Making the most of your redundancy

Being 'between jobs' is no longer the kiss of death it once was

Like any unpleasant thing in life, there are plenty of euphemisms for the period of unemployment following redundancy: forced sabbatical, development hiatus and severance retreat are just a few a Fast Company article came up with.

However, according to Computerworld US, there may be less need nowadays to fudge a period of being out of work. Mark Goebel writes that even being out of work for more than a year “isn't the kiss of death it once was”, largely because employment gaps have got longer.

He quotes one US recruiter who says employers now understand that good people are laid off and may be out of work for “an extended period due to circumstances beyond their control”.

He advises to be open about the period you’re out of work, quoting an HR expert as saying that candidates who have been jobless for more than six months should say so in the second paragraph of their covering letter. Explaining why you’re out of work and what you’ve been doing “diffuses” the issue.

Of course, it helps if you’ve been doing something useful during your time out of the workforce and Goebel recommends following the advice of carrer counselor Edward Vladich, who says “Join a work-related association, attend an industry conference, take career-related course work, read trade journals, and, of course, keep networking,."

Other suggestions include consulting, part-time or volunteer work. The article quotes the case of one man who, after being unemployed for a year, offered to work for free for a large bank on an IT project (even thought it wasn’t hiring staff).

"He got great experience and a reference, which he parlayed into a full-time job with another company, and the bank got free work and didn't have to go through the all the red tape of hiring him.”

In the Fast Company article mentioned above, writer Anni Layne actually advises against job hunting at all — instead, move out of town and take a sabbatical, she says.

She quotes a career coach who suggests looking into things like scholarships, fellowships and grants in order to finance your sabbatical and choose a relatively cheap destination. She says you can even take a sabbatical without leaving home, but you must have a clear goal. She argues a sabbatical makes sense because it’s a tight, competitive market and down the track someone who has been pursuing goals (such as “working for a nonprofit, taking a sabbatical in Thailand, expanding his vision of the world,”) will appeal more to an employer than someone who has spent the same period merely applying for jobs.

Before you head off, Layne advises developing “an elevator pitch” that "champions the merits of your sabbatical. If you plan to spend six months backpacking through Australia, concentrate your cover story on the two weeks that you will spend working with Habitat for Humanity in Perth. If you hope to bum around the Italian Riviera all summer, bring a diary and set the goal of starting your first novel.”

By now the idea of a sabbatical is sounding so good you’re possibly thinking, “how can I get laid off?”

Well according to an article on Monster HR, there is something to be said for managing your layoff if you can see it coming. As it says, “Instead of waiting to become a statistic, get yourself in position to manage your layoff."

Roberta Chinsky Matuson writes that there are good reasons to consider taking voluntary redundancy and though she’s talking about HR staff in particular, her points are just as valid for IT. If a company is having to make redundancies, chances are pay rises are probably going to be rare for a while and the mood in the workplace won’t be good either. Plus, she writes, the best separation packages are usually the first packages offered.

Before you make your move, remember to reactivate your network of contacts — even if you don’t end up redundant, there will be benefits.

Mills is a Dunedin-based writer. She can be contacted at kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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