You don’t have to be psychic to know something bad is about to happen. It’s a feeling that something is just…wrong. Like that science experiment just starting to grow in the vegetable bin, you can smell something is going on; you’re just not sure what. The day I learned of my own layoff, I was just one of nearly 7,000 let go that year—downsizing, offshoring, rightsizing. You choose the corporate buzzword: I was canned.
I’m getting ahead of myself; I can’t tell you where I am unless you know how I got here. It’s a familiar story; many of you out there have probably used the same career path tool I did, which I’ve coined, “the bouncing ball.” Everybody’s seen that carnival game where you drop a ball into a narrow glass box, the ball bounces off pins all the way down until it lands in one of several slots at the bottom. You get paid off according to the slot you wind up in, big bucks or crapped out. Not too many people aim for “26 years at the same company, followed by lay-off” when they step up to play the game. As a child of the 60s, I, of course, wanted to be an astronaut. Well the myopia kind of put an end to that; “Space Commander Four Eyes” was a position not readily available when I was picking a high school. I could feel myself falling through the pins, hitting a few on the way down.
Well, I blinked, and all too soon I was picking a college. I figured, “Why not become an aerospace engineer?” That was it, “those who can, fly into space…those who can’t…” well, you know the rest. Skip ahead a couple of years, and aerospace engineers are selling calculators at Woolworth’s, so I bumped down a few more pins and wound up in data processing (the Elephant’s Graveyard, where a lot of failed engineers wind up). I finally landed at the telephone company (years ago that’s all you had to say… there was only one phone company), but I was sure it was only temporary. Twenty six years later I was still there, making a nice salary, working with some good people (and some jerks, but that’s everywhere), and not having too bad a time overall.
Then the big boot dropped.
The day I found out was bizarre. Companies pay thousands of dollars to learn how to fire people properly. Ostensibly this is to make the experience as easy as possible on those being dismissed; personally I believe it’s to keep the incidents of disgruntled employees “going postal” and returning to plug their manager down to an acceptable number (10-15% maybe?). It was almost like a divorce, I was told “It’s not you, you’re great…it’s us, we have to cut costs, or reduce force, or whatever.” I was also told that being fired was not a bad thing, but an opportunity. I’d be able to go to school, or really do something I wanted. In fact, all I wanted was to NOT BE FIRED.
OK, back to being fired….I was also told that I was being given the opportunity to find another job within the company, that outside consultants were being made available to help me with resume preparation, interviewing skills, job search, anything I, or my downsized colleagues, would need to be successful. All wonderful opportunities, I thought. With that my boss promised to do what he can, and ran out of the office as fast as possible. This was followed by some condolences from the guys in the office, and Big Boot Day was over. So I went home.
It’s a very strange feeling, not having a job to go to, I was lucky that I had never been unemployed, in a career nearly thirty years long. As much as we may complain about work, there is a satisfaction in knowing you do your job well. People depend on you, you get paid for your efforts, and if you’re lucky you get to make a difference. Unfortunately many people tie their self-worth to their careers. They wonder how they could just be discarded. What did they do wrong?
The most vivid memory of those first few days was the overall fog I was in. There were a lot of things I needed to do, but I had time. Thirty days to find another position within the company, which I was pretty sure I could do. Cut to the chase, few separated employees find other positions within their company. Everyone is cutting back and there is a stigma with being canned and looking for a desperation job. I would sue; I’m sure I had a case. Well, not much luck there, $300 for a lawyer to tell me it would be basically impossible to prove discrimination. OK, I would “whistle blow”, I had plenty of dirt on these bastards, and I could go straight to the top. Well, no one cared. The people I worked for could have killed Hoffa and no one would have cared. I am sure, dear reader, that you are now getting the picture. Everything had changed and there was nothing I could do to get it back.
My company was very professional with the whole process. They knew they had completed the tough part, telling me. Their attorneys had done their part, and isolated them from liability. They made the pretense of helping those about to go by providing resume writing classes, and outside placement advice. The calendar was now on their side, the thirty days would pass quickly, and I (along with many, many others) would soon be gone. My last act was signing a litigation waiver (or risk losing my severance money), and getting walked outside like a trespasser. I was gone, nice and clean.
OK, so I would start fresh. I assessed what I had to offer, composed a killer resume and cover letter, and discovered that looking for a job had become an impersonal, computerized, blind date. The corporate employment offices of years ago, where you could go and submit a resume (even talk to a person), were all gone, replaced by internet job boards like Monster and CareerBuilder.com. Well I could see my ball bouncing towards some great opportunities. With hundreds of jobs showing up on line, I’d have a hard time sifting through all the offers I anticipated getting. I picked the best matches in my field, and hit the send button. My big concern was hoping I could take a few weeks off before starting my new career. Rushing back to work, I learned, was not going to be a big problem.
To be continued…