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Surprised With Being Let Go, Networking/Job Search 101 plz?
January 23, 2012 9:56 AM   Subscribe

I was let go from my job last week - it was kind of a surprise, but I'm bouncing back and I was looking to leave the company anyway, so I'm not too broken up about that. I am not thrilled about the prospect of job hunting while unemployed (would have preferred to have landed a new job first) and am trying to get a handle on my next steps. I have some Networking 101-type questions that I need help with, as well as some questions about how best to frame what happened at the last job to recruiters/prospective new leads/interviewers, and how to best avoid ever being in this same situation ever again.

Hi everyone. I am posting this anonymously since it is employment-related, but I am going to try to provide as much context as possible to make my questions clear and am willing to provide more details through the mods if need be. Going to try to avoid this being too much of a wall of text, but it might be tricky.

Last week I was "let go" from my job. It was a surprise to me, as they had given me an 11% merit raise the week before. I had an evaluation at the start of the new year with the two people I report to and they said that while there were still a few things I could improve on (I had only just taken the job spring of 2011, so about 9 months), on the whole things were looking fine, so I was getting this merit raise. We had what I thought was a productive and respectful conversation about the areas in which I was doing well and the areas in which I could improve, and I made a few suggestions as to resources I might need in order to improve in those areas, the main one being that I wanted to have weekly "check in" departmental meetings - which is something that has happened in every place I've worked before - to go over how things are going and stay on top of anything that can be corrected immediately. (The management style of this company is very "hands off", and both of my managers were/are extremely overextended dealing with larger issues the company is currently facing, and they are not always able to pin down since they are frequently in meetings and not at their desks, so I was clear that I wasn't looking for hours and hours of hand-holding, just a 5-10 minute check-in/rundown once a week would suffice, just to make sure we were all communicating consistently.) They seemed amenable to that, and then they said that they were giving me this pay increase, so I thought things were fine.

One week later, I'm told that I'm being let go essentially because they "do not have the time or resources" to provide me with the training I would need to improve on the areas they felt needed improvement. I felt pretty blindsided by this. The company works in a field that is related tangentially to the industry that I have worked in for the past 5 years (since college), and I originally took the position because I was looking for a challenge and my skills seemed like they would translate over fairly easily with a bit of training. And it seems they did, but not enough? Or not fast enough? Or something? Even though they did give me a merit raise? It was a bit confusing. When I asked for clarification, I was told that they were really hoping when they filled the position that they wouldn't have to provide any training, that they could just give me a once over of the place and the software and let me have at it. I found this a little odd, since they had never suggested anything as such before, and I also think it's weird to think that a company can get away with bringing in a new hire without providing any sort of training whatsoever - they would have to find someone who has years and years of experience in exactly this type of function in order to do that, and someone with that much experience isn't going to be interested in being given an entry-level salary, crappy economy or not. Not to mention it just seems irresponsible and slightly delusional to think that you wouldn't have to train a new employee.

Anyway, I said that in my resume and in both rounds of interviews I did with them before taking the position I had been very clear what my experience was, that I was looking to take the job as a challenge because I was looking to learn more, and I had not misrepresented myself. Moreover, my three references all verified what my experience was as well, and did not misrepresent me either. They agreed and said that it was their error, that they had read into my resume and what I and my references presented to them erroneously, and didn't do enough due diligence before offering me the job. Because it was their error, they offered me a severence package that pays me in full (at the new pay rate as of last week) until March 1 and covers my health insurance until March 1, after which I will be elligible for Cobra. So basically, six weeks' severence. Oh, and they'll give me a positive reference if I need one.

I felt a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under me, but on another level I was a bit relieved because I had not been a fan of the workplace culture - they have been around for over 20 years but still operate a bit like a start-up, with no clear division of duties or documented procedures, and pretty much everything is done at the last minute in a mad rush of panic and stress, and it was making me miserable. It was also a very passive-aggressive work culture - I would listen to my immediate manager on the phone with various work contacts and I was uncomfortable with how unbelievably rude she was to them. I don't think berating people who are integral to keeping the company working is the way to go, no matter how stressed you may be, and I found that after she had raked people over the coals it was often difficult to get things moving again, as our contacts would be reluctant to engage with us lest they be sniped at. I was preliminarily putting out feelers to see if I could get another job, but I didn't think I was going to have to act on it quite so quickly. I mean, they gave me a freaking merit raise! Why would they give me a merit raise if they were going to let me go a week later? And if my performance was an issue, why did it only come up for the first time during the evaluation, during which they still gave me a merit raise? It makes no sense to me.

Anyway, I am moving on and trying not to dwell too much on what happened. I read this recent post (http://ask.metafilter.com/204186/How-do-I-rebound-from-being-fired) and it's helped me a bit with regards to how to put all of this in perspective. I know going forward I'm going to be better about keeping lines of communication open and asking for feedback on my performance consistently, and not taking a "no news is good news" attitude. My main concern, though, is the issue of them having creatively interpreted my resume, my interview answers, and the statements of my references, assuming that I would not need any baseline training for a new position. How do I avoid this happening again? I've revamped my resume once more and made the verbiage as clear as possible without dumbing it down, and I've had several friends and respected former colleagues from my previous workplaces vet it (including those who provided references for this last job) and nobody sees any indication that I am presenting myself falsely. I did a mock interview on Friday with my college's career counseling office and did not come off as presenting myself falsely in that arena, either. I do not want this kind of miscommunication to ever happen again - it is frustrating and humiliating and makes me feel defensive, which isn't really the greatest attitude to present to the world.

Other questions I have are of the more Networking 101 sort - I am applying to job postings, but I know that most jobs are not obtained this way (although this last job was the result of getting called after responding to an ad on Monster, of all places). A former colleague gave me the email addresses of a few people who work in my industry who might be open to chatting in an informational interview sort of way, but I literally have never set up anything like this before and am worried that I'm going to seem like a dolt. What do I say? "Hi [person], I am a fellow [job title] and am hoping to get employement in [city] doing [our job] - [mutual colleague] gave me your contact info, would you be open to meeting me for coffee sometime and giving me some insight as to what the next steps might be for me to find employmeng doing [our job]?" Isn't that awfully forward?

I've also read that it's useful to contact people who work for companies you'd someday like to work for and request informational interviews similarly, even if you don't know them. This seems really forward and almost gauche to me, but I'm an introvert so my barometer of what is offensive contact is skewed. I am in several industry specific LinkedIn groups and there are a few people who work for companies I am interested in who are in these groups as well, so in theory I could contact them via LinkedIn. Is this okay to do? In all cases I'm third degree connected to them (meaning that they know someone who knows someone who knows me), so trying to get a straight up intro from someone we both know is unlikely. Is the fellow group connection enough to make the request? I just worry that they will find me annoying. Any tips to get over this, or other suggestions for networking best practices would be appreciated.

Lastly, how do I explain to recruiters/HR people what happened with my last job? I guess technically I was let go for performance issues, but given the generous severance, the admission that they made a mistake in the way they creatively interpreted my resume (not to mention the fact of the merit raise one week before, suggesting that performance was in fact NOT a problem) and that they don't have the time to give me the further training I need suggests something more akin to I left because "it was a bad fit." But then, wouldn't that work better if I had been the one to leave first? I do not want to lie, but I do not want to present this in a way that makes me look bad, either. Can I say I was laid off? What constitutes a layoff? Or is "bad fit" sufficient? I might be registering with some temp agencies soon in order to bring in income if finding permanent work before my severance runs out proves to be unlikely; is this something I will have to explain to them, too? It's been so long since I temped and I obviously wasn't coming in with this having just happened...

TL;dr - I was let go last week out of the blue after receiving a merit raise; they claim they made a mistake in hiring me because they misinterpreted my experience despite my (and my references) having been very clear about it. How do I avoid this happening again, how do I network without looking like a douche, how to I explain what happened without shooting myself in the foot, and how do I avoid allowing this to destroy my self-esteem?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm just going to address one piece of your question -- I'm an introvert, but I'm also a great networker. And though I certainly recognize the uncomfortableness of setting up a meeting with essentially a stranger and saying "I want to be where you are now, so what should I do," from the other side, it's totally okay.

Whenever someone gets a hold of me because they're looking for advice or information on areas where I've been successful, it feels awesome. Not only do I get to help someone out for little to no effort on my part, but I get to feel recognized for what I do well.

You could certainly have someone not respond well, but that would tell me that that person is not as secure or successful as they present themselves. If a person is comfortable in their situation, they have no reason not to share what got them there, or to enjoy the little ego boost.

Use your LinkedIn contacts -- that's what they're there for. Be polite, don't ask for the moon, but certainly ask for a brief chat or a few emails, and that you're on the market if they know of anything that might fit.
posted by freshwater at 10:07 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


As for the reason for being laid off, just say "I was laid off." you really don't have to offer more than that. If you get asked why, then just say they were cutting back, and you had just received a good performance review and merit raise.

As far as their excuse being training needed, etc.. they could have been just finding some plausible excuse. Cutting back can simply refer to they weren't spending money on training, etc.. But as long as you weren't dismissed for gross misconduct, in an at-will environment, you don't really need an excuse or reason, and you don't owead explanation to potential employers and recruiters.

You have the fact of a positive review and a merit increase that provides enough air cover for a simple answer on that end.
posted by rich at 10:18 AM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I went through the same thing in 03. You are in shock and being in shock is the worse time to interview/send out resumes. If you can get over that shock, "What did I do" factor, then you are in a better mental state for interviewing. They can tell low confidence, eagerness, and desperation---which you will show if you are in shock from your job loss.

The circumstances is that due to a chance in organizational direction, your position was terminated. Positive, you had a very successful run in your 5 years with a high merit increase.

Employers understand this. You're not complaining, you're not in shock, you didn't fault them of "those bastards". You blammed the industry on a collective decision that wasn't personal. THIS thinking is how you get over it.

I'm sorry you got the shaft. A lot of us have been in your shoes and it sucks. What I learned is, even if desperate, don't go out and interview for the job you want. You're not ready right now. If money is an issue--temp just to make some money.
posted by stormpooper at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the key here is that you say they act like a startup, even though they've been around for 20 years. Giving you a merit raise then dropping you the next week is indication that internal communication sucks. They're really unprofessional. Therefore, you should not try to divine meaning from it; it inherently makes no sense.

You got 6 weeks' severance and insurance. That's really, really generous to an employee of less than one year's tenure; you should consider this the highest compliment they could give.

I suspect that they're having financial problems and the reason you were let go is far from the real picture.
posted by notsnot at 10:23 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh, damn, I was gonna say, take a week off so you can be in a good place before sending out resumes etc. Send out some linkedin feelers and, if financially possible, take a bit of a vacation.
posted by notsnot at 10:27 AM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing where you talk to people about what they do and how they got there is called an "informational interview" and is totally normal. Someone might tell you no, but you will not die of no.

You ultimately were laid off, and that's all you need to say. If you are asked to discuss it further, you can say: "I don't know. I got an 11% raise and then the next week they told me it wasn't working out. Then they gave me a generous severance with benefits." If you need to say any more about it, you can actually bring up the bit about the startup culture.

You should never ever say "I wasn't working out there because I'm not crazy enough," but you can let them draw their own conclusions.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:32 AM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm just going to tackle the "network/info interview" angle because I've had experience with that info interviews and I'm also extremely introverted. I think many people have the same self-talk (i.e. people do not want to be bothered, what are they going to think, etc.).

A few years ago a friend helped me see info interviews from another angle. She mentioned that most people by nature want or like to help other people if they can. The people who do not want to be bothered or help will just ignore the request or forget that you even asked. Also, people will help if 1) they know exactly what you want or need (define it for them) and 2) it is limited (a 30 minute conversation vs hours on end).

So a few yrs ago when I wanted to find people to have info interviews with I did actually google "city" plus "job title" plus (my own search terms). I wrote brief emails asking to learn more about dream job X and asked if they would be willing to have an info interview with me and offered them a choice of email, phone (30 minutes max), or in person meeting (30 minutes max). If there is a way that you connect to them (friend works at Y or you have a background in Q), put that piece of info down. Send out a whole bunch of emails like that and a few pple will reply.I actually was not looking for a job through these people, but rather ...learning how to increase my chances of being hired in the industry (e.g. what are the hot trends? Are there other job title names? Where else should you be looking? Did they work with any recruiters they would highly recommend?) If you are uncomfortable from your last experience --you could look for a workplace that just has more stability/open communication, etc. More on different ways to do info interviews/job hunt here and here/not typing it all out again.

LinkedIn is a great place to look. A reverse way to do this vs approaching strangers on there is to drop a question one of the discussion groups (i.e. would anyone be willing to have an info interview with you? Or would anyone have a list of companies in your city that hire people in industry X? I've seen people ask for this and share in some of the groups).

FWIW on why they let you go...from reading the info you provided, dollars to donuts they were having financial problems. They lost a client(s) or were unable to meet upcoming payroll in the next few months. Often last one hired is first one out. It isn't personal; they made a business decision. When someone is being setup for a layoff it is usually the reverse of what happened to you (meeting, document what you need to do, another meeting).

One last thing -- you may not be able to do this right now, but in a week or two. Define what you want out of the new job. Make a list. Is there anything new that you wanted to learn? Or a more organized environment. Go shopping for that and in the end this may be an improvement. You have a month to find a better job for you. I'm also going to recommend getting a list (linkedin, library, whatever) and emailing brief cover letters to every single company...I think the likelihood of getting a job this way is much better than waiting for the 5 jobs to be thrown onto Monster or whatever. Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 10:53 AM on January 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


I would try all the avenues to look for work. Posting your resume on all the job search sites is not a waste of time. Also, search across all the job sites. In my opinion Indeed is the best job site search engine. Consider joining the 5 O'Clock club.

I suggest you write a script for your interviews and memorize it. When you are asked about your last job, say you were laid off because the company had to cut back. I would recommend saying that you liked your last job, got on well with everyone, and would work there again. Do not make any negative comments about your last position. When asked about your time off, say it's been wonderful, even if it's been lousy. Take control of your interviews by bringing in samples of projects you've worked on and how you solved coding problems.

Btw, it does sound to me like your company could not afford you any longer, and singled you out as the one that still needs to catch up training wise. If you read between the lines they said as much.

Finally, spend some time thinking about the kind of career and company you want to work for. Do a couple of things you couldn't while working. Don't forget to stop and smell the roses. I realize your anxious and want a job, any job, right away, but take a breath. The worst has happened. It's not fair. But you're still standing.
posted by xammerboy at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wolfster has it - people love to give advice, if they have time, and love to feel important. And the smart ones know one day you may be in a position to do THEM a favor. That's business.

It's better if you have some sort of established connection, like through your coworker or LinkedIn group. Also, leverage your alumni associations, any clubs you belong to (or consider joining some), your friends and family. So:

Step 1: Work on your "elevator pitch." Ex: "I've got five years experience whatsamacalling widgets, and now I'm looking to get into doohickeys. Can you tell me about the doohickey space in this city, or refer me to someone who can?" This is for in-person networking.

Also compose an email saying, "Hi, I'm xammerboy, I am contacting you because [colleague intro, LinkedIngroup, meeting at event, etc,] and I am considering getting into your field. Is there anything you can tell me about dookickeys in [city]? I was in widgets for 5 years before, and trying to figure out how to make the transition. It would be great if you could spare some time to chat on the phone or over a coffee!"

Step 2: Identify your network. Colleagues, classmates, clubs, friends, family, events.

Step 3: Tell EVERYONE. Use the elevator pitch language, mention how you are connected to them, and be respectful.

Step 4: Once you identify the people who can help or get introed to them, send the email. With the emails your colleague gave you, it's better if he/she sends an intro email CCing you both, then you can follow up.

Step 5: Talk to the people who follow up! Be prepared - look them up on LinkedIn, google their company. Prepare specific questions if any arise, but if not, just be open-ended and let them talk about how they got into field, then tell them about yourself and ask for advice. If they like you, they might pass on your resume. If they don't or don't know anyone, they will still give good feedback.

Step 6: Send thank-you notes and connect to them on LinkedIn. This is useful, seriously.

Step 7: Once you get a job, FOLLOW UP. Thank everyone who took the time to meet you an give you advice, and let them know that you accepted position X with company Y.

Congratulations! You've gotten a job AND expanded your professional network!
posted by jetsetlag at 5:04 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the OP:
Hi everyone,

Thank you all for the responses - they've all been really helpful in getting me to get over some of my introvert-fear of networking. I've already reached out to a few people via LinkedIn and got some positive responses, so that's kind of cool. Thanks also to those who've provided kind words with regards to my shock over this situation, and validation that yes, the company seems a bit nutty in how they handled this.

I do have one follow-up question in case anyone is still checking this: the company that just let me go said that they would be willing to provide me a reference when the time comes. The HR director told me that I can contact them and let them know what I would like to be said on my behalf. This seems...dubious, and makes me nervous, as I feel like the inconsistency of their communications with me with regards to my performance (good two weeks ago here's a raise!/suddenly not up to par/needs more training last week), and the subsequent layoff makes me feel like this place is a bit of a loose cannon in terms of reliability. I know better than to think that if I tell them to say "Anon was awesome at everything and we are disorganized/bad at communication so we got rid of her" they'll go ahead and do it. But, I do not want to leave it up to them to decide what is appropriate to say, because I seriously have no idea what they would say if left to their own devices. Any advice on what I should ask of them when the time comes? Should I just ask them to confirm dates of employment/job title and nothing else? (Should I trust them to follow those instructions if I do tell them that?) Or maybe it's best not to have them provide a reference at all, and rely instead on my existing references. But isn't it a bad sign to not have the last employer provide a reference, especially in the case of a layoff?

Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks again!
posted by jessamyn at 10:50 AM on January 24, 2012


Just checked back - actually, my company that laid me off did the same thing; "how do you want references to be handled?" Simply have them say that you were laid off, and it wasn't performance or behavior related, and to confirm employment.

But - do contact people you are friends with that you have worked with in the past about providing you references.. coworkers and especially clients if you had any.
posted by rich at 9:06 AM on January 30, 2012


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