Monday, October 14, 2013

Are you going to be fired? Tips to navigate in tough job market


Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1985. It was one of the best things that happened to him—he built Pixar, which ultimately contributed more to his personal wealth than Apple did even after his return.

Rejection or a dip in career is not always a bad thing. In fact, it can set you on a growth curve that can prove more rewarding. For, tough times often bring out the best in an individual. The current job market has the potential to place you in such difficult scenarios or pose serious dilemmas. What if you lose your job? How will you survive emotionally and financially? Will you get a new job? How can you hold on to it and make a better career?

If you are grappling with such questions, read on to find the answers that will help your career stay on track.

Are you going to be fired?

If it's not about you: you are a good employee. However, you may still get the pink slip if the business is down and your employer takes the decision to right-size the firm. So, it's important to watch out for danger signs. One of the first things you need to notice is if the firm has stopped hiring. Initially, all growth hiring is put on hold, followed by zero replacement for the people who leave. Keep track of news about your company, both in media as well as on the office grapevine. A slowdown in the industry, huge company debt, massive drop in the stock price, even your client going through a rough patch are events that should worry you.

A drop in revenue or increased expenses lead to obvious red flags, such as no increments or bonuses, delayed payments to vendors, and finally, no salaries for employees. Your chances of getting laid off go up exponentially in such a scenario, especially if your position or your team does not contribute directly to the firm's profits in an easily measured fashion. Add a leadership change to the brew, and you get a new CEO who is eager to reverse the firm's fortunes by downsizing to cut costs. Recognise the signs and prepare accordingly.

If it's about you: have you received 'below average' in your performance ratings two years or more in a row? Most companies have defined policies for counselling before letting you go for poor performance. Have you been in a loud public argument or an abusive disagreement with a senior decision-maker? You might be in the firing line unless you make amends soon. There are subtler signs that indicate your firm or team is unhappy with you and will ultimately encourage you to exit.

Clear signals include a reduction in responsibilities, reduced span of control, and being bypassed in decision-making. As the bad news spreads, you could find yourself having meals alone because team mates avoid your company. Even the technical and administration support services of your firm seem to go slow while responding to your requests. If you can't change your situation, it is probably time to look for a new job.

Winning the battle within

The first reaction to an unexpected job loss is shock. This is rapidly followed by anger and hurt, giving way to acceptance. If you have been through such an experience, you would realise that a career gives you an identity and imparts meaning to your life. Apart from providing a daily routine, a job keeps you socially connected and lends a sense of security to you and your family. Losing a job snatches away all this and leaves you lurching in a roller coaster of emotions. Men are usually more affected than women, especially if they are the sole breadwinners.

The surest way to recovery and success is to redefine yourself in your mind independent of your job status. Acknowledge the situation and your feelings, stop berating yourself for having failed, and remain firmly focused on the future. Take a short break, if required, and remember that binge drinking, smoking or over-eating will make things worse. Your family is likely to be emotionally insecure during this phase. Keep talking to them, get them involved in your plans, and reduce the stress levels for everyone. Avoid retreating into a shell because you have lost your job.

Instead, settle into a regular routine which keeps you physically fit through adequate sleep and exercise, and socially active by meeting people personally. Meditation is a great stress buster too. It is best to focus on what you can control in your life rather than worrying about the situation. As you accept reality, it is time to reprioritise your life and finances while you look for a new job.

The art of staying afloat

Think of wealth as the number of days you can survive with your present cash. So, as you pick up the pieces after a job loss, you need to be wealthy enough to keep going till you find a new job. In a tough market, this may take a few months. In the absence of income, the only way to increase your wealth is to slash your expenses.

Stay with your family or close friends, or at least share a house to bring down your biggest expenses— rent and deposit. Balance it by creating your personal space outside home—in a coffee shop, library or park. Next, make a written budget of your monthly expenses and log every rupee that you spend in a notebook or your computer to stay within your target. For major unavoidable purchases, opt for second-hand goods or lesser known brands, which give you value for money, minus the premium snob factor

Renegotiate and postpone all major loan payments, where you can. If you are travelling, plan in advance to get cheaper tickets, find others to pool in cab expenses, and research cheaper stay and food options. For entertainment, swap a weekend movie at a multiplex for a DVD on your laptop or a cheaper morning show.
How to manage your cash flow

Convert your lunch date into a hamper-laden picnic, organise that party at home instead of a pub, cut out the gym fees to exercise in the park, use free Internet at coffee shops for heavy work and consume most of your alcohol at home before heading to the restaurant for dinner. And yes, unless you are buying that white shirt for your job interview, now is not the time to purchase clothes or shoes.

Landing a new job

Before you start your job search, get the paperwork in order. Have you completed exit formalities with your previous employer, collected reference letters from your boss and colleagues, as well as the experience certificate? Pick up your last salary, benefits, gratuity, and PF transfer, and check if there is a termination grant and encashment of unused leaves. Make sure you part on a pleasant note with everyone and keep the door open for future opportunities with the firm as well as colleagues who move on to other firms. Next, get around to rebuilding your resume.

Start by making a list of all your achievements and success stories. This will not only give you confidence while you are unemployed, but also serve as a foundation for your resume. Look up the free sample bio-datas on the Internet and use one to create a fresh and updated resume. Restrict it to one page if you can since the only use of a resume is to get you the opportunity to meet for an interview, and a concise resume helps immensely. Post it on every free job portal, as well as on professional networking sites. Search online regularly on portals and on company websites for advertised job openings. Apply with a customised resume to each one.
Creative options after job loss
Finding a job is a full-time job. So, having done the initial ground work, set measurable goals and settle into a daily routine that includes getting out of the house to meet people. Start with those close to you and share your availability for new opportunities. Through your immediate network, seek out references. Make it a point to meet them in person. Present your case and explain how you can add value to their organisations. Follow up religiously whenever someone gives you a lead.

Apart from connecting with individuals, attend industry fairs and events, which are fantastic places to learn about new opportunities. Remember that you are targeting the bulk of the jobs that are never advertised and are filled through references. Much before your first interview call, prepare a list of 50-60 questions about yourself, the job, the firm. Research and physically rehearse your answers to these. At the interview stage, it is your homework and communication skills that will land you a job. Invest heavily in both. Also, practice a 30-second elevator pitch for chance meetings where you have a short time to make a strong impression.

As your resume gets viewed online, you may receive calls from recruitment consultants. Be prompt in your response to them and never refuse a suggested time for an interview. If there is no response from the recruiter, remind them in two days and follow up on the progress with the client. For both meetings and interviews, turn up well before time, professionally groomed and dressed, and follow up with a thank-you email each time.

Holding on to your new job

Now that you have been through the pain of job loss and the agony of job search, you will want to retain your new role and income for a long time. Remember that in troubled times, the dice is loaded in favour of employers.

In case your new job is not up to the mark or you believe that you may lose this one too, try to stick on till the very last. Don't quit, but be in permanent job search mode. It is easier to find a new role while you are still employed. The secret to not losing your job again, however, lies in a simple maxim: be a better employee. Seek out additional responsibilities at the work place, volunteer and help beyond your immediate work definition, genuinely care for the organisation, co-workers and your boss, and make yourself irreplaceable either by becoming a specialist or an all-round trouble-shooter. Never complain about your team-mates or vent your frustrations at office. Save that for your family or trusted friends. At the workplace, master the art of investing in key relationships with clients, co-workers and supervisers and always deliver on expectations well before deadlines.

Even while you create value at work, start increasing your net worth by investing in real estate, stocks and fixed deposits. An additional earning member at home and an alternate source of income are great supports in challenging situations. Lastly, get a life outside work to include family and friends. Add dollops of humour to see you through the tough times.

The writer is Director, Executive Search, at Quetzal.