Science Job Hunting – Part 1, The First Day

I have a confession: 3 months ago, I lost my job. I joined the ranks of THOUSANDS of Calgarians who had to have that dreaded conversation with their boss that is basically summed up with “sorry, your job doesn’t exist now”. This represented one of the WORST days for me professionally. As the primary wage earner for my family, I became very aware of the two other people who depend on my paycheque, and was hit with the feeling that I was somehow letting them down. I liked my job. I liked my coworkers. I liked my clients. I even liked my boss (I still do). Having to leave was so difficult and shocking. There is no other way to express that experience other than

IT FUCKING SUCKS!

However, I am the eternal optimist. Let’s find the positives and look at what I have gained from the experience. Here are a few of the things that I learned from that experience:

First – check your emotions.

I am not generally an “angry” person. It isn’t my first reaction to a situation, though I do have a well-known, slow-burning temper. But there is a lot in this situation that can make you angry.

“I came back from maternity leave early for this job!”

“I met all of my KPIs!”

“We are sitting at my desk! This is so humiliating!”

There’s a reason that every HR policy says that these types of situations should happen at a different location, when a lot of other employees are not around etc., because people are likely to get mad or upset and you don’t want that at the office. Also, it is humiliating, no matter how you try to mitigate that, and having an audience of now former coworkers really ups that “humiliation” factor. Of course, I worked for a company that didn’t do that. We were in fact in my office, at my desk, with my team members all going about their normal work day.

BUT I did check my emotions. There were no tears, no anger, though there was obvious disappointment. I am so glad I did because the result was that I did something that not many people had ever seen before: I announced my own termination to my staff. I was actually the person that rounded up my team, explained the situation, thanked them for their work, and wished them the best of luck. It couldn’t have been a better way for me to walk out: my head was held very high.

Checking your emotions also helps you make sure that your positive references remain intact and you can genuinely say that your boss was just acting in the best interest of the company, because that’s their job. I am now at that place where I can genuinely say, without malice, that my boss was doing his job. And if getting rid of my position saves the jobs of the other members of my team, then that’s the best decision for the company and I can’t fault him.

You may not get over the anger right away, and you don’t have to. But keeping it in check until you leave the building can leave a lasting, positive impression on the people who worked with you. No one can take that away from you. You may even surprise yourself with your mettle.

Second – reach out to your support system/network

Once I was in my car driving home, that’s when I began to cry. I knew EXACTLY who my first call needed to be – it was to my dad. Why? Because 20 years ago, the same thing happened to him: after 20 years working at the bank, he was laid off during a merger. I was 15 at the time and I remember the look on his face when he came in the door that day. I can hear his voice. He was the primary wage earner for his family. 4 other people counted on his paycheque. He understood. He knew where I was coming from. He knew the shock, the anger, the outrage, and disappointment. But he also reminded me that it ended up working out way better for him to lose that job. He went on to one that was significantly more rewarding and enjoyable.

During the job hunting process, I began to reach out to my network (more on the importance of building your network in a later post). As I began talking to key contacts in my network, I discovered something I hadn’t considered before in the importance of keeping a network: support. Every single person I talked to had been laid off at some point. They were understanding. They knew the anger and sadness I felt. And every single one of them confirmed: don’t worry, you’ll find something else that’s great. I began receiving ideas of next steps, other references of people to talk to, and general support and encouragement. This is something that nearly everyone in my network had experienced at least once. I was not alone and definitely shouldn’t be embarrassed.

Third – everything is negotiable

When your position is terminated, you will likely receive some sort of severance package. Generally this package is designed to be just enough to make litigation not a worthwhile pursuit. Doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more*. To do this, it helps to know the specifics of your contract and your rights.** Several years of Business Development experience gave me that courage, and I walked away no longer bound by a non-compete clause.

Get your contracts in writing ALWAYS. Read them carefully – do you have a non-compete? How does that impact you if you are terminated? Get the terms of your severance in writing. Don’t settle for any “handshake agreements” with your now former employer. You are in a position of little power here, but you can still ask for things. Does your termination package address all of your questions? If not, ask for clarification.

*Note: don’t be unreasonable or an asshole here. You still want positive letters of reference. Think of doing this the same way you’d negotiate a job offer.

**I am not a lawyer. Don’t take this as expert advice on detailed contract negotiation. I am just saying that you are having a conversation with your employer – you get to say things and ask things too.

Fourth – It gets better

3 months have passed and I now have job offers. YAY! I don’t harbour anger toward my former boss. I look forward to the next time our paths cross and we can chat as colleagues. I learned so many skills while I worked for him and I now have the opportunity to take those skills onto the next chapter of my career. There is something better waiting at the end of this experience.

Curious how a scientist goes job hunting? Well check back soon where I will share my experience on how to get a job in science.

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