According to David Brooks, the conservative (but surprisingly gifted) commentator for public broadcasting’s The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, Newsweek, Atlantic Monthly and op-ed contributor to the New York Times, “the U.S. will have to produce 10 million new jobs just to get back to the unemployment levels of 2007. There’s no sign that that is going to happen soon, so we’re looking at an extended period of above 8 percent unemployment.”
“Pffft, 10 million isn’t that much,” you calmly tell yourself while sipping your Red Bull. “Especially since they aren’t all in my field of work.”
Not so fast. You know what those numbers also mean? They clearly illustrate that a lot of good, talented and high-quality employees were probably laid off. Having that many people laid off at one time also means competition for any professional job is, and will remain, fierce for some time until the economy starts rolling again.
Because careers in allied communication (PR, ADV, MKT, Design, etc.) depend on client dollars to remain solvent and the economy will always be a cyclical beast, it is safe to assume that things will eventually improve, and then they will get bad again, and then they will improve and then they will get bad again. The last time everything was similarly all messed up to this was in 2000-2001 when the “dot.com” bubble burst.
We’re going to be straightforward here and let you know in no uncertain terms, it is very likely that you will personally experience a lay-off at some point of your career. In fact, if you are in a client-services industry, you should probably count on it.
Oh, and if you aren’t truly passionate about your career, you can probably count on getting fired at some point too, but that is a story for another day.
Let us be the first to assure you that working in the pre-dot.com bubble was, no exaggeration here, fantastically awesome. Like the first time you saw Willow or Tron.
If you were in a client-service industry or an agency in 1999-2000, you already know the account dollars flowed like beer. In fact, many organizations had in-house kegerators full of a client’s yummy product, shuffle-puck tournaments, free lunches, ping-pong tables, MarioKart on the brand-new office Nintendo 64, action-movie afternoons, and the company CEO would employ her deep, throaty, genuine laugh and rub her grubby hands together in a gleeful fashion each time a new account contract was signed. Ca-CHING!
Ahh, it was a fantastic time to be a 24-year-old account executive, with big-name clients and the dot.com money-train just kept on unloading the financial bacon. Little did one know how fleeting the cheese could be and how fickle real-world business actually is…
And then one day, (hypothetically of course) say, Wednesday, March 8th, 2001, around 3PM you are walking back to your desk after decimating (and humiliating) the entire Admin Team at ping-pong in front of all the interns.
You decide to gloat a bit and swing by the VP of Client Relation’s office to say, “Those Admins are finally learning to expect no leniency, and none is given, because I am King Pong!” You then hold up your prized green paddle into the air, as if it was the mythical Excalibur and you are some sort of modern-day hedge-knight, and exclaim, “All hail the Cobra Verde!”
“Hey, would you mind closing the door for a second, I’d like to chat with you briefly,” says your favorite VP.
“Sure! What’s up?” Fully expecting him to tell you to tone down your revelry in front of lesser pongers and to not be such a poor winner in front of the newbie interns.
“There is no easy way to say this, but the organization has decided to make some changes and unfortunately, we’ve decided to let you go.”
<*Queue stomach to drop out, bile rising and desperately try not to puke because just last week you bought a dope Nissan Pathfinder and have significant outstanding graduate-school loans*>
[At this point I should ask, how many of you have ever heard of the Kübler-Ross model for grief or loss? I ask only because you will likely experience the following steps when being laid-off, only instead of experiencing this over many days with a terminal disease, you’ll experience all the steps in a matter of minutes]
Denial. “Dude, are you serious, because this isn’t funny.” This feeling will be replaced by a sense that things are beyond your control and now you are locked on this hellish and twisted roller-coaster without the ability to make it stop. Kind of like Lindsay Lohan’s sex life Tiger Woods’s sex life.
Anger. “This is bull$h*t! I work way harder than <toss some other office person you really dislike under the bus>, he just downloads mp3s from Napster all day!” Here you will apply lots of misplaced rage, hatred and fury directed at anyone or anything now.
Try not to make a total ass of yourself here because the chances are the guy who is giving you the bad news is the one who might have tried to fight for you to keep your job but got overruled by their own supervisor. Realize it isn’t their fault and they are probably as uncomfortable as you are.
Bargaining. “What about if I work part-time? I’ll put in more hours and stay later, I just really, really like this job a lot.” Feeble and pathetic attempts at negotiations are most common in this stage, most likely because you are just now realizing what the loss of a steady paycheck means to your lifestyle and obligations. *<queue the crying here for those who are partial to it>*
Depression. Self explanatory. This stage will last a while. Probably until you find your next paying gig.
Acceptance. This final stage comes with peace and understanding of the decision has already been made and you, for all intents and purposes, have already been terminated. Once the person who has the job of letting you go sees that you are in-control of your emotions again, they will usually move into a discussion of the severance package and final paycheck. Generally speaking, you can expect to receive a week’s severance for every year that you have worked for an organization, but each organization will have it’s own policy.
At minimum an organization should give you two-weeks severance, which will hopefully get you to your first unemployment check.
And you know what the worst part of this whole thing is? You mostly just feel like you aren’t cool enough to hang out with your old coworkers anymore. Just like when you got cut from the varsity soccer team your junior year in high school and had to run cross-country instead, but that worked out for you because you got to go to the Cross Country State Championships whereas the soccer team totally blew and placed last in the conference.
To some extent, getting laid off is an American tradition, like smashing the family Suburban. It’s a valuable learning lesson for everyone involved. Painful yes, but also valuable.
You’ll learn (hint, hint) that it was really important (and very clever) that you used your thumb drive to copy professional samples of your work every month. Now you have something to add to that portfolio you haven’t opened since the day you got hired.
You’ll learn that it’s really, really nice that our society has a safety net for those in need, like unemployment insurance and food stamps. You’ll also learn the finer points and intricacies of trying to navigate a large government bureaucracy to acquire said safety net.
You’ll learn that you have far more expenses in your life that you don’t really need. You don’t need Comcast’s Digital Premiere-Level High-Definition Cable Package for $176/month. You don’t need to spend $40 a week on comic books.
Luckily, as an undergraduate you’ve already learned that you can always go back to Top Ramen, Stove-Top Stuffing and Schlitz Malt Liquor to survive, so no major loss there.
You’ll get to learn all over again, the finer points of resume writing, portfolio building, the importance of networking opportunities and collecting letters of recommendation. Only this time around, you have professional experience and confidence that you really can kick butt in interviews when you need to.
If you are really lucky, you might just learn that the job you loved because of your coworkers wasn’t actually a career, but just a job with cool people. If you are unlucky, or have bad karma, you’ll spend the next several years trying to find an organization that you liked as much as the one you just left.
And most of all, you might, might just learn that getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to you because, for the first time, you just became a real professional and now have the scars to prove it.