Friday, October 28, 2011

The Layoff Project: "Don't be afraid to ask people for help."

Ortho is a former pharma chemist and writes in with his story:

What should you do the first week? Should you take a break? Jump right in to finding a new job?  
In my case the company was pretty upfront, and we had 2-3 months to finish up projects and pack up our labs (site closure). During that time  most people were networking and looking for work, setting up interviews, and some even landed a job before the site actually closed. Management knew this and were completely cool with it. We even set up a wiki to put job posting in. Although it will go against every fibre of your moral being I would take a vacation after it happens. Go somewhere relaxing for 1 week, or maybe do something you never get the chance to otherwise. Once you get into full job search mode you will be always waiting for a call back/interview, it's hard to rationalize taking a vacation.

How can your family and friends help? 
You will always try to put on a brave face, and think that you are stronger then this, but it will effect you. Co-workers and friends for networking. Ask your boss for help! I can't stress this enough. You will probably want to vent a lot so make sure you have some good listeners around.

Was the help the company offered you (outplacement, etc.) useful?
Yes and no. Outplacement offices are not really adept at placing people in specialized technical positions. They can help you with networking and brushing up on interview skills (you always learn something). They are also really good people to talk to. I found my time with the CHRP to be very therapeutic.

What financial advice can you offer? What should/did you do? 
I was in pretty good shape, as I was pretty frugal being freshly out of school. It was hard to resist the temptation of a new car and a fancy place, but I'm sure glad I did.

What should you NOT do? 
Bet it all on black?

When did you start looking for another position? 
I had a pretty good idea 4 months prior, but being pretty fresh it was hard to justify to other employers why I was looking for new work.  You never "really" know so I was kind of stuck. I started sending out pre-written emails the day it was announced.

How painful was finding another position? 
Pretty damn painful. I was out of work for about 8 months and it really started to suck around the 6 month mark. Initially there was a short burst of interest because everyone was trying to grab talent from the site. I wasn't really too keen on remaining in Pharma for a couple of reasons. I spent a lot of time evaluating alternative careers and learning about other fields. Lots of informal interviews. I'm pretty glad I did that, as I eliminated a lot of noise and had something to focus on.

What should someone be emotionally prepared for? 
Anger, depression, moments of desperation, self questioning.

How did you spend your typical day? 
Lots of job searching and reading.  I took some classes, doesn't matter what it is, I just needed the mental stimulation.

What behaviors do you think were helpful or not helpful? 
Exercise and discipline in regards to job searching. Try to remain logical about making decisions and stick to what you planned. It was hard to turn down jobs, but try not to settle for something that you do not want. On the same note, never turn down an opportunity to interview, even if you are not 100% intrested. It's good practice and you might change your mind once you are there. Try to watch some comedy, a good laugh always helps. With depression comes the temptation to drink, keep that in check.

Have you found new work? What was helpful there? 
Yes. Having a clear idea about where you want to work is key.  You probably have a top 5, contact people there regularly (every 2 months) to check in.  Some places have a pretty good HR system that will alert you if a job comes up that matches your profile, fill them out! Don't stop networking and following up with people. Prepare like crazy for the interview, this is the acid test. If preparing is a chore, then you typically don't really want the job.

Oh and one more thing. Don't be afraid to ask people for help. You would be amazed at the kindness of strangers/ loose contacts. Ask to speak with them. Ask for contacts. Ask for advice. But you have to ask.

CJ here again. Thanks to Ortho for sharing his 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. 


  1. Shouldn't this be ""The Unexpected Employment Transition Project"

  2. Heh. When I start writing like that, you have permission to come break my fingers.

  3. A well-written post. Props to Ortho.

  4. I have sort of a general question. I'm not afraid for my job, but I would feel a little safer if I had a resume in reasonable shape to search for a job. What resources did you use to decide what kinds of jobs you should pursue and to write a resume to attack those jobs?

  5. Hi Hap, going to quickly write this before heading out the door, so I apologize for typo's.

    This was the hardest thing, and it took me a while to get good at it. Really the first step is to use your network, don't be coy about your situation. Tell them you are looking. Linked in can help.

    Sometimes a contact can ask or fwd an email, this is a powerful way to talk to a senior person. This is why you have a network, but you got to ask and you got to use it. I typically attach my resume (1 pager only) as background.

    I typically requested a 15-30 min phone call and schedualed one. Now use your phone skills. Admittalty the first couple were not very good. I found it was really important to prepare a skript/ list of questions.

    Know the answer to why do you want to work in this field. Be good at explaining what you do, so they can understand and see value in your training / experience. Sometimes you really need to prompt and ask; What would you do if you were me and wanted to get in this field? What parts of my background would be an asset? What skills are paramount in this feild? Sometimes the person you call will lead, and you can feel they want to talk. Let them talk.

    Ask them what do they look for on a resume, and what is missing on yours. You really need to get creative on presenting your skills and acomplishments in a different light. Write a patent, well then you have experience with IP management. If you changed a process at work, then its business process workflow.

    The real weakness that chemists have, is our lack of interaction with other business units. We typically do not meet with sales/marketing folks. Unless you are very senior you typically don't decide what projects the company undertakes. But you may interact with ocupational health and saftey, manufacteuring, regulatory, etc.

    Try to become familar with their language. I moved into product development in the context of a chemist. It's really fun, and I find organic chemistry to be a great background to have. I actually picked up books and read them. Anything really to help get their language and understand their challenges. That is key, because if they can imagine you in that role, then you are 80% there.

    To summarize: Talk to people. Learn their language, what they want to see on a resume, and what's important to them and figure out how you would be an asset. If you can communicate that to them then you stand a chance.

  6. Thanks for responding. Sorry about the spam filter.

    I don't know whether it's worse or better, but Websense blocks comments from...not home.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20