What To Do If You're Laid Off You'll feel terrible, but there are things you can do to make it a little easier, says Marci Alboher of the New York Times "Shifting Careers" blog.
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What To Do If You're Laid Off

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What To Do If You're Laid Off

What To Do If You're Laid Off

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ALISON STEWART, host:

Yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution paper reported the University of Georgia is getting set for possible layoffs as part of a state-mandated budget cut for all Georgia colleges. The Wall Street Journal reported that Citigroup was set to lay off 10 percent of its investment-banking jobs. Now, with the economy all soft and squishy, very qualified people are being told to hit the road because more money is going out than is coming in. And the way people react to layoffs has been the subject of the New York Times' Shifting Careers blog, written by Marci Alboher, who joins us in the studio. Hi, Marci.

Ms. MARCI ALBOHER (Shifting Careers Blog, New York Times): Hi, Alison.

STEWART: And obviously, we have some interest in this.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: In this building right now. One of the things about layoffs, which are tough, you know, there's sort of this element of shame. Even though you really didn't do anything wrong, you feel like maybe you have to grovel for a job after a layoff. Can you explain to us how we should handle that? And how we should approach a prospective employer after we've been laid off, how do you explain it?

Ms. ALBOHER: Well, first of all, in this economy, I think we're all in good place if layoffs happen, because when things are so rampant and widespread across all these different industries, I think the shame question shouldn't even enter your head. When I got the email and the call from your producer yesterday, I felt like it was a peer calling me saying exactly what I fear could happen to me at any moment.

STEWART: Sure.

Ms. ALBOHER: You know, like, I think we should all be working every day thinking this could be around the corner, especially if we work in the media industry. But in so many industries, obviously, you just read kind of across the board what's been happening. So, I think, when you're dealing with an isolated layoff, you've been singled out and fired.

STEWART: Mm-hm.

Ms. ALBOHER: It's really, really different than workforce reductions, you know, downsizing that we're all seeing right now.

STEWART: It's so funny you should use that language. You know, the company, WaMu, the bank, is slated to lay off employees in September, or so it's been reported. And the spokesperson released this statement. I want you to decipher this for us.

I don't have any details to share with you at this time - you being the reporter - but I can tell you that we're looking critically at everything we do. And everything is on the table except what's necessary to maintain outstanding customer service and ensure we have high-quality controls in place.

If you worked for this company, what would you think?

Ms. ALBOHER: OK, if I worked for this company, I would get to the first thing we were going to be talking about, to what to do when you smell layoffs in the air.

STEWART: Yes, absolutely.

Ms. ALBOHER: I think before, you know, we talked about what to do when you're laid off, but I actually think we should all be - those of us who haven't gotten notice yet, I think we should all be thinking this could be around the corner. What're some smart things to be doing right now? So...

STEWART: Fill us in on that.

Ms. ALBOHER: Fill us in on that. OK. Start getting in touch with people all over your industry, what I call not just the strong ties, but the weak ties, also, people you haven't checked in with for awhile. Try to take the temperature of what's going on in your industry and other places. People you used to only see at conferences and, you know, the occasional industry gathering, give them a call, see what's going on in their place.

STEWART: That stack of business cards you have in your drawer...

Ms. ALBOHER: That you never filed, never put in your Outlook, right.

STEWART: Maybe pick them up and shoot that person a note?

Ms. ALBOHER: Yeah, and actually, make sure your resume is in order. Make sure you got something kind of presentable to wear if you go out to some important lunches and meetings. And start having those lunches and breakfasts and coffees, even if they're not formal interviews. I think it's a good time to start doing some formal interviews, too, but even if they're not formal interviews, start meeting people in person. Start getting out there.

STEWART: What if you're shy?

Ms. ALBOHER: Ah, I mean, this is true in all career-management stuff. If you're shy, you've got to find the things that work with your personality, so, email, you know, online communications, online social networking. These days, I mean, we can't talk enough about how much happens through LinkedIn and Facebook. And really, you could work on you social-networking profile and start connecting around with people. You could be blogging, and when I say blogging, I don't necessarily mean blogging disparagingly about your employer, which is getting some people in trouble these days...

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. ALBOHER: But you know, working on your online identity, if that's relevant to your career and if it makes sense for the kind of field that you work in.

STEWART: Let's talk about that online element, because there have been several people who have gotten in trouble recently for, after they've gotten laid off or fired or downsized, going on and revealing secrets about the company, revealing their really true feelings about the middle-manager...

Ms. ALBOHER: Taking confidential information on the way out.

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. ALBOHER: You know, like, there's a huge list of no-nos, and on the blog, I've been writing about some of those things lately and how we can get ourselves into trouble. Here's one I didn't write about yet. I got an email forwarded to me by a guy who was fired from Bloomberg News. This email's been making its rounds. I'm surprised I haven't seen anybody written about it. The thing was so profane that I probably couldn't even read to you two consecutive lines from the email.

STEWART: Wow.

Ms. ALBOHER: And not only was it a just kind of, you know, torrent of anger against everybody that this person had ever worked with and the management, it described people. It outed them for all kinds of behavior that people didn't know about.

STEWART: Wow.

Ms. ALBOHER: It revealed inter-office romances and all kinds of things. This email was sent to hundreds of people. It was probably, like, thousands, the entire staff list, and then it was forwarded on for comic effect. Can't imagine this guy's ever going to get another job.

STEWART: But yeah, and also legal action, potentially.

Ms. ALBOHER: Exactly, exactly.

STEWART: You spoke to a lawyer from Bryan Cave about some of the just - if you go out and vent online, just be prepared.

Ms. ALBOHER: Yeah, and some of it's common sense. And really, I think this brings me to this, when you're on your way out, where you know you're on your way out, the number one best thing to do is to have a graceful exit. Keep your venting to close friends and family and your diary.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALBOHER: But do not - do not do that publicly. And in fact, I think you need to do just the opposite, and it may seem a little counterintuitive, but you know those really wonderful farewell emails you sometimes get from a colleague who's leaving?

STEWART: Yeah, sure.

Ms. ALBOHER: And usually, they're leaving to announce their really cool, new position, I think we should be seeing more of those from people who've been laid off, especially in these kinds of non-humiliating experiences, where the reason you've been laid off is the economy. And I think what you need to do is compose an email - and some of these should be individual to people that you have close relationships with. I mean, when you're dealing with the closest relationships, sometimes a handwritten note is the best way to do it, but...

STEWART: I'm a fan of that.

Ms. ALBOHER: Yeah, I'm a huge fan of that, and it's really memorable today. But we all have, like, the big cluster of people who are kind of important to our career, who have helped us get to where we are, who are just part of our professional network, and they're going to want to know what happened to us. So, I think we have to spend some time and compose a really smart and sensitive note, being gracious to your old employer and trying to understand that it must have been difficult what they're going through.

And talk a little bit about what you think your future plans might be, and that could be kind of what you aspired to be doing, and close it with, if you know of any opportunities, please keep me in mind. If there's any way I could be of help to you in your current work or life, please keep this in mind. And close with a "feel free to forward this note." I mean, I know that I'm always kind of looking out for what's going on with people, and when I get a note - and also how to reach you...

STEWART: Right.

Ms. ALBOHER: What your current contact information is, because a lot of people may not know how to - you know, I've been on this show before, and I only have NPR information for anybody that I've ever dealt with here. If people don't send me their cell phone and their private emails, you guys are colleagues to me. How will I ever find you again?

STEWART: It's interesting that, I think, a lot of people might think, oh, it's crass to put my stuff, my information, at the bottom of an email. They're going to think I'm begging. But it's practical, and we just have to remember that.

Ms. ALBOHER: It's practical, and this is the other thing you have to realize when you're out there looking, is that if someone helps you find an opportunity, you're actually helping that person fill a spot. So, when I - I get these kinds of emails all the time because I'm in kind of the career world.

When I get an email like that, I think about it, and I think right, then and there, is there anyone I could forward this to? I mean, it's the easiest thing for me to do. Can I send this to certain other people I know in that area? Otherwise, I file it, or I update the contact information. I file it away, and I think about, when's the next way I can do something for this person? And if I'm close, and I have a really positive relationship, I offer to take them out to lunch. So, at least you'll get some free lunches.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: We're talking to Marci Alboher, who writes the Shifting Careers blog for the New York Times. And let's talk about people who are listening to this. And they have a job, and they're thinking to themselves, ooh, should I have my radar up? What preventative steps can a person take to bolster their chances of, one, not getting laid off, if there's a way in this economy, and two, bouncing back quickly?

Ms. ALBOHER: Yeah, I mean, I have to be honest. I'm not sure how much you can do. If you're on a list, or if your department is in jeopardy, I'm sure all of you who...

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. ALBOHER: You know, couldn't have done anything to change your fate here. Everybody was going. So, there are situations where you can't do anything, but it isn't a time to slack.

STEWART: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALBOHER: You know? It's a time to be doing your top work to make sure that if there is going to be a workforce reduction that doesn't include anyone, that you're kind of seen as one of the stars. So, I wouldn't be taking, you know, long, long summer vacations. I would actually try to kind of, you know, do your best.

STEWART: Be engaged.

Ms. ALBOHER: Be engaged, exactly. And maybe it's a good time to start taking the temperature at home, you know, meet the higher-ups, meet the people who have always been helpful and kind of supportive of your career there, and have a little check-in with them about what they think is going on.

STEWART: And here is the thing we were talking about briefly - we don't have a lot of time - is layoffs aren't always bad.

Ms. ALBOHER: No, no, no. We were just talking about this. You know, one thing I want everybody to remember is there are certain numbers of people who are going to get the axe, and after they have time to cool off and kind of get their thoughts together, they're going to realize that maybe this wasn't where they wanted to be in the first place.

Once they figure out how they're going to pay the rent and the mortgage and whatever that is, you know, sometimes it's not awful news, and it can force you to take stock and think about whether that's exactly what you want to be doing. One other thing, when I said go talk to those higher-ups, one of the other real reasons why you're doing that is those people may be leaving, too, and when they land, you want to be on their radar.

STEWART: All great advice. Marci Alboher, Shifting Careers blog writer from the New York Times, thanks for all your help and your support over the past year. We do appreciate it.

Ms. ALBOHER: Good luck, Alison. And I'm sure we'll be talking from some place new.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Thanks a lot.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: Hey, stick around for the Bryant Park Project. It's New Music Tuesday with Andy Langer, new releases today from Dr. Dog and something very special from U2. Hey, and the former front man from Rage Against the Machine as well. This is the BPP from NPR News.

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