Before you read this post, some context…. I’ve written over 140 blog posts, I’ve spoken at events, I’ve ghost written articles, written two books, hosted ~ 60 podcast episodes and trained hundreds of people. However, I’m naturally introverted and shy; you may or may not be surprised at this. It takes a fair bit of resolve for me to break away from my natural tendancies.
I was made redundant in 2016 and while I feel that I have long since resolved it, being made redundant was not fun for me. I do fundamentally believe it changed my outlook though- for the better.
I’ve written this post at least 7 times and each time I’ve parked it. Why? Vunerability, I think. However, when I see tweets like this…
After 3 years and 9 months of working at Twilio, I'm absolutely gutted because I’m being laid off. 😩😔😭
— Michelle Glauser (@MichelleGlauser) June 10, 2022
…I can instantly take myself back to that (very different) moment of vunerability.
I generally don’t like to ‘give advice’ (I also write this below!). Though ultimately that is what this post boils down to, I fully realise that every situation is somewhat unique – but there maybe common threads. But each time I come back to the question, would I have appreciated reading this? I think yes.
So here it is. As intended.
Being made redundant in a Geospatial career or losing your ‘geo’ job is not often discussed. I may have seen a rare Tweet but I’ve never seen a blog post about it and I don’t see conferences having presentations on this topic, nor podcast episodes or youtube videos. Why is this? There are plenty of posts (I’ve written many myself) highlighting interesting tech, thoughts, comments, analysis etc in Geospatial, even some really bizzare stuff (looking at you again, LinkedIn), but never the struggle or the hard times – though I think it would be compelling reading. We all know that careers are bumpy, yet the downs are often hidden or even abstracted away. Career discussions are so often forward and linear looking.
While I have had many amazing experiences I’ve also had the experience of being made redundant and it was tough at times. I want to write coherently about this, but if I am honest I didn’t really know how at first (7 revisions, guys!). It’s easy to give advice after all, much harder to walk in the shoes of the receiver of advice. All careers are different and experiences differ as well… But if I was to give one piece of advice it is this:
Try and own your career
If you’ve just been made redundant then this, I admit, is not very helpful. More for you later. However, what I realised, on losing my job was that it didn’t matter how good I was perceived internally by the organisation (or even by myself?) – if I didn’t have an external presence then I was significantly limiting myself. This is hard because often companies set objectives and targets that you can excel at within an organisation but outside it can be invisible or even meaningless. Today as a freelancer I see many invisible (external to the company they work for) stars – and when I find them, I try to tell them how amazing they are. Obviously there are some sweeping assumptions there – if you are in technical sales then clearly you have/need external visibility, but if your clients are internal clients then you have a challenge.
If you own your career then more opportunities *should* come your way. I think it is somewhat true to say that the worst way to get a job is to apply for one. The best way is to have long term (meaningful) ‘friendships/relationships’ with people in your industry. Ask around, ‘how did you get the job you are in?’, perhaps you will be surprised.
If you want to move to a different career seek out people in those positions and slowly build relationships with them. It is unlikely you will move from a GIS Analyst to a career in journalism* overnight but take small constructive steps now. It can and does happen.
*Subsitute with whatever profession you choose.
Sounds obvious. Start now.
What can you do proactively now?
I see owning your career as the long game and it can be incredibly subtle but some of the things you can do include:
- Get an online presence
- This does not mean sending 100s of connection requests on LinkedIn
- If you code then get a GitHub (or similar) account, you can keep it private if you want to
- You could engage on Twitter / LinkedIn / Mastodon – this could just be sharing a link or a news ‘thing’
- You could blog
- You could vlog!
- You could contribute to an open source project – and it doesn’t have to be code
- Make yourself findable
- Set yourself personal targets, but be kind to yourself. You could…
- Read more on your subject
- Reach out to someone (if you tell someone how much their work/presentation meant to you, 95% of the time you’ll get a response)
- Speak at a conference
- Ask for help / offer help
- If you are too internally focused? Check
- Are you growing? – please remember that You define this metric, no one else.
- Could you be in front of a client on a project you worked on more? Why are you not?
- Are you helping mentor a colleague (they could move on and speak highly of you).
- Are you looking at the market ? – You should. What can you do?
- Job adverts
- identify jobs you can do now
- identify ones you can aim at – look at the skills requested (but remember they almost always an exaggerated list). Is there a pattern?
- what skills would you like to sharpen?
- Tricky one this, but try and be present somehow – start small
- Meaningfully email someone, tell them how they made/make a difference, perhaps they can help. If they can’t help, don’t pester; thank them and move on.
- Running around a conference room giving out tens of business cards is a bad idea. Telling someone you enjoyed their talk is a good idea.
- Job adverts
- Careers are super bumpy – they are not linear despite what you might like to think.
- Don’t worry about where you want to be in 5 years time – nobody knows the answer to that. You can set your direction or arrow, but you can also change direction if you don’t like it.
- Don’t expect instant impact.
- A new good habit takes time to stick. So make it sticky.
- Somethings will suprisingly work, some will not. The more you try/do the luckier you will get.
- Geospatial specific
- Are you happy with your skill set?
- No one knows everything – be suspicious of anyone who claims otherwise.
- Enthusiasm is worth way more than a shopping list of software you have used/looked at. (I’ve been lucky enough to help hire people – this is the number one thing I look for and it’s so easy to spot).
- Tell your manager what you want – be clear. I don’t mean more money, I mean skills, opportunities, visibility.
- Domain expertise (in my experience) is worth 10x more than technical expertise.
- Most software
isshould be ‘easy’ to become competant at
- Solving the industry challenge/problem is not
- Most software
There are other things I’ve missed, I am sure. Basically, be proactive if you can.
What if you have just been made redundant?
‘It is the job not the person, so don’t take it personally’. I think it is more than ok if you do take it personally, you may experience a full range of emotions and it may take time. If you can arrive at an acceptance point (a day, a week, a month?) you’ll be able to start the ‘doing’. If you have been proactive and have been doing all those things above, it still sadly doesn’t offer any protection from losing your job but hopefully it makes the landing softer. Do not rely on silver bullets or miracle landings, but be grateful if you find one.
Sadly, I think you should expect a bad process – that again is not your fault. Managers might be told they need to lose one person and they have 24 hours to decide who. They might have to drop 50% of the team over the weekend. Nobody wants to do this, most of the time they don’t know what to do. It can feel faceless. Conflict is hard: the person deciding who is to be made redundant is preparing for conflict. If you can, try and resolve this situation, perhaps you can change the decision but assume you cannot. Ultimately if you are an employee you are a number on a database somewhere (sorry but it is true), best you realise this the day you join a company.
If you are having a hard time then know you are not alone, reach out to friends/family they will definitely be valuable. You maybe having a hard time despite this (remember moving to acceptance can take weeks), be kind to yourself – your achievements are still your achievements. If you can identify your stress behaviours – mine, for example, is doing too much work (often needlessly), tell someone what you are doing – listen if they tell you to stop. Exercise if you can, get outside. These things all helped me. However, none of it will get your old job back, sorry but that is gone. When you are ready consider
- Do you want to stay in Geospatial?
- If so, what? and where?
- If not, what steps could you take? Geospatial has plenty of transferable skills that are in high demand. You know what you are good at
- Don’t underestimate that just plotting ‘things’ on a map for someone can be mind blowing
- Being good at data (you decide what this means), is a valuable skill
- A totally new career is probably hard (if you start from scratch), but can you do it in steps – break it into pieces.
- Carpet bombing companies with your one size fits all CV is unlikely to work. Don’t do this.
- Reach out to companies you admire (and even better, know) for advice – ‘what would you look for if you were hiring’. You can find people on LinkedIn, but don’t harass people please.
- You have the time to attend events you never previously considered, but running around the room with business cards/CVs isn’t going to work. I doubt directly asking for a job is either – though you can try if you have the confidence (I don’t). You could ask a question to a presenter or visit a booth to ask about skills needed. Be more visible, slow improvement is best.
- Resist the temptation to apply for every job you find – this is exhausting and demoralising work. You don’t have to do that – you can be more selective.
- When you do apply, adjust your CV and cover letter to the job (obviously don’t lie), tailor it.
- Aim to get in the room
- You don’t have to take the first job offered (I’m making some massive assumptions huge apologies if finanically you do have to) – if it doesn’t fit keep looking.
- If you can surprise a company or show initiative (perhaps using their data, or looking at a market they serve) – then you will get noticed. Plus it shows incredible enthusiasm
- It’s ok to take a ‘step back’ (again this will mean different things to different people), but please don’t undersell yourself.
- If you can keep motivation and momentum (you’ll get bad days) you’ll be in a better place.
I guess this is potentially the most interesting part. I really hope I have not been preaching above, though I suspect I have – sorry. Ultimately I know that everyone’s experience is different. If you’ve just been made redundant I’m pulling so hard for you – reach out if you are struggling if only to say hi. You can ignore the ‘advice’.
This was my experience:
I was told on a Friday afternoon, via a letter given to me in person. I felt all the things that you can imagine someone in the same position might feel. I hadn’t taken any steps like the ones shown above to own my career. I knew I hadn’t been happy with work for a long while – and this was the first positive – a chance to have a change. During my notice period of redundancy (I appreciate all companies / locations are different, eg the US is different here), I applied for as many jobs as I could – strategy number 1. Probably over 20 (maybe significantly more). I achieved zero interviews based on this ‘strategy’
In the evenings I questioned whether I wanted to stay in the ‘industry’ – I went back to basics and found joy again via a lot of open source tools. Having always wanted to work for myself I decided that applying for jobs was just grinding me down. I wanted to work for myself. Strategy number 2 – work for myself.
This strategy was basically to own your career (above) on steroids. Started tweeting, blogging, LinkedIn’ing (?) to build visibility – spoiler here… this takes alot of time. I bought a domain (you are reading this post on it years later!), registered as a Ltd company and even hired an accountancy firm. I did this for 7 months. I earnt £0. I had no income. It was not sucessful.
Except that it wasn’t. I also read alot of books. I reached out to alot of people, to ask them for their experience – I met up with several people. The majority of whom I am still in contact with, and some have become amazing friends. One of whom I’ve worked with loads. Who did I reach out to? People I aspired to be, in my case self employed people. I am in huge debt to them all – you know who you are.
At the end of 7 months with no income I was writing a blog a week. Some were massive undertakings – some got very well received. At that point though I knew I had to pivot again, and try and get a job – strategy number 3. And this is the hopeful bit – it was much easier because the previous 7 months I had been owning my career – so when I applied for jobs I had less barriers to run through. I was also more ‘findable’
Even after returning to work it was not the smoothest of rides for me, perhaps I had my way to high expectations, perhaps I didn’t meant the expectations of the employer? As of today (July 2023) I’ve been working for myself since the end of 2017 – over five years! I do fully acknowledge I’ve been very lucky, and there were times when I thought this was total a disaster – but careers are bumpy. It will be bumpy again and again. But it will be ok.
It is hard to know what the next months or years will bring, but owning my career has been very beneficial to me. I hope it is to you.
Being made redundant is an upsetting time. Be honest, realistic and positive with yourself about the future. A career is only 1 part of you, for some it is a way to pay the bills and enables the things they want to do. For others (like me) it has more meaning, it feels like a purpose. I don’t want to enjure a career I want to enjoy a career.
Image credit https://unsplash.com/photos/HJckKnwCXxQ
I am a freelancer able to help you with your projects. I offer consultancy, training and writing. I’d be delighted to hear from you.
Feel free to connect or follow me; I am always keen to talk about Earth Observation, GIS, Python.
I am on Mastodon https://mapstodon.space/@map_andrew