Being made redundant (twice) hurt, but here’s how it can be POSITIVE for your career
By Lucy Hart
Being made redundant in your 20s is never part of the plan, but it doesn't have to be a set-back.
There are a few words in the quarterlife vocabulary that instantly evoke a sense of impending doom. “Dumped” is one of them. “Fired” is another. But the real killer, appearing unannounced to take its prey, is “redundancy”. We know somewhere, subliminally, that it’s not as bad as "fired", but we know it’s still pretty bad. We know it can happen for company reasons beyond our own control, and can be nothing to do with us or our performance, yet we know that if we were to be made redundant, it would be a pretty tough pill to swallow. We know that the impact on our self-confidence and on the ego which props us up to work through another day, would be huge.
“Aw sorry to hear that! Are you okay?”
“Oh no! What the…? Are you all right?”
This was the universally pitying tone of the WhatsApp responses I got to the news that I’d been made redundant from my tech startup.
I have now been made redundant twice, in just four years of working life. It turns out that – in contrast with my former belief that it only happens to characters in American movies – redundancy comes with the territory of working for small startups who don’t yet make a profit. While they were both hard to take, there was a silver lining.
Horrible as redundancy might sound, in both instances, it actually led me to more money, more responsibility and ultimately a better working set-up. Hard to believe I know, but here’s how.
In the first instance, I was made redundant from a junior role and then successfully applied for a more senior position in the same company. When the more recent redundancy was announced – after the initial shock – I felt all the angst of the previous six months lift. The likelihood is that if a company is having to make redundancies it is not going to be a fun place to be. I’d been tussling with whether or not to leave for months, maybe even going so far as to hand in my notice, only to withdraw it shortly after, intimidated by the prospect of job hunting while still working.
The redundancy took this dilemma out of my hands and pushed me into my ‘zone of fear’ with no mercy whatsoever. Gone were the tummy knots and the panicky walk to work, all to be replaced by a new, albeit healthier, nervousness about somehow navigating the snaking maze of online job sites and company websites, all with the goal of ultimately finding a new job. My present self had a rant at my former self for not heeding the advice of money gurus to create an ‘emergency fund’ to handle three months’ rent and expenses. But despite this, I was in a far better position to job hunt.
Gardening leave meant I could complete applications during weekdays; the openness of the situation meant I could consult colleagues; and a short notice period boosted my appeal to employers.
Once I’d started the search, I gradually became more and more relieved. Not only were there plenty of opportunities for a product manager in the tech world, but those opportunities paid over £5k more than my current employer – a raise for which I would have had to wait over a year.
Here’s what I’ve learned about turning a redundancy into a springboard for better things:
Check your notice period immediately
While a good employer will make this clear in your redundancy conversation, they might assume you know it. They’re often uneven, so you might have to give your employer two months’ notice, but they only have to give you one. Knowing your notice period from both sides will make you feel in control, should you be forced into a position of redundancy. When you know how long you’ll have, you can make a bit of a ‘get out’ plan so if it happens, you’re ready for it.
2. Treat your redundancy like a work project to project manage
If you’re out of the office, you can quickly end up in a slump. Work out your timeline and set up your funnel: if you want a job within a month, you’ll need a few face-to-face interviews in the third and fourth weeks, so scale that up for phone interviews in the second and third weeks, and again for applications. Set yourself a deadline of getting two to three applications out in the first day to avoid the choice paralysis that can set in. Larger companies will take longer to get back to you than smaller ones, so prioritise your applications.
3. Stop being so polite
Brits are known for being self-deprecating and reserved, which isn’t a helpful quality when you’ve been made redundant. Ask your employer if they have any contacts they could use to help increase your chances – many startups have connections with others based on their investors, and senior team members will have email threads or Slack groups with similar-minded people. You’ll be surprised by how responsive people are to direct LinkedIn messages where you have a specific interest in what the company’s doing.
4. Make recruiters your (slightly irritating) friend
Mark yourself as looking for opportunities on LinkedIn, and take recruiters’ calls. I’d recommend using industry or job-specific platforms where possible – platforms like Hired and Vettery are great for tech as you don’t have to do individual applications and you highlight what matters to you, from company size to flexible working policy. Or TalentPool has a selection of cool companies and is specifically designed for candidates in the first five years of their career.
5. Practise your answer to ‘Why did you leave your last company?’
Saying you were made redundant is a good, ‘clean’ reason, but potential employers will often follow up by asking what happened to trigger the redundancy. If you haven’t prepared one, your response can come out sounding vindictive. Passive language – “it was decided that…” – and neutral terms – “scaled down” rather than “cut” – are a good place to start.
6. Have a plan B
To mitigate my anxiety about finding a new position, I drew up some other options. I started with reviewing my savings and how long they’d last me, and added freelance writing or editing, waitressing and contract work to the list. While none of the above were part of my ‘planned’ career, having some realistic alternatives took the pressure off.
7. There is no ‘right’ job
Much like an elusive affordable flat in London, as long as a job ticks most of your boxes and you’ve got a good gut feel, take the one that’s offered. I found it helpful to remember that I wasn’t saying no to other opportunities forever; I could join them in the future if I was still interested. A probation period is for you as much as for the company, so write down any niggles and make sure they’re resolved within your first few months, but even if you have doubts going in, don’t let that hold you back from giving something a shot.
Best of luck, go forth prepared for anything, and remember, redundancies aren’t the end of the world. They could oddly be just the big break you needed.
Image by unknown Pinterest artist.