Perspectives A Sensei is a Wise and Thoughtful Teacher

What I Learned About Career Pivots From Being Laid Off (Three Times!)28th May 2019

There’s no such thing as a job for life anymore. You're not even guaranteed that the type of job you pursue at the start of your career will exist later on.

I should know. I came up in an extremely visible industry that’s declining rapidly: news. From 2008 to 2017, US newsroom employment fell by nearly a quarter; and in recent years about 1,000 journalists get laid off a month.

From 2010 onwards, I’ve been made redundant (the British version of being laid off) from three jobs in news; each time, my life and career prospects improved. That’s the surprising upside of a less-secure working world. You begin to adapt to the precariousness of employment, learn new skills, and look at adjacent industries where suitable jobs are still being created.

Here’s a look at the layoffs I went through, what the process was like, how I felt, and what I learned from each experience.

Layoff # 1

Diving Into New Skills

Back in 2010, I was 27 years old and three years into my first full-time job in journalism, working on the International Headline desk in the London bureau of The Associated Press. There had been ongoing cuts across the company since the 2008 financial crisis, but they’d happened in distant locations and weren’t really on my radar.

Our desk’s senior editor had a background in radio, and would often ask me to do voiceovers for news packages. It seemed natural when she suggested that I try out for shifts on the broadcast news desk, acting as a video producer. I thought she was just pushing me a little, as moving from voicing the news packages to making them didn’t seem like a big deal. In retrospect, it’s possible that my editor knew our desk was getting shut down.

When we were told that the International Headline desk would cease to exist, it didn’t feel personal. This was our whole team, after all. But it did feel world-ending. I hadn’t held a full-time position in journalism anywhere else. Would I ever again? Getting pushed out of my first job, rather than deciding to leave it, left me feeling helpless, as though I didn’t get to make decisions about my career.

As it turned out, I didn’t actually end up leaving the company. Thanks to the connections I’d made and experience I’d gotten before my desk was closed, I was able to freelance on the broadcast news desk nearly full time for a year. It was a steep learning curve for someone who’d gone into journalism to write, even after the trial shifts I’d completed before the layoffs. But in the years since, video editing has become an essential skill for journalists, so I was lucky to learn this on the job early on in my career.

What I Learned: Be Open to Learning

My first layoff showed me that it’s wise to take advantage of still being inside the company building by asking for opportunities to develop your skills and meet people outside your department. In my next role, I would volunteer to help at conferences, which were great for networking. By the time my second layoff came around, I requested training, and got to join in with a couple of sessions before I left, which were helpful for my next job.

So whether or not you fear layoffs are coming at your own company, look around and see what you want to learn while you're there. Then make a plan and ask to go for it. The worst that can happen is you’ll get a “No,” or no response at all. The best is you’ll stay employed, or at least learn a new set of skills that could help you down the line.

Layoff #2

Rebranding Myself

By 2015, I was working for a charity called Media Trust, which helps improve diversity in the UK media and train other charities to tell their stories effectively. I started out there acquiring new programs for the in-house TV station, then moved on to another role, editing a newswire in partnership with Press Association, the British national news agency.

The job was a step up from my AP days, as I was in charge now, overseeing the work of two other journalists. The wire carried news from charities, and part of my job involved reaching out to non-profits and helping them identify which of their stories were newsworthy. I encouraged them to track their social media statistics to see which stories did best with their audience and might do even better with a wider readership. I also introduced charity clients to SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and Google Trends. Over time, this all became formalised as training, and I started leading sessions for the charities as well.

"I drew up a plan, writing down the added value I brought to the organisation, and presented it to the people in charge."

When I was told my role was at risk of being eliminated—which, under UK law, automatically kicks off a fixed-term consultation period—I decided to show my employers how useful I was, and how they could use my training skills in other parts of the business. I drew up a plan, writing down the added value I brought to the organisation, and presented it to the people in charge.

In the end, I wasn’t able to save my role. Still, taking the time to document all my newly-acquired training experience showed me that I’d grown during my three years at Media Trust and gave me confidence that I’d be able to find something else quickly. And I did: Within six weeks, I was working as an editorial trainer at the Daily Mirror, a role that I was able to land thanks to my ability to tell my new career story.

What I Learned: Narrative Is Everything

Devising a plan to save my role made me realise that I had a compelling story to tell about my career and my ability to take on new challenges.

Every so often, you might want to take stock of where you are and what you've learned, maybe even create a document listing it all, to help you figure out where you stand, what you could do next in your career, and how to tell your story.

Layoff #3

Finally Going Freelance

At the Daily Mirror, my duties involved making sure new writers could put together a news story in the office content management system (CMS) and getting everyone in the newsroom up to date on digital practice, such as how to search for and promote stories online.

My training experience definitely helped me get the job, and gave me the confidence to build the newly created role from scratch while also continuing to do the work of an online journalist to inform my training; I wrote stories, filmed Facebook Lives and, eventually, started a successful podcast.

Within 18 months, I was working across the whole company, traveling between offices in England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. I was going to external meetings with the National Council for the Training of Journalists, the group in charge of British newspaper journalism qualifications. I was starting to get invitations to speak at podcasting events, which I really wanted to take up, but couldn’t really justify in terms of my job as editorial trainer.

So this time, when I was told my role was at risk of redundancy and I was handed a letter with details of a payout, I felt…relief. I’d outgrown the role and was keen to get back to writing and making more audio, and I wanted to find out where else my career could go.

I was ready to go freelance, with a financial cushion to get me through the lean early months. I put the news out on social media and received private messages of support and inquiries about my availability.

What I Learned: Sometimes You Need a Nudge

The end of a job is an opportunity to re-think your direction; it may even be the push you need to make you move on to your next chapter. My latest layoff, last year, was my third, and it was easier to bear than the ones I’d gone through before. I’d learned so much from my first two layoffs, both in terms of new skills and how to deal with my job disappearing. I realised that I’d outgrown the role, and the layoff is what forced me to move on.

In the first several weeks of 2019, it’s become clearer than ever that no digital journalism job is truly safe. This is a painful lesson to learn for those affected by layoffs, and it’s the specter hovering over those left behind in staff jobs, taking on the work their former colleagues once did.

It’s important to allow yourself time to come to terms with what happened, because you might experience a form of grief. But while it might sound impossible in the moment, know that the sting of a layoff recedes and trust that, in some cases, it’ll actually push you toward something better.

I’m now a freelance journalist, podcaster, and speaker, and I’ve never enjoyed work more. My new portfolio career—working as a freelancer on multiple projects at once—means I’m no longer at risk of losing my income stream all in one go.

For more and more of us, repeated redundancies and layoffs will become a fact of life. That doesn’t mean you have to avoid staff jobs and go freelance like me; but it does suggest that you need to find a way to define your professional self outside of the confines of your current job title. To always be learning is helpful—it’s never too late to add another string to your bow.


Source: The Muse

Cover Source: The Muse

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