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Land on your feet after a layoff

5 min read


Naturally I always feel bad when I hear of yet another friend who has been laid off.  But there’s something especially stinging when that friend happens to be in HR. They just seem to have an especially rough time recovering.  While this is certainly no scientific study, I’ve just noticed many more months of treading water, volunteering for services such as special committees convened to help others re-enter the workplace, and a whole lot of lunches.

There’s a wonderful scene in the sitcom Frasier where he sternly tells the enthusiastically, uhm, social Roxanne (who is about to housesit for him) that, “I frown on overnight guests.”  Her response: “Well, then, you’re doing it wrong.”  If you’re in HR and you’ve been relying on job search methods that worked even just two years ago, it’s quite possible that you’re doing it wrong.  Here’s what could be holding you back in your job search if you’re in HR:

  • A misplaced trust in the company sourcing process. You remember that recruiting system you worked so hard to put into place a few years ago? It’s certainly not working for you now — now that you’re on the outside straining to get back in.  It might not be working at all.  In fact it’s quite possible that downsizing companies downsized their recruitment division, and someone forgot to turn off the “careers” function of the corporate Web site.  Still, you’re loathe to circumvent the published pro formas because you remember how offended you were when an applicant tried to beat the system you put in while at your former job. Guess what: There’s probably no one left to be offended anymore, even in your target company. “Because HR people are often experts in recruiting and interviewing, they tend to think organizations will ‘do their job:’ post positions, have a clear recruiting and interviewing process,” says Duncan Mathison, an executive coach and my co-author  on “Unlock the Hidden Job Market.” “This is a mistake because companies have downsized this expertise.”
  • Ineffectual networking habits. There are a lot of shy folks in HR, which is ironic for a function that supposedly attracts “people people.”  Go to any monthly SHRM chapter meeting and you’ll see the same happy, friendly faces, all of whom know each other.  And have known each other for years. Go to the next meeting of the same chapter, and you’ll see the same faces. The next month? Same thing.  Your only hope of meeting anyone new any time soon is to go to the SHRM chapter meeting a city or two away.   You’ll be greeted warmly, and you’re bound to hear a great program. And you’ll meet a lot of people who are looking for a new job. But will you hear of any new job openings?  Probably not. Not these days, at any rate.

When you’re in HR, you can feel busy networking.  There’s always plenty to do on a volunteer basis.  But does that mean you are busy successfully finding the next right job that’s perfect for you? Not necessarily. In fact, probably not.

How to do it right:

  • Bust out of your comfort zone. Broaden your exposure beyond HR. Attend professional groups that serve industries that interest you — not just the HR profession itself.
  • Circumvent the applicant tracking system. Don’t wait for a computer to discover you.  Get one-on-one meetings with people inside companies that interest you.  Remember, don’t worry about offending people who might be recruiters. There’s probably no one there.
  • Make it convenient for people to meet with you. No one needs you to buy them lunch in exchange for job leads.  When you seek out an informational interview, offer to meet them at their office, so they don’t even have to stand up to meet with you.
  • Be real about looking for a job. No point in lying in informational interviews, right?  At the same time, reassure your meeting partner that you aren’t looking for a job from that person. Use informational interviews to build out your network, contacts, insights about your targeted industries and companies, and ideas for new people to meet.
  • Learn to talk about your accomplishments in terms that relate to business interests. For instance, it’s not about the HRIS system you installed in your last job. It’s not about the number of people you hired.  It’s not even about the number of people you laid off before you got the package yourself.  It’s about how you custom-built bench strength of just the right talent that helped your company redirect its own market position and achieve long-term objectives. Get the difference?

In the perfect world (well, my perfect world, at least), HR would be hired first.  Then you guys could design those great workplace cultures we all aspire to. And then you can get down to the business of hiring the rest of all that wonderful talent that’s out there.

So. Get cracking, and get landed!  We need you back on the job.