Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lulu's Mailbag: Are layoffs just about business?

Yes, another heapin' helpin' of the Mailbag this week, coming from A, an engineering intern who has some observations that are relevant to architects as well:

Hi Lulu,

I was just reading your article - "It's better to be laid off than laid on" and I feel you have done a great job in explaining lay offs. I could relate to may things that you said in that article, although I am an engineering student -- not an architect.

I have done 3 internships so far. My first internship was an experience that I will cherish always. My second internship was at a very well reputed firm, under a very high profile boss. That internship was the worst experience I have ever had in my career and it really shattered my confidence. I don't know if it was 'less than awesome' performance from me or whether it was poor management on part of my boss or both, but at the end of my internship I was given negative feedback and told that I won't be given another chance to either intern or work in that company. That, after having been told that they are considering employing me full time (one month before the feedback) and that I'm doing a fantastic job(10 days before my feedback was given). I don't know if I somehow managed to irritate my boss in the last ten days or whether it was genuinely due to performance reasons ( I know that I did my best, but I didn't have the skills necessary to do an awesome job). I moved on and did an internship in another company in another specialization and was given good feedback on my work, but I still can not get over what happened to me in my second internship. I am looking out for jobs now and I find it hard to get myself to study or talk about what I worked on in my second internship though it is crucial that I study it. I also find it hard to be enthusiastic about working under a lady, because it was a lady who was so ruthless with me on that internship.

I don't know why I am writing to you, but your blog helped me understand that I shouldn't take things personally and that everything is about business. I know that is very sensible advice, but my experience has made me realize that it is not very easy to follow.


Hi A!

Thanks so much for dropping me a line. You make a really good point about layoffs. The people that go in the early rounds are often the ones that, in the eyes of management, don't "fit" with the culture of the firm. It's very possible that some folks at your office thought you were doing great, but the people in charge of hiring and firing thought otherwise. I have to wonder if your boss' management of you (and other interns and staff in general) was to blame, especially if you have little experience in architecture. I have personally witnessed this phenomenon: an intern who would benefit from good teaching and guidance gets paired with a manager who is a poor teacher (they need well-trained staff because their poor people skills make it tough for those new to the field to relate and feel comfortable asking questions). Then, the intern gets laid off or fired in great part because someone who isn't a very patient manager says "this person is slow and terrible!" It's a really unfair situation, and I'm betting there's at least some of that in your situation (though to be fair, I don't know all the details).

You're absolutely right; layoffs aren't personal (and you're also right that it's hard to accept that, especially when we put so much of ourselves into our professions and our work). Layoffs are partly a personality/culture decision, but they're mostly a financial decision. And working for women can sometimes (but I assure you not always) be difficult--some women aren't comfortable with a leadership role, and they either choose being a steamroller or a doormat as their management style, when there's no need for either kind of behavior. When asked about your second internship, it's best if you can find any technical or other experience that you gained and then highlight that. If asked why you were let go, your best response is "My understanding is that it was a financial decision" and leave it at that. Let that firm have its bad karma all for itself--don't go spreading it around. After your coworkers at you new firm get to know you better, then you can be a little more honest.

My best to you in your job search. Keep looking--we need good, bright people in architecture and engineering to make sure our professions stay solid, relevant, and excellent.

Take care,

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