As layoffs mount in every industry across the nation, there's no shortage of advice on how to avoid or cope with them. Suggestions range from taking some time off to catch your breath to jumping right back on the in the saddle after your last paycheck clears.
It's difficult to know just who or what to believe, but one thing is clear. Layoffs and job loss are very tough on people. For some expert advice on what to do if you think you're about to lose or job, or have just been handed your pink slip, I spoke with career coach and author Beverly Ryle. She has more than 20 years experience in her field and is the Director of the Massachusetts-based Center for Career and Business Development. Ryle also penned the recently-released book, Ground of Your Own Choosing: Winning Strategies for Finding & Creating Work. Here's what she had to say:
LH: What steps should people take if they've just been laid off or think it's imminent?
BR: Most people react rather than respond to a change in their employment situation. Before doing anything, you need to get to a better place inside yourself. You need to deal with the loss before you do anything or talk to anyone. You may think you can hide the pain and the panic, but they come through as urgency and do not serve you well. Don’t make calls or send out resumes until you have taken the time to regroup and talked to people who can give you perspective and help you develop a plan for moving forward.
LH: How is the IT sector holding up under the rash of recent layoffs sweeping the nation?
BR: This sector is not immune. Big tech players that either haven't been doing well and have already cut jobs (Dell), or recently announced cuts (HP), are the biggest losers. But companies, like IBM, that streamlined a few years ago are well positioned to take advantage of a recovery. Smaller firms targeting the small business market are also feeling the pinch, since most people are putting off [computer and software] upgrades until absolutely necessary.
In times like these, depending on the overall financial health of a particular organization, any area such as IT that does not directly generate revenue can fall under the axe of overhead to be cut.
LH: Many people are suggesting that President Obama's economic stimulus plans will greatly benefit the IT sector. What are your thoughts?
BR: It will depends on how broad the administration’s definition of infrastructure is. If the infrastructure really does extend to broadband and other technical services, IT will do well. Traditional infrastructure, roads, bridges, etc. -- the whole construction industry -- also requires tremendous IT support these days. That being said, it is also important to remember that there are a lot of people lined up to get a piece of this pie, and there is much uncertainty about how and how fast it will be distributed.
LH: What advice do you have for someone who wants to leave IT and move into a different field? How can people decide what paths and actions to take?
BR: First be sure that IT isn’t for you. Often it is not the nature of the work, but the context in which it is done (e.g. culture of organization, dynamics with a supervisor) which makes a person think they want a career change. You can enter into an exploration process to see if “the grass is greener” without making a radical decision.
I like to have people start by developing what I call a complete blueprint of their ideal work. They establish the criteria they want in their work, just as they would identify what they wanted in a new car or computer before buying it. This exercise involves collecting and prioritizing information on work values, other employment possibilities, preferred skills, and factors in the workplaces that are important to you. I provide a software tool for compiling and prioritizing these criteria. It is a excellent starting point, especially for people who are data oriented.
LH: What tips should people who are just entering the job market for the first time, or returning after an extended absence, keep in mind?
LH: Know your product -- what you have to offer -- and how it benefits the marketplace. No one else is going to figure this out for you. If you’re not sure what you want and you’ve just put a collection of stuff on a resume hoping someone else will be able to make sense out of it and determine where and how you fit in the organization, you will get absolutely nowhere. No employer, especially in this economy, is going to put the pieces together for you. That’s your job.
LH: Often newly-unemployed people will establish boundaries about what types of work they will and won't accept without looking carefully at what the market will currently bear. How can people find a good balance between finding work that matches their skills and making sure some of their skills aren't outdated.
BR: I see looking for work as the same as owning a business. To be successful as a business owner, you need to respond to the changing requirements of the marketplace and update what you have to offer accordingly. Being a successful business owner means that you have to keep improving your inventory, the menu, your services, etc. If you have stopped upgrading your skills, it may be because you are no longer engaged in the work you are doing.
I often see people who are stuck in a kind of limbo in that they have collection of technical skills and work experience in a particular field (IT, law, etc.), but no interest in pursuing additional training. This is a sign of that they may already be in transition, even though they may not have made a conscious decision to refocus their energy in a new direction.
LH: When and why should someone hire a career coach?
BR: When you are stuck (see above). If you are looking for work by answering ads and getting more and more frustrated and depressed. When you want to make a change, but don’t know how to go about it. When you resonate with what a particular career professional has to say (e.g. if you read my book and like it!)
LH: Even given the current economic climate, some people are still considering switching jobs or becoming freelance consultants. If you're wildly unhappy with your current job, how do you know when it's time to leave?
BR:If you accept the central premise of my book that security no longer resides in any job, but in your own capacity to generate work, switching jobs or becoming a freelance consultant could be a wise move in any case. Anything you do that makes you more entrepreneurial in how your mange your professional life is a good strategy, not just because of more recent changes in the economy, but because of fundamental changes in the nature of work.
If you’re wildly unhappy with your current job you are probably at risk of losing it anyway. It’s hard to perform well when your heart isn’t in it. Often just starting to explore other options (and knowing you’re working toward an exit) will make your current gig more bearable. Self-empowerment is always a better (and safer) option than being miserable.
LH: What's the single most important thing people should keep in mind about their job and career?
BR: You’re in charge. You need to learn how to manage your own professional life from the “ground of your own choosing.” At first this will be difficult because it requires a whole new way of thinking, a shift from dependence on others (employers) to business ownership (your own capacity to generate work). It is, however, also an exciting journey that offers much greater potential for a meaningful and rewarding professional life.