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Layoffs are a Rite of Passage

A Survival Guide for coping with a RIFs, Downsizings, etc.

By James WrightPublished about a month ago 3 min read
iStock: Credit: kieferpix

Yes, I know losing a paycheck sucks. And for those who have never been abandoned by their employer before, a layoff, Reduction in Force (RIF) or whateverthehellelse they call it, can be downright terrifying. The first time anyway.

Recently some of my younger engineering colleagues have been RIFfed from a certain aerospace company, many of whom must be in shock like I was some 25-ish years ago. Their dilemma has pushed me out of procrastination to write this article and at least offer a little silver lining.

My world has been aerospace in the United States for many years. Layoffs, or at least contract terminations/expirations are almost an annual event for me. I gravitated to contract work in the US to solve certain financial headwinds, most of which will be clearing up soon. Contracting is a tradeoff like everything else in life.

Through my contracting sojourns I have learned some valuable lessons:

1. My self worth is no longer tied to any particular employer or contracted client

2. I have developed survival skills which I’ve boiled down to three main principles below

3. There is no such thing as permanent employment.

Here are my three rules for being a contractor:

1. Be true to your paycheck

2. The customer is always right

3. Never everevereverevereverever sell out another contractor to the client.

Here's the breakdown:

Rule 1: Be true to your paycheck.

I’m referring to the continued existence of your revenue stream by behaving yourself, acting professionally and not trying to win arguments, engage in company politics or any other actions that may threaten your income. In short, keep your nose clean and think through the consequences of your actions before taking action. It keeps you in control of your situation.

Rule 2: The customer is (usually) always right.

To be a contractor is to be an independent businessperson, free agent or otherwise a purchased entity rented out to your client, usually from a staffing firm, who is your true employer (of record). In a word, Diplomacy. Diplomacy goes a long way in developing business contacts for future work and gaining yourself a good reputation and credibility for return contracts. Unless there is something glaringly stupid and inept on the part of your client that presents safety hazards, convince yourself that this is how they do business and adapt yourself to that environment.

Rule 3: Never sell out another contractor

You will be meeting other contractors in your travels, and networking is a huge advantage when you make friends with other contractors who end up in another contract when yours may be running out, or vice versa. If your fellow contractor appears to be lacking certain job skills, help them out quietly and some day they may return the favor. If they are a complete disaster, keep your mouth shut and let your client find out for themselves. Badmouthing will catch up to you.

My career salvation and financial means of survival has been contracting for over 25 years. I too was once a valued company asset, until one day when I and many of my former workmates weren't anymore.

I’ve learned to think of myself as an independent businessman and some of my LinkedIn contacts are former managers I have worked for as a contractor, as well as other contractors and client colleagues. Keep your nose clean, follow the three rules above and you will have better control over your contracting endeavors.

So much for survival mode. I’ll probably have future articles which delve into other facets of contracting as a form of entrepreneurship. Hang in there. find a way to survive.

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