Layoffs: Hints they may be coming your way!

outplacement-20-risesmart-transition-concierge Layoffs and downsizings don’t “suddenly” happen. They are the result of weeks of analysis, discussion, outside opinions, and wrangling among top management. Take notice of events in your office to stay alert to 13 classic warning signals that some employees might be about to lose their jobs.

  1. 1) Your H.R. People Look Stressed

Keep an eye on the mood of the Human Resources department. Are they cheerful? Stressed? Secretive? Your H.R. department is privy to upcoming management plans regarding human capital. Any type of downsizing is very stressful for the H.R. department. The stress intensifies as Layoff Day approaches. Often, lists of affected employees are changed right up until one hour before the employment layoff meetings occur. The H.R. employees must watch the names of coworkers they know and like bandied about and their fates decided. Yet, it is their job to accomplish this part of their job well. At the end of a day of layoffs, many H.R. people are distraught at what they had to do to their fellow employees. 

 2) More than the Usual Amount of Secret Meetings Department heads may start disappearing for hours with vague explanations for their absence. When you look at your boss’s calendar, you see vague meeting descriptions in place of specific information. For example, instead of “Meeting for New Product XYZ with Finance and Marketing” it simply says “Meeting.” Dana, a marketing assistant, simply assumed that the covert meetings meant her boss was working on another top-secret acquisition, only to discover one week later that he had actually been plotting her dismissal.  

3) You are Asked to Prepare a Job Description Suddenly, there is an unusual amount of attention focused on your daily job tasks, duties and procedures. Barbara and her co-workers were told that a new Human Resources salary and compensation initiative required them to document, list, flowchart, and detail all elements of their credit analyst positions, and prepare reports with all key contacts. This disguised cataloging was to ensure that all top accounts would be covered and procedures detailed after the majority of the department was let go. Barbara and her co-workers did not do an adequate job of justifying how their jobs benefited the company, they simply provided the requested facts. This made their jobs look easy to replace or delete.

4) A New Laser Focus on the Status of Incomplete Projects Top management contacts project teams and asks them to detail and document status on projects for special clients or major customers. Can the project be completed? What tasks are outstanding and who has to complete them? Sometimes projects are even suddenly moved up and must be completed sooner than the agreed-to date. For example, a project manager told Danny, a systems engineer, that the customer had requested an earlier delivery date. Two months later, Danny learned that the real reason for the increase in speed was that the majority of the engineering department (including him) was being laid off in anticipation of a merger with a larger company.

5) A Spending Freeze on Items that Usually are not an Issue When cash dries up, a company typically starts to cut back on all expenditures. In Karen’s training department, the assistants usually order participant workbooks in bulk, at least six months supply each time. When Karen was told to order only one month’s supply, she thought it was a little odd, but did not question her boss. At a hastily called staff meeting three weeks later, she learned that her department was being eliminated and that an outside training company was taking over the workshops to cut costs. Unfortunately, one of a company’s largest expenses is often personnel development expenditures.

6) Perks and Gifts Disappear If a company is contemplating eliminating employees, it will often take away certain perks and privileges such as holiday gifts, cell phones and parking spots. When John’s company held it’s twice-a-year sales meeting, they were always held at a top-level resort. The meetings were both a reward for a job well-done, and to motivate the sales force for the future. When John found out that the upcoming sales meeting was going to be held locally at a lower-tier hotel, he wondered if something was happening. His hunch was correct–one week before the meeting, 40% of the sales force was let go. The sales meeting with the remaining salespeople was all work, no play, as they learned about the increases in their workloads to compensate for the loss of their co-workers.

7) Colleagues Start to Shun Youoops caution Sometimes downsizings come as a complete surprise. Other times, select people in the organization know they are imminent. Be cautious if people who normally embrace your friendship become distant. Kathy was friendly outside of work with an upper-level manager in another department. She noticed that her friend starting avoiding her, breaking lunch dates and not returning phone calls. She later found out that her friend was on the reorganization task force that eliminated Kathy’s job. Be cautious of the reverse situation as well–if someone who has previously been unfriendly offers to help you complete a project or run a supplier meeting, they may have ulterior motives or secret information about your employment status.

8) You are Asked to Cross Train Your Co-Workers, Bosses and/or Temps When a company loses employees, whether they eliminate a few employees in a several departments or wipe out an entire department, the work still continues. Somebody has to know how to do it. Cheryl was told that her company was embracing a new philosophy of “cross-training” so that employees would be better able to support each other. She spent three days training a co-worker in her department how to enter new client information into the system. In return, she spent only a couple hours learning a few of the co-worker’s tasks. When five positions were eliminated in her department, her former co-worker was able to take on Cheryl’s duties the same day Cheryl departed.

9) Your Product Development Department Goes Home Early Hey! Where did all the product development people go? When there is a decline in workload from the frantic pace of new project initiatives every 3-4 months, you may suddenly notice it has gotten very quiet in the office. Typically, product development and the engineers work late and usually don’t have time to socialize. Suddenly, you see them going home on time, hanging out by the water cooler and volunteering for the annual charitable drive. Their workload has suddenly dwindled, and a reduction in force may not be far behind.

10) Your Boss’s Attitude Suddenly Shifts Your boss may have historically been a taskmaster. She pushed hard, denied you vacation time, glared at you if you had to leave early, made you rewrite reports, and generally had very high expectations. Art had such a boss, and constantly bemoaned his fate. When his boss started easing up on him, he was delighted. He mistakenly assumed that she either had a change of heart, or was preoccupied with other projects. The truth was, his boss had mentally moved on once she made the decision to eliminate his position at the end of the month. Art was the last to know, and his delight was short-lived.

11) Project Groups are Broken Up, and not all Members are Re-Assigned When D.J.’s project team celebrated the successful launch of their new software product, he was anxiously wondering what his next assignment would be. He was hoping for a chance to work with some of the talented people from this successful project. As the days passed, all his former teammates were taken aside, interviewed, and told what their next assignments were going to be. Many packed up and moved cubicles, leaving D.J. to sit and ponder what was happening as he completed menial small projects for another department. Finally, when most of the team was re-assigned, the remaining team members were called together and told that all the projects were fully staffed and there was simply no work for them to do. D.J.’s new project was to file for unemployment, collect his severance, and find himself a new job.

12) Management Starts Attending Certain Meetings In Max’s company the Vice Presidents from each business unit met weekly. Suddenly, the company President announced that they would change the structure of the meetings and that the middle management team would also start attending “to bring closer alignment between management layers.” In actuality, the President and his H.R. staff were planning a compression strategy; several weeks later the V.P. level was eliminated and those managers received separation packages.

13) External “Consultants” Are In Meetings With H.R. and Top Management When a company is considering downsizing, layoffs or reorganization, they often hire outplacement consultants and employment attorneys to assist them in the process. They may also hire accountants, H.R. benefits specialists, and/or management consultants. All of these consultants specialize in the planning and execution of employee terminations. H.R. may also start to take a higher profile in the office. With these external consultants they may be spotted huddled with upper management either in conference rooms or the boss’s office. Additionally, you may notice executive management “stopping by” or meeting in the H.R. office, usually located on the first floor. Or the entire group may go offsite for a day-long meeting to plan the terminations.

Sadly, these stories are real-life examples gathered after 15 years working in the outplacement industry….. Happily, many of them were able to move on with the help of outplacement services helping them to rewite resumes and cover letters, develop stronger job search skills, and learn to interview from a place of their own power and talents!

How to answer the dreaded salary history question request when applying for a job

nervous frightened aYou are sending a cover letter and resume to apply for a job. The job description requests your salary history. Do you give it?

First rule: never ever give out salary data in a letter!!!

Let’s analyze what happens if you do comply and give your history. One of two things will occur. The response will be either:

  1) “Wow, what a steal! I can get them for an additional nickel an hour (maybe) than they make now, and save all the additional money I was willing to pay!”

  2) “Too expensive. Throw this one out. “

Either way, you lose.  Either you don’t get the job, or you begin your salary at much less than you are worth.

Answering the question in a cover letter with numbers allows you to be “screened out” by a Human Resources temp who might earn the minimum wage, and likely has minimal understanding about the job you seek. Or worse, a computer screening program which deletes your application upon receipt. It never gets to the actual hiring professional–the one with the budget and the responsibility.

In the corporate world, through the interview process employers often change job descriptions and salary to match the hired person’s capabilities. So if the hiring manager really likes your capabilities, the job will often be matched to your skill level, and hence, a higher salary!

Human Resources professionals want you to believe that they salary they award you should be “pegged” to your current or most recent salary. BALONEY! Your future salary is not at all related to what you think you “need” or have gotten in the past, but rather what the company will have to pay the best person they can find to fill that job description (often referred to as “market rate”).

Obviously, the employer wants to get the most qualified person they can for a job…at the least cost. It’s all a big game!! And most of us were never taught the rules.

 

There’s a salary range in writing already–you just don’t know what it is

 

All jobs have an initial “range” the employer would like to pay for that job, let’s say $10-15/hour. Obviously they would like to get you for $10 (and their boss would love them if they were successful). But, for the right person they might re-classify the job for $14-18, especially if the candidate has more/different skills than they requested. So, if you’ve been making $9/hour and tell them this, you’ll get $10/hour. Period. And they think you’ll be happy. moneyroll1

So, we want to avoid any mention of salary history—it has no meaning to what the market might pay for the new job you want. I’ve worked with government workers, and they have historically low pay. So should they be penalized for that? Why couldn’t they do a marketing job in the public sector for $20,000 and then command $30,000 for that in the private sector? If you listen to the HR rhetoric, you’ll fall into the thinking that you can never make big salary jumps!

Susan Britton Whitcomb, author of “Resume Magic” conducted a “resume preferences” survey of human resource managers from companies listed in the book, The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America.” One of the questions was :

“If salary history is requested in a job announcement and an applicant does NOT include it but is otherwise qualified, would the applicant would still be called for an interview?”

Survey said: 85% agreed that without salary information candidates would still be called. 15% said they would disqualify candidates if they did not provide the requested information. You decide.

 

But don’t totally ignore the requirement

 

So, how should you answer this touchy topic in letters and interviews? I think it is smart to at least address the topic in a letter if it is requested, or else have them think you don’t pay attention to detail.

Here are some ideas:

  • My salary expectations based on the exact responsibilities and demands for the position, so it is hard to discern a market rate based on a basic description. I look forward to exploring how I can contribute financially to the company.
  • From what I can tell, you are a progressive, competitive company and I am certain we can easily reach agreement on compensation if we both agree I am the right fit for the position and can prove my worth.
  • My salary history has shown consistent progression throughout the years, and my research indicates it is in-line with the current market range for this kind of position.
  • (and/or) I would be happy to discuss market value salary levels for this kind of position with you once we figure out how I can help your company grow/change/increase sales etc.

 

NOTE: Salary negation is always a HOT topic, so stay tuned and I’ll have a lot more posts with fresh ideas and perspective on the topic!

Protect your privacy when you job search

Iceberg What you can see onlineThere’s an old story about a woman who was unhappy in her job. She was browsing through the local Sunday paper and she saw a large Help Wanted ad. Intrigued by the job title, she read further, getting more excited by each line of the job description. “That sounds perfect for me!,” she thought.

While she hadn’t been looking for a job, this was too good to pass up. Every single quality matched up perfectly with her experience. Except the part about being part of a dynamic  team of friendly people. Her current job was filled with incompetent idiots with strange ideas, who seemed to try and sabotage her leadership.

No company name or address listed? A clue?

She grabbed a pen and paper and dashed off a cover letter. “Odd,” she mused. “They don’t give the name of the company or the address, just a post office box address in a neighboring town.” Off went her letter and resume. She waited.

One day, she was called into the big boss’s office and laid off. “We heard through the grapevine you’ve been out looking for a job.” She gasped. She had only sent that one resume and cover letter. She had applied for her own job.

What does privacy mean in today’s job search?

 

1) Don’t apply for your own job!

If you are employed, be very careful about putting your resume and cover letter “out there.” It can be very hard to remove it once it is released, and current management could come across an old posting and assume you are out looking for a new job. Get a post office box or use a friend’s address. Consider developing an alias or pseudonym: Beyonce famously used “Sasha Fierce” as her alter ego. Just the name itself is freeing, isn’t it? Perhaps you could use a nickname, middle name, initials only,a  maiden name, or a previous family surname. Be sure to note on there that you aren’t using your real name because you are currently employed and need that privacy.

Add to the profile the information that you are currently happily employed but believe in continuously improving yourself and developing networks. That would make any current boss happy should they stumble upon your listing. You also don’t have to list the exact company names. Consider “A small boutique architectural firm with sales of $10 million” instead of listing the company name.

2) Safety and security at all times.

There are creeps out there. Identity theft, stalking, home robberies when people are on vacation; avoid putting anything perosnally  identyfing in cyberspace. If you work in retail, you basically advertising when your home is empty. If you are posting about being at a conference, then again, your home is empty. Company information, birthdates, college graduation dates are also among things that can be used to start an identity theft profile.

3) Keep your private and professional lives separate.

There is a lot of pressure, and frankly, bad advice to only have one social media account, one email, one blog etc. Of course there are always exceptions, especially if your name is your brand.

Consider bucking the trend and the advice and keeping everything separate, but  still knowing that nothing is really private anymore. Clients, customers, and future employers can find your personal Facebook postings and tweets if they want to. Your mother-in-law, next-door neighbor, and the PTA president can track your professional career if they desire and put in the effort. Here’s a guideline for every single thing you put out on the Internet or anywhere in cyberspace. If you are comfortable with these 3 factors you are good to post!

  • “Would you mind seeing this on the front page of the Wall Street Journal?”
  • “What would your mother say if she saw it?”
  • “What would your boss’s response be to this?”

Let your cover letter do the talking

megaphone_thumbWell, once I get into the interview I’ll be able to explain it more…”

I hear this a lot from job seekers as they are crafting their resumes and cover letters. The belief that while the document they are sending  to an employer is not “quite right,” the job candidate will be able to fix it later during the interview process. In person. Up close and personal. Verbally. Out loud. On their feet. Face-to-face.

The vision in the job searcher’s mind is a video where they sit in an office, earnestly expanding or clarifying a project they worked on, or what they are most proud of, or even what makes them special. Somehow, there is the wish that those pesky job search documents will just go away, or a red editing pen will magically appear and self-correct the papers to include any missing components.

You only get one chance

Stop it. There simply aren’t second chances if the job search documents fail. The errors, ommissions, poor grammar, incomplete thoughts, missing skills, awkward wording–whatever gives you grief and stress in your resume and cover letter–all seriously handicap your chance at “later.”

Something awful has happened to our business writing: it’s gotten stale, generic, awkward, tedious, trite and pendantic. We don’t say what we mean, and we don’t mean what we say. Every cover letter is stale, written like every other. Do you like gettting form letters? Me neither.

Be a breath of fresh air

One of the skills that will best serve your job search is the ability to “role reverse”:  stop looking at things from your point of view and pretend to look at it from the employer’s viewpoint. Imagine reading an hour’s worth of some of the awful cover letters are out there.  Now imagine picking up a letter that FEELS like a conversation. It feels like the person has just sat in your office and said, “Hi! You are looking for a new hire, and I need a new job. I can see what you need, and I have a bunch of those skills plus a few more that might help.”

Work hard to translate this feeling to your letter: it’s as though  you breeze in, appropriately caffeintated, humming your favroite pick-me-up song, and certain that you are the solution to their problems. Much better than “To Whom This May Concern,” isn’t it?

Cut the junk

What is “junk” in a cover letter? Anything that doesn’t help the reader understand more about you: your personality, traits, work styles, skills and how you can make their organization better.

People don’t write letters anymore to great-aunts and cousins in other states. Yet, while the art of letter handwriting has become tarnished and our formal letter-crafting skills have diminshed, there is a bright side. Emailing, blogging, facebooking, tweeting and texting have once again made us comfortable in writing to express ourselves. Casual  and succint writing is back in style and that is good news for your cover letter! What would you say if you had to write three 160-character tweets as a cover letter?

Make them want details

The cover letter is a balancing act. It isn’t a “teaser” where you don’t reveal the good stuff and make them wonder. They won’t work that hard to figure it out. It needs more meat than a teaser or trailer, but not nearly as much as the resume contains. A cover letter sentence is a good sentence if the reader’s response is, “I need to hear more about that.” It contains relevant specifics, summarized in a way that the employer can translate that to a current or impending need they have in the organization.

The Uber-Writers at Copyblogger have great advice, James Chartrand says, “If you can’t say it simply in just a few words, then you’ve lost readers. Write short, write lean, and write clearly, so you don’t have to waste words explaining what you’ve just written.”