In the News: Sharon Armstrong featured in Washington Business Journal article: Bounce back from a layoff

Layoffs are never pleasant and often scary. Stay upbeat, make a plan and get busy. This seismic shift could help push your career in a better direction.

by Jennifer Nycz-Conner
Staff Reporter, Washington Business Journal

For two and a half years, Nathaniel Poteet looked forward to his day at the office, working as an associate at affordable housing finance company MMA Financial in D.C. Even as the economy sank and some executives left, he stayed busy and assumed his job was safe.

Which is why he was surprised Jan. 27, when his boss walked into Poteet’s office with a binder in hand and closed the door. Poteet suddenly became a statistic. His last day was Feb. 3, and he has been unemployed since then.

His story is one of many looping through the nation’s workplaces. Poteet is among the 3.6 million people who lost their jobs since the start of the recession in December 2007.

While most bosses are trained on the proper way to deliver the news, employees often find themselves in shock and unsure of what to do with themselves in the hours, days and, in some case, months to follow.

If you become one of the unfortunate ones, here are tips to help you bounce back

Immediately after getting laid off

Listen. This will be a challenge because you experience a cacophony of emotions. But the information coming at you about severance packages, benefit continuation, the 401(k) plan and outplacement services offered by the company will be important survival tools in the coming weeks. Take notes and get as many details as possible, says Sharon Armstrong of Sharon Armstrong and Associates, a human resources training and consulting business in D.C.

Start making lists of what you need to finish, what you need to hand off and what information you need to pass on. This chore will seem as appealing as a root canal, but focus on the fact that you are a professional and want to be remembered that way.

Ask the human resources department questions. What are you allowed to take with you? Are you under any noncompete rules? Even if you’re angry, “you need to be careful and professional,” Armstrong says.

Let everyone know you are looking for a job. A study by recruiting consulting company CareerXroads showed that the single largest source of company hires in 2008 was referrals. Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of the hires from referrals came through employees and an additional 10 to 20 percent came through vendors. In other words, your best agents are the people who know and love you. Make sure they know that you are looking and what you are looking for.

Gather any materials you will need when applying for jobs, such as white papers, design examples or other nonproprietary work samples you can show prospective employers. Get both hard and electronic copies and be sure to make backups.

Be immaculately professional. First and last days are memorable bookends. Do everything you can to make your exit as graceful as possible, no matter how angry or hurt you may feel. Thank your bosses for the opportunity to have worked there.

Thank each of your colleagues for your time together and wish them well. The working world is a small place.

Your first week

Prepare yourself. The first day not working will be odd. You don’t have a schedule, which is scary. “Having a job provides people with a lot of structure, whether they know it or not,” says Poteet, who spent his first week out of work in shock. He did a lot of sitting around, watching movies, sleeping late and feeling “generally bummed.”

Get moving. You might not have a job, but you still have plenty to do. Learn about filing for unemployment and note that within 60 days after the layoff you must accept or decline continuation of your health care coverage through the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, or COBRA.

Start talking. Check in with contacts. Send updates on how your search is progressing. Don’t assume anyone knows what you want. You have to tell them.

Get social. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook are free and great ways to see who knows whom. Sign up, if you haven’t already, and spend the first week watching how people interact. Lurk before leaping, however. Blasting everyone you know with “I need a job!” is not the way to engage a social network.

Update your resume. Reach out to friends to get copies of their resumes or others they have seen and liked (Armstrong says this doubles as a networking entree).

Weeks two, three and four

Make a schedule. People discover that, ironically, with too much time on their hands they get nothing done, Armstrong says. List the things you want to accomplish each week, whether it’s making five new contacts or sending five targeted cover letters.

Make some decisions about COBRA. Remember that monthly $150 health care premium you used to grumble about? Prepare for a shock: You now also have to pay the share of the tab your employer had picked up. COBRA premiums carry up to a 102 percent price tag, meaning that you may pay up to what you and your employer combined were paying, plus a 2 percent administrative fee. The good news is that the new stimulus package allows the government to pay up to 65 percent of those costs for nine months if you were laid off after Sept. 1, 2008, or in 2009.

Examine your finances. A layoff is not only a psychological kick in the gut — it’s also a painful shot to the wallet. Kelly Campbell, principal of Campbell Wealth Management in Fairfax, recommends giving yourself a stringent financial assessment. Examine your living expenses, benefits and investments. Make sure you know what you need, where everything is and where your money is going.
Rethink your network. Your network is everyone you come into contact with, not just former supervisors and colleagues. It’s “family, friends, family of friends and friends of family,” Armstrong says. Want proof? She recently had two clients get leads from their dentists.

Use job boards, but don’t count on them. The big job boards may have peeked as sources for new hires, according to CareerXroads. Last year, job boards accounted for 12.3 percent of external hires, and the company predicts that percentage will drop. But don’t pass them up. Gather intelligence from the jobs posted, then search your own contacts for someone who works there.
Track your actions. Much like tracking how much you eat when trying to lose weight, it’s easy to exaggerate your job-seeking efforts. Keep quantifiable records on your actions, including the number of informational interviews you’ve requested or the new contacts you’ve made.

One month out

Re-evaluate your search. Are you getting solid leads? Are you making progress? If you’re stuck, this might be a good time to seek out a coach.
Consider consulting work. As the severance dries up, you need ways to keep paying the bills. When looking for leads, contact former vendors or consultants you used.

Look into classes or certifications. Classes also introduce you to peers and, therefore, new networking contacts.

When you get the job

When you start the new job (not sooner, in case it falls through), contact everyone in your network to let people know the good news and that you’re done searching.

Thank everyone in your network for the help you received. Armstrong has one colleague who, after landing a job, threw a party for everyone who had helped her.
Offer to help. You’ve spent weeks building a powerful network. Now, keep feeding it. In thanking people, offer to help them and their networks when you can.

Because right now, everyone knows someone like Poteet who’s trying to find the right job. Poteet still gets down from time to time, but is being called for interviews and keeping a positive outlook: “Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time before something that fits me comes along.”

E-mail: jnconner@bizjournals.com Phone: 703/258-0837