Kamis, 12 Agustus 2010

Lucrative Layoffs: Surprising Success Stories in a Recession

by Claudine Benmar, PayScale.com

After working for years as a freelance market research consultant, Jay Boynton welcomed his new job at Washington Mutual bank in Seattle as a chance for some security. It seemed like a safe option -- a buffer, he said, against "the vagaries of the independent consulting life."

In December 2007, that security vanished and Boynton was laid off along with about 500 other WaMu employees. He had been on the job less than a year.

Watch the Trends

Was he forced to whittle down his savings? Did he resort to baking his own bread to save money? Not at all. That layoff, ironically, turned out to be a great career move for the 38-year-old. Tapping into his network of professional colleagues, within three months he had a job offer from a small, London-based consulting firm that had just opened a Seattle office. He's now a senior account manager, his pay has increased by 12 percent, and the work is more fulfilling professionally.

Because a smaller firm was willing to give him more responsibility, he's learned more. "A small shop offers immediate returns on experience. It also comes with higher stress, longer hours and lots of ambiguity," he said. "But from my standpoint, the instant trial-by-fire experience is not something that was available in a corporate job, so my education here has progressed much faster."

Boynton was able to survive his layoff by moving away from a struggling industry, namely banking. That's an effective strategy for bouncing back after a layoff, said executive career coach Meg Montford of Abilities Enhanced in Kansas City. "You have to do your research and look at trends," she said. "Is it just your particular company that's having trouble, or is it the entire industry?"

Consider Your Happiness

Depressing though it might be, a layoff is an opportunity to take a look at your career and make sure you're headed in the right direction, Montford said.

One of her clients, for example, had a great passion for environmental issues at the time he was laid off from his job as a project manager for a telecommunications firm. For him, the job loss became a chance to combine that personal interest with his career. Montford said he's now happily employed as an investment banker, working with businesses that produce clean energy.

For others, a layoff might be just the motivation they need to go into business for themselves. If that's the case, a little introspection goes a long way.

"One of the things I do when I'm working with a client is to go back to their early life and find out what made them happy then," Montford said. "Was it art class? Could you hardly wait for your music lesson? Was it all that time you spent caring for your pet? In childhood, we're so honest with ourselves. Sometimes the things that made us happy then can make us happy now, in our careers."

That's exactly the approach Valerie Gordon took five years ago when she lost her job as a manager for Les Deux restaurant in Hollywood. The owner relocated to Paris, and the restaurant foundered.

Adjust Your Focus

"There was no notice. They just said, 'We're closing,' and that was it," Gordon said. "I panicked for about five seconds" before realizing that this was an opportunity to make a full-time career out of something she had always enjoyed as a hobby -- making treats.

"I asked myself, 'What have I always loved?' And the answer was sweets," she said. "Chocolate making comes really naturally to me."

Gordon and her husband, Stan Weightman Jr., took about a month to think of various business ideas before settling on hand-crafted, artfully packaged candies. Before long, they were offering homemade toffee and other treats to a group of taste testers. One of them became their first investor.

The Los Angeles-based business, which they named Valerie Confections, now offers a wide range of artisanal chocolates, truffles, peanut candy, petits fours and tea cakes. The treats are especially popular as corporate gifts, and Gordon recently made Oscar-shaped chocolates for Vanity Fair's Academy Awards party. That's something she never would have been able to do as a restaurant manager.

"Financially, has my life improved? No. In fact, if you were to break it down to an hourly thing, it would be much less," Gordon said. "But the personal satisfaction has increased tenfold."

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