Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Be Prepared To Lose Your Job

Unless you plan for your future, the scenario I am writing can happen to you.

Don’t kid yourself.  It can happen to anyone at any time. If you are in advertising or marketing, it will happen and you must be prepared.  The scenario goes like this.  You have a great job and you are doing well.  Then, suddenly, your client cuts the budge or pulls the account or your agency gets sold or merged and you find yourself out of work. You always thought you were well liked and safe, but few employees are really safe.  Consequently, you start networking, you see headhunters and you respond to many on-line listings.  But nothing happens.

Over the years, I have seen this happen to many excellent and well-respected executives.  I have often said that getting – or not getting – a job can be the luck of the draw.  And some people are just not lucky. The only thing I can say is that it isn’t you or anything you have done.  It is just the way it is.

And after a short while being unemployed, you go through your savings or, worse, you start going into debt.  Unemployment insurance may be a help, but it hardly covers your monthly nut.

This is a familiar scenario for every advertising executive.  These days there is no loyalty towards employees and even the most valued and successful executives may find themselves out of work.
Once you are out of work it can go something like this: you start out with a want list – the kind of job you have always dreamed of having and the companies where you always wanted to work. You apply to them on-line or network to them.  But after a while, when it does not happen, you are forced to lower your sights. You must look at companies – even businesses and industries – you never thought much about.  The longer you are out of work, the harder it becomes to look for a job. And herein lies the problem.  It is a vicious circle, and a conundrum.

If you are desperately in need of a job, it is tempting to take the first thing that comes along, even if it is a secondary or tertiary company.  Many of these companies are struggling, although they rarely reveal the truth to you while you are interviewing.  Some of them suffer from inherent problems like poor management; indecisive managers or terrible politics. (Some of these problems also exist at “A list” companies, but their size hides a lot of ills.)  And while learning from a negative situation may prove to be beneficial, it can put you in a long, deep hole that is difficult to get out of.

At first glance at your résumé, now that you have gone to a secondary company, a major company or agency probably doesn’t recognize why you went where you went or what you may have gained from working there.  The truth is, for instance, no matter how good your previous background, a major agency or company, say, JWT, wants to hire from DDB or Publicis, or Deutsch, not some smaller agency in New Jersey (my apologies to the Garden State) or an agency they never heard of or accounts they do not know.

The only way to avoid this situation is to have six months to a year in the bank. That is easily said, and I recognize how hard this is to do.  Savings should be viewed as an expense – where you pay yourself as your own creditor first. That means paying yourself before paying other bills.  It is essential.  And, frankly, having what my accountant calls, “fuck you money”, will make you a better, more effective executive because you will not be afraid to make tough decisions, including leaving the job of your own volition because aspects of it were misrepresented or omitted while you were interviewing.

No matter how desperate  you are. if a job doesn’t feel right, do not take it because it probably is not right.

I had a wonderful partner, Ned Viseltear, who used to say something about creative work, but which is equally applicable to careers: “If you don’t do bad work, bad work cannot be done.” This analogy applies to taking the wrong job as well.


  1. Dear Paul … We’ve known each other and worked together for about 40 years, and I’ve followed every one of your “View From …” posts ever since you started your blog. And while we haven’t always agreed on everything you’ve said, this is another case where we are in simpatico. One of the best and most heartfelt articles you’ve written yet. But in contrast to your closing point, where you said, “No matter how desperate you are, if a job doesn’t feel right, do not take it, because it probably is not right”, let me just say this … If you don’t have a job and can’t pay your bills (especially when supporting a family with kids), “Any port in a storm.” Or as Woody Allen would say, “Take the Money and Run”. LOL, but not really, Bill

    1. Bill, my point exactly. It is essential that every executive have money in the bank so they do not have to take the money and run.

  2. These days, there's another component to this dynamic. We tell our clients that no matter what industry they're in (and that includes advertising, marketing and branding), your company is in one of three positions: It's either a Disrupter; an Evolving Business; or a Dead Company Walking. Ask yourself which of those three categories your current company is in, which one of those three categories you're in and which one of those three categories your new employer is in. (Hint: In two out of three scenarios, your job is safe...)

  3. Well put. Unfortunately, few candidates ask these incisive questions of potential employers. Especially those candidates who have been out of work for a long time are mostly interested in getting a job, any job.

  4. Paul, when I got into advertising over 2 decades ago I was told to assume during an average 10 year career in advertising to assume you'll get laid off at least twice through no fault of your own. Best advice I ever got.

    I therefore as a young adult made it a point to live beneath my means and have at least 6 months of my bills saved in an easy-to-access savings/money market type of account. And as my salary has risen over the years, the amount of monthly savings has risen accordingly.

    I can't tell you how valuable this has been. The longest I was out of work was 9 months (I ended up relocating) and didn't have to dip into my retirement savings or sell my house.

    I've been hit by company mergers, client losses, even companies closing and by having this cushion I've never panicked.

    I'd also recommend to everyone to keep your LinkedIn up to date! When you apply to a company, check your LI network to see if anyone you know is connected to anyone at that target company. Customize your resume to match the key words in job postings (jobscan.co can help with that). And supplement your income by consulting. Set up your own LLC which is easy to do your self via your state's secretary of state website (no need to pay Legal Zoom to do it for you).

    And no matter how long it takes, don't give up on yourself.

    1. Thanks for these nice insights, Helen.Your point about LinkedIn and about customizing your resume is very well taken. (I have actually done listings on various web sites which are very specific and get resumes which have nothing to do with the job. Occasionally I will contact these people out of curiosity and discover that they in fact had the background I was looking for.)

  5. It also helps if during your career you have not burned bridges and not been an SOB, especially to people who had misfortune befall them. What goes around comes around. Build karma in the bank as well as cash.

    1. Fully agree. Wrote a post about me getting even with a former boss. It was posted on August 16, 2016, called Adventures in Advertising: An Employee Gets Revenge." What goes around, comes around. I fully agree.

  6. The one thing I'd take issue with in this viewpoint, is that it doesn't just happen at any time. It's rare that you don't see it coming, if you are aware.

    If your account might go into review, that itself is a sign. You know the chances of winning and losing, so be prepared for losing at the same time you prepare to win.

    Just as you should not ever have a performance review that you didn't know you were going to get, your job prospects are something you should be aware of at almost any time in your career. Nowadays online tools make it easy to see what's out there, even if you have no intention of leaving your current position.

    1. I cannot tell you how many people I have met over the years who actually did not see it coming. Many of them had great performance reviews and were given all kinds of signals that they were safe. It isn't as rare as you think. I do agree that there often signs that it is coming, but not always.


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

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