The threat of redundancy and then unemployment. It happens to many of us at some point, especially if you work in the public sector, and even more especially if you work in public sector communications. But it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. In fact, some good can come from it with the right approach and smart thinking.
I've had better months.
About 12 weeks ago I was working in a great team, absolutely loving my job as a comms and engagement manager in the NHS.
It was, in many ways, the type of job I’d wanted for years, and I was loving doing it.
But then, the bomb dropped. Funding was pulled. A few weeks of "oh I'm sure it all will be fine" conversations turned into the cold hard reality that, actually, it probably won't be fine.
I was then given notice of redundancy.
I can't actually describe how incredibly hard I found this. I'd never been unemployed and I was really loving my role. It was a very bitter pill to swallow. I worried about paying the mortgage. I worried about being on the scrap heap before I was 40.
But after 2-3 months of madness, I can breathe the one of the biggest sighs of relief. I've just been appointed to a new job. More of which later.
It was not a pleasant experience being in limbo for all that time. But as I survey the wreckage (we've been doing a lot of that recently) there will be some things I'll take from the experience. And (Gawd forbid) if you ever find yourself in this position, you might find helpful.
1. Stay rational
This is hard to do. Throughout this process at various points, I found myself saying "yes but that's a worst case scenario" only for those scenarios (or worse) to come true. When this happens your mind starts playing tricks. And before you know it you're spending Christmas in your parents' box room with your wife and baby, whilst packing shelves for minimum wage in Home and Bargain (it's a Merseyside thing).
It's really important not to get too doom-laden and to stay as positive as possible in a pretty awful situation. Remember, you ARE good at what you do and there WILL be an opportunity out there. Moping around, always thinking the worst, won't help. Trust me on this.
2. "I'm sure you'll be fine". You actually will be.
There are two things I kept hearing through this episode that, whilst said in absolutely the right charitable spirit, often made me want to bang my head against the nearest concrete pillar:
"I'm sure someone with your skills will have no problem finding a good job" and
"This might actually turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you".
Well. Actually they're both true. They absolutely don't feel like it at the time. But if you keep focused and don't let the knock backs get to you too much, they can be a very good guide.
It can be an opportunity to try something completely new or, as has been the case for me, use your skills in a different industry. It might be just the kick you needed to something more exciting.
3. Hate to admit it. But LinkedIn is a lifesaver.
I always hated LinkedIn. I used to (and still do to be fair) roll my eyes at the inspirational quotes and the daily "X person you worked with for 5 minutes a decade ago has a new skill” emails.
But as a job seeker, as a way of selling yourself and keeping your eye on what's out there, it's vital and a real source of hope.
The job I'm currently waiting to start came from a chance look at LinkedIn. A phone call to the person on the link told me more about it. And the rest went from there.
I might cancel my premium membership now. But if you are ever in this position, it is a really vital tool.
4. Keep your options open
In the last three-months I've wavered from embarking on an exciting freelance career to getting a fixed term post in the NHS to getting a permanent job somewhere completely different. And as it happens, I've ended up with the latter.
The point here is to be flexible and not to set in your ways about what to do next. I'm a great believer that you can always learn the industry if you've not worked in it before. As long as you've got the skills and the right attitude, they will be valuable. In fact I think more places are looking for candidates that have never worked in a particular industry before to give a fresh perspective - especially in comms.
Last time I recruited someone for an NHS post I specifically looked for someone who hadn't worked in the service before. And by all accounts, that's the same in the post I've just been offered.
So don't limit yourself.
5. Revisit the bridges you didn't burn
All those jobs you moved on to better things from. When people said "don't burn your bridges" even though there was a particular horrible boss you didn't get on with, you didn't did you?
In situations like this, you may end up needing them.
6. We need to talk about recruitment consultants
I’ve met with lots of these over the past few months, and it’s fair to say they’ve been of vastly variable quality.
If you’re ever in this position too, you’ll find yourself working with them as a way of finding those brilliant opportunities that just don’t get advertised widely.
I won’t go in to a lot of details but, any recruitment agency that tells you “it’s very quiet and there’s not a lot out there” basically isn’t a very good one. There IS stuff out there. It’s usually other, better agencies that have the contacts though, so you’ll have to make sure you shop around.
However as a guide, these are the attributes of a good recruitment consultant. If one you’re dealing with displays these attributes, you’re in safe hands. If not, shop around for others:
You feel that they’re on your side, and are busting a gut to help you. You get the feeling that they really value your skill, and understand the unique qualities you bring. They fight your corner, yet understand that you have to do the right thing for you. They email you and call you when they say they will. They feed back to you straight away once they’ve had a contact from an employer about something they’ve put you forward for. They understand that you’re going through a stressful time and that you want to know what’s going on. But they’re honest with you, and give you really invaluable tips to improve your CV or your interview performance.
I’m pleased to say that I met with a couple of these over the past three months and they were brilliant. In fact, the job I’m about to start came through this route (once I made that call on LinkedIn).
The lesson here is, shop around. There are good ones and bad ones. The good ones are great. The bad ones aren’t worth stressing over.
7. "Look after Numero Uno”
This is probably the most centrally useful piece of advice I had during this period.
If you’re like me, you’ll feel a sense of loyalty to wherever you’ve worked before. You’ll want to “do the right thing” by them. And you won’t want to mess other future employers around.
You do, however, need to park this thinking.
In the cold light of day, the only reason you’re in this position is because people above you have made a hard-headed business decision that, for all your many talents and for however difficult it’ll be for you, they can’t afford to keep employing you.
Without getting bitter or forgetting the lessons of point 5, you need to apply the same thinking to yourself.
So, be smart. Are you being offered a redundancy package? Take it, maximise it, be clever with the timing of interviews and stuff, so you can get the full benefit of what you’re owed.
Get as many opportunities on the table as possible. Try and work yourself into a position where you may have a number of offers. And choose the one that works best for you in terms of salary, working conditions and prospects.
Don’t worry about letting people down if you reject or pull out of an offer for something better. To be harsh, you haven’t been afforded such courtesy, so do the thing that works best for you, and come out better off, financially and in terms of your future prospects.
8. Don't be afraid to ask for help (especially from comms2point0)
You’ll find that if you reach out, more people than you think will have been through something vaguely similar, and are very willing to offer help and encouragement. (I am one of them by the way, so yell if you ever need any advice).
This is where being part of a community like comms2point0 really comes into its own.
Being able to run things by fellow professionals, asking for their advice, or just a sympathetic ear is invaluable.
And not only that. I’ve found out about lots of opportunities, and actually secured a bit of freelance work from some of the contacts via this network.
So don’t be afraid to shout. It’s a hard time, and you’ll need all the help and encouragement (even just moral) that you can. The good news is, it is out there.
So there you have it. I survived. If it happens to you, you will too.
I’m moving from the NHS into Higher Education. Maybe there’ll be a “what I learned from changing sectors” post soon. But for now, let’s look at the future with some optimism.
Ben Capper is a senior creative & strategic communications professional, and soon to begin a new senior comms role in higher education.
image via the Internet Archive Book Images