The Virtuous CIO  

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April 15, 2011 — Getting Fired

Getting fired may be the best thing that's ever happened to you.

Most of the time you do not recognize the warning signs. When it happens, you are caught completely unawares. You are summoned to a meeting with the boss – the corporate decision maker you report to. You trot in with your notebook expecting to be tasked with one of those important little projects that come up with alarming regularity.

The boss begins the meeting by saying, “We've decided we need to make a few changes.” Uh oh. With that, the roof caves in. You are numb all over. If your heart is beating, you are not aware of it. The rest of the meeting continues and you seem to be standing off to one side observing. In many cases, a severance package is offered and good references are assured. The only question at this point is how quickly you can regain your balance.

The meeting is over, you have packed the things in your office, and you're on the road home. There are two major questions to be asked, and they form the major outline for this series:

1. What do I need to do to land on my feet? 2. How did I allow myself to get into this predicament?

It has often been said that a good firing has a salutary effect on the other employees. While I have never terminated an employee simply to get everyone's attention, I always try to make sure the lesson is not lost. Getting fired may be the result of being on the wrong side of a political equation, it may be the result of incompetence, or it may be because of simple stupidity. So what do I do now?

The first priority is to ensure financial security. That means your first efforts should be towards landing another job. A good rule of thumb is to keep the resume updated, at least, every six months. If not, that should be your first priority when you get home. It comes ahead of seeking oblivion. Review the thing carefully and make sure it is marketable.

Immediately start activating your network. Make a list of people you know, peers in the community. Sort through the collected business cards from the past four years. Log on to Linked-In. Then shake the trees. Go through the list of professional associations which have cluttered in-boxes over the past years. Membership in any of these groups confers advantages.

Once you have collected information and before you pick up the phone, stop and think. Word about a strategic firing spreads with the speed of light (if not faster). The associated rumors come later in a wave-front. The only possible approach is a positive spin. “Hey, Jack, I just got canned. I'm still working through the reasons, but do you know of anything open, or who I can talk to?” Be as honest as possible, but still positive.

People get fired all the time. If you are a well regarded IT professional with a reputation in the business, you will find open doors to at least talk to people. This does not guarantee a quick hire – it's a terrible job market out there.

Okay. After putting the job hunt into gear, take stock of the personal situation. The ideal goal is to have six month's savings on hand for just such a situation. Right. I don't either. In this situation, I automatically assume I will be on the street for a while. Therefore, it becomes critical to cut personal expenses as quickly as possible. Look at the expenses which begin at $100 per month and go up from there. There are two criteria for keeping the expense: survival and supporting the job hunt. Anything else is fair game. This is the time to be ruthless. It becomes even more critical if you have a dependent spouse and children. Children are wonderful creatures and I am thankful for mine, but they are expensive. Getting rid of them is probably not an option.

The killers here are the large mortgage payments and car payments. You have to live somewhere and you have to drive to the job interviews. Remember that other than life and health, everything is replaceable. Showing up in a 7 Series Bimmer makes a statement, but that $900 payment is like a leaky heart valve. Sooner or later there will be real trouble. Dump the car and buy a Camry or something. You can live with the Toyota for a while until your fortunes improve. The $1,800 mortgage payment on the McMansion is worse. Being upside down in a house is common these days and survival may impose some very tough decisions.

It goes without saying that eating out three nights per week is off the table for the duration. Coupon clipping is now derigure. Shopping the sales is mandatory. Name brand merchandise is no longer a necessity. If your children must have cell phones, lock them down to the minimum service necessary to ensure their safety. If you are providing automobiles for the children, it's time for them to learn to support their own transportation or walk. It sounds cruel, and they will complain unceasingly about the unfairness of life, but it also may avoid a personal bankruptcy. Employers view candidates with serious financial problems as toxic.

Insurance is always the scary proposition in this environment. Remember that you have sixty days to elect COBRA coverage. Find out the requirements for coverage and then wait until Day 59. The premiums will be brutal and the alternatives worse. With some luck, maybe you will parachute into a new job before then.

The good news here is discovering how little money is required to live comfortably. Most Americans waste an unbelievable amount of money over the course of a career. Repeat the mantra: Frugality is good!