Kaukab Jhumra Smith

Editor | Writer | Media Consultant

10 things to do before you get laid off

Posted on | May 15, 2010 | 7 Comments

Mark Schoeff felt pretty secure in his job as a Washington correspondent for a publication on workforce management. He didn’t think the growing trouble in the journalism industry could affect him.

Then he got laid off.

The news hit him like a ton of bricks. What really stung toward the end of that final HR meeting, Schoeff said, was that his soon-to-be-former boss looked at him and said with faint surprise, “You should always have an oar in the water.”

When you don’t expect to become unemployed, even common-sense things – like making contingency plans for job loss – get overlooked, Schoeff said. He spoke at the National Press Club’s second annual Journalism Survival Bootcamp, a day-long series of workshops and panels to help journalists jujitsu the changes in the media industry into momentum for their careers.

Schoeff listed several things he wished he’d done before he lost his job. “I know these sound really simple,” he said. But he’d learned them the hard way.

1. Start a job hunt now, while you still have a job. “Each month, talk to someone who could help you get a job,” he said. Chatting over lunch and exchanging updates on each other’s work can prove invaluable when you need to call contacts later to ask for job leads. They’ll know you better, and they won’t assume you only call them when you need something. It was a point repeated by etiquette expert Nancy Mitchell and career coach Jackie Jones during their bootcamp presentations.

2. Don’t put your life in your work e-mail inbox. Keep your personal e-mails – from friends, church buddies, family – separate from your work address. Schoeff said he’d found it so convenient to channel all correspondence to his work address that he didn’t really maintain a personal e-mail address until after he lost his job. Then he set up a Gmail account.

3. Keep an electronic list of accomplishments. Schoeff had been very disciplined about maintaining a running list of his published stories, with dates and urls, so he didn’t have to spend days reconstructing a portfolio for his job search.

4. Own your mobile technology. Schoeff was able to walk out of that final HR meeting with his BlackBerry – because he had bought the instrument himself and his employer had only been paying the service fees. Buying your own mobile devices and getting employers to cover service charges ensures you can maintain mobility and access to your contact data when you must look for a new job.

5. Maintain a home office. Ask yourself, “If I were laid off today, could I start job-hunting tomorrow morning from here?” Schoeff advised. Keep a functional workstation at home, complete with computer, Internet connection and printer. The printer that had come bundled with Schoeff’s home computer three years earlier was lying, untouched, in its original box. The ink cartridge had dried up. It cost valuable time to set up the system and figure out a cartridge replacement before Schoeff could start churning out resumes.

6. If you get laid off, stick to a job-hunting schedule. Looking for work is a full-time job. Schoeff would pretend that he would be asked to describe what he’d accomplished in the past week to whomever he was meeting for a business lunch. That forced him to stay productive every day.

7. Freelance and develop new skills. Schoeff volunteered to cover newsmaker events and edit stories for the National Press Club’s wire service, making new contacts and learning some new technology skills along the way.

8. Continue to attend professional conferences. They’re important for developing new sources, contacts and story ideas, and staying on top of your field.

9. Suggest your own stories. If you’re called for a job interview, Schoeff said, study the publication beforehand and come prepared with your own story ideas in case you’re asked to write a story as part of your application. This will help you:

  • nail the “shows initiative” part of the interview
  • develop sources and learn background to help you hit the ground running if you get the job, and
  • get a better story.

Schoeff admits he’s one of the lucky ones. He landed a job at another Crain Communications publication just six weeks after being laid off. He now works for a magazine called InvestmentNews.

Which brings us to number 10.

10. If you get the job, go back to Step 1. “If you’re hired, don’t blow off people who respond weeks after you’ve applied,” Schoeff said. Be very gracious and meet with them. It’s the only way to keep an oar in the water.


7 Responses to “10 things to do before you get laid off”

  1. Adrianne
    May 17th, 2010 @ 12:38 pm

    Great advice. I should be taking it myself. I am certainly going to pass it on!

  2. Dawn
    May 18th, 2010 @ 8:47 am

    Excellent advice and have always believed it. Also, you may want to tuck away even a bit of savings every paycheck. Yes, its difficult for all of us. But imagine walking out of your former employer’s office wondering how to buy next week’s groceries or pay next month’s rent/mortgage. Pretend its an automatic car payment. Even if you don’t see it now, you’ll be glad to see it later. Best of all endeavors to everyone!

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  5. Bill Duganki
    May 24th, 2010 @ 11:58 am

    Aint this the truth. You bust your hump and then get stuffed in the butt. Best to take care of yourself, and not the company if they are going to shove you out the door. Some good advice here. If only we take it!

  6. Yang
    June 3rd, 2010 @ 3:43 am

    Good advice. They are useful to improve work efficiency.

  7. Holli Rossi
    June 3rd, 2010 @ 9:22 am

    I’m not a laid off journalist per se, but I think this is excellent advice. Another good area to get into is grant writing. Journalists have great research skills and could probably do well in this area with a little training. The Grantsmanship Center and Ed2Go offer trainings in grant proposal writing.

    Hi-Tech communications is another good area, especially as this country looks to develop and use more clean energy products.

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