A recession or economic downturn can affect us in many ways. During a recession, we are more likely to see layoffs. Losing one's source of income is one of the biggest fears for any person. Such gloomy times often feel dreadful and it is understandable given what is at stake for each of us. Having been part of three recessions (2001, 2008, 2020) during critical periods of my life, I can say one thing to you - this too shall pass. Recession is a normal course of any economy and frankly sometimes a necessity. The question to ask is not IF a recession will happen, but WHEN a recession will happen. Some industries may withstand recessions better than others depending on circumstances. While the Q2 2020 recession/layoffs were smaller and affected service-based industries more, the current 2022 downturn is impacting the tech industry that had been doing great in the past two years despite COVID related impact.
If you have been laid off, I hope you find your next job soon and wish you the very best. Going through a layoff is tough and you will probably experience the various stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But know that you can persevere through this situation and find your next gig. And remember, sometimes you may have done everything right but you might still be impacted. The company does what it has to for business reasons and its own survival. In such a case, you just have to shake it off and move on. I hope this quote from Condolezza Rice inspires you...
"If you have ever been stopped cold in your tracks by one career hurdle or another you know how much it feels like failure. But the truth is, sometimes hurdles are our best friends because they force us to stop and face the fact that it’s time to change something. And changing something is how we find what’s next!"
I understand that your first instinct after a layoff is to brush up your resume and start applying for any and all open jobs that you come across. But this is exactly the time to not rush. Instead take a pause (if you can afford it and are not dealing with external constraints like immigration deadlines) and strategize your next move. Give yourself just one week of uninterrupted thinking time. Here’s a few tips and questions to help you manage through this difficult time:
Take a step back and reassess your situation
What has gone well and what could have gone better during the past 3-5 years?
Where do you want to be in the next 3-5 years and are you equipped to go down that path?
Is it time for a pivot?
Find your strengths and values
What do you enjoy doing - what kind of roles would interest you?
What skills do you excel at and is that something you can leverage to teach others?
What ground rules and values do you hold yourself to and would like to see in future workplace?
Invest in yourself
Is there something you had been wanting to do but never got a chance because work/life always got in the way.
Can you learn something new during this downtime to help with your personal and professional growth?
I am sure you all have heard that prevention is better than cure. The most strategic thing we can do is make ourselves recession proof - where we are able to either stay in our jobs or be able to withstand a period of unemployment. The best time to start preparing for a recession is when the economy is at a high. Playing the long game will ensure that you outlast the circumstances and face the storm with confidence. Here's a few things you can do to bulletproof your career.
1. Invest in yourself throughout your career but especially during the good times
Learning is lifelong and so it deserves a mention in both sections. Learn the skills needed to get better in your role or develop the expertise that will set you apart. The advantage of doing this while you are employed is that you have the cash flow and many companies will also reimburse you. So don't wait until you find the right time.
2. Focus on meaningful impact and high value work that is not easily replaceable
I have previously written about excelling in your role through demonstrated thought leadership, achieving meaningful impact by focusing on strategic execution and scaling as a TPM through ruthless prioritization and driving accountability. Setting yourself as a high performer and indispensable asset means that you are more likely to come out of layoffs unscathed. The TPM role is especially at risk during slow times because it is considered an overhead due to the nature of being a support function. TPMs who are perceived to be low performers or focused on tactical and operational work that can be easily given to an EM or PM, are especially at risk.
3. Find a niche or expertise that will always be in demand
Do something that differentiates you from others in your role. When you are an expert, people will come to you and will always value your work and opinion. It will also help you withstand the tide of a downturn. Find your niche and become a specialist. There will always be people willing to pay for your expertise. Build the skills you need to develop such expertise and learn from other leaders who have done the same.
4. Build credibility, trust and empathy so people want to work with you
If you do everything mentioned in the above points but don't have the trust of your manager or credibility with your peers, then it won't get you far. Building relationships, showing respect and coming from a place of empathy will make others want to work with you. You can build credibility by following up on your commitments. You can earn trust by going above and beyond or solving a problem that no one wanted to solve. High EQ is a necessity when working in a role like TPM that is highly people oriented. The people aspect of the role is often underestimated. When you have a growth mindset, are open to feedback and bring people along, you will always have the support of your peers and stakeholders which can prove valuable in turbulent times. I strongly despise the jerk culture or getting results at the cost of other people. It is best not to burn bridges because you never know who may cross paths with you again in the future.
5. Create connections outside of your workplace because every person can help in some way
It is important to meet people from all different backgrounds even if they are not tied to your core industry or workplace. You never know what connections they have that might prove valuable in the future. You can volunteer for a non-profit, sub at a local school, participate in a book club and so on. And these connections work both ways - if you help others, they will always be willing to help you back.
6. Create a sustainable fiscal plan so you are not scrambling during a recession/layoff situation
Finally, it is important to have emergency savings to help you get through times of unemployment. While you may do everything you can to make yourself recession proof, some companies may just not have the runway to keep you. Companies are running a business and it is not personal. Sometimes it is not you but the company. But if you did all the other things mentioned above, you are also likely to find a job more quickly because you are a high performer with a niche expertise that has meaningful experience to share. And you will also have the flexibility to take a little downtime to strategize without scrambling to find your next job. Generally savings equal to one year of living expenses is ideal. So make sure you are saving every month for the future.
Please let me know in the comments below if you have any other tips to share. And as always, please feel free to contact me if you have any queries on how to grow and excel as a TPM.
Here's a few book recommendations (affiliate links) that can help through career challenges
The Long Game by Dorie Clark
Reinventing You by Dorie Clark