What Do You Do When the Axe Falls Unexpectedly?
You show up for work a few minutes early, just like you have for the last five years. After pouring a cup of coffee, you head for your desk. And then you see it . . . A hand-written message, saying your boss needs to meet with you as soon as you arrive.
Episode 46 - What Do You Do When the Axe Falls Unexpectedly
You show up for work a few minutes early, just like you have for the last five years. After pouring a cup of coffee, you head for your desk. And then you see it . . . A hand-written message, saying your boss needs to meet with you as soon as you arrive. It’s a bit out of the ordinary, but you grab your notepad and head for her office. You’re surprised when she stands to greet you, especially when she shakes your hand—you just saw her yesterday. You notice she seems unsettled, more businesslike than usual.
And then she begins:
“You’ve been a real asset to the company, and the years you’ve spent here have been good years. But with the reorganization, we’ve had to make some changes, and unfortunately, your position is being eliminated. I’m really sorry to see this happen, but I know someone with your talent won’t be out of the game for long. Take the rest of the day to tie up loose ends and check with the HR department to make arrangements for your severance, the transfer of your health insurance, your 401K . . . .”
The rest of it hits you as a dull roar, a blur of words you can’t process. The phrase, “your position is being eliminated,” keeps repeating inside your head.
You suddenly realize the boss has finished speaking, and she’s waiting for your response.
Hey, welcome back. This is Roger Reid with another episode of Success Point 360
I’ve received several emails from folks who are concerned about the future of their job, especially after returning to work following the Covid shutdown. They may have been working remotely or been given time off while the company offices were closed, but now, a lot of businesses are re-evaluating the cost of maintaining all that office space, meaning they’re consolidating job responsibilities and functions, and that’s resulting in cutbacks and the elimination of positions that are no longer necessary in a post-pandemic recovery.
Let’s face it, the actual situation of being told your job is being terminated can make you feel like you’ve been attacked. In fact, the most common reaction is the feeling that you’ve been blindsided!
You’re filled with questions . . . Why me? Why now? Why wasn’t I a part of the discussion before they made the decision? Can’t we talk about this?
And then you feel the anger building. This is not only unfair, but it’s also illegal—or it should be. You want to lash out, tell the boss exactly how you feel.
But I’m telling you, don’t do it.
Even though your brain is reeling, you must respond as a professional. Here’s why: The first words out of your mouth—your initial reaction after receiving the news of your termination—those are the words that will be remembered. Yes, you’re ready to explode, but you must temper your reaction with perspective.
If you’re on the verge of losing it, simply say, “I understand.” Then add, “I appreciate it coming from you. We’ve had a good relationship, and I know it’s never easy for a supervisor to terminate someone.”
Why take the boss’s decision with such diplomacy?
Like it or not, you must do everything you can to preserve the relationship with your boss. She is a vital source of recommendation. And although you want to vent your anger and frustration directly at her, you’ll gain nothing and end up hurting yourself professionally.
Yes, it may be difficult to evaluate her potential influence on your future career—especially through a cloud of disappointment and anger—but her recommendation is one of the few remaining assets the company can provide. So don’t blow it.
Your post-employment relationship with your employer must be about you. If you’re selected for termination, you must continue to present yourself as a professional during the exit phase and beyond. And that means no flipping off the boss as you turn in your company car keys, or including a letter of dissent and accusation with your exit documents. Any negative input from you will become ammunition that management and HR can use to torpedo your future career, especially if you stay in the same industry.
So what’s your next move?
Remember, management often does the wrong things to the wrong people. Whether you were caught in a widely-cast net of layoffs or singled out for termination because of a comment you made to the VP’s wife at the Christmas party, your stellar past performance and contributions to the company won’t buy you another minute behind your desk. The die is cast. You’re leaving, and the only consolation is in knowing it’s the right decision—even though you didn’t see it coming.
If you find yourself in this situation, you need to make two personal commitments:
First, it’s time to mentally leave your old job behind. Yes, you’re moving on, and you’re taking plenty of valuable assets with you—your experience, your professional and personal contacts, and the knowledge you gained from your employer. And you’re going to put those to good use.
Second, use every advantage in the time you have left to make your transition to a new employer as financially stable as possible.
Unfortunately, you may not be given the opportunity to exploit the second suggestion. It’s not unusual for a dismissed employee to be required to leave the premises immediately. For reasons having to do with intellectual property thief, preservation of the workplace atmosphere, rumor control, and reduction of wrongful termination lawsuits, the immediate removal of a terminated employee has become common.
So what do you do after you’ve turned in your keys to the office, received your last expense reimbursement check, and you’ve packed all your personal items into the trunk of your car?
Your first move is to formulate a transition plan. That means taking a step back from the emotional fallout and looking at the specifics of your situation.
Start by establishing a financial timeline. When the income from your job stops, how long can you survive financially, based on your current resources? Don’t just estimate or speculate based on a best-case situation. These need to be quantifiable measurements. For example, how long will your savings last? How long will your severance package last?
(And understand that you never want to evaluate a severance package in the same way as your savings account or other cash-equivalent investments such as your stock portfolio. Your personal assets are in your possession, or under your control. But a severance package isn‘t. Until your severance is received (money is transferred from the company to you via a company check clearing your bank or is irrevocably transferred from the company’s account to yours), you can’t rely on it. Companies change their policy. They rationalize exceptions to previous agreements. So consider any severance you receive as a bonus. And if you’re given the option of a lump-sum payout, I recommend taking the lump-sum right upfront.)
Next, set up a working draft of possible courses of action and their probable results. This can take the form of an outline, a list, or a logic-flow diagram. Include your short-term options as well as your long-term career goals. This kind of planning can be extremely helpful, especially when emotion and the overwhelming nature of the circumstances can leave you distraught or on the edge of panic.
Third, evaluate the advice from others based on what they have to gain or lose from your decision. Remember, the opinions and input of others carry no guarantee of making you happy or providing you with satisfaction in the long term. That’s up to you. Relying too much on the advice of others may provide a scapegoat for an unsatisfying future, but you’re still the one who will have to deal with the results of making choices that were ultimately wrong for you.
I want to focus on two possible options that can not only result in a new job, but can also accelerate the direction of your career while increasing your income, as well as the possibility of accelerating your success within a new organization. The first one is more obvious and is often the first stop for many job seekers who are ready to change employers or who need to replace their last position. I’m talking about using a headhunter. And while an employment agency can certainly put you in front of potential employers that you might not otherwise know about, there are a few concerns you should be aware of—especially when it comes to protecting yourself from job placement agencies that can drain your bank account and leave you still unemployed.
The second option is a lesser-known route that I’ve only seen used a half dozen times by those in a career transition. And yet, in all cases, those using this strategy have come out way ahead of the curve, ending up with a better, higher-paying job than the one they left. So let’s talk about that one first, and then we’ll get into the details on the best way to use a headhunter.
One of the best ways to reclaim your leverage in the eyes of a new and potential employer is to give the impression that you’re so much in demand that you’ve already made a seamless transition from your old job to a new, but temporary position. And one of the best ways to do that is to start your own consulting company. (Yeah, I know, I can hear the moans and groans in the background. But before you dismiss the idea completely, hear me out.)
You create your company by choosing a generic name that doesn’t indicate or infer a specific industry or product. And I would also stay away from proper nouns. For example, many years ago, I did consulting work for a company called: International Communication & Business Marketing (ICBM for short), which allowed me to move my marketing pitch from one industry to another without needing to tweak the company’s identity. So for now, let’s call your new company, XYZ Consulting, Inc.
I know there’s always a concern that this kind of professional side trip will divert you away from your real goal of replacing your occupation. But don’t worry. In this situation, you’re the boss. You’re in charge. You choose how much time, energy, and effort you put into your new creation—as well as how much you get out of it. Also keep in mind the primary purpose of creating a consulting company is to give the impression that you have a very high value on the open market. In fact, a new employer is going to have to “steal” you away from XYZ with an even more lucrative offer than they might have made before you left your old job to work for XYZ Consulting.
Now, quick question: Is this misrepresentation? Not if you’re offering your services to the market.
First, you need to give your company legitimacy with a credible public image. At a minimum, that means a website with several pages of appropriate “industry-speak.” Include your contact information and the address of a physical headquarters. If you don’t want to use your personal home address, there are companies offering this “headquartering” service, including mail forwarding, phone answering, and a legitimate-looking office or storefront presence. You can also consider using a relative’s address or the address of a past business associate who understands your situation.
And before we go any further, I want to address the possibility of being labeled a job-hopper, someone who is unreliable and unpredictable. Because unless you frame your work as a consultant correctly, there’s the possibility that a short-term stint as a consultant could carry some of those negative implications.
Remember, we’re talking about representing yourself and your professional status as a consultant. You’re not an employee, nor are you unemployed. You’re a specialized expert in your industry—someone who could be a valuable asset to any employer looking for top-notch talent. It’s a simple shift in perspective, and it can give you the leverage you need to become a company’s “first-choice” when they make their final cut.
What kind of consulting are you going to offer to the market? Keep in mind that most job functions are directly transferable to the status of an independent contractor, so whatever you did in your previous job, you can offer to do it free-lance. For example, if you have a marketing or sales background, you could offer services geared toward vendors, OEMs, and sales organizations that sell products and services in markets familiar to you. If you’re an accountant, offer to set up accounting software for new and small businesses.
Establish a competitive rate and advertise your services online. You can also use industry or trade publications to advertise your services.
Remember, finding a new “permanent” job could take some time. Based on your previous income and industry, it could easily take a month for every ten thousand dollars in compensation you expect to replace. Offering yourself as an independent contractor will allow you to pick up a few bucks in the interim, and you might even find a permanent position with one of your new clients.
If you decide to go this route, setting up a consulting organization is going to take some effort, but it can also make a big difference in how new employers perceive your value as a potential employee. If you undertake your job search as a full-time consultant, you have several advantages over an unemployed job-seeker.
First, you have immediate credibility. Someone who is employed is always perceived as more valuable than someone who is not.
You’ve got an existing financial platform from which to negotiate a new position.
And your termination from your past employer is not the most recent event in your professional history, and therefore, does not have the degree of negative influence it might otherwise have. Yes, some employers will assume you began doing consulting work to generate income until you find a new position. But even so, the fact that you’re currently working goes a long way in reducing the stigma of being previously terminated.
I know the option of creating a consulting company won’t “feel right” for everyone. However, if you see the advantages, here are a few suggestions to get started:
You’ll want to look and act the part. Have some business cards printed. Design a letterhead and create some sort of logo. I’d also add a new phone number to your cell phone that you can answer with the company name.
Next, try writing an article about some aspect of your industry that is popular or what’s called a perennial favorite. This is something you want to publish in your industry’s trade journals. It will not only boost your credibility, it can also produce interest from company recruiters with an eventual offer of employment. Be sure to list your credentials and a short biography, including your current position with your consulting company. Any email responses or comments you receive should be followed up quickly and professionally, knowing there’s the possibility of turning one of them into a job offer.
Now, the big question: What if your “side-venture” takes on a life of its own, becoming so time-consuming that it impedes your job search?
The answer is completely up to you. Is your new company making money? If you’re becoming too busy with consulting work to conduct a job search, you’re probably generating some income. The question is, is it enough money to consider setting the job search aside and putting all of your time and resources into making a go of your consulting work?
As I said before, I know this approach is not for everyone. Creating a new business entity as a tool to make your talents and experience more marketable may seem overwhelming. And for some, it could even be counterproductive. And if that’s the way you feel, then stick to a conventional job search. You don’t need the additional stress.
Now let’s talk about the idea of using a headhunter. And if you’re not familiar with the term, a headhunter is a company, organization, or individual who recruits talented people and matches them with employers who are specifically looking to fill a vacancy or need to hire additional people to expand their business.
Base your choice of an agency on the financial terms of their services. I would avoid any agency requiring an upfront fee or any kind of retainer. An ethical and effective headhunter makes money from making placements. Just remember that a headhunter’s clients are the companies who hire them to find new talent. And while there are exceptions, the hiring company usually pays the agency’s placement fee.
I would be wary of so-called “hybrid” services that charge a fee to update your resume or process your application and place you into their system. Sometimes these charges are called “administrative” fees and can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. While you may consider paying the smaller amount—to offset the company’s initial processing costs—never pay a large fee to a placement company that promises to make best efforts to find a job for you. If their income stream is based on hopeful candidates, and they collect their money upfront, there’s little incentive to place anyone.
If you’re tempted by a sales pitch from a hybrid agency, ask for the names of specific companies that hired their job candidates in the last three months. Then ask how many total placements they’ve made in the previous twelve months (and make sure it’s in the salary range you’re looking for). If they balk, or can’t give you a specific number, I would avoid them like the plague.
There’s one more caveat to working with a placement agency, and that has to do with the repayment of some portion of the placement fee (or the entire fee!) becoming your financial responsibility if you leave your new employer prematurely. These may be referred to as an “early departure penalty,” and it will be spelled out in your hiring contract. If it’s there, make sure it’s defined not only by expiration or term, but permissible exceptions, such as health reasons or unforeseen circumstances that might prevent you from continuing your employment.
Just make sure you understand every word of any contract containing an early departure penalty. If you don’t, ask an employment attorney to translate it. If you’re uncomfortable with the terms, explain your reasons to the hiring manager, and ask if the stipulation can be revised to reflect a more realistic financial outcome as a pre-requisite to your hiring.
When dealing with a placement agency, don’t forget that the headhunter works for the hiring company, not you. Although a credible agency will represent you in the best possible light, the real selling is up to you. And that means promoting not only your specific skill set, but also your personality, attitude, and your willingness to meet the needs of a prospective employer.
A professional placement agency will not risk its professional reputation by recommending a “ho-hum” candidate. They want their clients (and I’m talking about the companies they serve) to think of them as a supplier of exceptional talent, so that means that even though you’ve got an agency recommending you, you still have to sell yourself. In other words, the agency will get you through the front door, but it’s up to you to convince a potential employer that you’re the right person for the job.
I’ll leave you with this: In any kind of professional transition, you want to give your brain the best environment in which to work. This could mean taking a walk when you hit a wall. The old adage of allowing your mind to “sleep on it” actually helps your brain generate possible solutions. Realize that confusion is the mind’s natural “holding” state until it reaches an answer. Neuro-linguistic research has long held that “feeling confused” indicates your brain is actively working on a solution. If an answer doesn’t eventually present itself, it’s usually a sign you need additional information about one or more of the options under consideration.
I also think it’s important to maintain as many “normal” activities in your life as possible. If you usually go to the park with your dog on Tuesdays and Fridays, make an effort to continue. If you typically set aside Sunday afternoons to tend to a garden, or read the next chapter in a favorite novel, or play a round of golf, try to maintain that schedule. Life change is best accomplished by altering one situation at a time. And while you’re in the process of replacing your job, it’s best to keep as many of your positive life rituals as possible, knowing this can provide a sense of stability as you explore new options during this phase of your life.
Hey, that’s it for this episode. If you have a question or comment, you can leave me a voicemail on the website, www.successpoint360.com. Just click on the voicemail tab located in the main header. You can also send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for listening, and I’ll see you next time.
© 2021, Roger A. Reid, All Rights Reserved
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I’ve lowered the price for the Kindle version, so if you or someone you know is struggling with a job that doesn’t provide anything more than a paycheck, or you’re ready to use your employer as a launching pad to start your own business, you’ll find the tools you need to take control of your professional success and to change your life for the better.
You can find more information on my website, www.successpoint360.com. I’ve posted the first chapter on the site as a free read, so I encourage you to take a look.