Becoming Layoff-Proof

There’s no nice way to say you’re eliminating positions that shouldn’t have existed in the first place. But the fact is that growth across many industries was a response to social trends rather than actual consumer or client demand. The antidote is to not conflate whatever society is angry about that day with why you’re being paid. And if you’re being paid because society is angry that day, start developing demonstrable skills with proven demand.

Being laid off in 2009 taught me this the hard way. I graduated in 2007 double majoring in Philosophy and English following parental advice to “just get your degree”. Fortunately they also said “you’re a grown man” once I left for college. So I had to figure it out on my own. Studying philosophy taught me how to think, how to navigate ambiguity, and how to not give up in pursuit of large questions. English taught me to write effectively, communicate ideas persuasively, and tell stories with an end goal in mind. But neither insulated me from layoffs.

It was late nights teaching myself not just how to write on wordpress, but the HTML, CSS, website hosting, and domain configuration to build my own websites. Not just assembling PowerPoints with templates, but teaching myself the Adobe products to create my own graphics.

Photo of my home library shelf for skill-building books.

I viewed these skills as just a hobby, not knowing how to add them to my resume without them being used in any job I had. One day however, they came in handy when my employer was struggling to communicate their value proposition while competing for a $7M RFP. It was all everyone was talking about around the office for weeks, and impossible not to feel the energy of how historic the opportunity was. While it was outside of the scope of my job, and without considering additional pay, I took it upon myself to put these skills to use.

I developed a series of microsites on a custom domain, configured it to be indexed by Google, and began to embed all of the videos and PDFs the marketing department produced but hid behind a login — all before our company had a Product Marketing role or department.

I’m sure there were things in the news that would’ve angered me, especially as a Black man. But I’ve never been an advocate of “bringing my whole self to work”, especially when I wasn’t being paid to be. For many including me, work, specifically the office, served as a respite from that. Understanding my company’s goals, and asking myself how could I better help them achieve them, gave me the ideas to play my role in helping us make history for our company, our customers, and our shareholders. That single decision changed my professional and financial trajectory.

This is also why I’m an opponent of remote work. So many impromptu opportunities for personal growth, development that directly leads to income mobility take place at the office. Slack will never replace this. It’s hard to ask for a “seat at the table” from your living room. It’s also why I believe strongly in democratizing skill development. While we can’t manufacture ambition, we can ensure those who possess it aren’t stifled by antiquated products or policies.

Founder & CEO at Skilltype. Inaugural EIR at Boston University Libraries. Board emeritus at Rooted School. Native New Orleanian.

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