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COVID-19 Briefing: How to survive layoff and navigate job search

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I was laid off in April 2000 during the dot com collapse. It was extremely painful but I was able to land a job offer in a few weeks. As I progressed to an executive level position, I helped my employer to navigate the 2008 financial crisis, and helped and coached many coworkers and friends to land on their feet. Around that time, I published my first career guide book and launched my career coaching business. Based on what I have learned from almost two decades of experience of career-coaching clients and successfully navigating two crises, I have the following advice for you if you’re laid off due to the Coronavirus crisis or if you feel insecure about your current job.

First, if you are laid off, never associate your self-esteem/self-worth with the layoff. The layoff is an event due to external circumstances. Keep your head up. Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect others to believe in you? This is hard to do. The common emotional reactions after layoff are sadness, anger, and doubt. Give yourself a week to grieve and recover. But, you must constantly remind yourself not to let this event impact/define your self-perception.

Second, the Chinese translation of the word “crisis” consists of two characters: “danger” and “opportunity”. Keep this in mind as you navigate the job market. Behind every crisis, there is an opportunity hidden somewhere. Warren Buffet famously said that “We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful”. During the dotcom crash in 2000, several of my colleagues were laid off by a start-up. They ended up joining another startup called Google. They’re all doing extremely well today.

Third, remember cash is king and you need to cut your expenses aggressively to preserve cash flow. You should create as much runway for yourself and your family as possible.

Fourth, the fastest way to get a new job is to leverage your strengths. The unemployment number is going up each week. More and more employers are having hiring freezes. The competition for each job opening is fierce. Employers want to hire people who can start contributing on day 1. The more relevant your experiences and skills are, the easier for you to land an offer. If you want to make a career transition (e.g. moving from engineer to product management, moving from professional service to product company, moving from QA to TPM), wait after you join a new company. Please don’t try to make a career transition while you’re laid off. Employers have no incentive to give you a chance as they have more than enough qualified candidates.

Fifth, you need a structured approach to look for jobs and keep yourself accountable. Looking for a job is a full-time job on its own. When I was laid off in 2000, instead of sleeping in, I kept exactly the same work routine. I woke up at 6:30 in the morning. I dressed professionally and started working at 8AM. I gave myself a quota of reaching out to 10 employers everyday with customized resumes and cover letters. My lunch hours were reserved for networking lunches and coffees. The first two weeks were extremely hard because I didn’t hear anything back. But, I started to get several phone interviews and then onsite interviews in the third week. My “job search pipeline” started working.

Sixth, if you have limited runway, you should start a side hustle as soon as possible so that you can bring in some income. The two side hustles you can start tomorrow are consulting/contracting and flipping products on Craigslist/OfferUp/etc. You should be able to generate $3K – $6K side hustle income if you spend 20 hours a week. If you wonder how to get started on these side hustles, stay tuned for a future article.

Seventh, “fish where the fishes are”. You need to focus on companies that are still doing well in this economy. Amazon, Zoom, Coursera, Udemy are just a few examples of companies that are doing well. Google and Microsoft have huge cash reserves, so they are still hiring and should be able to weather the storm if it’s not too long. Companies in the travel and hospitality space are hit hard. Additionally, don’t let your geographical location limit your search. Employers are becoming more receptive to remote work arrangement. Shelter-in-Place might fundamentally change how we work, and legitimize remote working in Corporate America.

Finally, practice, practice and practice. Interviewing is a learned skill that you can get a lot better. But, it requires practice. “Repetition is the mother of all skills”. Anticipate interview questions. Thoroughly research your interviewers. Write down your answers. Have mock interviews to practice your answers. There is no shortcut.

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