The Day I Got Laid Off: Learning From Failure

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. 

January 14, 2009. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was sitting at my desk when the head of our team tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to come by his office. At that moment I knew that I was toast. I was told to collect my things, and after a few quick goodbyes, I was forced to leave the building. It was over that fast.

I had only been an investment banking analyst for six months. I joined Lehman Brothers just weeks before its record-setting bankruptcy, then transitioned to Barclays Capital after it came to the rescue and acquired Lehman’s US operations. For weeks there had been rumors of layoffs, so I wasn’t that surprised when I fell victim.

Facing rejection
While I felt surprisingly calm that fateful day, my new reality sunk in that next morning. I woke up with no responsibility and nowhere to go. Time to find a job. I was excited to get started and optimistically thought that it might take a few weeks to find my next gig. I knew the financial turmoil had created a difficult environment for finance jobs, but I soon realized just how hard it would be to find any job in any industry.

As the days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, I continued to cast my net wider. I applied for positions that had little connection to my degree or work experience, and I was fortunate to interview for many of them. I went into those interviews feeling confident and qualified, maybe even overqualified for some of them. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t land a job. At this point I had been out of work for four months.

I felt like such a failure.

I eventually found a great role in a completely different industry, and I was thrilled to get back to work. I can’t recall the number of jobs I applied for, but I ended up interviewing with 65 people at 20 different companies.

Lessons learned
At the time I felt like getting laid off would permanently damage my career. On the contrary, I was able to bounce back and I learn several lessons along the way.

The first lesson I learned is the importance of having a job. I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but until I lost my job I didn’t realize or appreciate how much value I got from going to work. I missed having somewhere to go each day. I missed being a part of a team. I missed being needed. I learned that having a job, even if it might not be amazing, is a privilege.

The next lesson came during my job hunt. Early 2009 was an awful time to be looking for work, but that’s not the only reason why I struggled to get hired. The main reason I couldn’t get an offer is that I failed to show companies how I could add value. I thought companies would want to hire me because I went to a good school and worked for a good company. But that’s not enough.

During an interview at a retail company I talked about my ability to analyze financial statements (my skill), but failed to demonstrate how I could help them manage inventory more effectively (their need). Companies don’t just hire smart people; they hire people who can passionately demonstrate how they can make a big impact in the organization.

Lastly, I strongly believe that one of the reasons I got laid off from Barclays is that I failed to develop strong relationships with my coworkers.

The slow financial markets gave me a lot of down time, and the looming bankruptcy created a less than positive work environment, so I routinely left the office as soon as I completed my work. While other analysts were regularly discussing recent events and the fate of the company with senior bankers, I mostly kept to myself. I failed to take advantage of these slow periods and didn’t spend sufficient time building deep relationships.

When difficult decisions need to be made, it’s a lot easier to let go of someone who you don’t know that well. Failing to connect with my colleagues is a mistake I’ve tried to avoid ever since, and I now love getting to know those I work with on a personal level.

Failure can be a great teacher, and while I would never wish to relive that period again, getting laid off and struggling to find a job taught me valuable lessons early in my career.

Build strong relationships, demonstrate how you add value, and strive to remember that having a job is a privilege.

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