The Writing On The Wall: When You Are About To Lose Your Job

When I was on the phone, on a board conference call, I knew that I was going to get laid off.  The principal who was in the room with me (there were two people in my room, me and the other guy, and three people in another city) had already told me before our call that I was going to get let go.

How kind of him to prepare me.

Of course, I had already seen plenty of “writing on the wall” regarding the inevitable elimination of me, as the general manager.  I ignored the writing on the wall.  I downplayed and minimized what it meant. I delayed thinking about it.  If only I could get more results, or clean up certain things, or fix other things… if only I could do the job I was hired to do, and have an intense focus, maybe those things that were written on the wall would simply disappear.

The gut says “this is real” but the brain tries the logic and rationalization tricks to say “um, maybe not *that* real… we got more time….”

We got more time.  Famous last words.

Let me share two truths with you about the writing on the wall:

  1. Ignoring it won’t make it, the message, or the reality of what’s to come go away.
  2. There is writing on the wall for all of us. If you want a discouraging (or perhaps a full-of-opportunity) read, research the gig economy.

The bottom line is what I’ve been preaching for 10 years: YOU MUST own, control, and manage your own career management.

Here are some symptoms that you might get let go (I’m not sharing these so you can be paranoid, rather so you can be prepared):

  • Layoffs are announced, or you hear people talking about them. No owner or boss wants this rumor to get started… so if you are hearing about it from someone reliable, especially a manager, then it’s time to open your eyes and prepare.
  • You learn that the company/organization is having financial problems.  Yes, sometimes financial problems are solved by creative measures, like dumping inventory, or moving out of an expensive building, or simply increasing sales. Just realize that sometimes the creative measure might be decreasing head count.
  • You aren’t performing and your boss regularly makes comments about it. I had a sales guy who was opening a new area… but wasn’t making any progress. I was hearing about it from my colleagues (at my level), but the reality is this sales guy knew how things were going, and had no progress to report. There is a fine line between being optimistic that something great will happen, and being realistic about nothing at all happening. Make sure that you are communicating as much as you should during this time, though, especially if you are building something out of nothing… the metrics will look different at an early stage, and sometimes you might have to walk your boss through this (multiple times).
  • You aren’t getting phone calls and emails replied to. It’s weird to go from people responding quickly (or at all) to getting NOTHING. There was a time I was doing business (with JibberJobber) with another company, talking about a very cool relationship.  Then, all of the sudden, my contact wouldn’t communicate with me at all for two or three months.  Later I learned that her company was acquired, and she wasn’t sure what her role would be (if there was one).  We went from very serious to on hold, without her telling me we were on hold.  It’s confusing for sure, but it’s a big sign that there is an issue, either with your career, their career, or the company.
  • People get real (or unusually) serious when talking to you, or won’t look you in the eye. Have you had a relationship with someone at work where you could always access them and have a friendly conversation… but now you sense something in the relationship has changed?  That is what I’d call “writing on the wall.”  Or, maybe they have indigestion, or their own problems… it’s not always writing on the wall. But if it’s long-term, and from more than one person, I’d look into it.
  • You ask if your job is in jeopardy, and you don’t get a straight answer.  Let me give you a straight answer: YES. Your job is always in jeopardy. You should always be ready to give someone an updated resume, and you should always have warm networking relationships (instead of ignoring your “network” until you need something from them).

I could go on and on… here’s a google search with lists and lists of signs.

I don’t want to discourage you, or to make you more paranoid than you should be. I want to give you permission to think differently about your career, and your role at ta company.

I give you permission to network, even while you are employed.

I give you permission to have an updated resume, even though you are happy at your job.

I give you permission to interview at other companies, even though you aren’t necessarily looking.

I give you permission to take control of your career back from those you gave it to (professors, mentors, your boss, HR, the company owner), and watch out for Numero Uno (translated: YOU).

I give you permission to actually enjoy this a little bit. I know it’s frustrating to think about changing jobs, and dealing with strife at work, and disruption a-la-who-moved-my-cheese.

For now, this is the new normal… and if that’s the case, I challenge you (because you are smart, and you can figure out challenges) to figure this out.  What can you do right now, next week, this year, next year, to have more control over your own career.  I’m not asking you to look for job security (that is so nineteen hundreds!!), I’m asking you to do things to manage your career.

One of them is to stop ignoring the writing on the wall, and preparing yourself for when that writing becomes reality.