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Redundancy: Not the End

By Sarah Wilshaw-Sparkes

This article first appeared in the NZ Herald’s Career Portfolio on Jan 21 2009.

A sudden meeting on a Thursday afternoon with your boss. You know it can’t be good news. It made me nervous…

Shelley is talking four weeks after first hearing that her coaching role at one of New Zealand’s banks was one proposed for disestablishment. A month on, she’s not at all gloomy and even rates herself as ‘fortunate’.

She had seen it coming for nearly two years, as her department steadily shrank and she found herself training others to do parts of her job in smaller, better tailored roles. “I’ve actually wanted it to happen for the last six months. It’s been soul-destroying working in a poorly designed role.” She agrees with the business logic behind the proposal, too, unlike some of her colleagues who have reacted very badly to news of their jobs being removed.

Take Control – Fast

Another big plus for Shelley is the bank’s offer of free access to career transition services.

“I’ve realised I love coaching and probably want to stay in this type of work.” She’s looking forward to external, independent advice on planning her search process and polishing her CV, a document she has hardly touched in eight years. While Shelley waits for that appointment, she’s begun calling people in the training industry to put out feelers. Pre-Christmas, her contacts are too busy to be receptive, but taking action has made her feel confident. She advises,

Don’t let things be out of your control. Get back your sense of control as fast as you can.

Take Time, Too!

Getting past the shock of redundancy is a crucial step in turning the situation to your advantage. Jude Manuel, Business Development Director at career transition specialists, DBM New Zealand, offers this advice:

There are myriad responses to the news but it’s usually a jolt. The psychological contract you had with your employer, of giving your loyalty, time and skills, is displaced. Until the smoke clears, you can’t develop your sense of confidence that you’re a great candidate.

You have to give yourself time to work through the emotion or it will spill out at inopportune moments, like in a social setting that could have provided useful contacts, or even in an interview with a prospective employer.

She recommends grabbing outplacement support with both hands if it is offered because it can help people move through the emotion faster. One practical method her firm uses is to gather affected people together.

It’s very valuable. They say, ‘Gosh, it’s not just me, it’s not personal, it was a business decision.’ And these forums are a great networking tool, too!

Next come three steps to finding a new role or direction: preparation through self assessment; focus through targeting relevant roles and skills; achievement through negotiating the new job offer.

Clean Sheet

The self assessment step is critical. Eugene Ng, a director of H2R Consulting, advises,

Start with a clean sheet. There are even career option exercises you can buy online. The thing is to see this as the chance to do something new. To do what you enjoy, not what you’re trained to do or what you’re good at.

Self-assessment should range widely, encompassing work style preferences and financial expectations because not everyone will end up in a traditional job.  Ng says,

A lot of people go into contracting or become owner operators. We’ve been seeing this since the early nineties when there weren’t enough jobs for everyone and people set up their own consultancies. I’ve seen examples across many industries of redundancy becoming an opportunity. People were pushed out of their comfort zones and they’ve never looked back.


Take time to reflect on your values, too. Robyn Webb, who delivers career management and transition services at professional services firm, Pohlen Kean, asks,

Were your personal values aligned with your old employer’s? You can get so busy, you don’t notice the company going down a path that you’re uncomfortable with. Your value set becomes really useful later in your opportunity search. It helps you identify target organisations. It’s great for when an interviewer invites you to ask questions. And if you have multiple offers on the table, it’s a way to assess them.

A values-driven approach can lead to candidates to look first for aligned companies rather than pursuing a specific role. “It’s about getting the order right. What can I offer? Who do I want to offer it to? Then exploring with that company what roles they have.”


Not everyone can access career transition services. The fundamental process is the same, however, whether you use experts or take a DIY approach. Webb’s advice for those handling redundancy alone is to find a mentor; this could be a business colleague, a friend or family member. Mentors can assist the emotional healing, and can also highlight opportunities and open their networks to help create new contacts. Candidates should leverage their own work and social networks, too, partly to uncover the jobs that are never advertised, but also to find out more about companies that appeal.

How Long to Find a New Opportunity?

That depends in part on seniority, says Manuel of DBM New Zealand. Senior roles are subject to a more rigorous process that takes longer. Also, the initial self assessment is usually more complex because with more experiences to draw on, there are more future paths to consider. An industry rule of thumb for time between roles offered by Ng at H2R Consulting is that it is similar to the time taken to sell a house.

How to Stand Out

Some employees are landing in the job market alongside many others from the same background and skill set. It is still possible to stand out from the crowd. Ng recommends,

Look for transferable skills. Don’t focus on the technically specific skills of your previous industry. Good candidates stand out by the quality of their CVs and their interview skills. You need to practise these.

Candidates can also help themselves with recruitment consultants by being clear about the role they want to go for. The most successful candidates think things through to specific roles that are right for them. The less successful leave the thinking up to others.

Another key CV element is to highlight your quantifiable achievements. “People want achievers on their team,” says Manuel of DBM New Zealand.

A Kick

And finally, what of Shelley’s plans?

I’m going to have a holiday, switch off from the old career, and start fresh in January. People who come through redundancy best will be those prepared to see it as a blessing. This is the kick up the butt I needed a year ago!

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