By John Sonmez July 20, 2015

You’ve Just Been Laid Off From Your Programming Job. Now What?

Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us.

We’ve all been “laid off” at some point in our lives—well, at least most of us.

Maybe your employer went through a “workforce reduction” and randomly selected people to be laid off—you just got unlucky.

Or perhaps it wasn’t so much luck, but your tendency to watch StarCraft 2 Major League Gaming competitions at work when you’re supposed to be working. (Don’t worry, I’m not judging you. I get hooked on those videos, too.)

Anyway, whether it was your fault or not, you just got cann—ahem, I mean, laid off.

…Now what?

Well, I don’t mean to get all super-optimistic-every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining on you, but this could actually be a great opportunity—a chance to change your destiny.

Some of the best opportunities in my life came from getting laid off.

Condiment packetsFor example, that time that I lived in my car and learned that the human body can survive off of uncooked ramen noodles and stolen tomato ketchup packets.

OK, that didn’t really happen, but it could have! If it did, I’m sure I would have learned something valuable from the experience.

But, my point is that just because you lost your current job, it doesn’t mean that the future is bleak. You might be overdue for a change anyway, and were probably a bit too comfortable in your current surroundings.

So, before you embark upon your quest for the new cubicle, let me offer you a few pieces of advice that might help you get started on the right track.

Ask for a letter of recommendation

I know this might seem a little strange, since your boss just told you that you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here, but this is a really good time to ask for a letter of recommendation for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you really did get shit-canned and it wasn’t your fault—corporate restructuring-equal-opportunity-random-drug-testing-layoff-program—your boss probably still likes you and thinks you’re one hell of a guy (or gal). So now’s a good time to get his or her endorsement, while he or she is still feeling sorry for you and feeling lucky to have his or her own job.
  2. I don’t know about you, but whenever I interview someone and ask them why they left their last job, and they reply, “I was laid off,” my instinct immediately forces me to say, “Bullshit.” It’s not that I don’t believe them—OK, I guess I don’t—it’s just that if they could then whip out a letter of recommendation from their previous boss, I could suspend my disbelief for a second and continue with the interview.

So, as you can see, it’s pretty critical to try and get that shining endorsement right away, so that you can turn a negative into a positive and silence the unbelievers.

Oh, and if you are looking for a recommendation for what you should have your ex-boss—it’s ok to call him or her an ex-boss now—write about you, I’d recommend something like this:

“When Joe entered our organization, it felt like a bright light had opened in the heavens and a divine prophet had blessed us with his presence.

I recall one time when Joe was coding at his computer and a sickly sparrow flew into an open window before violently slamming into a cubicle wall and breaking its neck. Joe simply scooped the little critter up into his hands, said a small prayer quietly, and the bird instantly sprung to life and flew right back out the window.

While we would have liked to keep Joe around for all of eternity, we recognize that no one organization can own Joe’s talents for any length of time, but Joe must move on to other pastures where he can bless others as he’s blessed us.

For that reason, I highly recommend Joe for any software development position, or supreme leader of a sparrow-cult.”

And, even if you did get terminat—I mean laid off—for less than honorable reasons, your boss still might give you a good recommendation just to be rid of you, so you might as try for that as well.

Reevaluate your career and goals

man thinking for somethingNow is a great time to really think about what you want to get out of your career and consider what your future holds.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you are working at the same job for several years and everything is comfortable, so sometimes a nice shakeup, like a layoff, can help you to really reevaluate what it is you really want to aim for and what kind of path you are headed on.

Take some time before you do anything else to really think hard about what it is you actually want to be doing long-term with your life.

Carefully think about what kind of job you want next—or even if you might want to start your own company—and have a solid plan for getting where you want to be.

Too many people accept the first job or opportunity offered to them because they never take the time to thoroughly evaluate their careers and aspirations in life.

Perhaps you did that with your last job? Now is the time to avoid making that same mistake again.

Update your resume

This one is kind of a no-brainer, but I’m amazed by how many programmers who are looking for a new job don’t have an up-to-date resume.

You should write up all the relevant details about your previous job while they are still fresh in your mind and before post traumatic stress disorder obscures them forever.

Now is also a good time to tailor your resume to your current goals and objectives. Consider crafting your resume around a very narrow focus directly tailored to the kind of job you want next.

In fact, I’d highly recommend that you invest a little money—while you still can—into a professional resume writer. This is the ideal chance to make this kind of investment, because the payoff can be huge.

Spending a few hundred dollars to get your resume professionally rewritten can not only help you get a higher paying job, but it can also help you get one faster.

And I speak from experience on this one. Both my wife and I paid to have our resumes professionally written in the past, and it has always paid off handsomely.

At the very least, make sure all of your information in your resume is up-to-date, including your LinkedIn profile, and proofread it for grammatical errors and typos. Nothing says professional like “computer porgrammer.”

Contact everyone you know

crazy businessmen dancingHeck, maybe even throw an “I just got laid… off” party!

It’s always easier to get a job through a personal referral than a cold email where you blast your resume out to 100 different companies begging for a job.

Now is the time to take advantage of that network you’ve been building.

Have a clear goal in mind and a nice polished resume to send out, and use a mail-merge tool to send a well thought out email to just about everyone you know informing them what kind of value you can bring to an organization and exactly what kind of job you are looking for.

Don’t send an email like this:

“Heya guys. I just got laid off, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get another job again.

It’s just so hard, and my skills are so old. There is all this new technology out there, and I don’t understand any of it.

Anyway, if you could please send my resume to everyone you know in the world and beg them to hire me, that would be great.

Attached is a copy of my resume. I haven’t updated it yet, because I don’t want to waste the time if this isn’t going to work.

Joe”

Try to be a bit more like this:

“What’s happening?

I hope you are having an absolutely wonderful day—I know I am.

Anyway, the reason I am writing you is that a bit of an opportunity came my way recently, and since I know you are such a well-connected and helpful person, I thought you would be the perfect one to contact.

I’m going to be leaving my current job as a Senior Software Developer for XXX Online Casino Corp in about two weeks, and I’m looking for a new opportunity where I can put my ASP.NET Web API and C# skills to good use.

If you know anyone who is looking to hire a very experienced and meticulously detail-oriented web developer (I specialize in C# and ASP.NET), I’d love it if you could make an introduction for me.

Attached is my updated resume in Word and PDF format.

Take care,

Joe

P.S. Once I get my first paycheck on the new job, I’d love to take you and your family out to a nice dinner to celebrate—on me.”

Cut expenses… NOW

Look, I know you like to live large.

Maybe you got that huge house and two car payments on your new BMW and Tesla, and you got cable TV with all 298 channels, plus HBO and Cinemax. But you don’t know how long it is actually going to take for you to get a new job, and the name of the game is survival.

Pretend you are on Survivor. (I’ve never actually seen an episode because I don’t watch TV, so I’m just making this up. Bear with me.)

You just got dropped into the jungle with a knife, a pair of tighty-whities, and a credit card. You can only keep two.

Which do you keep, and which do you get rid of?

You obviously need “protection” and a knife to kill things with, so you get rid of the credit card… simple.

Now do the same in your own life. Get rid of everything you don’t need to survive—at least for now.

Drop the cable now, not just before you can’t pay the bill.

It’s a good time to think about selling that car and getting a cheaper model that doesn’t have a payment.

Probably also a good time to implement a no-eating-out policy and maybe even mow your own lawn for a while—now that you’ll have plenty of time for it.

My point is that you immediately need to start thinking about surviving as long as possible without racking up a ridiculous amount of credit card debt, not later on when you run out of money and can’t afford to make your payments.

Oh, and if you aren’t laid off and are just reading this for fun, now is a great time to start saving money for that rainy day your dad used to always talk about, in case you do get shit-canned.

(That’s actually what he meant anyway; he just didn’t want to use the term “shit-canned,” but I’m telling you now that “rainy day” = “shit-canned.” They are exactly the same thing.)

You should always, I mean always, have at least two months of living expenses in the bank. Not only does this give you the ability to be professional and tell your boss to F-off when he insists you need to start coming into work dressed a little more sexy (gosh, that was the thing I hated the most about working for big corporations), but it gives you a huge amount of security if you do get laid off.

Retrain and develop new skills

You know what is sad?

When a Cobol programmer who has been doing nothing but Cobol work for the last 20 years tries to get a new job, then whines about how everyone is ageist and that there are no good jobs out there anymore, and everyone wants to hire all these young whipper-snappers.

It’s also sad when some young whipper-snapper gets laid off from his internship where he worked on one obscure piece of technology and comes to a similar conclusion that there are no jobs out there, and no one wants to hire someone who doesn’t have decades of experience.

So what gives?

Well, I’ll tell you what gives.

Most—I know not all, but most—employers don’t care if you are old or young or male or female or somewhere in between, but instead care about whether or not you know your shit.

So, do you know your shit?

Do you know the relevant skills and technologies that are being used today?

If you don’t, don’t expect to get a new job anytime soon. Life is going to be a lot harder for you.

Sure, there are those companies still using some archaic or obscure technology that you happen to be an expert in, but there are many more software development shops that have moved on and are using the latest and greatest.

So, if you don’t know the latest and greatest, now is a good time to start learning it.

Today there are plenty of online resources you can use to get up to speed. I highly recommend Pluralsight—and not just because I have 55 courses there, but because it is seriously one of the best deals in online developer training that you can find today.

But there are also plenty of free alternatives out there as well, from coding schools to tutorials and even blog posts, so there really is no excuse.

And if you are in your current job and aren’t laid off, now is a really good time to think about investing some time in keeping your skills up-to-date, before you get stuck in a bad situation.

This doesn’t mean you have to learn every new technology that is out there, but you should at least be familiar with one or two current and popular technologies in your field.

Practice interviewing

Dreams and hopesInterviews can be painful and nerve-wracking, but they don’t have to be.

You can be 100% prepared before going into an interview, and it can actually be a lot of fun.

But, you don’t get 100% prepared for an interview by chance. Instead, you actually practice and prepare for an interview ahead of time.

When I go out on a stage to give a talk, it’s not the first time I’ve ever given the talk. I’ve rehearsed it to myself in the mirror, to my wife, while falling asleep on the couch, and to all of my daughter’s stuffed animals.

When you walk into an interview room, you should be ready as well. You shouldn’t look like a green recruit on your first day of basic training. (Which reminds me. Wear deodorant… I really shouldn’t have to tell you this, but gosh darn it, I will.)

Anyway, there are a lot of things you can do to prepare for an interview.

You can start by making sure you can Crack the Coding Interview. Read my blog post on doing this, and read Gayle’s famous book by the same name to make sure you are ready for any question an interviewer can throw at you.

You can also do mock interviews with yourself, with someone else, or even with an imaginary incarnation of Thomas Edison.

Just make sure you are practicing and preparing ahead of time so you are ready when you “go on stage.”

Clean up all your online profiles

Guess what the first thing I do is after I have scanned your resume and think about bringing you in for an interview is?

Tick tock…

Ready?

I GOOGLE YOUR NAME.

Yes, that’s right. I Google your name. I don’t Bing it, I don’t AltaVista webcrawler it, or even DuckDuckGo it, I Google it.

And guess what Google tells me about you?

EVERYTHING.

Yes, that’s right. It tells me everything. It tells me your mother’s maiden name, how many people you’ve slept with, what color underwear you wear, who your favorite stuffed animal was as a kid and most importantly…

…all of your nasty opinions and bad habits. And it’s all thanks to social media.

So, clean as much of that up as possible.

Delete those tweets saying how you “hate X, because <political opinion>, <racist remark>.”

Hide those Facebook photos that show you doing a keg stand while giving the camera the middle finger.

Search for your own name—and your own email address as well—and try and delete or ask to have removed anything offensive or potentially offensive.

Pretend like you are running for president of the United States—OK, maybe that’s a bad example. Pretend like you are running for Mrs. America or Mrs. Universe or the totally-inoffensive-hard-working-super-programmer-of-the-year award.

Now, I recognize it may be too late to do anything about some of the bad mojo you’ve already given to the Googs, but do the best you can and remember that Mr. Googs remembers everything you do or say online in the future.

It’s OK to have opinions, just try not to express them online so much where they become part of your permanent record. Wait until you are at a nice dinner party and then talk about sex, politics, and religion all at once.

On Facebook, post pictures of cats doing funny things and silly little inoffensive quotes.

Make a solid, daily plan

Bored, overweight man sits on the sofaI’ve had a lot of bums sleeping on my couch, and from them I’ve learned a sure-fire way to not get a job: don’t do shit.

Most people who can’t find jobs after several months haven’t done anything to help them find jobs.

Sure, they’ve “applied for a few jobs” but haven’t heard anything back, or they’ve “been looking,” but really that ain’t done shit.

It’s not entirely their fault. They get to the computer and they think, think, think: “How do I get a job today?” But then they see a funny cat video and it’s all over.

Don’t let that be you. Instead, have a quota and a plan for each day.

You are your own boss, and your job is to kick your ass into finding a job each and every day.

Plan out exactly how many jobs you are going to apply for each week.

Plan out exactly what you are going to do each day to look for a job.

If you are unemployed, you should be spending at least eight hours a day working on getting another job. Not two, not five, but eight… maybe even more.

I guarantee unless you are extra special—and I mean extra special—you are going to find a job pretty quickly if you are spending a good eight hours a day working on looking for one.

And if you still can’t find a job after spending eight hours a day looking for one for at least a month, email me. I’ll hire you, because you are the damn hardest working, most persistent asshole I’ve ever met, and I’m sure I can find you something to do.

Welcoming man smilingWant to future-proof your career?

Then seriously, start a blog.

Use my free email course to learn how to do it.

Starting this blog has been one of the most valuable things I’ve done in my life, and hundreds of other graduates from my free blogging email course have said the same.

Just about every consistent blogger in the software development industry can get a new job in days, simply because of the reach their blog and the credibility gives them.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."