What I learned from being laid off

Today is my last day of unemployment, and I've been taking advantage of it by spending most of the morning writing and catching up on my book reviews. I have two more blog posts in me before I move on with my day.

On Tuesday, January 23, my HR representative called me into a conference room to participate in my scheduled call with my boss. As soon as she showed up, I knew I would be laid off. I've been on the other side of the table too many times not to know how it would go down. My company was acquired by a much larger company at the end of 2017, and although I knew layoffs were a possibility, I had not been as concerned of late. After all, I had received a bonus just a few weeks before. When I had to do layoffs, we did not give rare bonuses to people we would be laying off!

It was a bitter pill to swallow after 27 years, and I felt lost for a few days. But my nature is to look for the silver lining:
  • I was offered severance, and I could have received unemployment had I not been able to find a job. Rumor has it that the new company does not have a severance policy, so this severance might have been a one-time opportunity to leave the company with a financial gift.
  • I was given two weeks to find another job in the company. When I did layoffs, I was not able to give my employees this option, so I was grateful for it. Not only could I search for another opportunity internally while starting an external job hunt, but I also didn't have to pack up all my stuff and surrender my computer immediately (as is the typical route).
  • Moving on provided me an opportunity to find a new organization that valued diversity, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability...and also valued my skills and talents.
I sprung into action immediately, reaching out to my contacts and applying for jobs while I was packing up my office. Again, I am grateful for the head start my former company gave me!

My rewarding career has progressed without a lot of guidance on my own. Throughout my life, opportunities have popped up in front of me and I've seized them. I haven't set specific career goals and followed them step by step. For example, after managing a large publications group for 13 years, I lost that position through a reorganization. I've had to reinvent myself several times along the way. If I hadn't, I might have become stagnant. Change and disruption has made me stronger and more resilient.

I start my new job on Monday: one that seems made for me. I am looking forward to working for a much smaller, locally headquartered company that has an outstanding reputation in the industry--not only for the services they offer their clients, but also for the way they treat their employees.

Here's what I have learned from this experience of brief unemployment and job hunting:
Most of the colleagues who came to my farewell happy hour,
two all the way from Corvallis!
  • Surround yourself with positive, optimistic friends and family members...now, before you have to face a layoff or other life change. My tribe kept me buoyed during those first few days, telling me that this would turn out for the best and that I would be snapped up because I have priceless skills and great work approaches. Most of my colleagues were shocked that I was one of the first to be laid off. They made me feel valued and appreciated, which was a great start for a job hunt. Ellen Sandberg, the colleague I worked with most closely in the past year, sent me some gorgeous flowers. I call her "Scarecrow," because I will miss her the most.
  • Don't tell your kids until you can put a positive spin on it. We waited five days to tell our kids, because I wanted to be in a positive place. They were shocked, but I could easily assuage their concerns by the time we told them.
  • Never burn your bridges. Ever. I have maintained contact with all the colleagues I've worked closely with in the past 27 years. Social media has made this easier than ever. You never know when you will need them. My vast network was critical.
  • LinkedIn is your friend. I know it can be kind of clunky, but you never know when you will need it. Fortunately I already had a strong LinkedIn resume and presence, so I could immediately use that to my advantage. I also tried a 30-day free trial of LinkedIn Premium.
  • Get in practice applying for jobs before you desperately need one. Last fall I applied for a job at a water utility in which I attended a half-day "assessment center" with a four-person panel and two other candidates in which I had to review the utility's Capital Improvement Plan and prepare a presentation highlighting the details and present it as if to the public; do 3-4 writing assignments on the spot; do a role play with a difficult employee; present a timed oral resume showcasing my skills; and do a team exercise with the two other candidates. This was followed up by an executive interview. They offered me the job but I turned it down. The best outcome was (1) all three of us candidates became friends and remain in touch and (2) I had great practice! After that assessment center, nothing any employer would throw my way would be intimidating!
  • Adopt a short theme statement of who you are. The opening and closing slides of my oral resume contained my three descriptors. Later, I used them in my cover letters, resume, and LinkedIn profile. I also had business cards made. Mine were:
  • Award-winning communicator
  • Collaborative leader
  • Resilient inventor
  • Ask your colleagues for recommendations. I had already started asking for recommendations when I began looking last fall. When I got word about the layoff, I contacted my past and present colleagues and asked them to recommend me. They came through for me, and I am forever in their debt!
  • Find some honest, exacting editors. This was easy for me, fortunately. When I had my resume in shape, I sent it to a number of colleagues. One of them told me what I already knew: employers don't often make it past the first page. My two-page resume needed to be punchier and shorter. I cut it down to one page--not easy to do with 30 years of experience. My colleague applied basic communications tactics to my resume. Keep it short and concise, baby! Make them want more information. 
  • Call on your favorite mentors. Our once-upon-a-time sustainability fairy godmother Elisa Speranza sent some excellent tips and recommendations, including a blog post written by another former colleague, Steve Collins about "Six Things to Do After or Just Before You're Laid Off," which I found tremendously helpful.
    I also got in touch with one of my former mentors from the '90s, Brad Hermanson. I'm sure he didn't know how significant a role he played in my career. He had left the company well over 15 years ago, and I hadn't been in contact with him since then beyond LinkedIn. He sent me some incredibly encouraging and helpful emails, giving me the perfect advice and suggestions for what I was facing. Other mentors and former colleagues and bosses offered me introductions at other firms. Again, so grateful!
  • Do some soul searching and don't settle. This was a central theme in the advice from both Elisa and Brad. Brad told me how things had only improved for him in his career since leaving the mother ship, and he encouraged me to think about what kind of job and employer I truly wanted. As a result, I ruled out going back into business development (sales) and turned down some internal opportunities that came my way. I knew I wanted to continue in communications, and I could only do that if I left the mother ship. 
  • Watch for signs of what you're meant to do. One of my close former colleagues, Melissa Mora, left the firm before the holidays to go sailing with her husband. On one of the days I was contemplating my options, I read this beautiful blog post of hers as she reflects on setting sail, literally and figuratively. It was just what I needed!
  • Up your professional game. Last fall Elisa suggested I adopt a more professional email address (previously it was organic_mama@yahoo.com). Again, an obvious tip that hadn't occurred to me. That's why you need your mentors and colleagues! I also bought a personal laptop, separated my work/personal email, and invested in some more professional work clothing, as in recent years my remote work relationships have allowed me to wear jeans to work much of the time!
  • Jump on your job hunt. As the sole breadwinner in my family, I couldn't wait around to start job hunting. The Internet has made it so easy to find job openings. I applied for about 15 jobs, tailoring cover letters for each opportunity. At my level of experience, it's more difficult to jump industries. But my skills and experience made me an excellent prospect as a communicator within the architectural/engineering industry. I also made contact with some recruiters and began applying for unemployment, but it turned out I didn't have to pursue either route in the end. Fortunately, my new employer acted quickly and snapped me up before anyone else could.
  • Be positive. Try to manifest your future destiny. Some might label this as a woo-woo approach,
    Quote that has helped me more
     than once in my career changes!
     but it usually works for me. Whenever I have had something go wrong in my career and I can't imagine how things will get right again, eventually it works out. Sometimes it takes time, but if you're patient, it will happen. In my case, the job that I eventually landed had just been opened when I got laid off. Serendipity, one of my favorite words and happenings!
  • Invest in your opportunities. When I saw jobs that I really wanted, I put in a great deal of time preparing. The cover letters responded to each organization's required qualifications and explained how I'd already done everything they had in mind for the job. Don't forget to have friends proofread your cover letters and resume to catch any errant mistakes!
    To prepare for the big interview, I invested in a notebook and clear pages to display my writing samples. Using the information I'd documented from the initial phone conversations, I created an "Action Plan" presentation outlining what I would do the first few weeks on the job, including a tactics list and sample social media posts using the company's press releases. And of course, I had my personal editor (my husband) proofread it!
  • Look back. I harbor no ill will toward my former company. It helps that they did a humane layoff in my case instead of ushering me out the door. In my last two weeks I had time to reflect back on the great opportunities I had with this company. In going through my paperwork, I found a number of priceless artifacts like my first offer letter and years of performance reviews, which were so fun to read again! I spoke to one of my favorite people, Elisa Blommer, who is still recovering from a horrible motorcycle accident, and we reflected together on all the years we'd worked there. And on my last day in the office, I spoke to my wonderful friend Brandy Wilson, who left the firm last fall to take a job at Simplot, starting up their sustainability program. Brandy used to report to me, and then I reported to her. We mentored each other. That conversation, and hearing her talk about how much better her current situation is than the one she left, was the perfect ending for me at my former employer. 
  • Write a gracious goodbye email. Again, don't burn your bridges. You never know if you might end up returning to your employer or need them again.
I hope these tips are helpful to others who are worried about their job security or who have to face a layoff. 

I know that things don't always go as easily when people are laid off. Sometimes it takes a lot longer to find a job. But I think a positive, resilient spirit helps a great deal. It certainly doesn't do any harm to spread those positive vibes everywhere you go! The world has enough negativity and bad news as it is.

And so as not to pull a Hillary Swank, I must also extend a huge thank you to my amazing husband Mike, who is always my rock and support, now as always.

Your resilient Pollyanna friend Marie on her last day of unemployment


  1. Happy to be your personal editor and all-around cheerleader. You're an inspiration!


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