourself, the headhunter is also knocking on doors for you.

Using a headhunter firm is a good idea as long as it’s a reputable company, says Spencer Lee, who recommends that job seekers ask for references before committing to an outplacement service. “Clearly those firms can be of great help.”

Don’t Try to Find the “Perfect” Job

It’s natural that a professional would want an ideal position. But in practice this search for perfection may result in several reasonably good openings being rejected without fully considering them.

“I think you have to be open to things,” Challenger says. “If you get an offer you can always try and negotiate to a higher salary.”

Certainly you should turn down jobs that aren’t a good fit. “But a lot of people, they go into interviews or situations and say, ‘no, I wouldn’t want to work here.’ And they say no to things they don’t have.” And in some situations, this attitude is a merely a self-protective (and self-defeating) mechanism. “Its’ easier to reject them rather than get rejected by them.”

Don’t Take Part Time Work

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The downside of accepting part time work is that it can bring the search for full time work to a complete halt. In Challenger’s experience, “A lot of times people take part time jobs and their search stops.” They may even say they’re going to keep looking, but it’s hard to do.

(Or course if money is running out you may have no choice; and in some cases a part time job can lead to a full time post.)

Or, Consider Taking Part Time Work

Spencer Lee says it may indeed be a good idea to consider some contract work or consulting opportunities that aren’t necessarily a full-time permanent position.

“It might be an opportunity to get your foot in the door and gain some experience while you’re looking,” she says.

Don’t Just Send it and Forget It

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply send out resumes and hope for the best. You’ve got to pick up the phone and meet face to face with as many contacts as possible.

“Try to go out and see everyone in person in your rolodex,” Challenger says. “If you just send a resume and don’t make contact, they’re not going to call. You’ve got to be proactive about it."

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

“The one piece of advice that I always give to people who are looking is: it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for assistance,” Spencer Lee says.

“The more people you ask for assistance, the higher probability you’re going to find something. People aren’t going to just proactively reach out to you. You’re going to have to proactively reach out to them.”

Keep Your Spirits Up

Losing your job is demoralizing. And searching for a new position can be discouraging. But all these rain clouds don’t mean you should to sit inside and mope.

“I think it’s important to keep doing the kinds of activities outside of the search that lift your spirits,” Challenger says. “If you like to go bowling, or work in your garden, or work at a charity, don’t stop doing those things that keep your spirits up.” Do what you need to do to maintain your morale.

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