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Covid Journals: Laid Off During Covid-19

By Teresa Bruno

During the Fall 2020 Semester, The Oppy will be publishing submissions from members of the Stern community about how the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted their experience in and out of the program. This issue, we approached incoming students to learn why they chose to pursue an MBA knowing the pandemic would fundamentally change their entry in the Stern community. If you wish to write about your own experience, please e-mail us at oppy@stern.nyu.edu

The following entry comes from Langone student Teresa Bruno.

Imagine this. You wake up one warm July morning to find a 4:00am email from your CEO announcing mass layoffs sitting in your inbox. Or, rather, you are going about your morning pleasantly (including having coffee with a friend!) and are interrupted by a barrage of text messages: “ I heard about the layoffs – are you ok?”

Flash forward to 12:30pm. You have received a mandatory meeting invite and have logged on to Zoom, along with approximately 200 of your global colleagues and friends, while your director reads despondently from a prepared script. Blah blah blah, laid off, blah blah blah. Business speak, HR speak, blah blah. 

Blah. 

Welcome to the real world – you are now undergoing a defining life experience! This short preamble is more than just a reverie –  it’s what happened to me this summer when I was laid off from a tech firm where I’d spent the past 6 years of my life. Now, let me tell you what I learned: 

Lesson 1: Prepare Yourself for the Worst. 

Hindsight is 20/20. While this phrase is common and, in my experience, true, the specter of layoffs looms large during recessions. Add in a global pandemic, and you might agree that many individuals working for large corporations would be wise to expect and prepare for the worst. 

I am a huge fan of worst-case scenario thinking. Not to be confused with catastrophizing, worst-case scenario thinking means to ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen if…”. Usually, the worst thing that you can think of is really not all that bad. In the case of my layoff, I recall a number of conversations with my boss, where we discussed the potential possibilities of poor company performance, layoffs among them one. Employing this type of thinking softened the blow. 

Lesson 2: No One is Indispensable 

I know what I said above. Still, until it came time to face the music, my gut told me that a handful of my peers and I would be immune. Just ask my friend that I had coffee with. I was explaining as much. I worked in a niche sales consulting role which contributed to one of my company’s most profitable global businesses, on its highest performing team with our top revenue-generating clients. My sales partners heralded our collaboration. They would be crazy to let me go, right?!

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it works. Decisions are made high above your head, above your manager’s head, perhaps on a spreadsheet as part of some complex scenario planning. Qualitative feedback need not apply. As future business leaders, it might be necessary to make similarly difficult decisions one day. Although, there is some great data out there, compiled in a report by HBR, which suggests otherwise. I digress… 

As I understand it, if you work “at will” for a corporation (as we do in the United States), you may experience layoffs one day. I’ve been through a number of restructurings during my career, which leads me to hypothesize that the likelihood of layoffs increases with the size of the corporation and the size of your salary. The takeaway here; never get comfortable and assume that you are indispensable. If you aren’t happy with that, take your soon-to-be minted MBA and go start your own company. You can do it! 

Lesson 3: Foster Your Networks

They will be there for you when you need them the most.

I’m spoiling it, but my story has a happy ending in the form of a new, exciting job offer in healthcare tech. Can you guess how I managed to uncover this exciting opportunity? You guessed it! Through my networks. 

I never felt the true power of networks until I went through this experience. Following the layoffs, offers of help from coworkers immediately flooded in, along with messages from clients and past coworkers. Instead of simply thanking people, I set-up some time with them to brainstorm and catch-up. I proactively took as many conversations that were recommended to me as I could handle, and I put myself out there with a post on LinkedIn. This kicked off additional outreach (including the outreach from a past client that ultimately led to my new role). 

Job seeking, researching companies, pitching yourself, conducting informal chats and interviewing is exhausting, especially alongside the emotional rollercoaster of change. 

Altogether, I invested more time in people and in conversation than in applying to jobs or updating my resume. I would advocate for others to take a similar approach. You never know where the next opportunity will come from, and you will be surprised at who comes out of the woodwork to help. And referrals are generally the number one source of hire for organizations. 

Lesson 4: Two Lessons About Decision Making (Bonus!)

I received valuable advice as I explored my next move, more than I can elaborate on in this already very long article. Two insightful points around decision making resonated with me: 

First, you will never have perfect information when making decisions, so don’t be paralyzed by the unknown. The more decisions that you make, the more you will learn. The lesson, in the context of a job hunt: don’t agonize over your next career move. It’s mentally freeing to realize that selecting your next role is not an existential decision, nor is it a permanent one – and it’s not one that you will make blind or uninformed. You’ll be fine. If you don’t like the role, you can change it. Each job provides more information about what you like and, more importantly, don’t like to do. 

Second, don’t spend time worrying about the hypothetical. Job seeking is like a kindergartener’s ballet recital. No matter how hard a choreographer might try, the children will not be perfectly in step. The same goes for job offers. As much as you hope to coordinate timing, you are not in the driver’s seat. This can drive an exhausted job seeker crazy. In my case, I’d been moved to final round interviews for a couple of roles with my previous employer, while at the same time, discussions were progressing with another organization. Although I knew it was time for a change, I was concerned about declining an offer from my previous employer without another offer on the table (in this economy!). My mentor talked me off the ledge; I had no offers. The lesson: don’t stress over decisions that have not yet come to fruition. Thankfully, the door with my previous employer closed itself. 

As I embark on a new career path and I reflect back on the past few months, I can’t help but be amazed by how much has changed in the blink of an eye. Not only have I learned the above lessons, but I have also gained perspective about life and empathy for others in a similar situation. A final thought – although being laid off is a highly personal and sometimes isolating experience, I was not alone. There was a community around me willing to help, and I bet that it would be the same for you should you find yourself in a similar situation.

The above lessons are reflective of my experience being laid off and my experience only. They are not representative of others’ experiences. If anyone is experiencing similar circumstances or would like help job seeking or networking, I’d be more than happy to help in any way that I can.

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