Getting laid off? Do this before anything else.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard from a number of recent grads whose positions have been eliminated in the last month or so.  While there are some signs that the economy is recovering, and here’s a particularly promising article about the increase in rail and truck shipping, reality still presents an ugly job market for lots of Millennials.

A quick search will turn up dozens of lists detailing what you should do when you lose your job, but there’s one thing I haven’t seen on any of them: Write thank you letters.  It may be the hardest letter you ever write, but I’m not kidding–you always want to leave on a high note.  And you never do know whose path you’ll cross again.

Who do you thank?
Go as high up the ladder as you can and still be recognized.  If the President of your division doesn’t know who you are, don’t write her a letter.  But even if you’ve only had one meeting with the VP, go for it.  I guarantee the VP knows about the layoffs and has probably seen or spoken your name recently.  If you’re unsure, don’t forget to add “I’m an analyst in Betty White’s group” to jog their memory.

It may not seem so, but the people who ultimately made the lay-off decision had a difficult time doing so, and they feel badly.  They will do more for you after the lay off than they ever did before.  So send them a thank you, be sure to LinkIn with anyone who can help your career, and ask for references.  Do this as soon as you can, because memories fade quickly, and soon it’ll be business as usual.

The first time I had to lay someone off was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.  Not just professionally.  Ever.  I probably spent 5 hours writing her reference letter.  I even called some of my connections to try to find another opportunity for her.  And I suspect I’m not alone in this.  I felt guilty, and I know other managers do, too.

But you can’t influence someone to help you out if you’re sulking around the office during your final 2 weeks bad-mouthing the company.  It feels like pride-swallowing, and maybe it is, but you have to keep your game face on.

In addition to the top of the ladder, be sure to thank those around you, especially your team.  You never know what’s around the corner.

How do you thank them?
No mass email.  I suppose you could send a mass email with your updated contact information in case anyone needed anything.  But that’s just housekeeping.  Write a unique letter to each person on your thank you list.  Ideally, this would be a hand-written note, similar to an interview thank you note.  I know this can take a while.  That’s why you need to get on it as soon as you hear the news.  You may be writing 20 thank yous, but it’s worth the time.

What do you say?
Short but long enough to be sweet is always a good option.  Anything too wordy seems forced or desperate, and anything too short looks phoned in.  Hopefully you can include something personal about each person and the time you worked together.  If you didn’t have much interaction, especially in the case of higher-ups, you can always thank them for the opportunity, or compliment them on the culture they built.  Here are some options:

“I’m glad we got to work together on the platform redesign team–I wish it hadn’t been such a short project.  Can you believe it was three years ago already?  Well, you may have heard that Friday is my last day, but I hope we’ll run into each other in the future.  It would be fun to work together again.  Good luck, and let’s stay in touch.”

“I can’t believe what I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown in the last 18 months here on the North American Service Team.  The leaders and mentors in the company are people and relationships I’ll cherish for some time to come.  Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of your team.”

You never know what’s going to happen.  If you leave on a high note, your old boss may be calling in 6 months with a better offer to take you back.  No matter how upset you may be, burning a bridge is never a good idea.  If handled properly, a well-crafted thank you can improve your standing and may pay dividends in the future.  There’s no downside.

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One response to “Getting laid off? Do this before anything else.

  1. Charlie, the most important question: How do we become an analyst in Betty White’s team? She’d be fun to work for. 🙂

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