Top 7 Things I Learned When I Got Laid Off From a Major O&G Company

Now I hate to start my blog off on such a negative note, but there’s a reason for this. I currently work in the Oil & Gas industry. If you aren’t aware, we’re going through a major downturn right now due to the excessive supply in the market and diminishing demand. The market does an adjustment like this every 7 years or so. Major O&G companies are using buzzwords like, “streamline“, “lean“, “adapt“, “efficiency“… essentially they all mean the same thing. It’s using the market as an opportunity to lay off a lot of good, hard working people.

I went through this back in 2007. I worked for a French based company for a few years. My fiance at the time left her lucrative job in NYC to move down here to Houston and live with me after our wedding. We planned a fabulous honeymoon in the Caribbean. Everything was phenomenal.

2 weeks after we got back from the (very expensive) honeymoon I got called into my managers office. It was an experience I will never forget. He sat and explained what was going on with the market, the challenges and impacts to our teams, it felt like slow motion. I could see his lips moving but in my head, thoughts were rushing… “what’s going on here”, “is this really happening”, “am I not good enough”, “I have failed”, “I don’t have what it takes”… It was a soul crushing day in my life.

Although I had seen friends go through layoffs before, I felt immune for whatever reason. “Ah, it won’t happen to me”. But very few people are immune and it paved the way for intense introspection the following few months and I learned a few things about myself. Today I have quite a number of friends who are being laid off… some since January this year. I hope they learn from my experiences and adapt.

Top 7 Things I learned when I got laid off from a major O&G company:

  1. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. This was hard for me. I felt like a failure. Men identify themselves based on what they do for a living, and it took me too long to bounce back mentally. There are always things we can do better at work, but usually it’s a matter of being in the wrong position at the wrong time. Use this as an opportunity to Learn, Pivot, and Move On. The longer you stay in the stage of disbelief or grief, the more difficult it will be to get back in the game.
  2. LIVE RESPONSIBLY. This was a big one. For a reason I do not understand many people don’t appreciate this. One of the things that saved me financially was that I was living a life well within my means. I never bought things I could not afford and never relied on additional or supplemental income. During my 9 months without a job, not once did I  tap into my savings. Even after getting married I was able to live off unemployment benefits!
  3. BUILD YOUR NETWORK. I realized the power of networking too late in my career. If the only people that know you are the ones you work with directly, you’re building yourself a corporate grave. I realized very quickly that I hardly knew anyone in my field. Part of it was because I had recently switched industries, but mostly it was because I did not give the time and effort it required. Building those internal AND external relationships is all about positioning yourself for the next opportunity… something I learned you should ALWAYS be looking for, even when you are in a good position. Every engagement is critical and cannot be minimized. I personally eventually found a job not through submitting an online resume, but by connecting with an industry expert over a dinner I told my wife I didn’t feel like attending. She pushed me to go. I’m forever grateful to her.
  4. IMPROVE YOUR SKILL-SET.  Although during a time when companies are relying on experienced workers, it never hurts to improve your skill-set and put them on your resume.  Though this may not necessarily land you a job, it CAN land you an interview and get you past those automated resume sorters on-line. Then when you get that interview, you can then show your enthusiasm and expertise to impress your desire to put your skills to work. Get an industry recognized certificate, learn a new language code. There is no shortage of resources (many of which are free) at your disposal.
  5. ENGAGE. Here are a few “I shoulda…” thoughts I had while reflecting about what I could’ve adjusted or done better at and that I am now doing in my current role.
    • Attitude goes far – Are you the employee that complains a lot? Are you negative most of the time? Be careful how you handle requests. People notice attitude and it can either help or be detrimental to your image.
    • Ask ask ask – A lesson I missed in school. There really is no such thing as a stupid question. The only way to show your engagement early on is to ask as many questions as humanly possible until eventually you become the expert. Then you’ll become the go-to person for answers.
    • Honesty – If you need something or if you’re struggling with something, make it known to your manager. Hiding behind it in an effort to look ‘smart’ will just have the opposite effect in time. Never sweep things under the carpet, but come up with potential solutions. Effective leadership communication focuses on finding solutions, not focusing on problems.
    • Focus – Early in my career I spent WAY too much time and energy focusing on where I would LIKE to be versus where I was. It was a lot of, “oh man I wish I was on a job doing…”. It’s fine to day-dream… it’s not fine to day-dream at work. It’s keeping you from engaging with those around you and developing your expertise.
    • Perception is everything – How do people around you perceive you? Ask around. Do you have an issue with your image? Take steps to fix it. This follows you around everywhere so take good care of it.
    • Be Proactive – Be proactive in your career. No one is going to hold your hand. Talk to your manager about your career development regularly and ask for learning/training opportunities. That shows initiative.
    • Position Yourself – It’s not just about having a job, it’s about having the RIGHT job. If you knew your role would disappear in 3 months would you stay there? Of course not! So look for indicators around you that help you determine the longevity of your position. Is your team growing? What about your product, how’s it doing in the market? Are there rumors going around? Pay attention and be proactive about making a jump before it’s too late.
    • Your Manager is Your Hero – When push comes to shove it’s your manager who will vouch for you, speak on your behalf and help promote you with upper management. If you aren’t aligned with him, meet regularly (as in daily or weekly) until you are. Sometimes personalities just clash and no matter what you do, the relationship doesn’t improve. If that’s the case, be proactive and find another team to join. It’s that critical.
  6. SELL YOURSELF. I sold myself short… a lot. Part of this is confidence, but part of it is understand your worth and what you bring to an organization. Do you have an ‘elevator pitch’ on who you are? If not, make one and practice telling it to people. This goes a long way in building your personal brand. Your worth is devalued when doing two things: not enough selling and too much selling (and not delivering). Find that sweet spot.
  7. TIME OFF STRATEGY. How many times have you told yourself you wish you could do something if only you had the time. Well, now you have it… what are you going to do with it? Is there something you’ve always wanted to try? Maybe you’ve been passionate about cooking but never took it seriously. It’s times like these when we can pivot in our lives and re-assess our dreams and goals. Maybe you can use this opportunity to turn your passion into a career. Do you like traveling? Maybe it’s time to blog about your experiences. The opportunities really are endless if you’re willing to reach. Brainstorm options and work it.  If you’ve lived a life of financial responsibility you probably can make your dreams a reality.

One last thing… if you know someone who is going through this, be compassionate. Chances are you don’t fully understand their situation and they are undergoing a major life shift so if they seem moody or down right angry, give them the benefit of the doubt. Say a kind word, show support, it all goes a long way. I myself truly learned who my friends were during that time and now go the extra mile for those that really went out of their way to offer their love and support.

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