I was working as a project chemist at a well-known consumer products company this summer when I was laid off. I am 27 and was only there one year. I have a Bachelor's degree, and was part of a three-man internal analytical chemistry lab which supported R&D for the entire company. We tested potential new raw materials, completed reverse engineering of competitor products, and analyzed our own product returns to see if there was a chemistry-related root cause among other smaller projects. 30 people in total were laid off, including 20 in a government contract division. Additionally one person from each department had to go, and I had the least experience. From what I learned afterward, management had determined that our internal analytical laboratory would receive less work because of the loss of projects from the government contract division. They had declared bankruptcy a few years beforehand, and were known to go through layoffs, so it was not unexpected. Before working there, I was a QC chemist for a regional organic toll manufacturer for 3 years.
What should you do the first week? Should you take a break? Jump right in to finding a new job?
Immediately after it happened, back in June, I blew off the rest of the day, played frisbee golf, met a friend for lunch. I figured that would help over sitting at home watching TV. Once I got home to wait to tell my wife, that's when I started to feel like garbage. It took me a good week to get over the shock and couldn't sleep for a while. It was the beginning of summer and there wasn't much incentive to find something right away. I think it's important to take a little time for oneself, especially if you haven't had a vacation in a while. I attended some workshops within 3 weeks of getting laid off to get my resume in order.
How can your family and friends help?
Please don't tell me, "Now that you have all this free time, you should come visit!" It doesn't really work like that, if I expect to find employment again. I need to work on my resume/applications, which take a lot of time and sometimes can be harder than actually working. I visited some family within the first month but that just stalled me.
Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?
They offered two months severance and a month of services with a re-placement firm. I attended some classes (interviews, resumes, where to look for listings, etc.) which were extremely helpful! I will freely admit the severance payments kept me from looking for a job as actively as I should have.
What financial advice can you offer?
My situation was different from many who are laid off because I received a good severance, and my wife worked full time during my unemployment period. If you have student loans, it is fairly simple to put them on forbearance/deferment and temporarily stop payments. Learn the rules for unemployment in your state. I do a lot of the cooking around the house and with more time at home I was able to plan recipes and cook out of the pantry instead of running to the store to get something.
What should/did you do?
Get your resume professionally evaluated. Attend interview workshops and learn the difficult behavioral-based questions you will probably be asked during an interview. I used indeed.com for job searches which worked very well for my field. Take time to socialize as well so you feel normal. Network, since I was told when you are unemployed, "you are either networking or not working." It was recommended to me by several people to get a LinkedIn account to network. I also found the home office very distracting during the day, and I could work better at the library or at a cafe.
What should you NOT do?
Don't fall into the trap of staying up later and later, waking up later and later. It's easy to sit up late at night watching TV or movies and feel that you don't need to get anywhere the next day, so why stop? I find that I could best concentrate on job searching first thing in the morning since nothing was distracting me, nothing had yet happened to me in the day. They really say you need to turn your job search into a job and set yourself hours. If you have the discipline, do this. Also, you will feel anger towards your old bosses/old company that laid you off. I still do. Don't burn your bridges, you will rely on some of those people for networking.
When did you start looking for another position?
After my severance ran out, two months after the layoff. I had a good resume and cover letter at that point.
How painful was finding another position?
Once I started looking, it was not very difficult. The most difficult part was tailoring the resume and cover letter to each position, and going through each company's unique application process. Interview preparation was also very difficult, I had to come up with an elevator pitch of my own job skills, and work through accomplishments and mistakes at previous positions to help me answer the behavioral-based questions. Luckily, things worked out, I was able to get interviews at two different places within a couple of weeks, one of which led to my current position. Getting references was not very difficult, since many of the people I contacted were more than willing to help and felt sorry for my predicament.
What should someone be emotionally prepared for?
You are not going to apply for a job on Monday, get the interview Tuesday and start working Wednesday. This process takes time on the company end, and you need to expect to hear nothing for two weeks and not give up hope. Work on your social skills for interviews.
How did you spend your typical day?
Wake up around 8, when my wife left for work, exercise in the morning and spend the day looking and applying. I took care of all the chores, I told my wife if she was the breadwinner I would take care of everything else. Also, We had recently bought a house and a lot of the small projects I was able to fit in (painting, the honeydo list).
What behaviors do you think were helpful or not helpful?
Not falling into the malaise woe-is-me trap, not staying up late and wasting your morning and your motivation the next day. You can feel sorry for yourself, and you definitely have a right to, but you can't stay unemployed forever.
Have you found new work? What was helpful there?
I have. I had two interviews after a month of unemployment. One place offered me a temporary position on 2nd shift, and the other brought me back for a second interview and eventually offered me the position I am in now, as an analytical chemist focusing on HPLC. For the position I accepted, the listing was on Careerbuilder and I worked with the recruiter who had posted the listing. He prepared me for the interviews and brought me up to speed on the company. The offer I received had more pay and vacation than my previous position which I was laid off from. I also received a call from the company that laid me off asking if I was interested in another chemistry position. I respectfully declined.
CJ here again. Thanks to NT for their story and best wishes to all of us.
The Layoff Project is an attempt to collect the oral histories of chemists who have been affected by the changes in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries. The explanatory post is here; stories can be left in the comments or e-mailed to chemjobber -at- gmail/dot/com. Confidentiality and anonymity is guaranteed.