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Pack your parachute

Planning to quit? Seeing subtle signs of an imminent reorganization? End of fiscal year soon? Project unstable? Pack your parachute.

People were crying in the hallways. Hugging, saying goodbye. Leaving early. Talking angrily in the cafe. What the hell happened?

“They laid off the XXXXXX organization,” my coworker said as I stepped into our cubicle area. “All of them. All 200 of them.”

That was the day I knew I had to pack my parachute.

Packing my parachute — from the book, What Color is Your Parachute? — simply meant preparing for an eventual job loss, regardless of the reason. And wow, I’m so glad I did.

Recently I’ve read a couple of great articles here on Medium which underscore the value of making a strategic exit. Here’s the first, with more of a strategic angle:

And here’s the second, with more tactical and specific advice:

Here’s how I did it, along with a starter checklist of tactical things to consider.

The long-term plan

My packing had started decades before that long-ago layoff, I realized. I inherited sound financial values and a good financial education from my parents. I knew my two main goals had to be to stay out of debt, and save more than I spent. So tweaking the coordinates on my internal financial GPS was fairly easy.

  • I reassessed my tolerance for risk — it’s pretty low.
  • I reaffirmed my values — security, independence, self-sufficiency, freedom, etc.
  • I examined my priorities — what did I need vs. want?
  • I decided what compromises I could make — what was essential to quality of life, and what could I do without?
  • I renewed my efforts to live within my means — adopting more thrifty habits.
  • I resolved to be more resilient and handle change in healthy ways.

Understanding my values, emotions and priorities was a huge factor in my preparedness. I periodically checked in to ensure I was still pointed in the right direction while I carried out more tactical steps over the next several years.

The tactical plan

Not long after that long-ago layoff I started a checklist titled “EXIT PLAN” on a piece of lined notebook paper. Whenever I thought of something I’d have to do before leaving my job I wrote it down. I carried that piece of paper around with me for years before I was finally laid off. Here are some of the things that were on it, plus several more.

Job search

  • Get LinkedIn recommendations from coworkers / make connections on LinkedIn
  • Update resume on disk/paper
  • Update resume on job sites such as monster.com, etc., LinkedIn, etc.
  • Create a list of work contacts with email, phone number, and how you worked with them
  • Order personal business cards
  • Review NDAs or other employment documents to find out if any restrictions around future employment (non-compete agreement, etc.)
  • Sign up for outplacement services
  • Figure out a method to track job opportunities, contacts, jobs applied for, etc. It can be an Excel spreadsheet, Trello board or anything else as long as it’s workable.
  • Sign up for and take any free training available
  • Get free certifications available
  • Save or print out emails with recommendations or positive feedback to add to your resume, website or portfolio
  • Sign up for webinars in the future, so you can still take them after you leave
  • Renew professional memberships and get the company to pay for it as part of your package if you can
  • Look through your calendar for reminders about projects, dates, successes and accomplishments
  • Stay in touch with people — join an alumni group, Facebook group of former employees, etc.

Benefits

  • Learn about COBRA — calendar out deadlines so as not to miss them
  • Schedule doctor, dental and eyeglass appointments
  • Schedule prescription renewals / renew prescriptions
  • Download resources from online wellness programs (I got some great booklets on resilience, aging, elder care, and estate planning this way)
  • Adjust 401k contributions if needed
  • Adjust savings or investment account contributions
  • Exercise stock options (if it makes financial sense)
  • Sell ESPP stock (if it makes financial sense) You’ll get more responsiveness from financial institutions and other vendors — and will retain your expected levels of access — if you perform necessary transactions while you’re still an employee of the company.
  • Take advantage of employee discounts
  • Put in for reimbursements still due
  • Make any donations through company programs and request company matching
  • Cash in awards, coupons or other vouchers or bonuses

Finances

  • Attend to personal finances as needed — living expenses, etc. Pay off debts, pay down credit cards, adjust direct deposits, etc.
  • Start a layoff or emergency living expenses fund if you don’t have one already
  • Consider making big purchases that were planned while it’s easier to pay them off while having an income
  • Take care of anything that requires a check on your credit rating while you still have a job

Technology

  • Find out if you can keep your company cell phone and how to transfer your plan
  • Remove personal documents and emails from computer
  • Transfer business website logins to personal credentials as appropriate — don’t have any personal emails coming to your work email account
  • Transfer professional memberships or online accounts to personal credentials as appropriate
  • Unsubscribe from newsletters and resubscribe with personal email
  • Remove music / movies from work computer
  • Backup documents / add documents to portfolio as permitted
  • Transfer personal calendar appointments on your work calendar to your personal calendar
  • Record dates of employment on your personal calendar — you’ll be glad you did
  • Export personal data from company wellness program websites (weight, steps, blood pressure readings, etc.)
  • Take home personal belongings — clothing, snacks, flash card readers, personal flash drives, books, personal cell phone cable, accessories, spare underpants, favorite fancy pens, etc.

Take advantage of every free thing your company offers, whether it’s a discount, certification, training, resource, subscription, membership or whatever. In particular, look for learning opportunities that will support you in your next role.

If you have a checklist of your own, or suggestions for this one, I’d love to hear your ideas. Start packing, and take care of yourself.


Michelle Rau blogs on various topics including midlife fitness in Fit, Fudge Fifty and writes fiction in various genres.