Don't Be Afraid of Getting Laid Off

Contributor:  William Cohen, Ph.D.
Posted:  03/18/2009  12:00:00 AM EDT
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Drucker believed that outstanding job performance was inconsistent with fear of failure in anything. He wrote this, and he repeated it in class as well. However, although his lecture in class was actually on the business manager’s need to take risks in his decision making, it soon evolved to general job performance and a discussion on job security. Drucker's statement regarding outstanding job performance and fear of getting laid off generated a firestorm of comments from students:

“You cannot ignore how your boss will react to your actions even if ethically and technically they are correct.”

“Ignoring fear of getting laid off might be OK in theory, but it’s a jungle out there. Ignoring the possibility that you could be laid off can lead to job loss.”

“Fear of getting laid off isn’t the last thing I think of–it is the first thing.”


Drucker absorbed these comments but repeated his earlier statement that the fear of getting laid off was simply incompatible with taking responsibility and excising the power entrusted to the business manager. He concluded, “If you have this fear of job loss, you will improve your performance by ignoring it. Moreover, ethically, ignoring this fear of getting laid off is what every manager must do.”

What Happened When I Got Laid Off

A few months later I got laid off. I then knew exactly what my classmates meant when they indicated that the fear of getting laid off was not to be dismissed lightly. Nevertheless, I had conducted a successful, if somewhat unorthodox, job search some years earlier when I returned after several years abroad and landed back home smack in the middle of an economic crisis. At the same time, I also had a wife and two young children to support. It took seven weeks, but I got the job I wanted. I initiated a similar job search and repeated this effort with the additional insights gained from Drucker. Comfortably employed again, I reflected on what had happened during this job search and began enthusiastically writing on executive job searches even before I completed my doctoral studies with Drucker. You might find some of these ideas useful during the present economic crisis.

Before You Get Laid Off: Be Prepared

Drucker was always an optimist. He was not pessimistic about situations, economic or otherwise. However, he was a realist, and he prepared for contingencies. He taught business managers to expect the best but prepare for the worst. Of course, while still on the job, business managers should work hard and take the right actions. That’s part of what is expected of a good business manager. However, beyond this, no matter how solid your company or how much your boss thinks of you, you should prepare for potentially getting laid off.

One of the best ways to prepare for being laid off is to keep an updated resume on your computer. Your resume should be organized around specific job accomplishments. Note that I said job accomplishments, not just job experience. It’s is terrific that you had job experience as a business manager supervising over 100 subordinates, but what did you actually accomplish while in that job position? Simply supervising people or having a certain job title is insufficient. Did you increase the productivity of your organization by 25 percent? Did you or your organization win an award? Did you implement new methods that saved a significant sum of money? You should keep a record of job accomplishments for every position you hold.

As for those jobs you have held in the past, go back and reclaim each and every job accomplishment from your memory and write them down. Quantify your job accomplishments whenever possible. This is important because quantified job accomplishments are much more credible to your potential employer. Keep a running record and don’t omit anything. Be as specific as you can. And never mind whether the job accomplishment involved a project lasting several years or several hours. Sometimes something you did and the job experience you gain in doing something over a short period is far more important to an employer than something on which you spent years. In fact, even a student first looking for a job has probably completed projects in the classroom or in extracurricular activities that have direct applicability and are of interest to a prospective employer.

What if you are already laid off? Go back and rework your resume based on your job accomplishments, not your job experience. Your job accomplishments are the meat of your resume and allow you to quickly find a great job.

Job Search Step 1: Ask Yourself What Business You Are In

Drucker recommended that all business managers begin with that question in running their businesses or their organizations. That’s basic, but the implications are profoundly important for a successful job search. Unless you decide that you were totally out of your profession in your former position, Drucker would not recommend going after any and every job that happens to be open. Of course, if an opportunity comes to you, you can consider the job offer on its own merits. However, you can’t be everything to everybody, and trying to do so will interfere with your job search. A potential boss usually doesn’t want “a jack of all trades.” He or she wants the very best job candidate, an “ace” of one trade for a specific job.

Job Search Step 2: Maintain Positive Thinking and Self Confidence

Good jobs are scarce. That may be so, but so are good job candidates to fill them. That’s why the executive job recruiting profession has blossomed so much over the last 50 years. During the Great Depression, unemployment in the United States hit 25 percent. That’s pretty bad, but if 25 percent of potential workers were out of work, that meant that 75 percent had jobs.

Positive thinking and self confidence go together in a job search, and Drucker practiced both. Unfortunately it is difficult to have either when you are laid off. If you have completed Job Search Step 1, the first thing to do is to re-read your resume. This will boost both positive thinking and self confidence, because you probably have notable job achievements that are valuable and are impressive to your future employer. Even business managers who were fired usually had some impressive accomplishments in their former position. Your resume is important. It is the first thing you should turn to, and you should read it, update it and add additional job accomplishments as you remember them and conduct your job search.

Job Search Step 3: Develop a Plan

You need to have a job search plan. You can’t get “there” until you know where “there” is. Your job planning starts with something you’ve already done—determining what business you are in and developing precise objectives and a good job description of the position you want, the compensation, level of management and geographical area. Of course this process does not substitute facts for judgment, or as Drucker put it, “substitute science for the manager.” However, systematic job planning will strengthen your judgment, leadership and vision and help you focus on what you want and what you do not want in your job search.

Job Search Step 4: Work Your Plan

Your plan can be modified during your job search, but the important thing is start. Your plan by itself won’t get you anywhere. Drucker insisted on action. So get started and work your plan. Do this and you find what you are seeking with Drucker’s help. Moreover, you won’t fear getting laid off in the future either.

William Cohen, Ph.D. Contributor:   William Cohen, Ph.D.




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