Making it in IT: After Losing an IT Job, Keep Cool and Get the Word Out
Though the economy is improving, it’s doing so at a snail’s pace. New jobs aren’t exactly abounding, though they can be found. That’s why if you should lose an IT position, it’s important to keep a cool head, make yourself job search ready, and get the word out to everyone you know that you’re looking -- and with a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for.
Over the past 6 years I’ve watched my friend Joe move from tech support at a communications company through a progressive series of increasingly technical network infrastructure jobs. Along the way, he’s also acquired CCENT, CCNA, and a CCNP certification (all in the Routing & Switching area), and has passed his CCIE written exam. Until recently, his career progression was steady and uniformly positive, with a growing collection of Cisco certs to show for his efforts, and a steady progression into the network core, where he found himself working with high-level Cisco switches, MPLS, and a variety of interesting streaming and time-sensitive services.
A couple of weeks ago, Joe found himself suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed, when his job disappeared at very short notice. His then-employer had been growing very quickly, and had created a network architect position for him, on the premise that increasing demand for their high-end, high-speed services for corporate customers could fund his paycheck for the foreseeable future. It’s not clear if sales forecasts were overly optimistic, or if marketing efforts failed to generate the necessary volume of clients and customers, but as a consequence of too much supply and not enough demand, Joe found himself cut loose from what he had thought would be a dream job -- one that even included some tuition and grant support for him to finish his CCIE. But companies today simply won’t keep excess manpower around on the off chance that demand will materialize to take up the slack; as soon as their growth projections clearly showed a strong and negative divergence from real growth, they scaled their programs back and starting letting staff go. Too bad for Joe, he was one of the team that got laid off.
What to Do When You Lose a Job in IT
It’s never a good thing to lose a job. I’ve been through a layoff myself and can tell you from personal experience that even when you know you’re good at what you do, and have strong skills and experience, it’s still a shock to be told your services will no longer be required (or paid for). It’s only natural to question yourself and your abilities when this happens, and you should always try to learn from such experiences, but it’s far more often the case that macroeconomics (or the company’s bottom line) is driving your separation. If you really were a schlub, they’d have let you go a long time ago.
With his usual grace and healthy attitude, Joe didn’t feel inclined to take this job loss personally. He understood very well that the company took a bit of chance when they created the new network architect position for him, and he also understood that if the business wasn’t there, the situation couldn’t be supported with new business to create income to cover his paycheck. What he did next shows me how smart and savvy Joe really is, and why I’m sure he’ll find a new position faster than most people might should they find themselves thrown into his situation.
Here's what you can learn from Joe and what you can do when you lose your job in IT.
1. Review Your Financial Situation
The first thing Joe did was to go home and talk to his wife. Together, they reviewed their financial situation, and realized that including his final paycheck, his severance pay, and his unused vacation pay, he had two months worth of “regular money” before the income from his former job ran out. With a little stretching, and a small raid on their savings, he told me they could go 90 days before he had another paycheck in the pipeline.
2. Take a Break, Don't Let Stress Get the Better of You
The next thing Joe did was to take a break; he asked his wife for a list of chores that needed doing around the house, and also took his family to the lake for the weekend. “I wanted to get away from everything, and spend some quality time with my wife and daughter,” he said, “before I even started to think about what’s next.” Because he got word of his layoff on a Thursday, and got processed out of the company on Friday, this gave him the weekend to spend with his family, and some work to keep him busy part-time through the following week. They took a three-day break, so everybody got a little unscheduled holiday thrown in, too.
3. Get the Word Out to Your Network
The next Tuesday Joe started getting the word out to his personal network (that’s when I got a short phone call from him, explaining what had happened, and asking for me to keep an eye out for any positions that might fit his skillset and certifications). He also contacted co-workers from former employers, professional friends and colleagues, school chums, and family. He told me that by 5 o’clock Tuesday he was pretty confident that his network knew his situation, and that people were already reaching out on his behalf.
4. Reach out to Previous Employers
On Wednesday, Joe checked in with some of his former bosses from other, previous employers to let them know he was back on the job market. A chance encounter with some former colleagues at the driving range even led to a plea from a former co-worker that he apply for an open position he’d held a year ago, two jobs back.
5. Keep Cool
Today, almost one week after starting his job search, Joe’s got three interviews scheduled, and has already had two close calls for other positions (got his application in for networking engineer or architect jobs, but a little too late, because they were awarded to other applicants later the same day he applied, or the day after he applied).
Joe is feeling upbeat, sees numerous opportunities, and knows it’s just a matter of time before he finds something that fits his skillset and future growth plans. Although he gave himself three months to find another position, I’ll be surprised if it takes more than 45 days. He’s lucky to be looking in the Austin, TX, area, though, simply because it’s one of the top 10 IT labor markets in the country, with lots of opportunities for high-tech professionals.
What Can You Learn from Joe?
What can you learn from Joe’s experiences? First and foremost, the situation is what it is, so there’s nothing to be gained from losing one’s cool for an extended period, or from letting anger or frustration impede the job search process. Work through your feelings, but don’t hang onto them. Maybe you did get a raw deal, but it’s also an unexpected opportunity to look for a better situation than the one you just left.
Second, it’s essential to work your professional network. If you’re not already on LinkedIn, you should join up, and get yourself out there, and build up your professional network. It’s hard to over-estimate the value of a group of strong friends and colleagues to help you zero in on a good next job. Be sure to make the rounds to the rest of your network, too -- including former bosses and co-workers, friends, and family. If they don’t know of something already, chances are good they know someone who does. When word gets back to you, you can be ready to move.
And finally, make sure to get your resume whipped into shape (be sure to find some editorially minded friends to help you make sure it’s grammatically correct, hides no misspellings, and puts your best foot forward in a friendly, non-arrogant way). When opportunity knocks, you need to be prepared to pounce, and to make the most of it in getting yourself into a good new job. If it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed for a job, you might want to conduct some practice interviews to help prepare yourself for such encounters.
Job Search Resources
Here are a few additional resources to get you started:
- How High-Tech Recruiting Works -- and How You Can Take Advantage
- Top 12 Industries for IT Workers
- IT Skills That Get You Hired
- Finding Federal IT Job Opportunities
- Step-by-Step Guide to Preparing for an IT Job Interview
- Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Better IT Resume
Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.
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