Surviving the pink slip5 min read . Updated: 26 Feb 2012, 07:58 PM IST
Surviving the pink slip
Retrenched senior banker, who was the managing director at a major investment bank, woke up last Monday to find himself named prominently in the pink papers in a story about out-of-job investment bankers. Panicked at having his unfortunate situation laid out for all to see, he rang me (at 7.30am). What should he do?
Apart from the obvious (ask for advice when the other person is actually awake), how should a senior professional navigate retrenchment and get back in the game?
No matter how self-assured or financially secure a professional may be, this can be a traumatic time. Research ranks it up on the stress-o-meter up there with losing a loved one, getting divorced or a major illness. Expect to go through the stages of anger, denial, self-doubt and occasional bouts of panic. Communicate with professional contacts and family. I know one person who withheld the news at home (yes, in this day and age)—and his wife heard from her friends, the resulting angst was possibly worse than the job loss. Open and positive communication with the immediate network will lead to greater psychological and professional support—for the person, and the family. Consider taking a break for a few days, to rest and refresh. The job-search process may be a longer haul than expected, and a clear head and the support of family and friends will be invaluable.
Introspect, figure out the reasons why. The annoying boss at the head-office¸ organizational politics, the economic slowdown and resulting cost-cutting and restructuring notwithstanding, I urged my caller to use the opportunity to indulge in some honest, private soul-searching. Was he still on top of the game, or with the changing environment, were there mismatches in skills, performance or cultural fit? Bankers in particular hate this one, but was he a tad overpaid, given the slowing economy? Going forward, did he want to continue in the same industry? If there was cause or a performance issue, think through how this will play out during reference checks and how it needs to be addressed. Bounce things off a mentor. This is important in setting expectations for future roles.
Do the math. Conduct a personal cash-flow analysis and build a sensible budget for the next few months. Take the family into confidence and jointly agree to any necessary lifestyle adjustments in the short term, while assuring them of base financial security. Consider taking on short-term consulting assignments, if feasible or necessary.
Use the time off constructively. Create an activity and action plan, both personal and professional. Clear that pending paperwork, visit that aunt, book those golf lessons, take that long-promised camping weekend. Set timelines for activities, build structure into the day. Print a new business card, update the LinkedIn profile, set up the voicemail. A banker I know borrowed a desk at a friend’s office, shaved and suited up every day and came into “work" from 10am to 2pm for three months to trade, search for jobs, make calls and network—and just to talk to other professionals at the coffee machine.
Take stock. Assess skills and achievements, and think through possible opportunities. Rank options—unacceptable, acceptable, desirable and most important, available, or likely options. With the seismic changes in the world economy and depending on personal circumstances and aptitude, this may well be an opportunity to evaluate a change in industry, profession, or even location. What does a quick environment scan reveal? How bad is the market, really? Are there many other people on the street? Think beyond the usual suspects (in this case, the bulge bracket investment banks). Which industries or companies are growing? What about related spaces? Does entrepreneurship, consulting or intrapreneurship appeal to your DNA? What about non-executive board work? Call mentors, use them and their networks to validate and answer some of the uncomfortable questions that friends or family may not be able or willing to.
This will help define the next critical action point. Conduct some base research (we headhunters swear by this stuff) on desired options. Set up, and then work through a list of targets—a master grid of leads to cover, recruiters to approach and companies to touch base with. Research all players in the industry, put in names of contacts, and status of the approach. This will ensure that all bases are at least considered, if not covered. And it will help contacts and well- wishers to assist in a specific, structured way, and minimize the possibility of efforts being duplicated.
Now, tactics. Keep calm and don’t panic. Get the basic script and pitch sorted, rehearse it with an adviser. Be honest and upfront in interactions, and try not to diss former employers. Set realistic base expectations—role, industry, compensation, brand—after getting feedback on market realities. Do get out there, but be strategic and tactical. Companies will be opportunistic in what they offer in these trying times—and they will seek value. Spewing out resumes and interviewing indiscriminately reeks of desperation. Decide what’s non-negotiable or a non-starter and politely terminate those conversations early on, but keep other options open. This is the time to call in favours done previously—talk to people, get on their radar. One never knows which lead is going to win the lottery, but it helps Lady Luck if one buys lots of tickets. Don’t necessarily jump at the first offer, if it doesn’t quite ring the bells. Go in for meetings prepared, with some ideas and structures, do the thank-you notes and use the grid to manage follow-up actions. And don’t hound contacts incessantly (and please, think before you call them at 7.30am).
Coming back to my friend and his distressing headline, I suggested that he take it in his stride. One way of looking at his situation was that it was free advertising on the front page of a popular financial newspaper, probably read by all potential employers and clients. An endorsement about his newsworthiness, it made his availability known, kept his credibility intact and his name very much top-of-mind.
And so it did. Over the week, while there were a few arch comments, it pretty much got his phone ringing—and it has sparked some interesting leads, conversations and golf games. Who knows, this layoff may actually pay off quite well.
Sonal Agrawal is chief executive, Accord Group, an executive search firm.
Write to Sonal at email@example.com