Lessons Learned from a Layoff

There’s been a lot written about layoffs lately, which is no surprise given all the VMware employees have been enduring. Here are a few of the experiences I’ve had with being laid off for just over 5 months (as of this writing). I hope this helps someone with their layoff situation.

  1. The first and most important item is to stay positive. Unless there’s true discrimination, there’s likely nothing you can do and no amount of dwelling on it will matter. Capitalism is a cold, heartless master, so don’t take it personally and turn your attention as quickly as possible to #MoveForward.
  2. Insurance (this one’s mostly for the USA-based folks, because we’re backwards this way) – Make sure you understand your options. COBRA is available, but you’re going to pay dearly, because you’re essentially going to pay what you were paying before PLUS the subsidy your company was paying. It sucks but is an easy way to continue coverage. You can also buy off of healthcare.gov, which will likely give you cheaper options. Either way, you have 60 days to make the decision, with COBRA being retroactive should you incur any costs before officially signing up. Also, be aware that short-term insurance still exists, but you should watch out if you have pre-existing conditions, because those are not protected. Finally, being one of 10s of millions who don’t have health insurance is an option. Many healthcare providers do offer cash discounts and have programs for people without insurance. It can be nerve-wracking (financial disaster could be right around the corner), but it could be cheaper to only pay for the occasional urgent care visit. I won’t sugar coat it; this was one of the toughest decisions I continue to wrestle with.
  3. Was it time for a break anyways? Burnout is not uncommon in IT these days, so this question should be one you ask yourself. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford to simply not work. I am blessed to have had the flexibility to spend some time decompressing and spending the summer with the family. If you are blessed in this way, spend some time with your loved ones and bank account and determine what the right balance is between taking time off and job hunting. There are a lot of variables to consider in this decision:
    • Your level of burnout.
    • Has there been neglect in the personal side of life that could do with some attention?
    • How much cash you have or can make available to pay the bills.
    • Can you find freelance or gig work to fill the gap?
    • How much you can cut back on monthly costs.
    • The need for employer subsidized medical insurance.
    • The number of things you have to do and how well you deal with boredom.
    • The current state of the hiring market (hint: it is not good as of this writing).
    • Keeping current skills sharp.
    • Spending time learning new skills.
    • Taking time to figure out what you want for the next step in your career – is it time for a pivot?
  4. File for unemployment. It’s weird for those of us in a high-paying industry, and it won’t even come close to making up for the lost income, but your employer was already paying for you to take this benefit, so do it. Each state is different, so spend some time understanding your state (Nebraska people, just ask and I can share some of my experiences). Honestly, it’s a pain to deal with unemployment, so set aside the time to figure it out and deal with any weekly requirements, because you don’t know how long your job hunt could last (example: me). As you go about the requirements, watch out for things that will disqualify you from payments, like freelance work and educational items.
  5. Work your network. If, like me, you’ve invested in a community within this industry, now is the time to cash in some karma. Spend time with friends and reach out to former colleagues you haven’t connected with in a while and catch-up (it may be awkward, but that usually passes once a conversation starts). I have had such a positive experience from my immediate and extended network through this period. It didn’t have the immediate result I expected, but there have been so many people who have been helping. If you don’t have a strong network, work what you do have and be thoughtful about who in your network has a broader set of connections that you may be able to tap into. It can be harder to stand up for someone you don’t know, but if a good friend tells me they have a solid friend looking for help, I’m going to make sure they at least get a first interview.

    While you’re working the network, I recommend you continue to invest even while you’re withdrawing. There is no lack of people needing employment help at any given time (especially right now), and we’re all stronger when we hold each other up. Plus, being seen is a good thing in this stage (more on that in a bit). If people share postings with you, let them know how good of a fit it is for you, which will encourage the person to continue sharing, but also helps them better understand what you want to see. Whether or not it fits, share it with others who are looking for those opportunities.
  1. Of course, you’ll need to update your resume. I don’t know why we still use this arcane way of showing our credentials, but I haven’t found a way around it yet. There’s plenty of advice out there, but based on my experiences, I’d recommend having a few versions created, depending on the types of jobs you may be looking for. I do not recommend spending the time to tweak your resume for every application, unless the role is particularly interesting and you want to highlight something specific for it. There’s probably going to be too many applications you’ll submit to do it every time.

    Edit: A great suggestion was given to me to have trusted friends review your resume and provide suggestions, especially those who recently found a new job. This is a strategy I used at several different times in my search, so felt it was a great addition to this item.

    Of course, today’s recruiting environment (on both sides) is highly driven by AI, so if you want, spend some time training a Generative AI system on your experience so you can have it create a version for each posting. I didn’t spend much time doing that myself, but your mileage may vary.
  2. Now it’s time to talk about actually applying for jobs. What I have found in this era of automation and AI driven hiring relates back to point #5: focus on jobs where you have an internal advocate. Out of dozens of applications I’ve submitted without a referral, I’ve had exactly two (yes, 2) recruiters contact me. That may be particularly acute for me and my highly varied resume, but others have had similar experiences.

    Having an internal referral is always a huge benefit, but it won’t always guarantee a shot (I’ve had many referrals – even advocates – that couldn’t secure me a first call). But it does mean you’ll be more likely to know if it’s an active posting (there are many rumors of postings out there that have no intention of hiring) and could gain you unofficial insight into how you stand, depending on how close your contact is to the hiring manager.

    Of course, you should continue to apply for things that look interesting, even if you don’t have the referral. Unemployment may necessitate it and you never know what might hit. But my advice is to not spend a lot of time digesting and preparing for these applications. For the most part, I’ve given up writing cover letters for these applications unless it’s particularly interesting or I feel like my resume won’t show well for it. Again, YMMV.
  1. GET OUT THERE! This is somewhat repetitive to item #5, but this is no time to disappear. Make time for influencer/community/user group/local conference opportunities. Start/restart blogging. Look for freelance work. Volunteer in your community. Have coffee or lunch or dinner or drinks with friends, colleagues, and anyone else that could potentially make a connection to a job opportunity.

Looking for work is work, and trust me you can get burnt out if you push too hard. Take whatever time you comfortably can to decompress, spend time with family and friends, and focus on mental health. But I recommend in this current job economy to always be chipping away. Shake the proverbial network tree, put a bunch of irons in the fire, then take a break while you wait to see what catches.

Good luck! Thanks for reading all of that (that’s a lot to digest), but there’s definitely more I could share. If you found this advice to be helpful and would like to go deeper, I’d be happy to help if I can. Email (contact <at> knudt <dot> net) or LinkedIn are the best ways to get ahold of me these days.