Sunday, May 14, 2017

Surviving an uncertain employment environment...

This will be an ongoing post. I will keep updating this as and when I think of relevant ideas.

Background: IT layoffs (job terminations) are once again making news in India. Several companies are getting rid of employees. Media may have hyped it, say experts. They say, low performers are let go every year. Not a big deal. Number of people being fired is small. On the other hand, there are others who paint doomsday scenario for IT professionals. Truth must be somewhere in between. Regardless these are scary times for professionals everywhere.

Layoffs, firings are common in the corporate world. Very common in countries like US where employment is 'at will' and can be terminated anytime. But, there is a difference when it happens in India. In western countries, there is unemployment insurance. If you lose your job, you will get around 80% of your salary for a few months. Such a scheme is not available in India. At least, I am not aware of any such scheme. In the absence of such a cushion, getting fired can be quite traumatic and worrisome for a professional. Government and IT sector need to think about introducing some kind of protection mechanism to protect people who get fired.

Regardless, here are some commonsense pointers that I have found useful for taking care of oneself in uncertain times. Hope you find them useful.

Also read my old post, Wake up call for the unawakened. It is on the same topic.


1) Work to live or live to work? Decide for yourself and make peace with your decision. Many times people want work-life-balance but are not willing to compromise on lifestyle which requires a lot of money. You can't have both.

2) Take adequate time off from work to relax and recharge. Remember the adage - You need to stop cutting all the time and sharpen the blade also some time.  Minimum 2 weeks of vacation / year. Better take 2 weeks 2 times year. Truly relax and recharge in vacation. Don't come back even more tired.

3) Take at least one 2-day training every year. Even if you have to pay from your pocket, it is ok. It is investment in yourself.


1) Get as much education as possible in your field. Education opens many doors. Eventually there may be other factors which determine your success / failure, but education plays a very important role to get the foot in the door.

2) Earlier, in professional fields, a bachelor degree was considered more than enough. Only those really interested in higher studies went for masters. Now a days master degrees themselves have become very common. Try to get one in your field right after your bachelors degree or within 1-2 years. Don't delay much. Get an MS, ME, MTech, MBA, PhD as soon as possible. More the better. I know degree is not education but they help you stand out when there are too many qualified people. When things get tough, they become important differentiators if nothing else.

3) As much as possible, complete your studies up to masters degree in one go. It is very tempting to take a break after 4 years of grueling bachelors degree especially if you get a nice job via campus selection. But, trust me it is hard to make a comeback. Not impossible but very hard hard. When working full time, you get so tired that it is hard to study or prepare for entrance exams. I know from my personal experience. It is like burning candle on both ends. Calls for a lot of sacrifices. Many including me have done it but it is too much of a trouble. Finish at least the first masters degree right after bachelors. So, plan to get masters right after bachelors.

4) During early days of your career, look for a good company where you can learn a lot under good people. Well established big name companies may be better in the beginning of one's career. They offer relative stability, good working environment, good structure to work and so on. You can try hot startups etc. after a while. Remember you have to survive before you thrive. We know how volatile startups can be. Some startups could not even foresee a few months into future. They could not honor offers made to students during campus interviews. You don't want such disappointments in the beginning of your career. Moreover in the first 3-5 years you want an excellent grounding and training in your field. Everything else is a distraction.

5) Money is very important but getting good experience and work satisfaction are even more important. As long as your pay is competitive and is in line with market rates, don't worry too much about money. A few thousands more or less is not going to make a big difference. But what will make a very big difference is whether you like your job and more importantly your coworkers. Work satisfaction is a very important intangible and non-quantifiable benefit that we fail to account for. At the end of the day if you are not happy with your job, what's the point? And we spend 10-12 hours a day at work / on work. Such hours be fun and productive.

6) Read at least one top book per month pertaining to your field. Read more if possible. Very few professionals keep up with the changes in their fields. By reading one book every month, you will be far ahead of many of your peers. This has been one of the best advice I have gotten in my entire career. Got this advice from my mentor who was a top consultant for Microsoft in 1990s and helped them with some core technologies which are being used even now. He was and still is a big shot and he has followed this habit right from his childhood. Exceptionally brilliant person.

7) Make the very best use of all the training facilities available. The amount of training opportunities available in companies is amazing. You can put all your free time to take those training courses. No company can offer lifetime employment. But, many good companies definitely do offer lifetime employability by offering opportunities for training. It is up to you to make good use of them.

8) A rule of thumb is for every $10,000 you make, it takes one month to find a similar job if you lose your current job. For example, if one makes $100,000, it can take up to 10 months to find a similar job. You can come up with a similar rule that is suitable for Indian or other conditions. But, the fact of the matter is it may take quite some time to find a similar job. Plan for the time it takes to find another job.

9) Related to above point #8 is the money you need to save to survive when you have no job and thus no income. Rule of thumb is at least 6 months of living expense saved and kept in some safe investment that is readily accessible. 6 months of living expense is the minimum. I recommend saving for at least one year's living expense.

10) When calculating how much you need to save for a rainy day, add 20 to 30 % more to your current living expense. Remember when you are employed your employer picks up many bills such as medical insurance premiums etc. When you have no job you need to pay for them from your own pocket. So, plan for increased monthly expenses.

11) Don't take too much debt. Take debt only for items that increase in value. Taking debt for house is fine as the value of the house will go up. Taking debt for items such as car and other equipment that only depreciate in value year after year is not a good idea. Wait till you save enough to buy them outright or at least able to pay 60-80% outright.

12) Don't get into risky and speculative investments. Educate yourself completely before venturing into risky and speculative investment schemes that promise high returns. Stupidest mistake that professionals make is to think that they can make quick money in stock market. It does not work. You can invest in stock market and diversify adequately to minimize risk but forget the idea that you can consistently beat markets and make far above average returns. Read 'A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Including a Life-Cycle Guide to Personal Investing' by Burton Malkiel. That's the only book you need to read to open your eyes to the reality of stock trading even in best of times, in best of countries. Speculating in markets in countries where stock market is manipulated by crooks is even more dangerous.

13) Save as much as possible in the beginning of your career. Later when your responsibilities go up you can't save much.

14) Buy all types of insurance that you need to protect yourself from calamities. That includes life insurance, medical, vehicle, pet, house and so on. One uninsured catastrophe can financially wipe you out.

15) Network with fellow professionals. LinkedIn is a great tool. Make it a habit to look up your professional contacts on LinkedIn and connect with them. Send a LinkedIn request to everyone you meet. Know that many jobs that too high paying jobs are offered only to known people with good networks. Old boys network is a reality. Exploit it for your benefit.

16) Don't burn bridges. You don't know when you may have to cross it again. Keep good relations even after you quit your job. Keep your professional network in good shape.

17) Generate second income. It can be a part-time job or something else. It should not consume too much time but give you decent income. If it takes too much time then it becomes another full-time job. Some ideas in this regard include part-time teaching at a local college / university. If you are suitably qualified, local educational institutes are always looking for part-time faculty members. Generate income by renting space in your dwelling. Buy an additional house and rent it. Invest wisely and generate dividend income etc. Idea is not make more and more money but have something as a backup if you lose your job.

18) Take educational loans for your wards if needed rather than paying from your savings. Education is a good investment and taking loan is fine.

19) Simplify, simplify, simplify. That means reducing possessions. Even if you are a busy and top professional you can simplify life and thus reduce expenditure. Look at successful people. They have a very simple but elegant structure to everything. They have a standard dress code that reduces the time it takes to dress sharply and elegantly with least fuss. Simplicity is the key to stress free life.

20) Office politics is inevitable. Recognize it for what it is. Then make peace with it in whatever way you like. Don't be in denial and get frustrated. Where there are people the politics is going to be there for good or bad. Accept it and move on.

21) Don't lend large sums of money to friends and family. Realize that you are not a professional money lender. You don't have means to recover if they fail to return promptly. Establish a limit for yourself and don't lend more than that to any one person. My rule of thumb is $500 or Rs. 50,000. If the person returns, I can always lend again. Don't get carried away by people returning promptly. Sometimes they return small amounts promptly to win your trust and later ask for a large loan. Then  they default and you are screwed. Lend only that much you are comfortable to lose completely.

22) Don't stand as guarantor for financial commitments of other people. If that person defaults, you are left holding the bag.

23) If applicable, manage your marital relation carefully. People (especially men) routinely get wiped out completely because of an expensive divorce. Law is favorable to women with kids. So unless you have some safety mechanism you are likely to lose a very large % your wealth to your ex-spouse and kids during divorce. Realize that many marriages hit the rock bottom during employment difficulties. You are out of job, your spouse wants to leave you and wants whatever little wealth you may have accumulated. That's a very deadly combination. Don't ignore such a possibility thinking that it will  not happen to you. Plan for such a rare possibility by talking to a qualified attorney specializing in family law. If needed involve your spouse also when life is all love and honey between two of you. Jobless and divorced with everything gone is a very dreadful situation but far more common than you think.

24) Takes excellent care of your physical and mental health all the time. Your body and mind are going to be taxed heavily during tough times. You will need all the strength that you can garner. Strong people will become weak and weak will vanquish during tough times. So, maintain good health. Don't injure your body any more. Our artificial life style, contaminated environment, GMO food etc. are already wreaking enough havoc on us. Don't add to it.

25) Manage your consumption of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and other intoxicants and stimulants. Their consumption tends to increase during tough times. That's precisely the time when you don't want that. You need to be in best physical and mental health when you are trying to deal with a career setback. Increased consumption of intoxicants make it hard to stage a successful comeback. Smart thing is to give up all such bad habits when things are going well so that you don't have to depend on such crutches during tough times.

26) 'Those who don't have anything to stand for, will fall for anything.' Have something bigger than yourself to rely on during tough times. It could be God, your Guru, religion, scriptures or something else. Unless you are able to surrender all your worries to some higher power, you will buckle under even little pressure and totally go under. It is not possible to cultivate such a faith during difficult times. Start devotional, religious and spiritual activities much before and keep at it all the time. Having an unshakable faith in God and firm belief that everything happens according his will and happens for the overall good will carry you through all difficulties. But such a faith is hard to come by. It requires years and years of practice and reaffirmation every time it wavers. Even if you are an atheist you need to find something to nurse your spirit. Don't use spirits (alcohol) to nurse the sagging spirit! :) That's a loser's game for sure!

27) Keep you resume always updated. Update your resume at least twice a year. Keep your resume crisp and brief. My recommendation is your resume should fit in 2 pages. Anything more is too much. First few lines should be so good that they should get you at least a phone call from the company.

28) Note down your professional activities and accomplishments every week. It will come handy when you have to update your resume once in every six months.

29) Be in interview mode some of the time even when you don't need a new job. You can't get into that active interviewing mode just like that. Apply to jobs even when you don't need one. Test waters and see how you do. Be prepared.

30) Headhunters are your friends. Keep in touch with them. Good headhunters are very useful. If they have got you your current job, they can get you one more as long you have not embarrassed them by quitting too quickly the earlier job they got for you.

31) Manage your virtual persona carefully. These day prospective employers scan internet and other places for any and every bit information about you. So, clean up your virtual presence. That involves cleaning up messy profiles on social networking sites, removing questionable and objectionable content on social networking sites etc. If you don't need, get out of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter etc. Keep a simple profile on professional site like LinkedIn.

32) Don't accept the very first job you get after you lose your job unless it is reasonably good. If your gut says NO, listen to it and don't take the job. You are trying to make a comeback. You don't want to go land in another mess. But if you need a job to survive, you may not have an option.


sunaath said...

ಮಹೇಶ, ನಾನೇನೊ ಒಬ್ಬ ನಿವೃತ್ತ ಸರಕಾರಿ ನೌಕರ. ವಿಶ್ರಾಂತಿವೇತನ ದೊರೆಯುವದರಿಂದ, I ca make two ends meet somehow. ಆದರೆ, ನೀವು ನೀಡಿದ ಈ ಮೂವತ್ತೆರಡು pearls of advice ಓದಿ ತುಂಬ ಪ್ರಭಾವಿತನಾದೆ. ಇಂದಿನ ಖಾಸಗಿ ಉದ್ಯೋಗವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ, ವಿಶೇಷತಃ ಗಣಕಯಂತ್ರ ವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ, ನೀವು ನೀಡಿದ ಪ್ರತಿ ಒಂದು ಉಪದೇಶವು ಈ ಉದ್ಯೋಗಿಗಳಿಗೆ ಬೈಬಲ್ ಆಗಬೇಕು ಎಂದು ಅನಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ಸರಕಾರಿ ಉದ್ಯೋಗದಲ್ಲಿದ್ದಾಗ, ನಾನೂ ಅನೇಕ ತಪ್ಪುಗಳನ್ನು ಮಾಡಿದ್ದೇನೆ, ಮೇಲಧಿಕಾರಿಗಳೊಂದಿಗೆ ಜಗಳವಾಡಿದ್ದೇನೆ, ಅದರ ಫಲವನ್ನು ಉಂಡಿದ್ದೇನೆ. ಆದರೆ, ultimately, it is difficult to lose one's job in govt.service. ಅಲ್ಲದೆ, ಸರಕಾರಿ ನೌಕರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ every donkey gets promotion by virtue of seniority. ನನ್ನ ತಮ್ಮನೂ ಸರಕಾರಿ ನೌಕರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಇದ್ದು ನಿವೃತ್ತನಾದವನೇ. ಅವನು ನೌಕರಿ ಸೇರಿದ ಹೊಸದರಲ್ಲಿ ನಾನು ಅವನಿಗೆ ಕೇಳಿದ್ದೆ: Job satisfaction ಹೇಗಿದೆ, ತಮ್ಮಾ?’ ಎಂದು. ಅದಕ್ಕೆ ಅವನ ಉತ್ತರ: Job itself is a satisfaction!
ಇದೀಗ ಬದಲಾದ ಪರಿಸ್ಥಿತಿಯಲ್ಲಿ, ನಿಮ್ಮ ಉಪದೇಶವನ್ನು ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಬ್ಬ ನೌಕರನು ಪಾಲಿಸುವುದು ಸರಿಯಾದ ಮಾರ್ಗವಾಗಿದೆ.

Mahesh Hegade said...

Thank you very much for your kind words, Sunaath Sir.

I have learned and borrowed many of these ideas from wise senior people like you. Grateful to them for sharing their wisdom.

'Job itself is a satisfaction' - like it very much. Makes be more grateful to what we have and appreciate it. Many times we fail to appreciate we have and keep complaining.

Anonymous said...

Reading this post for the third time. (When there are no new posts I will read your old posts again) along with industry you have understood life very well. Keep writing.


Mahesh Hegade said...

Thank you very much, Harsha.