Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Layoff Project: "And then, life happened."

PH is a former Wyeth medicinal chemist; she writes in with her story below. I've excerpted some key parts, and the whole thing is below the jump.
Back story: both my husband and I worked for Wyeth, me in med chem and him as a pain pharmacologist. When we heard in January 2009 that Pfizer was taking over, we had our initial moments of panic.  Lots of swearing, wondering what was going to happen, etc.  Eventually, we made a decision that we were going to press forward as best we could and try to take control of our own situation...
...So during that year of uncertainty, we got everything done that we possibly could to aid in our job searches.  We updated our resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn accounts.  We networked, trying to reconnect with some former colleagues who had moved on to different companies.  We didn't mind moving, which was a huge advantage we think.  We were willing to go somewhere if only one of us had a job, as long as it was an area where the other partner had a good shot of getting something eventually.
...The first week of my unemployment I didn't do a whole heck of a lot.  I took some time off, relaxed, and got the last year of complete stress out of my system. I shoveled snow after the Philadelphia area got about 3 feet of snow one weekend.  I thought about my next steps even more.  I started researching job openings after my week of hibernation, actually managed to get an interview for an analytical-type job and was looking forward to that.  Hubby was doing some networking and thought he might have a lead with a former colleague of his.  We were pretty confident that we'd both be working in the next couple of months.  It may not be our dream jobs, but it would be something.  And then life happened.

I had always gotten headaches, and they'd gotten a lot worse over the course of 2009.  I blamed it on stress.  Finally, I couldn't ignore them anymore.  In April 2010, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of small orange. (continued below the jump

Back story: both my husband and I worked for Wyeth, me in med chem and him as a pain pharmacologist.  When we heard in January 2009 that Pfizer was taking over, we had our initial moments of panic.  Lots of swearing, wondering what was going to happen, etc.  Eventually, we made a decision that we were going to press forward as best we could and try to take control of our own situation.  This was huge - those people who sat around very upset tended to not do very well with the stress.  Those of us who decided that we were going to control what we could did a lot better during a bad situation.

We were going to network our behinds off (very tough for me as an introverted lab rat), keep an open mind about our futures and most importantly research other career opportunities.  Hubby was pretty sure he wanted to stay in the lab, but wouldn't mind looking into other areas.  I was pretty sure that I wanted to get the heck out of the lab, 10 years with 3 different employers - all coming after layoffs - and stinky chemicals was plenty for me.  My intention was to make the move into scientific communications/medical writing.

So during that year of uncertainty, we got everything done that we possibly could to aid in our job searches.  We updated our resumes, cover letters and LinkedIn accounts.  We networked, trying to reconnect with some former colleagues who had moved on to different companies.  We didn't mind moving, which was a huge advantage we think.  We were willing to go somewhere if only one of us had a job, as long as it was an area where the other partner had a good shot of getting something eventually.

In November 2009, Pfizer announced that Princeton was going bye-bye.  Hubby was offered a postiion in the Neuroscience department in Groton, CT, which we turned down after a very agonizing decision.  Namely, my job prospects were extremely low and the relocation package wasn't all that attractive.  In January 2010, I was done.  In February 2010, hubby was done.

Our financial strategy was basically to not panic but be smart.  We filed for unemployment and immediately banked that.  We didn't make any major purchases, go on a huge vacation (although we did take a few day trips with our son) or anything crazy like that.  We had a nice severance package and were pretty hopeful that we'd be working at something, anything, by the time that ran out.  We cut back a little bit on eating out, but overall didn't change our spending too much with the exception of no major purchases or vacations.  We used our science-geekiness to keep spreadsheets of our spending and how long our savings would last us after our severance ran out.  But, we really didn't panic or majorly cut things out.  We didn't want our son to panic, so we did a lot of behind the scenes stuff that he wouldn't notice, like not buying a lot of new clothes for ourselves.

The first week of my unemployment I didn't do a whole heck of a lot.  I took some time off, relaxed, and got the last year of complete stress out of my system. I shoveled snow after the Philadelphia area got about 3 feet of snow one weekend.  I thought about my next steps even more.  I started researching job openings after my week of hibernation, actually managed to get an interview for an analytical-type job and was looking forward to that.  Hubby was doing some networking and thought he might have a lead with a former colleague of his.  We were pretty confident that we'd both be working in the next couple of months.  It may not be our dream jobs, but it would be something.  And then life happened.

I had always gotten headaches, and they'd gotten a lot worse over the course of 2009.  I blamed it on stress.  Finally, I couldn't ignore them anymore.  In April 2010, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor the size of small orange.  It was benign and successfully removed at Penn in May 2010.  This was a complete game changer for us....who cares what job you have as long as you live through something like that?  Did I even really want to work again after that?

The day after my surgery, hubby's former director called him and said that his group at Lilly was hiring and hubby should really come out and interview.  I encouraged him to go, got someone to stay with me while he flew out and the rest is history.  Hubby really liked what he saw, both in terms of the job and the Indianapolis area.  At that point, I really didn't care if I'd work again and welcomed some time off.  The cost of living in Indy would allow me to do that.  So, in August 2010, we flew with a sad 6 year old boy and 2 pissed off cats one way from Philadelphia to Indianapolis.

After a couple of months of being the PTO mom, I realized that I was a lot happier when I was working.  I took advantage of a spouse's program offered by Lilly, and had some excellent one-on-one job coaching with a local placement agency.  They helped me to establish a network in Indy, got my resume in order and most importantly gave me the cheerleading I needed to switch from a chemistry job to a job in scientific communications.  It took me a long time to find a job - I finally started in the Sci Comm department at Lilly in July 2011 - but I'm very happy now and my dream job was well worth the wait.

My biggest piece of advice to someone looking for a job is to not take rejection personally.  It's hard, and most scientists are Type A overachievers, but you just can't let this kind of thing get you down.  You might send out 50 resumes and not even hear a peep of acknowledgement from anyone.  Or, you might go to an interview and think you hit a home run only to not get the job.  It's not personal --- there are so many people looking for jobs right now that employers can be extremely picky with what qualifications they want.  Another thing I tell people is to get involved in something other than just searching for a job - find something that you enjoy and do it as often as you can.  Don't neglect the job search, but you just can't do it all day or you're going to get depressed.  In my case, I did a lot of volunteering at my son's school.  This was very helpful because it helped me to learn more about my new community, establish more connections and just get out the door.  I think the temptation is to sit around in sweats all day and wallow in sorrow, but you have to get up, get a schedule and get yourself motivated.  I'm not particularly good at that, so having things to do really helped with the motivational aspects of things.

In finding my new job, the most helpful thing was the job coaching I recieved.  I think as scientists, we are so used to our resumes looking like Exhibit A for what we did in the last 10 years - bulleted, highlighted by importance and including all of the latest technology we learned at the last ACS meeting.  Other areas are looking for a little bit more about your personality.  They want you to have the skills, but more importantly are you a team player?  Willing to learn new things?  Or, are you a stuck in the mud, washed up scientist who just wants out of the lab but doesn't really want to do the other job/thinks that a non-lab job is beneath you?  Are you a know it all who will come in and do things your own way without bothering to learn how things are typically done?  The job coaching reorganized my resume, helped me with a cover letter that I never would have come up with on my own and showed me how I was portraying myself as a golden retriever vs someone who is intelligent, hard working and exactly what an open position needs.  Subtle, but different attitudes.

CJ here again -- thanks to PH for sharing her story and being our first storyteller. Best wishes to her (and all of us.) 

3 comments:

  1. I'm humbled by this story. Congrats to PH and her family for perserverance in such trying conditions. I'm so happy she found her dream job!

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  2. Does anyone have any stats on the effectiveness of LinkedIn as it relates to our industry? It seems great as a "I wonder what so and so from grad school is doing now" but completely useless as a job search tool when every company is jumping on the "lay off the 40-50 year old synthetic/medicinal chemists" and hire more Wuxi chemists bandwagon.

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  3. We recently hired a contractor for a bioinformatics position. I found out later that she had not applied, but had been cold called by the contracting agency who found her on LinkedIn as a fit for the posting. So it can pay off.

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