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Monday, May 2, 2011

The Big Day

Another in the continuing blog series about my extended unemployment.  First off, let me say: this will be the only post I make that doesn’t have a summary or a lesson.  Most will be along the lines of “Here’s a story about an experience I had with Cover Letters, and why you need to write a good one.” This one has no lesson, except this: It Can Happen To You.

So you’ve all thought about it… what if it’s you?  I must admit, although I didn’t fret much, I did think about it.  When it came, it was surreal.  I had arrived at work as normal, and started my usual Monday morning routine – check email, answer the high priority, set aside the lower priority stuff for later, take care of any pressing matters.

The first pressing matter that came up was, a colleague of mine pinged me on chat.  We worked together managing what was essentially a ticket management system for a data center I managed.  For those of you who care, the system was based on Plone.  I won’t go into the gory technical details, but when someone who helped us manage the lab (i.e. staging systems, or adding network addresses, etc.) left the company, their name had to be removed from a database in Plone or the whole system would simply stop working.  So this colleague pings me, and says “Hey, just thought you should know that Fred got laid off today, he was a ticket manager, so you should remove his entry in the databse.”

Aw crap.  I liked Fred (name changed to protect the innocent), and then it occurred to me… today was the day that they were going to make the next round of cuts.  Ugh, I wonder who else will get the axe.

As I said, I didn’t think much about it, as far as whether it would effect me.  I had survived many rounds of layoffs, and although I knew it could happen to anyone, I didn’t expect the axe to come down on me that day.  About an hour later, the phone rang.  I was just about to go grab an OJ, but I figured since I had efficiently caught myself up on email, I should stay caught up and answer this call.  After all, if I didn’t answer the phone, they’d just email me, and then I’d have to read it, do something about it, yadda yadda yadda.

So I pick it up.  It’s Gordy (again, names changed).  He’s the head of our IT group in Chicago.  We go back, used to work together a lot on related projects, he’s a pretty nice guy.  So I wondered why he’s calling me.  He tells me, “Hey Mike, I’m up by the door to HR, can you come up here?”  My first thought was terribly wrong – some folks used to call me when they got stuck behind a security door, because I’m usually in the office early.  And, well, if you get stuck behind a security door at 7:30 AM, you pretty much need to call someone.

But it’s not 7:30 AM.  It’s nearly 9.  And there’s no security door to get stuck “behind” up on the HR floor.  Crap.  I’m in the cross-hairs.  A million things went through my mind all at once, and I’m sure I went completely pale.  But I steadied myself, hiked up my pants, locked my computer keyboard, and headed up to find out what the future holds for me.

Gordy introduces me to an HR person they brought in temporarily from Stamford, probably because the regular HR folks didn’t want to.  Then Gordy and temp-HR-person starting going through the details – The Bank is suffering financially.  We’ve laid off  many, and there’s still more to come.  And my position has been eliminated.  Temp-HR-person starts going through the severance details.  Health insurance.  Some company will be hired by The Bank to help me clean up my resume, and maybe help me find a job.  In fact, the rep is here, and (if I feel like it), I can meet him today.  More details, sign this stuff at your leisure, mail it in by suck-and-such date, yadda yadda yadda.  It was about 10:00 AM, and I was already feeling tired from information overload.

Finally they asked if I wanted to meet my new job search coach.  It was just after 10, I had come into the office expecting to not leave until 4:00 PM.  Sure, what the hell, what else do I have to do today?  The coach introduces himself, outlines what he’ll be doing for me, for how long, and what resources will be available to me.  He asks me a few questions about my career.  Also he tells me, it’s time to think about what you’re going to tell people.  Don’t tell them you were laid off or RIFed, he says.  Tell them that your “position was eliminated”.  Heh, that’s the same term that Gordy used.  I never quite understood that statement… whenever I used it, even in interviews, people inevitably responded “Oh, you were laid off.”  Whatever.

Finished with my new coach, they handed me the personal items I could carry home (the rest would be packed up and mailed to me later that week) and a security guard escorted me to the elevator, down to the first floor, and through the security gate.  Once out, I couldn’t come back in, so he bid farewell and went back upstairs, probably to escort another poor sap down to the ground.  To this day, I don’t envy him.

Out on the street at 10:30 AM on Monday, I had no idea what to do next.  In the immortal words of Tommy Shaw, “I’ve got nothing to do
And all day to do it.”  Money wasn’t an immediate problem; after 11 years, The Bank was taking care of me pretty well in our divorce.  I must admit that a small, tiny part of me wanted to go to a bar.  But I figured I had big news to tell my family, and a fully schnockered Dad coming home and saying “Daddy lost his job” wasn’t going to be a good start for the family.  I headed to the train station.

It was 10:30 AM, and my next train was at 11:30.  By then, I would probably be hungry, so I decided to stop at a fast food place at the train station.  I got a burger and fries, and waited for my train.  A lot was going through my head, but now I can’t remember it all.  My coach was going to call me in a few days, after things sunk in.  I didn’t have to start my resume yet, I had plenty of time and the coach would help me with that. Soon I would have to tell people – starting with immediate family, explaining what happened, reminding them that I work in IT in Financial Services, and this sort of thing is to be expected, especially during this terrible economy.  We’ll be fine, we have a parachute – not golden, but at least something.  Then, I’d have to broaden out the message.  Parents.  Brothers.  Cousins.  Etc.

But right now, it’s not time for that yet.  Right now, it’s just me and my newfound status – unemployed.

posted by Michael Humphries-Dolnick at 7:03 pm  

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