THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Loyal downturning: How we would handle the layoffs

I used to have a layoff routine. By 2003, my ex-husband and I had been laid off six times in four years.

It went like this. First, we would start saving. Then, we get our credit card balances down to nothing, and we'd each pick a few budget items that to cut out. (I would cut out yoga classes. He skipped lunches at Burger King.)

Then we'd go to doctor's appointments in preparation for the cheap (crappy) health insurance we will purchase when COBRA will be too expensive to maintain. (At one point in our layoff lives, our COBRA payments were about $1,000 a month.)

There are workplace preparations, also. Cleaning out one's desk is important. My husband did not take home everything, but he left only as much at the office as he could carry home in a smooth moment of departure. Other things he took home earlier such as copies of all the stuff on the server that he might need for future reference.

When his boss was out of the office looking for funding, my husband would work on his resume. When his boss was in the office, my husband made sure to look busy. And motivated. Just because things are slow now doesn't mean they can't pick up. And if, by some miracle, the boss gets funding, my husband wanted to be remembered as a person who stayed loyal to the company even in bad times. Working diligently in the face of cutbacks is a sign of loyalty.

Even if there are layoffs, looking loyal can only help. The boss would be a good reference, and she might even give my husband some ideas for other places to work. So my husband left some key items in his cube– a plant, a penholder, some CDs we don't listen to– things that scream I'm here to stay, even if he doesn't believe it. Layoffs are never so close that you can stop managing what other people think of you.

I eventually stopped asking for news about the layoff. Clearly, it was annoying to him to have to tell me no each evening. And I wouldn't ask about job-hunt news because I wanted him to see how sympathetic I was that jobs were so scarce.

But I was curious. So when he would say, "I'm nervous about having to find another job," I'd pounce on the opportunity to talk.

"What are you nervous about?"

"It's just hard," he'd say. "Getting my current job was so lucky."

I'd say, "All jobs are lucky. A job hunt is about creating luck."

"Oh, God," he'd say, "is that a line from one of your columns?"

"No," I'd say, "but it could be, couldn't it?"


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.