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Got Laid Off? So What?

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This article is a guest post by Nathan Tanner, a member of LinkedIn’s Acquisition team, and author of Not Your Parents’ Workplace, Critical Lessons for Interns and Young Professionals. In the article, he offers insights into the lessons he learned from his failures.

January 14, 2009. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was sitting at my desk when the head of our team tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to come by his office. At that moment I knew that I was toast. I was told to collect my things, and after a few quick goodbyes, I was forced to leave the building. It was over that fast. The job that I’d worked so hard to obtain was over.

I had only been an investment banking analyst for six months. I joined Lehman Brothers just weeks before its record-setting bankruptcy, then transitioned to Barclays Capital after it came to the rescue and acquired Lehman’s US operations. For weeks there had been rumors of layoffs, so I wasn’t that surprised when I fell victim.

Facing rejection

While I felt surprisingly calm that fateful day, my new reality sunk in that next morning. I woke up with no responsibility and nowhere to go. Time to find a job. I was excited to get started and optimistically thought that it might take a few weeks to find my next gig. I knew the financial turmoil had created a difficult environment for finance jobs, but I soon realized just how hard it would be to find any job in any industry.

As the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, I continued to cast my net wider. I applied for positions that had little connection to my degree or work experience, and I was fortunate to interview for many of them. I went into those interviews feeling confident and qualified, maybe even overqualified for some of them. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t land a job. At this point I had been out of work for four months.

I felt like such a failure.

I eventually found a great role in a completely different industry, and I was thrilled to get back to work. I can’t recall the number of jobs I applied for, but I ended up interviewing with 65 people at 20 different companies.

Lessons learned

At the time I felt like getting laid off would permanently damage my career. On the contrary, I was able to bounce back, and I learned several lessons along the way.

The first lesson I learned is the importance of having a job. I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I didn’t realize or appreciate how much value I got from going to work. I missed having somewhere to go each day. I missed being a part of a team. I missed being needed. I learned that having a job, even if it might not be amazing, is a privilege.

The next lesson came during my job hunt. Early 2009 was an awful time to be looking for work, but that’s only one reason why I struggled to persuade companies to hire me. The main reason I couldn’t get an offer is that I failed to show companies how I could add value. I thought companies would want to hire me because I went to a good school and worked for a good company. But that’s not enough.

During an interview at a retail company I talked about my ability to analyze financial statements (my skill), but failed to demonstrate how I could help them manage inventory more effectively (their need). Companies don’t just hire smart people; they hire people who can passionately demonstrate how they can make a big impact in the organization.

Lastly, I strongly believe that one of the reasons I got laid off from Barclays is that I failed to develop strong relationships with my coworkers.

The slow financial markets gave me a lot of down time, and the looming bankruptcy created a less than positive work environment, so I routinely left the office as soon as I completed my work. While other analysts were discussing recent events and the fate of the company with senior bankers, I mostly kept to myself. I failed to take advantage of those slow periods and didn’t spend sufficient time building deep relationships.

When difficult decisions need to be made, it’s a lot easier to let go of someone who you don’t know that well. It’s a mistake I’ve tried to avoid ever since, and I now love getting to know those I work with on a personal level.

Failure can be a great teacher, and while I would never wish to re-live that period again, getting laid off and struggling to find a job taught me valuable lessons early in my career.

Build strong relationships, demonstrate how you add value, and strive to remember that having a job is a privilege.

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Nathan Tanner is on the Talent Acquisition team at LinkedIn and is the author of Not Your Parents’ Workplace: Critical Lessons for Interns and Young Professionals. He recently graduated from BYU with an MBA. Follow him on Twitter @nhtanner.

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