The Things to Know When You Lose Your Job In A Downturn
RIF aka reduction in force. Sounds like a Magic: The Gathering card but it’s actually a polite way of saying you’re being laid off. And with the tech valuation reckoning underway, if you’ve been RIF’ed you’re not alone. I can’t tell you whether this is just a few months of rightsizing or a multiyear recession but I do anticipate there are going to be more cuts — and outright failed startups — before our industry outlook returns to half-full instead of half-empty. In these moments there tends to be a lot of content to help CEOs and founders manage through a downturn, but not as much for those team members impacted. So let me take a (non-exhaustive) cut at Things You Should Know If You’ve Been RIF’ed….
NO SHAME. For many people this will have been the first time you ever got let go, and the emotions can be fierce. Know that many of us (myself included) have been in similar situations, and you shouldn’t feel embarrassed. It’s not the end of your career, your reputation has not be sullied, and there are still seats on rocketships waiting for you.
The Blocking and Tackling Basics of What to Do When You Lose Your Job. Our Head of Talent Beth Scheer wrote this resource as an overview of things to consider as you’re exiting a company. Not every situation will apply to each individual but folks have found it very helpful and comprehensive. If you have any questions about its contents or any ideas for things we should add, tweet at Beth.
Some Things You Can Ask For On The Way Out That You Didn’t Know You Could Ask For:
- Rewrite Your Job Title
Very often at startups your title isn’t reflective of all of your roles, or is quite generic. This is great for company culture (in my opinion. I agree with Gokul.) but it’s not as helpful when you’re suddenly looking for a job. Sometimes, within reason, for the sake of specificity and focus (not aggrandizement) the CEO/your manager at your former startup will allow you to change your outgoing title, so that when you apply for new jobs, it better fits with what you’re seeking in the role. For example, I was sort of a non-engineer jack of all trades when I worked at Linden Lab (makers of virtual world, err metaverse, Second Life). When I left in 2003 we agreed that my final title could be focused on Product and Marketing, since that’s what I was interested in pursuing next. Obviously this can be a bit tricky but in small companies when you have kind founders and you’ve been a great team member, it’s ok to ask.
- Extend Your Stock Option Exercise Period
The ‘average’ startup offers a 90 day period post employment where you have to exercise any vested stock options before forfeiting them back to the company. An increasing number of companies have created more flexible timelines and in the wake of non-performance based layoffs, can sometimes change the structure for terminated employees. There are tax implications, etc etc and IANAL (or accountant) but be sure to check your stockholder agreement and ask your HR person about this.
- Prep your manager, peers to be references. Perhaps even ask founder/CEO for a favor chit.
Basically replenish your reference checks. Don’t script their answers for them, but keep them in the loop about what jobs you might be seeking out next, how you’re describing yourself, and so on. If you have a relationship with the CEO or another VP/C-level exec at your previous company, you might let them know that you might need their help. Basically, if there’s a job you’re applying for where you’re getting deep in the process, a note from a previous CEO or executive validating that you’re awesome, that you just got caught up in some hard decisions they had to make as a company, and that they’d hire you again in a new venture, is going to be a pretty strong thumb on the scale.
And finally, two conversations to have with yourself
Even if the job didn’t work out exactly the way you hoped, was joining the company the right decision? If you can focus on making the right decision repeatedly, you’ll be quite successful over time, even if some of the outcomes aren’t perfect. Understand your own framework for decision making and keep it honed for the next choice you’re going to make. Which is…
What do you want to optimize for next? I don’t believe you can start a job search without knowing what’s most important to you. It’s not about pros and cons, but tradeoffs. Figure out what 2–3 qualities matter most to you for the next phase.
Whether you’re heading right back into the job market or taking a break, Homebrew portfolio companies are eager to talk to you when you’re ready!