What If I Get Laid Off? with Phoebe Gavin | Crooked Media
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June 07, 2023
Work Appropriate
What If I Get Laid Off? with Phoebe Gavin

In This Episode

Few things are more nerve-wracking than getting laid off. But odds are, most of us will be laid off at some point in our lives. So how can we prepare? And when it happens, how do we cope? Career coach Phoebe Gavin joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about what happens after the pink slip.

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Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] A lot of people I know have spent the last year quietly nervous that one of their worst fears is going to come true. Layoffs are seemingly everywhere. And if you work in an industry that’s sensitive or reactive to shifts in the economy like, say, tech, but also entertainment and finance and journalism, your fears are warranted. Many younger workers have never seen layoffs roll through the economy. They just got lucky in the fact that the economy was really good for the last decade or so. Many not so younger workers are returning to that familiar feeling that the other shoe is always just about to drop. Whatever reason, you feel anxiety about getting laid off, it’s understandable. And so long as we live in a country where, quote unquote, “economic health” is predicated on a certain number of workers being unemployed, we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with the fact that almost all of us will get laid off at some point. So how do we prepare psychologically, of course, but also in more practical ways? Today’s co-host has the answers. [music plays]


Phoebe Gavin: My name is Phoebe Gavin. I’m a career and leadership coach, helping ambitious professionals build successful, fulfilling careers without sacrificing work life balance. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So you were laid off in January, and at the time I remember seeing this Twitter thread that you wrote about how you’d been preparing to get laid off since the day you took the job. So can you tell me a little bit about that story and why you felt that way? 


Phoebe Gavin: Sure. So my first layoff was in 2015. That was my first time being laid off from a job and I was completely unprepared for it and it completely put me on my butt financially, emotionally, mentally, logistically. It totally took me out and it took me. I was lucky in that I was able to find a job within three or four months, but it was a very scary three or four months because I had no income. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Phoebe Gavin: I was not provided any sort of severance or benefits or any sort of support transitioning into my next chapter, I ended up racking up about 15,000 in credit card debt just to like, keep the lights on in New York City. [laughs]


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And so it was terrifying. And when I got into my next position, it was a really lucky break and I recognized it as the luck that it was that I happened to know a person who knew a person who introduced me to a hiring manager, who was willing to take a chance on me. And I never wanted it to be a matter of luck again. And so I made a point of investing small amounts of time, small amounts of money, small amounts of energy on a very, very regular basis to build more resiliency into my career. And I worked on that consistently for eight years until I was laid off again the beginning of 2023 and in between. In the middle part of that, I unfortunately experienced a layoff at my company that I wasn’t affected by. I lost a bunch of my team and so it was another recognition of the importance of continuing to invest in myself. And so that happened in 2020, where I lost most of my team to a layoff. Again, reinforcing the idea, need to be preparing, need to be investing in myself, making sure that I am ready so that if a company decides that what I’m bringing to the table is no longer what they would like to have at their organization, for whatever reason, I have a backup plan. And so when I was laid off at the beginning of 2023, it was terrifying and it was upsetting. And I was so frustrated and so angry and I was so scared. But I also knew the rational part of my brain knew like, you are okay, you’re going to be okay. You have done the work to set yourself up for success and you will transition into a new chapter and it will be okay. And I can only say that that’s the case because I made a decision after my first layoff that I was never going to be caught flat footed again. 


Anne Helen Petersen: You know, I think a lot of millennials have had similar experiences and that. You know, like maybe we were told, like, we’re so exceptional in so many ways. And then at some point in our careers, there is something that says, like, you are not exceptional at all. You are getting laid off without any extra thought. And because of the way that the job market is, particularly post Great Recession, there is no safety net. 


Phoebe Gavin: Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And so if you haven’t built a personal safety net, right. Like the old fashioned safety nets where things like union protections, severance, you know, these things that I think a lot of individuals are now trying to advocate for. But if you hadn’t done that yourself, you were in trouble. 


Phoebe Gavin: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And some people, depending on your class position, what your parents are doing, that sort of thing they had that they had a safety net of their parents. And some people don’t like I was very much like, what is my safety net after academia? And the way that I phrased it, I love that you said resiliency. I think that’s more useful in terms of a term than what I say, which is that I built myself a life raft from each of my jobs. So when I was in academia, I started writing online. And then when I was at BuzzFeed and I didn’t even I don’t think I consciously knew this. I started writing my Substack so that when I got to the point where I was so scared, so sick of so many layoffs that I couldn’t deal with that constant fear, that it was just overwhelming to me. And I felt like if I was going to have a precarious job situation, then I wanted to be in control of my own destiny and become a freelancer. [laughs] But I had already built that resiliency into my career. Do you see this fear in younger workers as well? So like in Gen Z and in older workers, or do you think that it’s particularly acute for millennials? 


Phoebe Gavin: I think it is showing up for everyone, but it’s showing up differently for folks. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: Who are very early in their career are Gen Z professionals. This is just existential terror because they’ve never experienced anything like this. The last time there was an economic contraction and they were in middle school, maybe high school, it wasn’t something they really needed to pay attention to. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And so they don’t have the sort of historical model that like this is a thing that happens. It’s terrible, it’s a cycle, but it’s a cycle. So eventually it will be over. And they are at this very pivotal point in their career where they need to be establishing themselves as professionals and having the carpet pulled from under you. When you don’t have skills and you don’t have experience and you don’t have a network is uniquely scary for Gen Z professionals who are at the beginning of their career. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: For millennials, they may have experienced this cycle before, depending on where they land in the generational range, and they may be able to look back on, okay, well, last time there was an economic contraction and things were really scary and people were getting laid off. These are the things that I did and they helped. And so let me do those things again. And they also have more professional capital to lean on in terms of network and skills and experience. And so it’s a little bit easier for them to transition into the next chapter than it might be for someone who’s early on in their career. But for the folks who are later in their careers that are sort of in like the last half or the last third of their careers, it’s unique. It’s an existential crisis again. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Phoebe Gavin: But in a different way because they are thinking about the end of their working life approaching, and that these last five years, these last ten years are really critical for making sure that they hit the financial goal that they need to hit in order to be able to retire in comfort and dignity. And so having the carpet taken out from under them, they have to hit the job market with concerns of ageism and those sorts of discriminatory subconscious, you know, implicit and explicit ageism that they might have to deal with. And how do I go into the market being a air quotes “more expensive worker.”


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And get the kinds of roles that are going to allow me to reach the financial goals that I’m looking for. And so every generation is coming up for them, but it’s looking very different. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I think this is a useful thing for just like extending empathy for everyone who’s going through this. The characteristics of what it feels like to anticipate or go through layoffs are different depending on your life situation, but it’s like shitty in different ways for everyone. 


Phoebe Gavin: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Let’s jump in our first question because I think this is going to sound really familiar. This is from Ashley and our producer Melody is going to read it. 


Ashley: I work for a mission driven media company. I believe many of our executives have the best intentions to do what’s right for their people and communities. Yet impending layoffs were announced last December, and I may not know until July at the earliest, where I stand. In the meantime, the start of the reorg has completely upended decision making structures, adding value at a time when I’m trying to prove my worth to the company becomes more difficult by the day. What’s the best move? Should I be more seriously job searching? Continue to stay put and see how this plays out. The lack of psychological safety is wearing on me and seeping into other corners of my life. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So first of all, this timeline is ridiculous. And I think it points to something that a lot of scholars of layoffs have discovered, which is that layoffs do not actually help organizations because, like whatever cuts they might achieve when it comes to the bottom line with salary, they have all of these other effects when it comes to how workers are doing on the job. All of these workers who are just like terrified of what’s going to happen, like what’s their productivity [laughs] doing it right. If you’re just constantly digging and this reorg that, like no one knows exactly what’s going on, like this is so ridiculous. And, you know, I love [laughs] Melody. I think she asked me, she’s like, is this a thing? Like, is this something that people actually do? And NPR actually announced that they were doing this like, recently, like it is absolutely a thing. So, like, are they just trying to scare people off, like, into finding new jobs that they have to do less layoffs? What do you think’s going on here? 


Phoebe Gavin: It’s a really, really tough one because the truth is there’s no good way to do layoffs. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And if you are as an executive looking at the profit and loss statement of the company and saying, all right, we actually cannot afford our expense load, it’s not sustainable for us. We need to make some changes. The biggest line item in every business’s budget, whether it is the mom and pop coffee shop down the street or Walmart, the biggest employer in the world. The biggest line item is payroll. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: People are the most expensive part of an organization. And so when we’re just thinking when we’re in bean counter brain and we’re looking at the budget and we’re looking at the big giant spreadsheet, the biggest number is people. And so it makes sense from bean counter brain. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Phoebe Gavin: To reduce how big the biggest expense is, because it’s the simplest it is the fastest way to get the budget back in balance. If the budget is out of balance. And I think we have to be honest that there are some organizations where that decision is the difference between survival or not. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And that’s a very different thing from when companies do layoffs because they’re trying to sort of position themselves for an acquisition or position themselves for to get some VC money. Like that’s a different calculation from like we are not going to be able to pay our bills if our bills continue to look like this. And so it’s hard to assess what the direction is because if you, you know, the more distance there is between you and the folks who are making those decisions, the less information you’re actually going to have. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And so the advice that I always give my clients and the folks who are in my community is that you have to let go of the idea that there is anything about this that you can control. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And you also have to let go of the idea that the company is trying to be nice to you, or that the company should be nice to you because companies are not people, regardless of what Citizens United says, companies are not people. [laughter] And so when we are go to work, we interact with people. And it’s natural for us to think that the sort of dynamics that we expect in interpersonal relationships are going to show up in these sorts of calculations. And they don’t because the company, the entity, the LLC, the S Corp, the C Corp, it exists to keep itself alive and to create value for its shareholders. And so the people who make up the entity are going to make decisions that are in the interests of the company but are also in their own interests. If you know an individual who is a leader at the company who is has to make these decisions, has to choose between doing the air quotes right thing and doing the thing that is right for the company, they are going to choose to do the thing that is right for the company because that is the thing that allows them to keep their job and pay their rent. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. [laughs]


Phoebe Gavin: And so I say all of that, not to excuse terrible behavior around layoffs, because there certainly has been a great deal of terrible behavior. But to say that it is harmful to ourselves to expect humanity from things that are not human, and instead, if we focus on what can I do to make sure that I am in the best position to succeed and to grow and to thrive and to survive, then you are going to be in a better position to do those things. And certainly more than if you wait for a company, an entity that does not actually care about you as a person to set that up for you. And so you can’t control whether a company lays you off all sorts of highly impactful people who are great at their jobs and have lots of value to their companies get laid off. And if you stay at a company that seems to be on the ropes, seems to be about to announce layoffs, is announcing layoffs. If you decide to stay, then that’s fine for you to stay. But don’t stay because you think you can somehow impact that kind of decision because you can’t unless you are actually at the table where those decisions. Are being made. Nothing that you personally can do can change whether they decide to give you the ax versus someone else. And so you have to focus on what you can actually control and you can control whether you stay in that job. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And I think this is a place where we also have to remember that a lot of places are increasingly using algorithms to figure out their lay offs because it’s a way to indemnify them from potential prosecution that they would like laid off people in discriminatory manners. You can’t control the algorithm like the algorithm does not know you. It does not care about how much loyalty you have to the company, about what time you’re coming in in the morning. Right. Those aren’t things that the algorithm is paying attention to. So our question asker seems to be asking, like, why should I, like, work really hard? Right. [laughs] Should I be putting in, like, my best face to try to determine, like, to try to sway the decision? Do you think that that works? 


Phoebe Gavin: I don’t think that works. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I don’t either. [laughter]


Phoebe Gavin: I don’t think that works. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I don’t think it’s a good idea under any circumstances. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: To run yourself into the ground for a job or for a company that is not going to do the same thing for you. I think the most important thing is to really be active about managing your own internal dialogue so that you aren’t making the distress around the situation worse for yourself and then taking action that’s going to build more resiliency into your career. Now if you’re committed to the mission, if you’re committed to the company, if you love the work that you’re doing, and you’re hoping that this is something that passes and by all means, stay and see what happens. But while you are in this moment of instability and uncertainty, make sure that you are doing things that are going to build in resiliency into your career. So for me, there’s three pillars building your savings, building your network, building your skills. You should always, always, always be doing things to shore those three areas up. And so if you’re committed to the company of the mission, you want to stick around. Sure. Great. But make sure that you’re putting money aside so that you have more of a financial cushion so that if something happens, you have a little bit of space because some folks are getting severance. Some folks are getting ridiculous severance. Lots of folks are getting no severance. My first layoff, I got no severance. This most recent layoff, I did get severance. It was an absolute blessing. I was so grateful for it. But I really remember the contrast between those two experiences. In the first one. I had no savings and I got no severance and I ended up charging up $15,000 in credit card debt. This one, I had savings and so I was ready and I didn’t know whether I was going to get severance or not. I ended up getting severance. I’m so grateful for that. And it made it so that I wasn’t freaking out and desperate in my job search. Because when we job search from a place of desperation, we make the absolute worst decisions. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Yes. And, you know, this is a sort of a side note, but I think it’s essential to note that a lot of the reason why. There have been union drives and unionization efforts at places like startups and digital media companies that both you and I worked for is to try to create that severance. The unions are coming to the table with an understanding that layoffs happen in this industry. So what can we do to make that transition easier for us as workers? Severance. Right. Severance is the runway. It is the thing that makes it possible to, as you said, like to job search from a place of security instead of a place of desperation, or at least like a modicum of security. And so I think if if you don’t have that in your particular job, like trying to create it for yourself in terms of savings is useful. Is there anything else that you would particularly advise for Ashley to do in this position as she’s waiting? 


Phoebe Gavin: So another thing that she mentioned was sort of the lack of psychological safety is wearing on her and seeping into other corners of her life. I remember that phrase. And so I’m not sure if she means the literal definition of psychological safety, which is like whether it is okay to take risks, ask questions, volunteer ideas, make mistakes in a particular workplace context, or if she’s talking about the uncertainty or instability that comes with like layoffs and impending layoffs. So if she’s talking about a literal definition of psychological safety and like we had, she said the decision making structures had been upended by it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: I can see it being scary to contribute or to collaborate in this new environment because you don’t know how to predict what the outcome might be if that’s the case. The only solution to that is to test the boundaries there and see what happens and adjust based on what you learn. If you occupy a place of fear and hesitance and being tentative, then that sets you up even less for being seen as visible and valuable in your role because no one is going to see you asking questions, volunteering ideas. Nobody’s going to see you being the growth minded person who’s not afraid of making mistakes and learning from them because you’re waiting for it to be psychologically safe again. And so that’s also going to be a really important test of whether it makes sense to stick around and see what happens. Because if this new decision making matrix that’s happening in the organization is not one where you can be that kind of person, it’s probably not going to be a great place to stay. Now, when it comes to just like dealing with the uncertainty and instability that goes with being in this economic moment, this moment in the media industry, that really the only thing to focus on there is managing your internal dialogue and making sure that you are putting yourself in a position to take action because thinking about things don’t make them better. Talking about things don’t make them better. But if you take action, if you do something about the situation that you’re in, that does make it better. And so managing that internal dialogue and developing a bias toward action. 




Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is from someone who is in a new job after getting laid off, but they’re still feeling the effects. This is from Megan. 


Megan: I was made redundant back in December and just started a new contract in March. I was wondering if you had any practical advice to deal with the post redundancy panic that sets in at least once a week. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I feel this so hard is just that that feeling that the other shoe is going to drop at any moment. So how did you deal with this when you got your next job after that first layoff in 2015? 


Phoebe Gavin: So this is going to sound like super redundant, but once I got the new job, my focus was how do I protect myself from that? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: And so, again, like I just said, thinking about something, talking about something that doesn’t fix it, taking action, fixes it. And so this is a situation where this person needs to take some time to get to the source of the anxiety, identify what’s within their control, take action on what they can take action on, and distract themselves from what they can’t. Any mental, emotional time, money, energy that is going in the direction of things you can’t control is wasted. And so redirect that either to something that is enjoyable and delightful or to something that helps you prevent or reduce the impact of a similar problem happening again. And so when this person ends up in this panic, then it really does come down to what can you do with that energy that is actually positive and supportive for you? Is that going to be, you know, going for a walk outside just to distract yourself or to watch some trash TV or to join a professional association so that you can build your network or to post something on LinkedIn about your function and your way of doing it so that more people can see that you’re really good at your job so that either you are supporting yourself in terms of your mental and emotional health or you’re supporting your professional resiliency. But just like occupying panic is not going to do anything to help the situation. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I think I’ve seen this manifest sometimes in people who would just get in like a defensive crouch and are like, I need to save all of my money in case of this catastrophe. And I need to constantly be networking to the point that they’re like actually not doing their job. Do you know what I mean? 


Phoebe Gavin: [laughs] I think the opposite is way more common. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Phoebe Gavin: Way, way, way more common. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Phoebe Gavin: I hope that people get so activated in their desire to be professionally resilient that they absolutely blow themselves out, saving as much money as they can and active [laughter] in growing their network as much as possible, because eventually that’s going to blow away and you’re still going to have the benefits from it. [laughter] And certainly, certainly there are some emotional costs to being in sort of survival mode emotionally for a long period of time. But that is something that you can recover from. And if you recover from that challenge, but you still have a really great network [laughs] and you have a bunch of money saved up in the bank, I would consider that to be a net positive. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So this person was able to get a new contract pretty quickly. And although I’m sure it felt like it was forever when your job searching time just seems to stretch. But what advice would you give someone who is having a really hard time emotionally while looking for a new job? 


Phoebe Gavin: The most important thing for you to do is to seek guidance and community. If you’re doing it by yourself, it is going to reinforce the idea that there is something wrong with you and that is the reason why you are in the situation that you’re in. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: But if you have guidance, whether that comes from a career coach or a mentor, or just like having relying on people in your life who can give you advice and support, you will be going through it less alone. And that is going to make you feel better. But the best, the absolute best thing that you can do is to connect with other people who are also going through the exact same thing. Because not only are you going to be getting the perspective of whatever expert you are deriving information from, whether that’s a coach or a friend or a mentor or whatever, You are also going to be hearing the perspectives of lots of other people who are going through the exact same thing. Which eliminates that is it just me question? Because then the answer is no. It’s all of these other people to this other person also got a ridiculous lowball offer. It’s not just me. This happens to other people. This other person spent, you know, 3 hours on their cover letter and didn’t get a call back and is super frustrated about it. It’s not just me. It’s all sorts of people are going through these things. And that really helps that lack of isolation and that community really helps with bearing the challenge. The most important thing, though, once you get into this place where you are connected to community, is that you can start to tip in to sort of comparison where it’s like, oh, I didn’t get an interview, but the other person in my group got an interview. Maybe it is just me. It’s really important to avoid that. And so tread carefully, but definitely tread. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, I think that that’s such a great way to resist this. I mean, our culture is so individualistic and so it really puts like both success as the result of individual effort, which is not always true. But then also failure is the result of individual failures also not true. So the more you can think about it as like, oh, the system, this is how this the system is supposed to work like the fact that our economy is supposed to be like it’s quote unquote “most healthy” when there is a certain rate of unemployment that tells us something about how the system is supposed to work. So just because you fall into that bucket for a period of time, it is not in any way a personal failure. So our next question is from someone who wants to use her layoff as a chance to rebrand. Here’s Kristin. 


Kristin: I am a C-suite marketing executive, a CMO, to be more specific, and I’m facing a self-inflicted layoff as my company is in financial trouble. And I’m really unhappy with the work and I feel like I have much more to give at another company. So for my next role, I’m interested in taking something that isn’t the head of. As I realized, I really don’t want to be in charge, I’d rather follow a strategy. So maybe it’s a VP or a director level. How do I walk this back in interviews and recruiter conversations without it sounding like I couldn’t hack it? I guess in summary, I don’t want to be the head honcho anymore help. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So there’s this persistent idea that, like every career move has to be a step up and that you always have to be growing, advancing, taking on more responsibility, becoming a manager, then becoming a manager of managers. Do you think Kristin has a shot at a job that’s at a lower level than the one that she’s lost? 


Phoebe Gavin: So they’re the easiest way to go at this is to go to a larger company. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 


Phoebe Gavin: So it’s hard to learn and grow when you’re the most experienced at the company in your function. And so it’s not a hard sell to a hiring manager or a recruiter that you know. That was a tension that you experienced that you want to resolve by moving into a larger organization and that you are okay with the fact that that might mean a lateral move from a title perspective or even a step back from a title perspective, because it’s going to allow you to access the growth and development that you want to access. Now, if that is not actually true and you just want to be receive marching orders and march, that’s fine. But that is the narrative that is going to be effective in getting in front of the objection of why are you going out for a VP role or a director role when you were just the CMO. Now, if you do move up from a company that is X size to a company that is X plus size, that does mean that you are going to retain a lot of the complexity in the initial position. And so that does mean that you need to do some reflection. And one thing that sticks out to me with the way that this question is framed is that it’s classic running away versus running toward mindset. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Phoebe Gavin: Running away mindset. You are focused on all the things that you didn’t like and how can you get away from those things as quickly as possible? And if we translate that into physicality, like you are running in a direction and looking behind you versus running toward where you have identified, these are the things that I want. This is what I am looking for, this is what I am seeking, and you are running toward that thing. And again, if we translate that into physicality, you are running, but you are looking where you’re going. And so again, staying in that physical metaphor, if you are running in a direction and not looking where you’re going, you are very likely to run into a pole, fall in a hole, fall off a cliff. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Yes. 


Phoebe Gavin: Trip, fall on your face. And the professional version of that is, I hated my last job so much. So I took the first job that seemed like it wasn’t as terrible, but actually was very terrible. And there were lots of red flags that I would have noticed if I had been looking for them. And when you put yourself into a running toward a mindset where you are really active about identifying where do I want to go, you can still take the lessons from the previous job, but not take the baggage. And so this person needs to really get specific on why the original role didn’t work for her. She’s describing herself as not being able to hack it. What’s the cause there? Is it a skills gap? Is it a resource gap? Was it a team dynamic thing? Were the fundamentals of the business not sound enough for her to market it properly? Like what was the actual issue? And that way you know exactly what to avoid in the next position and exactly what to look for in the next position. Leadership isn’t for everyone. Senior leadership isn’t for everyone. But this is a person who really does need to dig deeper and do some articulation of what is important, what are the priorities and criteria that are going to help them step out of a role that was not a good fit and into a role that is a good fit? 


Anne Helen Petersen: I love that you point out that there needs to be some real self-reflection here because that to me seems like something that oftentimes gets lost because we get so focused on trying to find the next thing. And like, people focus on like rejiggering their resume without thinking about what was really going on here. And sometimes you need a little bit of distance, like it’s hard to do when you’re in the job. 


Phoebe Gavin: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Is this something that someone and I say this like not as a like to tee you up [laughs] but is this something that a career coach can do? I just don’t know enough about what career coaches do. 


Phoebe Gavin: Oh, absolutely. This, this idea of reflecting on what the previous situation was and finding the lessons is something that’s incredibly helpful to do with another person, because as you are sort of word vomiting about how terrible everything was that. Other person, whether that is a career coach or someone else can be listening for the assumptions, the gaps, the questions that need to be asked and reflect those back to you so that you can find the things that are missing. And I like to talk about it as like you’re trying to identify what are your Lego blocks when we are putting together a puzzle or a Lego kit, there’s there’s like a photo and there’s instructions. But like that is not actually how careers work. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 


Phoebe Gavin: You have a bunch of Lego pieces that are just sort of in a pile, and some of them are for your Lego kit and some of them are for a bunch of other people’s Lego kits. [laughter] And you don’t have a photo and you don’t have instructions. And so and that is how we navigate putting together a career just like, oh, is this right? Is this right? And so taking a pause to really identify, okay, these blocks are not in my kit. These blocks are in my kit. And not only can I make this thing that seems to be the obvious way of combining these Lego blocks that I really like. There are all these other ways to combine, and maybe I like some of these other ones too. And then once you have all of these prospective combinations, you can go out to the market and say, Do any of these combinations actually exist? Can I go grab them and have that be my Lego kit? But that is a way of approaching career strategy and career development that we are not taught. We are taught Pick up this piece, pick up this piece, see if it goes together, doesn’t go together, next combination. And that takes up a lot of time. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Do you think that well, okay, let me backtrack. We love scripts here at Work Appropriate, like even just like the beginning of a sentence that can allow someone to fill in the blanks for themselves. How would you like in interviews, how would you suggest that she explain that move? 


Phoebe Gavin: So we’re assuming that the cover letter is solid enough and the resume is solid enough that this individual is getting in initial conversation with a recruiter or initial conversation with the hiring manager. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: This is going to be a situation where you have to like, get in front of it. You have to jump in and say, I want to just share something with you really quickly. And so and this is actually a move that I made in my own career. I was a senior editor at a small publication. And I also I, I liked being a leader, but I was at that point where there was no one for me to learn from, and I was just functionally getting very stagnant. And so I moved to a larger publication as an individual contributor. And in that interview I said somewhere in the halfway mark, because you never know if you actually get time for questions. I said, do you mind if I share something with you before we move on to the next question, I just want to share a detail with you. I know that I’m coming from a leadership position in my current newsroom and this is an individual contributor position, and it would be natural to wonder why I would be interested in a position like that or if I’m overqualified and if I might, you know, disappear after six months. The reason why I’m applying for this individual contributor position is because in my current position, there’s no one for me to learn from. And I want to be somewhere where the resources match what we are trying to accomplish. And there are people that I can learn from who know more about this function than I do so that I can continue to grow and drive better and better results. And after I deliver that line, the hiring manager said, I’m really glad you said that. I was kind of wondering. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right, because they’re going to be wondering. So if you preempt it by owning that narrative, by running towards the thing, I think that’s really effective. 


Phoebe Gavin: One of the things I would say is that hiring managers and recruiters tend to be very unimaginative. [laughter] They have a cookie cutter in the back of their mind, like this is going to be the ideal candidate and that cookie cutter either looks like them or the boss they loved working for [laughter] or the person that was on their team that was an absolute rock star. And the truth is, there are lots of ways to get to excellence. And when you are trying to pitch yourself as the solution to the business problem that necessitates hiring a role, it is in your interest to create a very direct line between who you are and what you bring to the table and the experience and expertise that you have and the results that they’re trying to drive because they are not going to connect those dots for you. They are either too busy, not creative enough, not thinking about it hard enough. You have to do that work for them. And so getting in front of objections and making that very direct line between this is what I’m capable of and these are the results that you are trying to drive is really going to make your interviewing and also developing cover letters and resumes is significantly more effective. Most of the resumes and cover letters in LinkedIn as well that I review in my career coaching practice are people saying, this is what I’m capable of, this is what I’m capable of, is not an effective cover letter. [laughter] This is what I’m capable of and this is how it can help you drive the results you are looking for. That is a cover letter that people are going to respond to you. That is an interview question, an interview answer that people are going to remember and want to move you forward in the process. 




Anne Helen Petersen: Our last question is from someone whose workplace did not love them back, because again, the workplace is not a person. [laughs] This is from Rhonda and our colleague Charlotte is going to read it. 


Rhonda: My company went through layoffs, but did so in an unseemly, possibly illegal way. How can I take a stand against this behavior while not having the means to withstand a fight against a large company? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So there’s so much that we don’t know about this situation. We can’t tell whether this person actually lost their job if she’s righteously indignant on the behalf of people who did. But I wanted us to answer this and to include this question, because I think it’s an impulse that a lot of people have in this situation. So, Phoebe, what is your initial reaction to this question? 


Phoebe Gavin: My lawyer does not want me to answer this question. You know why? [laughter] Because I am a career coach, not a lawyer. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Phoebe Gavin: And so this is this is definitely a question for an employment lawyer. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Phoebe Gavin: you know, this respondent really hasn’t given us any details about their situation. And just because we as individuals think that something should be illegal doesn’t mean that it is. Just because it’s illegal in one state doesn’t mean that it’s illegal in all states or all jurisdictions. But either way, I am not a lawyer, and that is what this person needs a lawyer. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Phoebe Gavin: To you understand whether the companies actions are in fact illegal? And a lawyer is also going to be able to help this person understand whether they have standing to take legal action against the company or if they are eligible for any worker protections and how to access those worker protections. And the lawyer can also help this person understand their individual legal liability for libel or slander if they choose to speak out against the company in some way. Now, having that kind of conversation with a lawyer doesn’t lock you into a lawsuit, but it would give you clarity about the situation and possibly some peace of mind. And so one thing that I will say is that they should be prepared to pay a few hundred dollars for this sort of conversation. It does not fall within the scope of a consultation, which many lawyers charge for anyway. And so if you are in a situation where you feel like your company is up to no good, talk to a lawyer. That is the best way for you to get resolution and to understand what the situation is. Don’t ask random Facebook people don’t ask random people in Slack communities [laughter] don’t, you know, go on social media and announce all of your grievances. Go talk to a lawyer first. It would be better for you to spend a few hundred dollars and really understand what the situation is and take action based on actual accurate information than to not do anything when you could have done something or to do the wrong thing and catch yourself in some more additional trouble. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, the cost for a consultation is probably the cost of like a 90 minute massage. 


Phoebe Gavin: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So you might get more peace of mind from the consultation than you do from the massage. I’ll say that. I’ll also say that, like I know this happened at my former employer, the way that they did layoffs was against the law in New York, and so it affected the way that they did severance. This is not an impossible situation. But you do like you don’t want to talk about it publicly because it could be libelous. But you can find resources that can answer this question for you. 


Phoebe Gavin: And sometimes there are resources that are available for free, or low cost. They are harder to find, but sometimes they do exist. And so, you know, give it a Google. But your best bet is always going to be to get support from someone who is credentialed in law. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So these steps to layoff proof your career, I think that they are so solid for someone who has been working in industries like we have and in a lot of other industries too. But let’s say you’re making minimum wage or let’s say you’re in an industry where there is a lot of work to make it feel like you have no skills outside of that industry. I’m thinking specifically of academia. What else can people in those situations be doing, or can they just kind of change their mindset? But I guess I’m thinking a lot of the minimum wage question if you don’t have enough money to put away. 


Phoebe Gavin: So I come from a low income background. My mom was a cleaner house cleaner. My dad was a plumber. I did not grow up with any sort of financial comfort [laughter] and I did not receive any financial literacy training from my parents other than pay your taxes, don’t get into debt if you can manage. And so I had to teach myself all of these things, and a lot of it was through trial and error. And one thing that I have learned as I reflect back on my financial journey is the importance of building the habit of saving. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mmm. 


Phoebe Gavin: Is more important than actually saving, because if you’re at a stage in your career where you’re not earning very much, but you’re still building the habit of saving, as you invest in your skills and invest in your network and move into a role where you are making more and you are making enough and you do have some excess that you can put toward savings, you will actually do that versus what I did where my first job was, I was making $16,000 in the Army or something like that. And then once I finally got into a good job and I was super excited about making $40,000 in New York City, I did not do anything to actually put money aside for myself. And that was a situation where even though it was like I was just making it, I was making it, I could have put aside a little bit. And so even if all you can do is build the habit of I put aside a dollar a week, I put aside a dollar a week, that is what I do. That still builds the habit of saving. So that that habit is there for you as you earn more. And then the effort is on getting to where you can earn more, building those skills, building those networks, building that professional brand so that you can step into the sorts of opportunities that will allow you to turn that dollar a week into $10 a week or $100 a week or something that is going to really allow you to build the financial future that you want for yourself. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I also think that a lot of the networking advice works no matter what kind of job that you are currently doing. And something that I heard that like has really stuck with me is talk to people who’ve left your job to see where they went and how they did that. So not necessarily people who are in your job now, not necessarily people who are in some dream job of yours, but like think about what the stepping stones have been for people who have left where you are in this moment. And those people will probably be really eager to talk to you because there’s oftentimes a desire to pay it forward. 


Phoebe Gavin: Absolutely. And LinkedIn is a really good resource for that LinkedIn search, like play with it. Look at the advanced search feature is there are some ways for you to track down folks who have made that sort of transition and then focus on shots over baskets. Don’t worry about, oh, I need to write the perfect note or they’ll think I’m a troll [laughter] that don’t worry about that. Worry about sending as many notes as you can show up to that process as compassionate and empathetic and authentic and and thoughtful and considerate of the person who’s going to receive it, but send as many messages as you can from that posture. And if you are sending them from that posture, they’re not going to be bad. And the more of them that you send, the more responses that you’re going to get. And like you said, you know, the folks who have made that sort of transition, they remember when it was hard and it was unsure and they didn’t know if it was going to be possible. And they don’t want other people to have that same experience. They want people to find whatever success is on the other side of that wall, the success that they have found. And so you will get people responding to you if you send those messages out, but only if you actually send them. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] This has been really, really wonderful. And I think, you know, a lot of layoff advice is like hope that it doesn’t go poorly. Right. Or like go search for jobs. Like this has been actionable advice. And I am really grateful that you came on the show today. Where can people find you if they want to hear more from you? 


Phoebe Gavin: Sure. So I am on your favorite social media platform @BetterWPhoebe and you can head over to my website betterwithphoebe.com I do a free workshop every month on career strategy. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Amazing. Thank you again. [music plays] Thanks for listening to Work Appropriate. If you need advice about a sticky situation at work, we are here for you. Submit your questions at WorkAppropriate.com or send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. We love building episodes around your questions and you can stay as anonymous as you like. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can follow me on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen or you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study AnneHelen.substack.com. And if you like the show, leave us a review on your podcast app of choice. It really helps. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. [music plays]