Learning & Development Requests
Since forever, I’ve worked in the field of learning and development--many times with a job title that has contained the word “training.” In those roles, one way that work came to me was a straight up request for training. Someone within the organization, often in a leadership role, would approach me and explicitly ask me to design a training program for a certain area of the organization. Often, these requests reflected the current delivery method of choice (in-person classroom training, video, webinar, eLearning) and several parameters for how the fulfillment of that training request looked in their head.
What Training Requests Look Like
Here are a few actual training requests I have received over the course of my career:
The Tricky Part About Training Requests
On the surface, training requests may seem like a simple set of marching orders. Go forth and start writing the manual, shooting the video, and scheduling the big conference room at the office to make the request a reality.
If only it were that simple.
I learned pretty early on in my career—and I’m reminded on a regular basis—that training requests are the beginning of a very important conversation about the perceived problem, who it impacts, and how to get rid of the problem. I’ve also learned the hard way that skipping over the needs assessment part and delivering exactly what people initially ask for has a pretty good change of making no one happy. What starts as “do exactly this” later becomes “ugh--why did you do it like that?”
Learning How to Listen to Training Requests
It's important to treat training requests as what they really are--a starting point for future discussion.
The trick here is to listen—but listen differently. Listen around and beyond the original request to figure out what problem the requestor is trying to solve. They actually don’t want a too-long webinar where people “multi-task”, or a game-filled in-person session that misses the mark, or a non-user friendly manual that no one will read. They want a solution. They want the current less-than-ideal situation to be resolved.
In short, they are using the best words they can think to use to pitch a solution to a problem.
They are saying “my car needs new brakes” instead of saying “my car doesn’t stop very well.” They are saying “I need a new refrigerator” instead of “my food isn’t staying as cold as it used to.” They are saying “I need a haircut” instead of “my bangs are hanging in my eyes and it’s hard for me to see.”
Taking this approach reminds us to take their solution as a starting point for discussion. Listen for the problem, not their proposed solution. This is the value L&D brings to the conversation.
Acknowledging, Restating, and Gaining Initial Agreement
Now, when I hear those types of initial training requests, I acknowledge what I heard, and restate what I think the need is, removing the proposed solution until we learn more. Here are examples of what that sounds like:
When they say:
“We need a day-long class to show the managers how to do the hiring process correctly.”
I acknowledge and restate:
“It sounds like people aren’t going through the hiring process they way you expect. Is that correct?”
When they say:
“We need a sales playbook and a 4-hour webinar with each area vice president presenting their individual section on how to sell the new product.”
I acknowledge and restate:
“It sounds like the sales team needs to know how to position and sell the new product, and we want to make sure the VPs are involved so we get the right message out in front of them. Is that correct?”
When they say:
“We need a detailed manual on how to complete[basic transaction] in the proprietary software."
I acknowledge and restate:
“It sounds like there are users who need to know how to do the basic transaction, and we need to figure out how to get the right information in front of them at the right time. Is that correct?”
When they say:
“We need a microlearning video on setting up [complex functionality] for the whole company."
I acknowledge and restate:
“It sounds like we need to make sure that key users groups need to learn how to set up [complex functionality]. Is that correct?”
Foundational Needs Assessment Questions
Once we have at least a cursory agreement on the problem we’re trying to solve, and the requestor knows that we’re listening and want to partner with them to address the real issue, it’s time to ask more questions. Throughout this process, we’re trying to learn the answer to the question “What does success look like?” Here are a few foundational needs assessment questions to help us get to that ultimate answer:
Asking these questions helps us not only build a strong working relationship with the requestor, but it helps us gain their buy in on the approach we ultimately take.
What Do You Think?
What are your go-to needs assessment questions? What are your tips and tricks for working with training requestors? Include your ideas in the comments.
Using LinkedIn While Job Searching
For many job seekers, LinkedIn is a key component of finding a new job. Sharing content on LinkedIn is a great way to engage with your connections, add value to your existing professional relationships, and promote who you are and what you know. However, currently only about 1% of LinkedIn Users ever post anything at all.
What Gets In The Way?
When I've asked people what is stopping them from posting on LinkedIn, the overwhelming answer is "I don't know what to post." Like with most everything in life, it comes down to your overall goals for using LinkedIn. For job seekers, the overarching goal is to find a new professional position. There are many ways that LinkedIn can help with that. In general, I suggest using LinkedIn to promote who you are as a person, and as a professional, and demonstrate the value that you bring you’re your industry and individuals with who you connect.
Types of Posts
You don't have to write a long, original manifesto to post on LinkedIn and make an impact. Here are examples of what you can post on LinkedIn that will help you in your job search efforts:
Let's look at some examples that I have posted on LinkedIn.
Showcasing Your Expertise
Who are you professionally? What are your skills? What do you bring to the table as a possible employee of a given company? For me, my skills include training leadership, instructional design, project management, technical writing, facilitating classes, and more.
You as a Person
Who are you? What is it like to work with you? What are your interests? What do you care about? For me, I love helping people to succeed. I love removing obstacles so people can be successful. I enjoy board games, inline skating, my cats, my family, and a good cup of coffee. I am also kind of a nerd.
What picks you up when you are down? What insights struck you? What motivates you? For me, I love quotes about the value of lifelong learning, self care, and shifting your mindset.
Who inspires you? Who do you learn from? Who shared an awesome resource that benefitted you? For me, I enjoy finding awesome people to learn from and sharing useful articles with others who might also find them helpful.
You Doing Things
What do you do? What did you write? How do you volunteer? For me, I lead classes, go to professional development meetings, deliver webinars, inline skate, and hike.
Your Work Samples
What projects do you work on? What do you write? What content to you create? What experiences have you learned from? For me, I teach custom webinars, write blog articles, assist other instructors, and design learning.
What have you learned about your chosen profession? What's a tip you like to share? What's your go-to strategy for solving a problem? What's something unique you have noticed? For me, I make observations, see unique solutions to common problems, or see how training and learning are out there in the world.
Sharing Opportunities and Resources
What problems can you help people solve? Who do you know who is a go to person for a given topic? What is a solution you learned about from a common problem? For me, I share information for people who want to get into corporate training, share job search resources, point people towards people who share topic-specific content.
What Do You Think?
What do you post on LinkedIn? What content do you like seeing on LinkedIn? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Managing Job Anxiety
Recently, I was at a professional development event learning about the finer points of corporate training. During networking time, I talked with a woman who had been previously laid off, then called back to work for the same company (which is rare for my chosen field). What was her biggest concern? In short, she was trying to figure out how to be happy in her new/old position and not constantly worry about the possibility of getting laid off again.
To Worry, or Not to Worry?
Here in the land of having been laid off from various and sundry positions 6 times over the course of my career, I know from being worried about job loss. Granted, the first time I was laid off, an involuntary job loss was outside of my realm of possibility since it had never personally happened to me. After that, though, once I knew it was a thing, there are many times I’ve worried about being laid off. Maybe it was concerns about market performance, or new management, or rumors about reorganization, or any number of other things that caused my anxiety to kick in.
On the flip side, the times I have been laid off, I have just plain not seen it coming. I’ve been busy dealing with my personal life otherwise falling apart, or too busy working on a must-succeed project, or coming back from vacation to realize that apparently, I was not long for those companies. While I do worry from time to time, instead, I now focus on how to proactively position myself for longer-term career success instead.
An Alternative to Worry
Way back when, I had two operating modes when it came to work: “I’m happy with my job” mode and “I need to find a new job” mode. “I’m happy with my job” mode included excelling at my day-job with a side order of inactivity. “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode is when I started to network, look for career opportunities, dust off my resume, highlight my skills, etc. Now I realize that I needed to change from those two to an all new “working professional” mode—which is a both/and way of being. As a working professional, I still excel in my current role, but I also remember to keep my skill set up to date, continue to make ongoing professional connections, and have a career plan B (and up through about J, honestly) just in case I need it. Regardless of my employment status, this mindset serves me well and helps me live my life without focusing on fear.
Learning and Growing
Once upon a time, I planned to be a high school English teacher. While I didn’t end up teaching in a school setting, I use that skill set to help adults who work for businesses learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable them to excel professionally and personally. I’m a lifelong learner, and I literally learn for a living—and help others do the same. I’m always learning new technology, reading up adult education theory, and gaining insights from those around me. In addition to having a formal background in education, I also attend regular professional development meetings, and I constantly read in and outside of my field. I make sure I can speak intelligently about trends in business, education, and beyond. Staying current and continuing to learn and grow keeps me doing well in my current position and future ready. In an ever-changing world, continued professional growth is the best way to manage whatever happens next.
Building (and Tending) My Professional Network
People talk a lot about “networking.” Too often, I think networking is depicted as a superficial act that involves shaking a lot of hands at a nametag laden event where people dread the next day’s “would you like to buy something from me” calls. For me, as an introvert, I approach networking differently. My goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships with people. These relationships are an opportunity to share information, help one another out, and feel more connected.
I keep track of my network using LinkedIn. In the beforetimes (aka pre-pandemic), I would typically meet people in person first, then connect with them via LinkedIn. Now, after I interact with someone via webinar (at a professional development meeting or after we work together for the firs time), I add them to my LinkedIn network. I've also taken a more proactive stance on online networking out of sheer necessity. Regardless of how that connection comes into my life, from there, I’m happy to help a friend of theirs look for a new job, or talk with one of my connections about how they might want design their technical certification program, or answer a question about a job applicant who is a former coworker of mine. I expect to help people in my professional network out, and know that they will be willing to do the same.
Regardless of the role that I’m in, and even if it seems to be going well, I always have a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan, and then a couple more backup plans after those. After many layoffs, and the unique challenges of each, I have a broad sense of the types of situations (like figuring out the health care exchange and determining when it made sense to do short-term contract work) I may need to mitigate. This means being ready to manage possible adversity or taking advantage of opportunities as they become available.
In addition to being proactive with my network, some of the things I’ve thought through have made me better equipped for issues as they arise. Here are a few of the things I’ve contemplated:
What Do You Think?
How do you manage career anxiety? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Network Building in the Beforetimes
Pre-pandemic, "networking" typically meant attending in-person events, shaking a few hands, and having a somewhat meaningful conversation with another human. While some of those in-person opportunities are intermittently available, large group events are more the exception than the norm. As with other lessons learned on adapting to remote work, the way we build our professional networks also has to adapt.
Enter the Webinar
Like many people, I have attended (and delivered) approximately a bijillion online meetings, trainings, and interactive instructor-led sessions over the last little bit. I've been approaching these sessions with a mind towards not just attending, but also making new connections. The process is different, but I realized that I've actually managed to connect with more people (and often form more meaningful connections), that I sometimes do working a room. As someone who runs introverted and communicates effectively in writing, this was an opportunity to turn webinars into a bonus network building exercise.
Finding Possible Connections
When attending a webinar where interaction was promoted, I made sure to participate. I also noted other attendees (sometimes taking screen shots of the participant pane) and what contributions each person made. After the session, I would use those details to follow up on those fledgling connections on LinkedIn.
Researching Potential Connections
After attending a webinar, here is my process for adding new LinkedIn connections:
Key Components of a Connection Request
Personalizing connection requests is a great way to start building a relationship with a new professional contact.
Connection Request Examples
Here are a few examples of messages that you can use to invite people to connect. You have 300 characters total to use for personalizing connection requests.
Hi, Jen. I see we both attended today’s White Box Club meeting. I’m also in transition and seeking a new role in learning and development. Let's connect!
I'm also always up for a 30-minute "virtual coffee" meeting to discuss how we can help one another as we job search.
Hi, Jack. Great to interact with you a bit at this morning's Excellence Share. I love sharing ideas with fellow L&D professionals. Let's connect!
Hi, Javier. Welcome to the PACT organization! I know I personally appreciate everything I learn from this awesome group of people. Since you mentioned that you are job searching, be sure to check out The White Box Club on Meetup to help you as you find your next role.
Keep in touch!
After The Initial Connection
How do you further nurture that relationship? Here are a few ideas.
What Do You Think?
What are your strategies for building your network online.
Interviewing for a New Role
As a now 6-time layoff survivor, I have done many job searches, and had many interviews. Recently, I read an article about a job searcher who opted out of one hiring process. He did this after making it through three rounds of interviews, and having the organization ask about arranging the next six (yes, six) additional rounds of interviews. (I included an article with details in the "Learn More" section.)
I felt compelled to share my own story about one seemingly never-ending interview process. Like with many things in life, it took a bad experience to teach me how to make better decisions around participating in interview processes when job searching.
Job Interviewing Boundary Setting is Hard
Let me start by taking a moment to acknowledge that this is not always easy to do. When you’re hip deep in a job search, especially when you’re unemployed, it is hard to set boundaries. The longer the search goes on, the easier it is to tell yourself that you’ll summit Everest if a potential employer asks you to as part of possibly FINALLY getting a paying job. Here is your reminder that it’s important for you to realize that jumping through more and more hoops doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with a job at the end of the process. Do your future job searching self a favor and think through what your boundaries are when it comes to participating in a given company's hiring process. We'll revisit this a little later.
The Perfect Job! (or was it...)
During this particular job search, I was laid off at the end of the summer. From previous job searches, I hoped to find a new position before Thanksgiving, because otherwise it might be until February or March before I secured a new role.
I was very excited when I ran across THE PERFECT JOB! It was an opening for a training director position within an easy commuting distance where I even knew someone who had connections within the organization.
Lessons Learned: Don’t fall in love with a job. Even if it seems like “the perfect job”, it is not yet “your job”. Apply, hope for the best, but keep on applying. Until you have an actual accepted job offer, it is not “your job.”
The Inside Scoop
I met with my professional connection, and they filled me in. I learned about the organization, their clientele, their mission, the key players in the hiring process, and useful background information. My connection even put in a good word with the organization (they had left on good terms.) I also learned that the company had a some turnover in this position, so they were trying to make sure they did their due diligence and hired the right person this time around.
Lesson Learned: Even when you’re excited because you found THE PERFECT JOB, gather information and listen to what people tell you. This company having gone through two people in the role in a relatively short period of time, and being concerned about making another hiring misstep is something I heard, and noted, but I didn't really listen to as much as I should have. In this case, the company was trying (maybe a little too) hard to hire the right person for the role. It could have also indicated that there was something about the company or the role that caused people not to stay. Again, my future self knows to synthesize information gathered more carefully--and not emphasizing only the good things.
The Phone Interviews
I applied, and my connection put in a good word for me. Very quickly, the company reached out to me for an initial phone screen. Then a phone interview. Then another phone interview. Then yet another phone interview. After four phone calls—each where the interviewer seemed excited about me as a candidate and talked about who else I needed to talk to—I started to wonder what the whole game plan for this whole process was (aside from their overwhelming goal not to make a hiring mistake).
Lessons Learned: In the initial phone screen or the first interview, be sure to ask what the hiring process is. Decide what your boundaries are, and if you’re willing to do all of the things they want you to do. Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Make no assumptions. Don't get so excited that they keep wanting to talk with you that you keep on going not knowing what the whole process will be (and if you're willing to continue on that path).
The Work Samples
In addition to talking to different interviewers on multiple occasions, the company wanted to see work samples. I emailed work samples and met with a subject matter expert who was well-versed in adult education and instructional design. They complimented me on the trainer guide, videos, and job aids I had created. They told me they were impressed with my work, and learned from what I told them. At this point, they told me the next step was for me to meet with the company founder.
Lessons Learned: Have a portfolio online that people can access, or let people know that you are happy to review work samples (and your process) with them in an in-person or Zoom meeting.
The Zoom Meetings
I was excited to be meeting the company founder, who was also a published author. In preparation, I bought and read their most recent book, researched their accomplishments, read their blog articles, and their body of work. During the interview, we had a great conversation, which included a lot of “when we work together” and “next steps” language.
This meeting was followed by multiple Zoom meetings with different stakeholders explaining the next steps in this process—which they called an “in-box experience.” During this phase, I would come into their office and work for a half day. I would have a chance to interact with multiple people with whom I would work, including consultants and a client. This would require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, work on a project for an actual client, and present information to a client.
Lessons Learned: No matter how many interviews you have, or how much they seem to like you, remember you do not have the job until they have made you an offer and you have come to an agreement about your compensation. Remember that the goal of this process is that the employer decides if they want to work with you, and you decide if you want to work with them. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I invested this much time without talking about salary expectations.
The In-Box Experience
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8:00 am, I arrived for my in-box experience. I brought my computer and the work I had done so far. I was told that I needed to use their computer for my work that day. During the four hours that I was there pretending I worked for them, I had an in-person panel interview with people I had talked with via phone, interviewed via Zoom with a consultant, ran a project meeting, completed work on instructional materials for a client, and got feedback on my performance along the way. I had a final conversation with one of the decision makers before ending my day. I was told I'd hear back early the following week.
Lessons Learned: Determine ahead of time how much you are willing to do for a role, and when to call it. Remember, you're interviewing them, too.
Thanks, But No
In the middle of the following week, I got a call back. It was very brief. Thanks for my time, but they had decided not to proceed with me as a candidate. If I like, though, they would be willing to add me to their possible consultant database for future contract work.
Lesson Learned: Never again. In short, I spent about 45 hours total, including about 15 hours of unpaid work that I did for the company, to end up with no job offer. Time to transition those lessons learned into new personal guidelines.
Remember the boundary setting I mentioned before? Here's where we revisit it. After going through this process (and getting mad all over again writing this up), I am reminded of the outcome of those lessons learned for me.
What Do You Think?
What have you personally learned during the job interviewing process? Include your thoughts in the comments.
The Adventure of Career Transition
Since the beginning of forever, I have worked in the field of learning and development in a corporate environment. I have also learned that two of the most at-risk fields for layoffs are marketing and training. In total, I have been laid off 6 times due to economic downturns, companies being bought or sold, or good old fashion reorganizations. While each period of unplanned job transition is rough in it's own way, here are three core truths that help me weather the storm as I search for a new work home.
Truth 1: Working time passes more quickly than non-working time.
When you're a hiring manager, you have a ton going on, and only one of those things is hiring a new person. You're still trying to manage your team, meet deadlines, troubleshoot customer problems, and juggle all of the people you're considering for your open position. In an interview, when one candidate asks about the hiring process, you tell them you should know who will move on to the next steps in the process "by the end of this week"--and at the time, you believe that is a reasonable deadline. Then there is a software release with a bug that causes three meetings to be scheduled with big clients, or someone quits suddenly leaving a lot of arrangements to be made, or your child has to be picked up from daycare with stomach flu. Friday comes and goes and getting in touch with a candidate falls off your radar until the next week.
Meanwhile, as a job seeker, you put a note on your calendar that you'll know one way or another by Friday. Then you analyze every syllable you uttered in the Zoom interview hoping that you didn't say anything awful. You rethink a facial expression that you interpreted as approving and wonder if it really was that at all. You suffer through Saturday, Sunday, and Monday secretly worrying that you will never work again. Ever.
Instead of spiraling, take action to get you closer to your job of being happily, gainfully employed. After the interview, send a thank you email to the hiring manager and send them a personalized connection request on LinkedIn. Put a note on your calendar for a few days after the hiring manager said they would get in touch with you. Reach out to them at that time including a few pleasantries, reiterating your interest in the role, and asking for an update. Will you get the job? Who knows. You did your part, identified what you can work on, and will continue to learn and grow as you go through the process for more roles.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
Truth 2: Don't fall in love with a job opening.
Inevitably as a job searcher, you run across it. THE job. It's the one you know is meant to be yours. It's perfect--easy commute, a great title, the go-to company, exactly what you are qualified (and want) to do. In your head you know it--this is MY job. You picture your new business cards, where you'll park, and how you'll introduct yourself as the "Director of Awesomeness" for this perfect company. You think--why should I even bother applying for anything else because this is SO my job!
Except, well, it's not actually your job yet. You're looking at it and see yourself in it, but it's not real. You don't work there. No one is sending you a paycheck for it. They don't even know your name yet. This MAY be the job you eventually get, but nothing is done yet. You know what else? It may not end up being your job. You need to remind yourself that it's not a done deal. Apply for that job--even work hard to get it. Know, though, that you may end up not even getting called in for an interview. This doesn't mean you're not still awesome. There's just a lot going on. There may be an internal candidate, or a previous coworker of the hiring manager, or someone who has a referral from a college friend, or someone who has even slightly more of a qualification that didn't make that job posting.
Instead of spiraling, take action to get you closer to your job of being happily, gainfully employed. Any time you find yourself falling in love with a job, or thinking of something as "your job", make an extra effort to go apply for additional jobs. If the job you see yourself in works out, great. If not, you're still working towards your ultimate goal of finding a new role (complete with a paycheck) whichever one that might be.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
Truth 3: You only need one job.
Applying for jobs is a process. Looking back at my records, I have typically applied for between 40 and 100 jobs when I've been in career transition. It's easy to get discouraged. Sometimes you apply and hear back a fat lot of nothing. Personally, sometimes my stomach sinks when I see a job that I've applied for (and was quickly rejected) and it's reposted and realizing that they will hire "not me" for that role. It's hard when the job where you interviewed a ton of times tells you they really liked you, but went with an internal candidate. It's rough to hear that you were great, but that you came in second. There is so much rejection in the job search process, that it's inevitable that you'll feel down, and like a loser, and like there is no hope.
At the end of the day, though, you only need one job. You need one organization to tell you "yes". You need one place where you and the employer agree that you'll work together. When I remind myself that I only need a success rate of 1 in 50 to be happily, gainfully employed, it makes it all seem more manageable. All those no answers get you to the one yes you need. The trick is that you don't know which one will be that yes.
In addition, network with three more people and apply for three more jobs.
What do you think?
What job search words of wisdom resonate with you the most? Include your thoughts in the comments.
When it comes to job searching, networking is a key factor in success. Ideally, you make initial connections with people through LinkedIn (maybe even after meeting them in-person or at some kind of group online event). This is a great start. To really capitalize on a networking relationship, having a networking meeting can be extremely beneficial.
What Are Networking Meetings?
So what exactly is a networking meeting? In the good old days, I remember hearing people talk about doing informational interviews. In short, if you were interested in having a certain job, or working with a certain company, you would contact and organization or individual and ask if they would meet you for an informational interview. Here you might learn about the company, what they are looking for, skills to acquire, and more. It also gave you the opportunity to start to build a relationship with a company--or a possible advocate in the person doling out said information.
Fast forward to now. These days, a networking meeting is typically you and another person deciding to spend a half hour-ish together, (with the pandemic, usually virtually using Zoom with cameras on kind of like if you were having coffee) and chatting a bit. If you're job searching, the typical focus will be on how you can make progress in your job search. Someone may to agree to a networking meeting because you have things in common (like field of work, background, professional goals), because they are generally committed to helping people when they are job searching, or because you have a mutual acquaintance to asked that person specifically to meet with you to help you out.
Networking Meeting = Informal Interview
Whenever you have an opportunity to meet one on one with someone, remember that you are taking part in a type of informal interview. Whenever I meet with someone who is in career transition, my goal is to help them figure out their next steps, offer advice (if they ask and are interested) and give them ideas on next steps they might take, including who else they should speak with next.
While I go in with this idea, the amount of help I'll provide also depends on how this networking meeting goes. Ideally, we have a good, productive conversation, and I think to myself, "I totally want to help this person more." If the meeting goes well, I'll refer them to specific resources that might benefit them (like a networking group they might want to join, a company to check out, someone to follow on LinkedIn) and even put in a good word for them to have a networking meeting with someone else who might get them closer to their goals. In addition, if it goes well, this is a person who I'll refer to others for openings, pass on job opportunities, and maybe even hire someday. If the meeting doesn't go well, I'll share a few resources, but may not be willing to help them as actively moving forward.
Remember, interaction you have with people will impact their desire to help you going forward.
Types of Networking Meetings
Here are a few common types of networking meetings:
Networking Meeting Best Practices
Here are a few best practices for networking meetings:
The True Power of Networking Meetings
When people talk about how they "networked" into a new job, typically that means that they leveraged their initial connections, to help make inroads with new connections, who helped them get closer to a new position. The holy grail of networking meetings is when the person you meet with agrees to introduce you to someone else they know who could help you, and that process repeats until you're talking to a hiring manager or influencer who can help you get an interview for a job. Having good networking meetings is a critical step in that process.
What Do You Think?
What are your job search networking tips and tricks? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Change is Constant
Businesses are always changing. They constantly update strategy to stay viable long term. Changing staffing levels is one way they evolve to meet needs. While changes may bring great opportunities, they could also mean layoffs are imminent.
Here are a few signs that your employer may be closer to reducing staffing levels.
From the dot.com bubble, to the 9/11 attacks, to the subprime mortgage crisis and beyond, economic conditions impact the viability of individual businesses.
Most recently, during the pandemic, we saw some businesses boom (like video conferencing) while others struggled (like hospitality). Consequently, for those organizations that were floundering, job eliminations followed.
Some were hit right away, while others lagged. For example, a company specializing in planning in-person events was impacted early pandemic, but the vendors who supported them with software felt the aftereffects.
Not all companies are successful--even in a strong economy. Companies might miss their sales targets for a quarter (or longer) or start to lose market share to a competitor.
To adjust, they may start with small cost cutting measures, like having fewer snacks in the breakroom or downsizing employee events. On a bigger level, there may be hiring freezes, no raises, or stopping performance bonuses. There could even be temporary pay cuts or the elimination of some benefits (like employer contributions to a retirement plan).
Since salaries are one of the biggest line items companies have, eliminating staff is one way to address financial troubles that shows a big, more immediate impact to the bottom line.
Changes in leadership, whether a CEO or a frontline manager, can impact an employee’s future. When a president is replaced, a VP of a critical department moves on, or a manager leaves due to personal reasons, new people fill those gaps.
New leaders typically review the current state, assess staffing levels, revisit company goals, and make changes. This may include them bringing in their own people, restructuring departments, halting unsuccessful projects, or starting new initiatives. In some cases, they may bring in one or more consultants to make recommendations—including the jobs that will continue, their scope, and who will do them.
When companies have new owners, changes are inevitable. Duplicate teams will combine and some positions may be consolidated or eliminated. Differences in company values may mean that a department present in one company is no longer valued in another.
Regardless of the circumstances, one thing is certain. The organizations in question will determine changes that need to be made and move forward in a way to make the company stronger—which may or may not include a job for you.
Occasionally, companies revisit their goals and decide to switch directions. For example, a call center might start expecting all agents to be able to answer all call types, then shift to having specialized teams, then decide later to outsource, or eliminate a service altogether.
Shifts take place to minimize costs or capitalize on a potentially lucrative market. This also means that the job that you have that was once seen as essential may later be deemed out of scope.
On an individual level, changes to your job (especially if it becomes less challenging) may be a hint about the future of your role. If at one point you led projects, and now you find yourself being left out of key meetings, take notice. See if this is an isolated incident or a pattern.
This may also be a downstream effect from changes elsewhere in the organization. For example, a new manager may observe you doing your (now less challenging) job and see a misalignment between the value you bring and the salary you receive. Whether this is due to a new boss who isn’t your biggest fan, or one who has a former colleague they want to bring in to replace you, it’s important to pay attention. Changes in responsibilities may put you in jeopardy as the organization evolves.
Depending on company culture, the amount of voluntary and involuntary turnover varies. While some companies have employees who have been there well over a decade, others may have the bulk of their staff there less than a year.
A larger, more established company has a better chance of having more longevity, while a tech startup may have more people regularly coming and going. Some may quickly decide if an employee is an organizational fit and take action. Others will have a structured (and often lengthy) procedure for attempting to correct performance before terminating. An organization’s mission, values, and day-to-day practices impact the likelihood that someone else will decide when you move on.
All of The Above
Sometimes, a layoff is inevitably caused by a series of events. It may start as an economic downturn, followed by the company’s financial issues, then a leadership change, a resulting reorganization, and ending with the company being sold.
What Do You Think?
What indicators have you noticed the precede an involuntary job loss? What steps have you taken to address your suspicions? Share your thoughts in the comments.
The Battle: Hopes vs. Fears
Finding yourself in between jobs is a great opportunity to rethink what you want and shift your career in another direction. Unfortunately, along with the excitement of limitless possibilities comes the persistent fear you will never find work again.
Through this process, the part of you that feels bound for greatness is constantly bickering with that voice telling you to shut up and take the first job you can get so you don’t end up financially destitute.
How can you keep these two competing ideas from undermining your job search and your overall career success?
Getting the Dreamer and the Bill Payer to Play Nice
A key first step to job searching is figuring out what you really want in your next role. Chances are, there have been good parts and bad parts of each of your previous jobs that inform what you want in the future. There are the basics, (health insurance access, a competitive salary, core responsibilities) and the finer points (career development opportunities, interesting projects, and an industry you love).
Unfortunately, discussions about searching for work tend to skip right over the lower levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (food, shelter, security, and safety) and jump right to self-actualization. In truth, we have to meet those core needs (which typically depend on a consistent and sufficient stream of income) while also striving to getting closer to meeting our full potential (which will contribute to our overall well-being).
While in career transition, that means balancing our need to make our interim sources of income (unemployment and any other money we can lay hands on) are able to bridge us from our last stable income stream to our next with as little undue anxiety as possible.
A core challenge of managing yourself during a job search is that you don’t know how long unemployment will last. In my six periods of career transition, my shortest was a month, and my longest was closer to six.
In reality, you’re unemployed a week at a time, not knowing when you’ll head back to work and a steady paycheck. It’s a balance between keeping the faith, and deciding what your plan A, B, C (and sometimes up to J) should be depending on how your job search goes.
In my most recent period of career transition, I started by figuring out what I wanted in a role. I wrote down the non-negotiables, the nice-to-haves, and the definitely-nots. I started job searching, networking, and applying for roles.
I also thought about timelines, and how I would modify my goals depending on the length of time I went without a long-term full-time job.
Job Searching Guidelines and Timelines
Here are my personal job searching guidelines factoring in timelines.
Adjust As Needed
I wrote guidelines based on my personal situation and what I thought made sense for me. Your timeline may differ. In addition, as new information entered the equation, I adjusted my plan. For example, during a previous period of career transition, I ended up finding a short-term contract role that was well-aligned with my overall work goals, so I took it. It didn’t necessarily align with my general guidelines as stated, but it made sense in the overall scheme of my career goals and job search timeline.
What Do You Think?
How did you think through your job search goals while in career transition? How did you adjust your plans based on the length of your unemployment?
Share your thoughts in the comments.
All The Feels
Whether due to an economic downturn, an acquisition, or company reorganization, I’ve found myself in an unexpected career transition six times over the past 20 years. Even having gone through several layoffs, it’s still an emotional experience each and every time. Here is the bad and the ugly of the feelings I’ve personally gone through.
The phone call from HR, the perp walk through the office to the dreaded conference room, the last minute ominous meeting invite, or the oddly timed tap on the shoulder all seem to come out of nowhere. There is something surreal about being pulled into a virtual or in-person room and having someone look you dead in the eye and tell you that you were going to go through a big life change starting, well, now.
Even if there were layoff rumors, or news about leadership changes, or low sales report for the quarter, it’s always a surprise on the date and time when layoffs go down. It’s the feeling of the ground being pulled out from under. It’s the gap between expecting a full day of meetings and finding yourself in you car mid-morning with a white box.
Even in cases where I was actively looking for a new role, there’s a certain amount of anger that goes along with a layoff. I was angry learning about the people who didn’t get laid off (like that guy whose messes I’ve been cleaning up for the last year) and comparing my perceived value to theirs. I’ve been angry at the timing (right after vacation, right before a holiday) and how that makes finding something new a longer process. I’ve been mad that yesterday’s mission critical work-all-night project has now become irrelevant. Mostly, I’ve been mad that someone else decided when I didn’t get to do that job anymore instead of me getting to choose when it was time for me to move on. Feeling that lack of control if often the hardest part.
Leaving a job abruptly leaves a big hole in your life starting with the 9+ hours per workday being replaced with dead air and uncertainty. People who earlier that day were coworkers, casual work friendships, or confidents now may be nothing at all now that you no longer share an employer. The consistency of a morning routine, daily commute, and regularly scheduled meetings are replaced with a period of uncertainty that may last a week or a year. Sometimes it’s easy to be hopeful about the future, and other times it’s hard not to be mired in sadness about all the things you can’t control.
There is plenty to be afraid of. The idea of not having a paycheck is horrifying. Not knowing how long your final payout or severance check has to last is unnerving. Now knowing how long unemployment will last and what job you’ll end up with—is, at times, unbearable. I fear being unemployed endlessly and not being able to support myself. I worry about panicking and taking the first job offered to me. I worry about holding out for something closer to the “perfect” job that may never come. I worry that I will never get a job as good as the one I had. On the worst days, when fear has given way to full-on catastrophizing, I worry that I will lose my house, my car, my professional reputation, and everyone I’ve ever loved.
The Good News
While all of these feelings are difficult and unpleasant, it’s important to acknowledge what is happening. It’s helpful to focus on the possibilities the future holds while also grieving the loss of your previous job. After addressing the sadness for the loss of the future you thought you would have, then you can decide what you want your next career step to look like and take steps to get to that even better future.
What Do You Think?
Have you been through a layoff? What feelings have you experienced? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Brenda is an adaptable learning & development leader, innovative instructional designer, and job search coach.