I’m in a position that I haven’t really been in before–or at least not for a long time. While my private life is always in flux and stressful, my professional life is generally in good shape for the moment. Even typing that makes me a little superstitious that I’ve now ruined my good luck. But at the same time, I’ve worked hard to get to this point, so I shouldn’t feel guilty. So why do I, at least a little?
Let me back up a little here…this is my reaction to things going on around me at the moment. At this time, there are a lot of companies that are having huge layoffs. ‘Tis the season, unfortunately. The end of the year–especially when many contracts would normally either come to a close or be renewed are not being renewed. We’re seeing huge layoffs at some of the biggest tech companies like Twitter (well, that’s an entirely different story as to why), Meta (aka Facebook), Amazon, Lyft, Salesforce, Microsoft, and the list goes on. Even my company has had some workforce reductions, in that at least speaking for my department, some contractors will not be back after the new year, and there some rearranging going on. Because I’m an employee, I didn’t make the cut–at least not this round.
I say “not this round” because I’ve learned over the decades that there is no such thing as “safe” in the work industry anymore. Generation X was the first generation that understood and experienced that you couldn’t join a company for life and get the mentorship to build a career. We’ve always been on our own, so I learned the hard way very early. Even so, I’ve known people who’ve either been at their company for long periods of time. My husband is one of those lucky souls that’s been at his company for about 20 years now. I know a few others. I believe that my true record for being anywhere is either 37 months, or 7 years–depending on how you view it. The 37-month long job was a permanent position which I left to join a dot-com in the late 1990s. The 7 year one was one which I was a contractor for 2 1/2 years, had a three month break, but then worked part-time (very part-time) as a side gig for another 4 1/2 years. I usually count the former as my true longest gig.
Other than that one long contracting position that was more off than on, I’ve never been in one place long enough in this century to break that 37-month record. I’m hoping I’m on a path to do that, but I don’t hold my breath. I’ve been in my current position for 25 months, of which I’ve been a permanent employee for the past 9 months. I like where I am, and while I’m anxious about what the new year will bring with all the changes, there’s a part of me that’s conflicted about still being where I am, but it’s not what you think.
I don’t have any feeling that I want to leave anytime soon. However, I do have PTSD about layoffs. I’ve seen it too many times. Contractors always are the first to go. But then there’s usually another round that comes to take away the rest. It follows the old saying of “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. The contractors are the first shoe–would I be part of a group that would be the other shoe that has yet to drop? In my head, I don’t think I would be because of the work that my manager and I do–we are relatively critical for ongoing maintenance of the big projects we’ve done in the past two years going forward. That said, I also know that technical communicators are usually underappreciated because so many in leadership don’t understand our value. Many people think they can write, but those in technical writing know better. Even so, I think I’ve asked my manager many times in the last month since finding out that the contractors were not getting their contracts renewed after the new year if we were next. The PTSD kicked in something fierce.
Once I’d been strongly assured that I was “safe” and there was evidence that yes, I have security in the near future and don’t have to start looking for work, naturally I relaxed. But there’s a part of me that said I shouldn’t be so relaxed and feel almost unaffected. My co-workers and friends are being laid off in droves. Some of them are much more experienced than me, and yet, they are out there looking for work. I’ve done my best to try to share job listings when I see them, but it’s now getting to be too much. I want to be a good friend and good person to network with, but part of me almost feels TOO relaxed that it wasn’t my turn for a change. I feel emotionally neutral due to my version of survivor’s guilt. It’s usually me impacted, and for once, it’s not. One part of my brain is telling me that I should not feel guilty, because it’s just business and that I’ve worked hard to put myself in this position of safety. I should enjoy the fact that I’m not stressed out because of my job. Very busy, yes, but not stressed. I know the next month is going to be full of transition learning, transition of my responsibilities, and just getting a lot of normal, high-volume, end-of-the-year work that needs to be done, but I have the support of my manager and the company behind me for a change. I should feel good about this! (And I do!)
But then another part of my brain tells me that’s not being completely cool. I’ve been in the same position as all those people who’ve been laid off WAY too many times myself. I understand the stress, the anxiety, the depression, and the uncertainty that comes with being laid off, even if you know ahead of time. So many of those who were laid off in these past months didn’t deserve to have their livelihood taken away from them, and shouldn’t feel like less when it wasn’t a reflection of their actual work. There are certain habits that I haven’t broken since I was a contractor because of those things, like working a lot (if you don’t work, you don’t get paid), and saving as much as I can in the bank, not spending a lot on big trips or big ticket items, because you don’t know if you might need that money to pay bills and feed your family. I’ve shed the tears, been hysterical, felt lower than low about myself and my predicament more times that I’d like to count. (Hence, the PTSD about layoffs.) So, I should be supportive and try to help when I can– and I do my best.
So, it just feels weird to be in this position–hence, the “survivor’s guilt”. So many are impacted right now, when the world is barely getting its footing back after the pandemic and inflation is higher than it’s been in a very long time, and your paycheck doesn’t stretch as far as it used to…I get it. For the moment, I’m not as impacted as so many technical communicators right now. I do count my blessings, but don’t you think for one moment that I think that I’m smug about not being laid off, or that I don’t care. I do. But for the moment, I’m willing to feel okay about it.
At the same time, for those who haven’t been in this position before, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Remember to file for unemployment insurance. Unless you’ve been a freelancer the entire time, you’ve probably paid into that fund even as a contractor for some agency. You may have a lot saved up or not much, but either way, it’s YOUR money–that’s why it’s called unemployment insurance. It doesn’t last forever, but it might help you pay some bills and hold you over a little bit while you look.
- Don’t stop looking–even during the holidays. My observation over the years is that there are two main recruiting times during the year, namely November through January (for calendar budget years) and between May and July (for fiscal calendar years). So, even with vacations and holidays when hiring managers may not always be available, don’t give up! Keep pursuing and looking because while jobs will still become available during other months, those seem to be the biggest rush months for work.
- That said, do take time for yourself during holidays. Getting laid off around the holidays is the worst! You’ve already got all the usual holiday stresses, and now you have work/money stress to add on top of that! Even so, cut yourself a break. Take some time to catch your breath, regroup, and enjoy the holidays as best as you can under the circumstances. A new year is ahead, and it’s an opportunity for a new start! (And new starts can begin anytime.) It’s a chance to reassess your personal as well as professional circumstance, and decide how you want to move forward? Do you want a more challenging job or a less challenging job? Are you willing to move? Do you want to work remotely or an office? Do you want to change fields? Are you taking care of yourself and your family, and how does work support that? Now’s the time to do that.
- On the job hunt, there are several things to keep in mind as well:
- Make sure you update your resume and LinkedIn profile and take the opportunity to ensure that it’s cleaned up, grammatically correct, and laid out well structurally. A misspelling for someone applying for a tech editor position, for example, would be an automatic “no”. First impressions count. There are plenty of template resources out on the web that can help you with that if it’s been a while. LinkedIn is a HUGE resource for recruiters, and having an incomplete profile does not do you any favors. It should mimic your resume at a minimum.
- Send out as many applications/resumes as you can. As my husband would remind me all the time, you have more chance of catching a fish if you have multiple fishing lines out on the water–even if you only need one fish. I’ve been through situations with other economic downturns where a single position that used to get 10 applicants now gets 100 or 1000 applicants. As a result that’s no fault of your own, you get ghosted or never hear anything back about a position. So, the more of them you send out, it increases your chances of getting a response.
- If you see something that you think you might be able to do, but you don’t have experience in “X” (something requested in the job description), apply for it anyway–even if it’s a few things that are missing. There was a study that was done that showed that women in particular were guilty of that–not applying for a position because the job description had a few things required, and the applicant didn’t have 100% of the requirements. Men will more often apply even if they don’t have everything. But I also know men who have that same mentality–if I don’t have all of it, I can’t apply. Not true. I didn’t have any experience in InDesign, Service Now, or how to navigate in Workday, and I was taught all of it in the past two years, and then more. I had the foundational skills that allowed me to learn these quickly, and that’s part of the reason that I got my job. I was able to adapt, and my resume showed that I had the foundational skills to learn and adapt. So take a shot–you don’t know where it might lead you. You can always say no if you get a job offer if you don’t think it’s a good fit. But you have to apply to get to that point first.
- Keep a spreadsheet–Excel or Google Sheets is fine–to track your search. It doesn’t have to be much, but I usually include the position title, the company (or the client company and the recruiting company), the name of the contact or recruiter with their phone number and email info, the date of contact, the date I forwarded my info, and a field or two where I track the dates of each step going forward. There are times I’ve sent so many applications out that I’ve lost track of where I’ve applied, who I’ve talked to, where I am in the process, etc. This will help keep you on track.
- Take advantage of your network. For me, it’s always been about my tech comm social media network and my STC network–especially my STC network. Making those connections with other professionals in your field and supporting organizations can make a big difference. They can provide leads, or even advice as you do your job search. Again, with my current job, when I initially applied for it as a contractor, it was the only job I had been offered as a contractor that preferred STC membership. When I asked my manager during my interview why she was looking for that, she said that she felt that those in STC cared about their careers and were the ones that more often went for continuing education to stay on top of the profession. Well, as active as I am in STC, I had that (and still have that) in spades! I also worked my network at the time as I had an STC connection who had gone to my same grad program and used to be in my chapter (she moved) who was in the same company, and I could ask her about her experiences, what kinds of questions they often ask about during interviews, etc. I was able to reciprocate the favor recently when she was looking for a new position, and I could forward her the job openings at my company! That’s how it works. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but people are always willing to help, so take advantage of that!
- Take the opportunity to learn something new. Whenever I had a gap in employment, I’ve always used that time to invest in myself. What is a skill I could improve? What’s a software program that is being requested more often that I don’t know? What’s something that I’d like to learn because I’m interested? There are so many educational opportunities and choices! I started my master’s degree because I was unemployed, and I was switching professions (or at least making a course correction), and with appropriate paperwork, etc. I was able to get the state unemployment department to pay for my first three courses of my degree. A bit of savings there! There are also so many other resources out there–STC has a great educational program that I’ve benefitted from, LinkedIn has courses (I took several when it was still Lynda.com), and there’s something to fit any budget. Understanding a skill that you may not have used yet will still get you a little bit ahead of not knowing anything about a skill. For example, you don’t know about structured authoring? Plenty of free resources to teach you.
- If you are in tech comm, create an online presence. Even if you worked on proprietary stuff, use some items and change it up with fake names and processes that will help you display your aptitude. Create an online portfolio with different examples of the kinds of writing or other skills (like graphic arts, UX design, HTML programming, etc.) that you can show. Another way is to participate in social media forums or heck, write a blog on topics! This very blog was started for that reason–to show prospective employers what I know in a more conversational way. This blog is now 10 years old, so I think it’s been doing a good job for me, even if I don’t write as often as I used to.
- Do contract work or part-time gigs, as you don’t know where they might lead for the better. One of the things that brings me relief that I’m not currently part of any layoffs is that until I got this current position I’m in, I had not worked a full-time, permanent employee position since the year 2000. Seriously. It’s been 22 years since I worked full-time as an employee, and I don’t mean as a full-time employee of some contracting agency. That’s been a big adjustment. Granted, some of those years were years off to be a stay-at-home mom, but those that weren’t–all contracting jobs. So if you are used to having full-time permanent employment, don’t diss contract work. It might be the difference between having a paycheck or no paycheck. Money is money, right? That said, that also goes for part-time employment. I’ve been in part-time positions, or even juggled two or three at a time so that I had a relatively steady income for a while. All my contracts and part-time gigs gave me an opportunity to learn something new that I could put on my resume, or advance my skills even more. It got me to where I am now, so do what you need to do to be employed. Sometimes even taking a slight pay cut might reap rewards later. There are opportunities where contracts can be converted to full-time permanent employee, or you’ve at least gained an opportunity to apply at a client for a full-time permanent position, but it’s because you put the work in first. It’s not an automatic thing. I’ve had at least two occasions when I was told that they were going to convert me, and then it didn’t happen (would get laid off instead). My current position is the first time it converted, but I still had to go through the same process as if I came off the street. It was not automatic or a shoo-in. But, I’m sure I had an advantage of already knowing the work.
- Don’t give up. Give yourself a break, but don’t give up. Looking for work is an unpaid full-time job in itself, and it can be really, REALLY frustrating when there is a lot of competition out there. Just continue to work every angle you can, do as many searches through as many contacts as you can, and go back to that first bullet above of advice. The more lines you put out, the more opportunities that someone will “bite” and you’ll get that interview and job. But it can take time–which can be excruciating at times. Just don’t give up until the job is done.
Everyone is worthy of having the ability to contribute to society through a variety of means, and make a living from it. Intellectually, most of us know that when we are laid off, it’s a business decision and not a reflection of our body of work or work ethic, even if it feels very strongly that it’s personal. It will feel personal for a long while–I won’t lie to you about that. But having been in the situation too many times, and falling into the same emotional trap, these are the steps I take to ensure that I can be at my best when that next opportunity does come around.
What are your thoughts and experiences about layoffs in tech comm? Share your experience in the comments.