Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Layoff Project: "I started to question my identity"


Today's Layoff Project submission is from GP, a biologist. This submission was lightly edited by CJ and checked for accuracy by GP.

My history: PhD, worked at series of small biotechs. Company was acquired by a Bigger Pharma.   Bigger Pharma retained research staff to shore up some of the projects but within a year, Bigger Pharma was having financial struggles so they cut the team. Contract was extended to help close down the lab after the departure of the team.

What should you do the first week?  Take a break or jump right in to finding a new job?

I had taken a week’s holiday (cheap camping vacation in the woods) to help change my mind set.  As long as you can pay for the vacation and not just put it on credit card, then I would suggest taking a vacation has a benefit.

How can your family and friends help?

Contact all your colleagues, current and former to let them know that you are looking for work.  Friends tried to be helpful in connecting me to other friends of theirs who ‘work in the same field’.  These connections didn’t always work but it felt good to know that others were pulling for me.  Friends who were also looking for work (in different fields) sent me links to many gov’t job sites, or other sites which I wouldn’t have thought to investigate. Former colleagues offered to act as references (morale boost) and quite a few who had access to different job sites (ie being a member of a society in which I was not) would forward me job postings with suggestions.

Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?

Didn’t receive this help.

What financial advice can you offer?

Agree with comments by others that you need to restrain your spending (don’t buy that new car, or renovate your house) but at the same time, don’t completely deny yourself the night out to the movies or dinner.  As we knew in advance the possibility of closing down, those colleagues whose mortgages were up for renewal went to their banks prior to receiving the job dismissal.   I received a decent settlement package so I went to the bank to see the best options for me in regard to putting money into retirement, into savings and paying off debts.

When did you start looking for another position?

We were expecting the possibility of closure so I had started half heartedly looking about 4-5 months in advance. However, I loved the work and research I was doing and really hoped that the financing would have come through to keep the project and company going.  As soon as we got the final word, I became serious in my job hunt.  My contract was extended  to help close down the lab so during those days I would log my morning hours to the company and then I would spend the afternoon on my own time job searching at the office where I was able to access the internet, fax machine, copier etc.  Once the contract ended and I had to do the job hunting using my home computer I really missed the full access I had while able to do things at the office.

How painful was finding another position?

Painful is the apt description.  I would find job postings on the internet  which appeared as though my c.v. was posted in the job description.  So following minor tweaks the cv to ensure it covered the points addressed in the advertisement I would eagerly apply online.  This online submission would then start a process where I was shuttled to a headhunter who gathered the cvs for the company. I made over 80 job applications and had 10-15 call backs from headhunters. This prescreening process led to a single interview with a company person.   It was frustrating because I felt that the headhunter only cared to go through their checklist and if your experience was the slightest bit different, then your application was discounted.  For example, there was a posting for a researcher with drug discovery experience in 5 different disease indications. I had experience in 4 of the 5 and rather than seeing this as a strong candidate, the headhunter just couldn’t get past the fact that I was missing one disease indication.

What surprised me emotionally is how much I missed the social interactions of work.  While I always appreciated my amazing colleague it was only once I was home alone during the day that I realized how of a social animal I am.  Also, after not finding work in for some time I started to question my identity — I have always thought of myself as a scientist and what would I be if I couldn’t find work as that anymore?

How did you spend your typical day?

In the first week I contacted friends and colleagues to let them know that I was looking.  Then my time was trolling the internet for jobs, either by job sites or going directly to different company sites to see what jobs were listing and using groups such as Linked In etc.  I would wake up at the usual time, head out for a morning walk and then be at the computer for a morning of job searching.  It is amazing how long it can take to tweak or revamp your cv and prepare a tightly worded cover letter so sometimes I would be applying for no more than two jobs a day.

I didn’t want to spend the day surfing the web, so I would limit myself to job hunting in the morning and then the afternoon do a non-job hunting activity—minor household repairs, errands, exercise, but avoiding shopping or activities that may result in me spending lots of money.  Getting out of the house and having a change of scene was important, even if it was just a walk and then grabbing a coffee at the local coffee shop.  I had plans on doing more “self activities”—I had a list of books I wanted to read, old hobbies I wanted to reactivate all of which came to nothing. I found it hard as when I was doing these other things I kept thinking “I should be looking for a job and not spending time doing X”, but taking a break from job hunting was also important.  In retrospect I think that rather than working each morning job hunting, it would have been better to spend certain days job hunting and then taking entire days off.

The challenge is that you don’t know when you are going to find a job.  If you knew that in say 2 months you would have work, you would relax a bit and enjoy the time off.  As it was, there was always that worry which would prevent you from fully relaxing.  Again in retrospect, I wish I took in some matinees at the cinema.

What I didn’t do was also important. As others have written I did not sleep all day, did not stay up all night watching late night TV, did not start drinking in the afternoon, did not start smoking and did not spend my day on Facebook etc.  I tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a daily routine.

Have you found new work? What was helpful there?

About 2 and half months after the extended contract (4 months) I was able to find contract work through a comment made in passing at a social gathering.  I was with some former colleagues (post-doc days) when someone mentioned that my former PI was in line to receive a large research grant. I contacted the PI and it was completely fortuitous that just when he needed someone to oversee the handling of this research grant, I was also available to be employed.   I did a short contract  (4 months) with him to initiate the funding and now I have a full time job at the university for this research program. Leaving the industry side of research and returning to academia is surprising but I was also able to stay in the same city and not have to have my family/lifestyle undergo upheaval with a move.

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. 

4 comments:

  1. Excellent post- glad to hear there was light at the end of the tunnel for GP.

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  2. Glad to hear you have found something suitable, and that you didn't have to move. Sounds like you went through a lot of the same emotions that I did when it happened to me. All the best.

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  3. Excuse my ignorance, but can someone enlighten me on the acquisition process? I thought, in general, a sale was thought of as a good exit for a company. Are you able to exercise vested options and how would you determine strike price?

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  4. @Anon at 11:43 am

    GP here. In our case, we, the employees had options to common shares, but for this acquisition the buyout was directed to the preferred shares which were the investors. My understanding was that a proportion of the preferred shares were then redeemed with cash with the remaining transferred to stock of Bigger Pharma which is a public company.

    Does anyone else have similar experiences?

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