Boston Broadside
January/February 2002
Vol. 59,  No. 3
    Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2002

Career Strategies

Surviving a Layoff

By Peter Hartman

Stop me if you've heard this one: On November 2, I was laid off because funding didn't arrive as expected and 33% of us got axed. Sound familiar? Welcome to a tough clubespecially given today's (un)employment climate and tenuous world situation. Having survived four layoffs in the last 10 years, I thought I'd share some survival tips.

In general, the climate out there is awful. Jobs are available, but everyone is moving very cautiously and the competition is strong. It is a buyer's market, so adjust your expectations accordingly. Interview cycles will be longer, salaries will be lower, benefits leaner, and companies less flexible. Don't expect companies to acknowledge your application. A friend says it's like "printing out your resume, crumpling it up, and throwing it down a hole." With these cheery thoughts in mind, what can you do?

Don't Panic

This is a bump on the road of life. You will surviveand probably come out in a better place. Your life hasn't stopped; the income-producing part of it is temporarily on hiatus.

Throw a Pity Party

Cry, scream, rail at the gods, get drunkwhatever you need to do to let out the anger and frustration. (Telemarketers are an especially good target.) However, this should last no longer than 24 hours. And don't hold a grudge. It's not personal, it's business. Being bitter doesn't make you feel any better, and it shows. So get over it. Remember, you're a professional and you have good skills. Besides, you're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, most people like you...

Sign Up for Unemployment Benefits

Don't be ashamed of this. Your former employers are paying for it anyway and a small income is better than none. In Massachusetts, you can do it over the phone.

Tell Everyone You Know

I can't emphasize enough the power of networking. Your next job will probably come through a personal contact. Don't be ashamed to be "between positions." Anyone might be the right contact. But make it easy for others to help you. Send an e-mail to everyone in your address book that includes your contact information (but not your resume). If you have multiple phone numbers or e-mail addresses, pick one. If you don't have a personal e-mail address, sign up for one (Yahoo, Hotmail, and others are free).

Having done that, periodically remind your contacts that you're still looking. Despite their best intentions, if you don't stay in touch with them, they will forget. Send a brief update, a question about a company you're considering, etc. You want them to think of you if they come across something that might be appropriate.

Examine Your Finances

How far will your severance and unemployment stretch? What's the state of your savings? Look at the worst-case scenario: how long can you last with no income? Pay minimum amounts on your credit cards or call the issuers and ask for a moratorium. Avoid unnecessary expenses: movies, take-out, babysitters, your daily latte.

Take Your Interview Clothes to the Cleaners

Be positive and be prepared. When in doubt, overdresseven if you know it is a casual environment. It might be the difference between you and the competition.

Get Your Resume Together

Update or rewrite it, as appropriate. If you've been working for more than 10 years, consider a skills-oriented resume that highlights your best qualities. Don't bother having it printed. Most employers encourage e-mail applications now, and you'll probably want to develop several versions based on the job for which you're applying. You can just print out copies as you need them. Also, write prototype cover and thank you letters. You'll have to tailor them for each situation, of course, but it helps to have a beginning. Don't forget to proofread everything carefully.

Get Your Samples Together

Every prospective employer will want to see samples of your work. Put together a library from which you can draw.

Get Online

Don't bother with the Sunday paper; all the jobs are listed and searchable at Other useful sites include,,, and, of course, the Boston chapter's Job Bank, at, including its newest feature, the member profile listing, at Use the tools they provide and check them a couple of times a day.

Consider Alternatives

You're a professional communicator, not just a technical writer. You may want to consider other types of writing, such as marketing communications or journalism. Maybe life as a contractor wouldn't be so bad for a while. Thinking about going back to school? Now may be a good time to explore your other interests.

Get to Work

You have a new full-time job now: looking for work. Treat it accordingly. Set aside certain hours to work. If you just "fit it in," it will be much harder to accomplish anything. Schedule other activities into your "workday," but remember, it is a full-time effort. However, don't sit tethered to the e-mail or phone. Finding work won't occupy all your time, and you still have a life. Shower and get dressed. Get out of the house at least once a day, if only to take a walk. Work on that list of stuff that needs doing around the house. Volunteer. Exercise. Practice the guitar. Try to accomplish something every day. It will keep your morale up and make your world a better place.

Finally, when you can, use this period to rest up, too. Your next job will require high energy and offer few breaks. Sleep an extra hour in the morning; no one will call before 9:30 a.m.

Good luck!

Peter Hartman has been a technical writer, course developer, and writing/training manager for a variety of high-tech companies, some of which still exist. Because he likes to work for small companies, he has been laid off five times and has survived a half-dozen others. He is also the author of "Starting a Documentation Group: A Hands-On Guide" (Clear Point Consultants Press, 1999).