I shuffled out of my corporate office on January 31, 2009, carrying a small container with personal possessions and pictures of my two daughters; grasping in the other hand a black folder with my name on it containing a severance agreement. For the first time in 16 years, I was unemployed. I was the victim of a corporate restructure and was permanently laid off. My loss prevention career was at a crossroad.
As many would probably agree, loss prevention is an even more critical function during a down economy than during normal times. Shoplifting and employee theft typically increase during these times, so it is surprising that so many loss prevention professionals found themselves out of work. I was, frankly, shocked.
Lesson 1. Do Not Take It Personally
We are all taught that if you are the “A” player, top performer, and consistent producer, your loss prevention career is safe. I can tell you that this is not necessarily true. Companies are going to make decisions they feel are the best for the organization. Those decisions are based on a multitude of criteria, only one of which is employee performance.
If you happen to draw the short straw, it is important to not take it personally. Do not compare yourself to one of your peers who you believe is less qualified, has less tenure, and is a “C” performer. At this point, the company has already made the difficult decision, and you are it.
In a tough economic environment, I was one of over 600,000 Americans who lost their jobs in January 2009. Companies today are still making tough decisions regarding financial obligations and their businesses. Understanding that you are not the only one whose loss prevention career has been interrupted will help you in not taking it personally.
What I found from my past experience, where I have been laid off and where I was the person laying off staff, there are three basic emotions that occur during one of these layoff sessions.
The first emotion is complete shock. This is normal for anyone, especially if they did not see the layoff coming. I was summoned to a meeting, so I had a good idea that I was going to be laid off.
The second emotion is anger. People are angry because they take it personally and think that they are a victim. Do not do this. I have found that this is where people burn the most bridges.
The final emotion is hysteria. I have seen people break down and wail. It is unprofessional for the workplace and will not get your job back.
I was impressed with the human resource professional who was part of the action that morning. If you manage your emotions, you can likely have a good conversation with the HR person and get many questions answered by them during those initial moments. When a company goes through a major layoff or corporate restructure, it is time consuming. I asked several questions that day, figuring that he would be pretty busy in the future and would play phone tag if I needed something later. Remember to obtain a business card of your HR contact with at least two phone numbers on it.
Lesson 2. Ask the Questions and Know Your Rights
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, so I would consult one regarding employment laws and regulations in your state. However, there are some things I do know:
The first is never sign anything that day. Most companies will not force that upon you, but if they do, I would respectfully ask them for seven days to review the documentation. I have found it common that companies typically give 14 days to review and return the documentation. At that point in time, they will process the severance check.
The second, and probably most important, suggestion is to read over the documentation with a clear mind so your judgment is not impaired. Make sure you take notes on any portion of the agreement that you have a question about. I made two copies of mine, one of which I highlighted and took notes on where I had questions.
There are several questions that I felt were important to ask and probably should be considered by anyone in this situation.
Am I eligible for unemployment? Unemployment is regulated by the state, and I have seen in severance agreements where people waive the right in the past. Ask about it and make sure that you can apply for it if you need it. Some people let their pride get in the way of taking advantage of this benefit. Remember that your severance may not last as long as you think it will, especially in tough economic times.
When will I receive my severance check, and how long will my medical insurance last? Some companies have held severance until the bankruptcy is filed, some have a 14-day wait, and some will overnight it once they receive the signed severance agreement from you. The second part of this question is medical insurance. Some companies I have found will cover you through the end of the month.
Can you provide me with a letter regarding my employment situation here, and what is the contact number future employers can use to validate my employment? I asked for a letter from our HR department that I scanned into my computer and included it in my job search package as I looked to move forward with my loss prevention career. Such a letter validates what has happened with your particular situation. As a hiring authority for 12 years, I must admit I scratch my head when I hear about layoffs.
Ask about your benefits in general, including owed vacation or personal time, 401K, and stock options that you’ve accumulated during your loss prevention career. All of these are handled differently with each company, so I would make sure you have a clear understanding of disbursements and rolling over the money.
Lesson 3. Dive into Your Finances
It is important to set up a budget and understand your finances. I know many people who received a good severance package and did not budget it to survive on, which ultimately led to financial hardships.
The one recommendation that I have is: read The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. This is a great book and easy read that outlines the fundamentals of living on a shoestring budget, paying off debt, and living debt free. He is a witty author and a great radio show host. He also has podcasts and audio versions of his book, for those of you who prefer learning that way. I listened to this book in two days and read it in one, taking many notes in the margins. Afterwards, I put together a simple budget, figuring out the unemployment that I received and the severance that I was going to live on until I found the next job. I gave myself six months on this budget due to the difficult state of the economy.
Understand that it is important to set realistic financial budgets and goals while you are unemployed. Money is one of the most significant stressors that impact an individual and relationships. Another financial exercise that you will need to facilitate is your 401K and stock options, if you have them. Finding out how long you can keep the 401K in that account is important. Also find out if you can roll those funds into a Roth IRA or any other IRA. I would recommend consulting a financial advisor. Remember that this is your retirement money and should not be used to live day to day. The tax implications are significant as well.
Lesson 4. Start Your Job Search, Like, Yesterday
This section of the article will be more substantial because it is really what you will spend most of your time doing—finding a new loss prevention career.
I was told that there are not many jobs out there. That is not necessarily true. There are fewer jobs than normal, but the competition is at an all-time high, which effectively makes it seem like there are not many jobs available. An article in the Miami Herald talked about 1,000 qualified people standing in line to fill a handful of firefighter jobs. An Italian restaurant chain opened a new location near where I live not long ago and there were 2,500 people–some with master’s degrees–applying for 80 restaurant jobs. The jobs are out there, but the competition is greater. The real question is, how are you going to make yourself stand out above the rest?
There are two things that you can start to do right away. The first is networking and the second is getting your resume up to date.
Job Boards. In loss prevention, there are several job boards, such as www.LPjobs.com, that focus on loss prevention career opportunities. I review LPjobs on a daily basis. This is a user-friendly site that allows you to search not only by job level, but also by geographical area. You can also use job boards like Career Builder and Monster.
I recommend getting your resume on these job boards immediately. Potential employers and hiring authorities have access to the resume database and often research the potential talent prior to posting a position.
You can also look at the loss prevention recruiter websites for posted positions. Most recruiters post the jobs that they are searching for on their own website. I put together a “favorites” folder in my browser for easy access so I could review the job and recruiter boards daily.
Online Networking. The networking environment has changed drastically in the past 10-15 years. With social networking advancements like LinkedIn, it is easy and cost effective to connect with other professionals in your field. Make sure that you take advantage of online networking opportunities if you are not doing so already.
Some of the sites have loss prevention career-related groups you can join, too. Sign up for the free accounts with the exception of LinkedIn, which has a nominal fee for an upgraded account. With the added features and benefits, I think it is well worth the money. Make sure that you update your profile and include that you are looking for a job. If you can relocate, including this is critical and you should put that in with your heading.
You will also be able to connect with members you worked with during your loss prevention career, those you know personally, went to school with, or have in your Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook contact lists. Make sure you play around with this tool and get as many contacts as possible. You can put in search criteria like your past company, and it will pull up everyone on LinkedIn who has that company in their profile. Do this search for every company you have worked for. I actually found the person who gave me my first job in retail and is now a top executive in a Fortune 500 company. These are the types of contacts who can help you in your job search.
Most industries have at least one, if not several, associations, such as ASIS International (www.asisonline.org), National Retail Federation (www.nrf.com), and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (www.rila.org). Join these associations, subscribe to their newsletters, go to the meetings if they are local, and send the person in charge a copy of your resume. Attending conferences is also an excellent way to not only network with great leaders in our industry, but also get educated on the trends, strategies, and processes of loss prevention and security.
Resumes and Career Coaches. I stated earlier that the competition for available employment is aggressive. It is an employer’s world out there, and you have to give yourself the edge over your competition.
I first recommend hiring a great resume-writing company. There are many resume companies that will rewrite your resume for about $250 and for an extra $100 give you a great cover letter. These resume writers will take your resume to the next level and make it stand out to the hiring authorities. Understand that this is a great investment into your job-search portfolio.
The other thing I recommend is a loss prevention career coach. Many recruiters offer this service. These coaches provide you feedback, ideas, and counseling on obtaining that next career opportunity.
You may also consider reading the Knock ‘em Dead series of books by Martin Yate. This series covers the entire job-search process from cover letters to resumes to interviews and will help you in your career transition.
From Worst to Best
Although losing your job may seem like a devastating setback, remember that everything happens for a reason, and you have the power of choice. You have the choice to rise above the circumstance that is no fault of your own and be the best you can be. Stay focused on your goals. Network and stay positive so that you stand out to potential hiring authorities. With the right attitude, you can turn what may seem like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you into the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
This article was first published in 2009 and updated October 25, 2016.