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How to make it out on the back end

I recently fielded a question from a professional acquaintance that got me thinking - and imagined that others might be wondering the same thing...

He is recently married and early in his career in a business development role at a large company that serves the technology industry in the San Francisco Bay. Following is his context and question:

"I only have 2 deals going right now and that's because they were contract expiration date driven...all others are dead or on hold. That said, I've been insanely busy doing (free) work assessing different client/prospect situations to see if they qualify for financial relief. A lot of groups are either laying people off, cutting expenses, etc. and showing this can sometimes get them better terms or payment deferral. I think yesterday alone I had 29 calls on this and around 5 with VCs to discuss their portfolio companies. All that said, this is certainly the first correction / economic downfall in my lifetime, so this is all new to me. Any suggestions on how to make it out on the back end?"

"This is certainly the first correction / economic downfall in my lifetime, so this is all new to me. Any suggestions on how to make it out on the back end?"

Wow. That is a big question in a tough time. So, I tried to provide a thoughtful answer. Here it goes...

Over the last 25 years I have experienced several major economic events: the dot com bubble bursting, the mortgage market meltdown, and the financial services crisis. In each of these cases, I was working in an HR leadership role in the industry directly experiencing the event. I have been involved in bankruptcies, spin-offs, sales, and downsizing events that have impacted many thousands of jobs. That said, none of these prior economic events seem to have been this acute or this widespread across both industries & geographies. With that context and the benefit of hindsight, I would offer a few recommendations to navigate the current situation.

1. Take care of yourself (physically, emotionally, and financially)


Likely, there is much in your current job that can absorb your energies during a time of economic crisis. It is deceptively therapeutic to be consumed in work, but be sure to maintain good habits around exercise, eating, sleeping, and taking breaks. If your health deteriorates, it will impact your work, your career, and your ability to care for others. A long walk will do a lot more good than indulging in alcohol or comfort foods.  


Seek methods to reduce anxiety. For me, the best way to do that is to have a clear purpose and to be executing on a plan. Identify what you can control, and what you cannot. Your efforts will have minimal impact on the broader economic climate - but you CAN control your own behavior, especially how you interact with the people in your life. Be good to others and do something productive.


Some people find solace in meditation and affirmations during economic crises. I review my monthly budget and savings accounts. This activity reduces fear and anxiety by refreshing my knowledge of my actual financial situation - rather than allowing myself to wallow in ambiguous fear. Even if your financial situation is precarious, this exercise allows you maintain some control over decisions and potential actions. In past crises, I have meaningfully improved my financial situation by downsizing my apartment, getting a roommate, selling a car, renting out a parking spot, and reducing many other expenses.  

2. Maintain a great professional reputation

This isn't a problem for most of us, rather the opposite (being consumed entirely by work). Continue to keep commitments, communicate with customers and coworkers, and do good work. Even if the job that you're in today goes away, your professional relationships and reputation will stick with you for the entirety of a long career. 

3. Look to the future

In each of the economic crises that I have lived and worked through, impacted markets, industries, and (most) companies eventually rebounded. However, that took some time and they were never exactly the same afterwards. Positions that are eliminated probably will not return for years. There is a lot of value in predicting where future opportunities are likely to reside. When I was the head of HR at a tech startup during the dot com crisis, after shutting down that business I relocated to a larger metro area for an HR role within GE Capital - which was extremely strong at the time. Years later, after banking jobs were slashed during the financial services crisis, I moved into the very stable consumer packaged goods industry. Even in today's environment, some businesses and industries continue to aggressively hire. If you are in a particularly vulnerable industry or function that is likely to struggle for the foreseeable future (office services, event planning, recruitment, retail, hospitality, etc.), think about how to articulate your skills and experiences to be an attractive candidate for opportunities in other sectors or fields - and start networking. Yes, you may have invested tremendous time and effort in your current employer and field. However, if that field is likely to be deeply impacted for the next year or more, your best path may be elsewhere - so don't fight it. Recruiters, start thinking about sales jobs. Event planners, consider marketing or social media roles. Executive coaches, consider going in-house as a practicing people manager. Again, merely possessing a purpose and a plan can offer a critical sense of security.

In conclusion...

I hope these thoughts are helpful to him (he says they were - which spurred me to share more broadly) as well as to others. While this disease is new, economic crises are not. Let's be flexible, adaptable, and forward-thinking to navigate these uncertain times and make it out on the back end.

Best wishes,

Andrew Bartlow


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