Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Ups and Downs of Finding a Job

From the moment you find out you no longer have a job, being unemployed feels like being on an emotional roller coaster. Even if you can understand why you were terminated, you still feel like you did something wrong. That is probably because you have been around after other lay offs and heard what people said about the people that were no longer there.

People are sad for those leaving, at first, but, as time goes on, they start trying to justify why they were let go. Housecleaning, cutting the deadwood, he/she was in over his/her head. You could probably add to the things people say about their co-workers, trying to explain why they are still employed and their co-workers are gone. It is an understandable reaction. None of us want to think that we could just walk into work one day, be terminated, and have to walk out with that box of belongings as everyone watches.

Each of us reacts differently to being terminated or fired. Some of us think it is kind of funny. After all, how can they live without us? The company will surely go under now that we are no longer there, and that will serve them right. Others cry, some yell, and people like me just move on. My philosophy is that once they start laying off people like me, I don't want to work there anymore anyway.

The first time I was terminated in a general lay off, I was not at all surprised. I had been with that company more than 13 years. I was a nomad technical writer, moving from group-to-group, and I was between projects when the company was bought out by another company. I was told that 10 percent of the employees had to be let go as a condition of the buy out. Of course, getting a severance package that included six months of pay (two weeks of pay for every year I had been there) kept a smile on my face as I made that long trip to my car.

I was lucky that time. Another lady who left the company when I did mentioned my name to a guy who had worked with me a while back. I was hired by his boss as a contractor. That job came to me and it lasted almost three years. The Y2K panic was a disaster for the small contract company and I was unemployed on and off the last six months I worked there. Fortunately, a couple of friends got me back in at the company that bought the company that bought company I had worked for three years earlier with them. As I understand it, I missed some really rocky times while I was gone. The second buy-out had happened about a month after the first buy-out that left me unemployed. That job lasted almost seven years, and through many lay offs, before it was my turn again. Seven years meant more severance pay, which ran out just about the time I found my next job.

My wife has never liked the insecurity of my being a contractor. I have not really had much of a choice as I get older. I have had several jobs as a contractor where the manager offered me a permanent job within the first week. Sometimes I have accepted and sometimes I have not. The point being, contracting can get you in the door, so people can see what you can do and what you are like, and then they might offer you a permanent job.

What I have not mentioned is all the ups and downs I went through when I was between jobs. A couple of summers ago, when I was laid off again, I got a severance pay amount equivalent to about 11 weeks of pay (for that seven years of employment). I could have gone a little longer because of unemployment benefits. I was getting the maximum amount, I think, which is close to $400 a week. I was at about week 12 when I was offered the job that I have had the last couple of years. During that 12 weeks, I went through just about every emotion you can think of.

As far at the lay off, I did not blame myself. I know that it was not due to my abilities. The first time I was laid off, I had met with my new manager earlier that morning, got a rave review, and received a raise, which was used to compute my severance pay amount. Most of the lay offs I have gone through are truly just an exercise in downsizing. I don't think I have ever seen any housecleaning lay offs or getting rid of the deadwood lay offs. However, I sometimes think the best and highest paid employees are picked to be laid off in order to open up new opportunities for the employees that remain, and those leaving can find better opportunities. That has happened to me. My job losses have actually resulted in better jobs at the next company. If the past is any indication, my next job should be a dream.

So I have never had any emotional problems about the jobs I have left, but that does not mean I have not fretted over finding a job. Am I too old to find as good a job as I have had? Are there any good jobs out there? Are my cars and my house going to be repossessed? Is my family going to starve? I wonder if I am really as talented as I think I am. You name it. Every negative thought that you can imagine will fill your mind at one time or another when you are unemployed.

Being unemployed and trying to find a job is about as emotionally distressing a thing as you will ever live through. My dad and grandfather were both self-employed house painters. When they were unemployed at times, they probably just felt that they were between projects. I have tried to develop that mental attitude: I am just between projects. As I carry my box of personal items out of the building where I have just been laid off, I am already wondering where my next project will be, what the people will be like there, and what that future company does or makes.

Don't get me wrong, I still have those depressing days that I think I have worked for the last time, on my last project, but I get over it. I have to. I have a family, a large dog, and a parrot to support.

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