In April 2015, my Fortune 500 employer was acquired. Each member of our eleven-person consulting group received the dreaded call. Wow! One day you have an impressive twenty-six-year performance run, directly and positively impacting the growth of a company, and the next day you’re on the outside looking in, wondering what the heck just happened. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon event.
On my last day with the company, I was provided severance, vacation pay, incentive compensation payouts, vested stock options, outplacement coaching and a need to rollover my 401(k). While I felt awash in cash and in control, in reality I was blindfolded and in a dark room.
So, what was the first post-layoff action I decided to take? I went on vacation. While Portugal was a great destination, in hindsight a vacation should not have been on top of my “must do at this moment” list. I learned the hard way that there are four critical areas that you should immediately address in your first thirty days after being laid off. By tackling these action items in the following order, you can gain personal control, confidence and effectively get your career train back on the railroad tracks.
1. Get Your Financial Planning House in Order
Your priority should be to conduct advanced financial planning to determine how you’re going to make your money last as long as possible and minimize tax liability. You should have a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) professional look at your full financial picture. You need cash flow and tax projections based on the new normal for your family. Your cash flow will change with no employer salary and incentive compensation coming in, paying for COBRA health care benefits with after-tax dollars, a new vehicle with sales tax, registration, insurance, and gas, a new smartphone, etc. Your money can — and likely will — evaporate quickly. While your goal is to acquire your next position in a similar compensation range, things do not always go as planned. In my case, we did not make the necessary cash flow or tax planning adjustments … and we paid the price.
2. Paint a Total Picture of Your Investment Analysis and Strategy
Initially, I believed that I just needed to roll over my 401(k). That was not even close. The only person I could think of to help me in this area was an acquaintance who worked for a large brokerage firm. His title was “Financial Advisor,” which is what I thought I needed. Little did I know that the term “Financial Advisor” is not like a dentist or a doctor, where we all know what they are trained to do. It turns out it can mean many things. He was most concerned about our investable assets that his company could manage and earn a compensation/commission percentage. There was not much thought or urgency around advanced financial planning or how to manage assets that did not generate compensation. When it came to my stock options, I was asked “Joe, how do you feel about the company stock?” and “What would you like to do with the stock options?” If I ever needed a heroic personal investment advisor, it was now. But I was still too caught up in the emotional baggage of being laid off. A fee only, fiduciary wealth management firm would have been the correct approach from Day One.
3. Diversify Your Identity
Don’t discount the impact that being laid off will have on your identity — the way you look at yourself. You need to work on you. After working for the same company for twenty-six years, much of my identity was connected to interacting and making a difference with my clients, their management teams and staff. After my separation, I felt as if a significant portion of my identity was voided. Later that year when I attended our industry’s national client convention, I could not bring myself to walk by my old company sales booth, even though I had worked and presented at that booth for twenty-five consecutive years. Recently, I spoke to a former colleague who was recently laid off after a thirty-plus year successful career. He admitted he was still coming to terms with his separation. Tim Ferriss, author of the book The Four-Hour Work Week, suggested in a podcast that each of us must diversify our identity to be happy in life. I recommend completing a self-reflection process based on what you love or are passionate about. Hopefully, doing this will help you find ways to create multiple identities around what makes you special. Ferriss believes you can create firewalls between identities, such as: “Joe, the business development professional” | “Joe, the tennis nut” | “Joe, the mentor.” Working on your identity may require professional assistance, but the payoff can be significant and impactful.
4. Focus on Your Value Proposition
Building an extensive network and freshening up your resume and cover letter will only take you so far. They may open a door or two, but it is not likely to get you a breakout career opportunity. You need to take time to complete a detailed analysis of your value proposition as it relates to potential employers. Determine how your skills can immediately provide a return on investment for a new employer. Think about what you are passionate about. Focus energy there. Accepting a new job where you are not engaged is a prescription for failure. I worked with an executive coach who helped me develop my value proposition. I then practiced it out loud and put it on paper. Networking is significant, but if you do not have your value proposition nailed, you’ll waste many opportunities or pursue positions that are not winners. Look closely at each job description and define if there is a close match between what they want/require and what you can realistically deliver with your skill set. Develop your “personal sales” stories that spell out how you can make a difference.
Roadmap for Success
The first thirty days after a layoff are crucial to get back on track and put your motor in gear. Your first action steps must be goal identification, needs analysis, financial planning, and investment analysis. These steps could pay significant personal and financial dividends. Collaborating with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) professional who looks at your total financial picture and defining your value proposition will help provide you with peace of mind … and, hopefully, a roadmap for future success.
Joe Casper is the Senior Business Development Manager for Modera Wealth Management. Modera provides thoughtful financial counsel to discerning individuals and organizations.
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