Job Loss: How to Prepare Before It Happens |

Job Loss: How to Prepare Before It Happens


I landed my first real job in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo. (And yes, that really is the tagline used by the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce.)

I took the job in Kalamazoo because jobs were scarce in Toronto when I graduated. After leaving behind a depressing and fruitless job search to make the trek across the border, I was finally excited and filled with thoughts of possibility. And possibility soon became reality.

Knowing what your reality looks like leads you to the question: If you lose your job, what are you going to do to survive?

My husband and I were newlyweds on an adventure. Life in Michigan at that time was cheap, too. Rent was about $450 for a 900 sq. foot apartment. Gas was $10 to fill up our ’98 Chevy Cavalier. We had our first child. Life was grand.

And here’s my favourite part of the story whenever I talk to Vancouverites and Torontonians with their sky-high housing prices: we bought our first house—a brand new 3-bedroom rancher, with a full basement—for $99,900. Can you believe we actually thought it was “expensive”?

When life rolls along nicely, you tend to forget how vulnerable you really are.

Then, while driving to work one morning, the radio newscaster announced that my company was just acquired by a larger corporation.

On the radio.

On the way to work.

I wondered whether I should just turn around and go home!

But curiosity got the better of me and I went on to work to find out… wtf?!

Thankfully we were still relatively young when my first layoff happened, so we weren’t as hard hit as the mid-western Americans who had known nothing other than the “job for life” mentality that sustained families in towns like Kalamazoo for many generations. We may not have been 50 before losing the only way of life we’ve ever known, but it was no less devastating and stressful.

What I witnessed and experienced in Kalamazoo back in 2003 has shaped the way I view the world of work ever since. In fact, the story of being blind-sided by a layoff has been so often repeated, and then amplified with the recession in 2008, that now everyone knows the lessons learned by thousands of workers before them: always have a plan B.

Making Your Plan B (and C and D)

1. Assess your reality.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I have been slowly shifting gears in my career over the last few years, moving into something a little more transferable and portable like marketing, communications or copywriting, and with good reason. How many drug discovery neuroscientist positions specializing in mid-throughput automated electrophysiology and high-throughput fluorescent screening do you think exist in Vancouver, B.C.? Or even in North America?

Knowing what your reality looks like leads you to the question: If you lose your job, what are you going to do to survive?

2. Assess your options.

Ask yourself every possible question you can think of, and start figuring out the answers.

  • How long can you survive without a job? A day, a month, a year?
  • Is it easy to find another similar job?
  • If your job is specialized are you willing to relocate? And relocate again, and again, if necessary, to follow the career path you started with?
  • Will your company give severance pay? Do you qualify for Employment Insurance?
  • Are you willing to change careers? Or start a business? If so, are you willing, or financially able, to take any training necessary to do so?
  • What factors are most important to you in a job? Location? Proximity to extended family or friends for moral support? Flexibility to manage child care? Money? Career advancement?
  • How will the answers to these questions change over the course of your lifetime? Of course, you can’t predict the trajectory of your life. But it’s still worth thinking about how your answers might change with life events at age 25 versus age 45, 65 or 85. What if you get married? What if you get divorced? What if you have a child? What if you or a loved one gets into an accident? What if your aging parents get sick? What if health outcomes continue to improve, or legislation changes, and the age of retirement increases to 75?
  • What do labour market trends look like for your current career? Or your desired career?

Marketing executive and relationship columnist, Amy Chan, is no stranger to job loss preparation. At a recent Douglas College Business Association event, Chan told students she’d already been laid off twice in her young career.

The most important thing in finding a job, keeping a job, preparing for job loss, and repeating the process all over again, is to know yourself.

“Professionally speaking, [being laid off] is probably the greatest form of rejection,” said Chan. “But I’ve learned that it’s nothing personal. It’s part of what you sign up for when you play the corporate game. Businesses are going to do what helps the bottom line, and sometimes this means you are going to lose your job.”

“Now, I expect to be laid off,” Chan explained. “When I am going to take a job, I actually negotiate my layoff terms in my contract.”

3. Assess your values and non-negotiables.

The most important thing in finding a job, keeping a job, preparing for job loss, and repeating the process all over again, is to know yourself. What makes you who you are? What do you value most? What are you willing to sacrifice? And what is non-negotiable in your life and your career?

Many people don’t often have time to really sit down and think about this. Busy-ness is a byproduct of modern life. After school, and/or loans, and/or months of job-hunting, sometimes students rush into the first real job that comes their way. I know I did after graduate school.

Then life in all its fullness hits you. Marriage, kids, house, bills, ballet, soccer, parent-teacher meetings, grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, and on and on and on, until you turn around and find yourself unemployed.

Sometimes, despite the hardship, job loss is a blessing. With time on your hands you can finally take stock, ask yourself what truly matters, and chart a new course.

But hardship sucks, and it’s a lot of work to get back on track again. So it’s best to take the time to prepare for job loss before it hits.