Handbook For the Recently Released

By Matt Van Hoven 

Serena Wolf, like so many of you, has been laid off before. Her coworkers watched as she packed her things and walked out, so she knows the crap. Here she gives her perspective on getting out, getting back in and the recovery process (which includes The Golden Girls and booze). Ms. Wolf, take it away.

Being laid off sucks. I’ll never forget my Account Director and the HR Manager standing cross-armed behind me, monitoring my progress as I packed “all personal belongings.” Aware only of my pounding heart and the beat of Young MC’s “Bust A Move,” which filled the air as an agency party progressed, obliviously, across from my cube. My shaking hands un-tacked photos of my friends and new boyfriend, and dropped them into a copy paper box alongside my monstrous purple coffee mug and stash of mini snickers.

As I turned to face two surprisingly unsympathetic faces speaking words to me, I could see behind them coworkers cradling red plastic cups. They repeatedly glanced my way and returned to their conversations. I heard the two faces say “ID card,” and I handed it to them. I grabbed my pictures from the mostly empty box, shoved them into my purse, and speed walked past the party without looking up from the floor.

I walked three frigid blocks to the el-train stop wonderinh why nobody from my team came over to see what was happening. Would that Account Director give me a good recommendation? Did I care? Didn’t I hate her anyways? I was secretly relieved that I wouldn’t have to traffic pourables/dressings FSIs for the Chicago Sun Times anymore. But how would I pay for my next latte?

As an advertising recruiter with agency roots and an “actual” resume of 7 different shops before I was 28, I can actually give firsthand advice about handling a lay off/getting canned. We could all use some tips and perspective at this moment.

Continued after the jump

Chapter 1: Ground Rules for the Recently Released
Keep in mind that being unemployed right now has less of a stigma attached than in recent years—similar to those who were part of the mass layoffs during the dot-com bust. In fact, your being a casualty of what’s happening in the marketplace is a great conversation piece when meeting with future employers.

Be flexible. Right now you can’t constrain your search to a full-time position with three weeks vacation and 401(k) matching. Be open to freelance/contract, out of state, and off site. At the same time, don’t pimp yourself out as cheap labor. If you lower your rate or salary too much, you will instantly lose respect and find it difficult to regain your previous pay level.

Don’t just update your resume or online portfolio. Re-do it. Chances are if you haven’t looked at either in a couple years, they probably need a major overhaul. If you are a Creative, go to the various portfolio sites and see how your competition is presenting itself.
Take advantage of your previous employer (who probably feels very guilty right now). Have a few people write letters of recommendation on your behalf using company letterhead. Scan them into your computer, and send these letters along with your resume; your submission will have more impact.

Only work with recruiters who respect the work that you do and your marketability. And never pay a recruiter to find jobs for you. You are the one making them money. At the same time, you need to respect the recruiter-candidate relationship (and contract). If you go behind a recruiter’s back and contact an agency that your recruiter has already presented you to, it can be career suicide. Remember our industry is VERY small.

Last but not least, join the social networking sites already! You will learn a lot about what the hell is going on out there and what people are thinking. It’s a great way to network, too.

Chapter 2: Recovery
The first step is to turn off the news. The media hasn’t been respectable since before 9/11. They get paid to scare the crap out of you. Instead, watch an episode of the Golden Girls: There’s always a positive lesson imparted, and everyone’s all smiles in the final scene.

Reconnect with friends and family. Agency life has kept you from properly maintaining those important interpersonal relationships that keep you sane. Meet your employed friends for lunch. Have drinks with your unemployed friends (just make sure they aren’t Debbie Downers). Have dinner with your grandma. She might have good advice and, most likely, has known rough times herself, like a World War or a Great Depression. Plus, she will pick up the tab.

Finally, enjoy this time off. Soon enough you’ll be back to TIVOing Top Chef and yearning for your next vacation.

**Serena Wolf of Wolf Creative (wolfcreativeco.com) has been recruiting nationally for the advertising/marketing industry for the past nine years. Serena works with Marketing, Account Management, Creative, Production and Media folks.