Parents Exec Ed. On Post-Layoff Success: “Work On The Sympathy Factor — And Work Fast”

Freelancer Beth Roehrig From left: Parents executive editor Chandra Turner, and Meredith Corp. human resources manager Jill Peters discussed their experiences with media industry layoffs at last night’s ASME Next panel.

Last night’s ASME Next’s event, “The New Rules for Success: How to Get or Keep a Job in Today’s Economy,” couldn’t have been more personal, or more timely. The panel discussion featured three journalists who’ve been laid off at some point in their careers, as well as a corporate HR manager who’s seen countless layoffs from the other side of the table, addressing an audience of junior-level editors clinging to every bit of advice on holding on to their jobs. ASME Next co-chair Dara Pettinelli (who was let go from her media job last week and is now freelancing) moderated the talk, which featured Parents executive editor and Ed2010 founder and president Chandra Turner, Meredith Corp. manager of human resources Jill Peters, and freelancer Beth Roehrig (who was laid off from her first, as well as her most recent, media job).

The panelists kicked off the candid conversation by recounting their personal layoff stories. “My biggest setback was when [Cosmogirl!] folded,” said Turner. “It was devastating, and you never see it coming when it’s you.” Turner, who was nine months pregnant at the time of her dismissal, was determined to bounce back right away. Turner said she set out to find new work immediately, recalling that her attitude toward new employment was, “I’ll come in and work like the day after I have the baby — I just need a job!” After being let go, Turner said she emailed her entire address book with her resume attached. “Even though nobody was hiring, everybody agreed to meet with me,” she said, advocating that approach even in these challenging times. “Then you find out what they’re looking for.”

Roehrig, who was laid off from her first full-time job at Good Housekeeping and from her more recent position at Home when the magazine folded, agreed with Turner: “The best thing to do is reach out to your contacts and your network.”

Turner also emphasized the need to hustle for new work immediately when you get laid off, while industry peers are still talking and thinking about your magazine, before the next publication goes under. “Work on the sympathy factor, and work fast,” she said. “Ask for assignments — $50 here, $100 there. Anything I could get my hands on, I took.”

According to Peters, 75 percent of the people she’s interviewing these days are out of work, but she urged job-seekers not to slow down, even in the face of a bad market. “If you’ve been unemployed for more than a month and you haven’t been doing anything, make sure you’re showing that you’re actively pursuing employment.”

“You can’t coast right now,” said Turner. “Have a blog. Be doing freelance. Diversify.” As Peters put it, it’s time to “put on your game face.”

But, what about the nitty-gritty on what to do if you get laid off, and Peters’ top three tips for hanging on to your journalism job in this “unprecedented environment?

The first step to take after getting laid off, said Peters, is to file for unemployment. “You can do it even if you’re getting a severance package,” said Peters. Turner’s advice: “Make sure everything’s off your computer immediately. Don’t talk to anybody else about your salary. You don’t want to compromise anything for yourself.” The panelists went on to list getting paid for vacation days, canceling corporate gym memberships, and getting a refund for your cafeteria debit card as things to do in the immediate post-layoff aftermath.