make it an opportunity

I heard this week that another group of old friends and former co-workers have been made redundant. It will have been a shock for many involved, and although often spoken about, nobody is ever really ready for the actual event, the one where YOU are the one being offered “a package”.

It doesn’t matter where you work, sooner or later you are likely to be on the receiving end of a redundancy round. I have handed out my share of redundancies, and have personally accepted four offers over my 30+ year career. I have also managed to turn each of these four into an opportunity for a promotion and/or a better life-work balance. So hereby some practical advice from somebody who really has gone through it!

Not if, but when…

Redundancies normally happen due to an organisational restructure. According to Australian Employment Law, a redundancy can only take place if the job that the person is doing disappears.

However, redundancy can also be targeted to just a couple of staff; it could be due to a conflict of personalities between you and the leadership team, or over time you have become a “square peg in a round hole” when either the company or you have changed. You and the company have effectively parted ways over time, and it is time for a “divorce”.

In all cases, a person is offered a financial compensation to leave the company voluntarily. You could theoretically decline the offer, but why would you? Obviously the company doesn’t appreciate you any more, unlike when they recruited you. It signals the end of the working relationship you had, and maybe the writing has been on the wall for a while. It is time to move on!

The call

The redundancy package offered will include a legal letter which you will have to sign over the next couple of weeks, a financial compensation for accepting the offer of redundancy, as well as access to some sort of outplacement services and details on what happens to any relevant bonus or share schemes. Any accumulated annual (holiday) leave will be paid out, and you will be given a time frame to complete all the formalities.

The process often starts by being invited to a meeting with your line manager first thing in the morning. As you walk you will find your manager and a HR person at the table. Your manager will inform you that you are being made redundant, and then HR goes through the paperwork details.

You may be offered an opportunity to speak to an employee support person, and an opportunity to call your partner. It is also common to be offered a taxi to take you home, as you may be too upset to drive home safely.

You are not expected back in the office that day and if you have staff reporting to you, they will be informed of your redundancy after you have left the building.

The emotional roller coaster

I have seen a range of emotions from staff on the receiving end of that simple sentence; from anger and shock to disbelief and a flood of tears. And belief me, it is not easy on the manager giving the message either. Finding that you are no longer needed will likely cause you to progress through the familiar stages of grief: disbelief, anger, seeking answers, and even depression, before you can move to acceptance.

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In some situations, there is a lot more at stake. You may have to move from the place you live, or you may need to leave the country you were working in. Your redundancy will definitely impact your entire family one way or another. So now is the time to keep those conversation channels open! Talk honestly about how you are feeling.

I must admit it does become easier the second time around. Less personal, and more liberating!

A redundancy is a great opportunity to reflect on your priorities, and where your career was taking you. Do you need to work more on your visibility? Providing good work, “being a safe pair of hands”, quietly in the background doesn’t necessarily make you safe in large redundancy rounds. In case of a culture clash, did you really want to fit in that culture? Do you want to continue working in the same line of work, do you want a change of career, do you want to stop working, can you afford to stop working? 

You definitely have marketable skills, just need to find the right market for them. The world is your oyster and you can choose which direction you will go next!

Photo by Robert Obru0119bski on

Step 1: Activate your personal network

Upon getting the news, and sharing it with your partner, your next step should be to start networking.

It is never too early to tell people that you are available for new opportunities. In my experience, better and more exciting opportunities are just around the corner. People just need to know that you might be seriously interested this time around. Also, if you are part of a larger reorganisation, getting out there early will provide you with an early foot in the door.

Step 2: Update your CV and LinkedIn profile

This is the one other thing you will have to do. Try to keep your CV to four pages if at all possible, and stick to a format that reflects the industry sector you work in (a traditional industry like resources prefers the old fashioned A4 pages!).

List your job titles and the companies you worked for in order from most recent to older. Focus on what your responsibilities were in each role, and what your achievements were. An average of three bullets on responsibility and achievement for each role you did should suffice. Be this detailed for the jobs you did in the last 10 years, and very briefly summarise those before that. 

When you are finished, copy excerpts from your CV to LinkedIn. Also ask a couple of people you worked with or for to provide you with a short recommendation on your LinkedIn profile. 

Plagiarism is recommended, look at the LinkedIn profiles of your network and copy good examples and formats! 

A normal part of a redundancy package is an outplacement service. I personally have found these services particularly handy in helping me in updating my CV and LinkedIn. 

If you are considering a career change, you may want to prepare two CV’s; one for your old line of work, and a second which highlights more particularly those skills and attributes that you have that would be marketable in your new line of work.

Step 3: Prepare an elevator pitch 

Draft a paragraph that summarises who you are, what skills you have and what you can do for a company. Imaging being in an elevator and having that time to sell yourself to somebody who could give you that dream job!

As someone at a conference I attended a couple of years ago said, “what is your superpower”? What is the skill or attribute that sets you apart from others?

Handover time

Although your job has formally disappeared, you will be expected to handover any ongoing work to somebody in the office. Be polite, professional and courteous, it remains an awkward situation for both of you. You probably will need to provide referees with job applications, so have a quick coffee with those you think will be good. Depending on the position you are considered for, this could mean a peer, a person reporting to you and your line manager.

Make an appointment within the first week of being made redundant to provide this handover and return any company equipment (think phone, laptop, headphone, etc).

You will usually be offered after hours access to clear out your personal belongings. Don’t write angry of inappropriate emails, don’t take things that aren’t yours and don’t hang around the office. Your professional reputation is at stake, and for all involved it is best that you move on.

Technically there may be a number of weeks between getting the offer and your actual end date, but nobody seriously expects you to be fully motivated to offer your usual 120%. If your redundancy was part of a reorganisation, you are better off staying away from the office unless specifically requested to come in. After all, why should you get involved with defining a forward strategy that you will have no part in?

Step 4: Take time to decompress

You probably haven’t had much time off after you started your career. Maybe it has been more work than life recently. So use this period to take time to find yourself again, decompress. Spend time with your family, relax, do some gardening, home renovation, go for long walks or bike rides. 

As you interview for new positions, negotiate in an offer a delayed start if needed, aiming for at least 4 weeks between roles. Give your body time to de-stress and move past any anger and grief.

In between jobs, pick up or learn something new

When you have put your CV together, and reviewed your priorities, you may identify a skill that you want to deepen or develop. Now is the time to take that course and invest in your future. Remember, you are the only one really invested and in charge of your career!

During one gap between roles I took a Directors Course at the Australian Institute of Company Directors. During another one I helped out with my son’s school swimming lessons, and we spent time with the family back in Europe.

Besides being constructive, I found that I can consider important life choices better if my mind and body are kept busy with something completely different. I need to reflect and “sleep on it”.

Starting your own business?

Now might be the time to really consider starting your own business or go consulting.

Although “just giving it a go” sounds tempting, you are more likely to succeed if you take this option as serious as a real job. Start by drafting a business plan; what do you offer, what is your market, what makes you special, what are the charges, costs, insurances, etc. Find somebody who has done it and pick their brains if you are serious!

Future proof yourself

It can be a shock, realising that you are no longer required by the company you work for. If your work is your life and your identify, it is a very big shock. Developing a “life outside of work” is key to helping you deal with a situation like this. So think about it, who are you? What defines you?

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