Flash back exactly 10 years ago, July 2006, and there I was, a young, idealistic, and ambitious 23 year old woman working her first job out of college, in the dreaded Human Resources department of a mid-tier corporation somewhere in the great state of Illinois. It had been almost a year since I had graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a liberal arts degree in History. Despite my parents’ steadfast belief that a History degree (which chose due to it being my favorite subject, for like ever!) would leave me permanently unemployed, I managed to secure said job right out of college due to a strategic junior year summer internship.
The job itself was fairly mundane, I was basically in charge of helping look for and screen suitable candidates as our company was in the midst of expansion (software development industry). It was an exciting time; the company was growing, the team was growing, and the whole corporate culture radiated positive energy. In terms of personal and professional growth, it was also a great time for myself; being able to screen hundreds and hundreds of resumes was a good learning experience in understanding what employers look for in employees and I felt that the experience had given me some useful tips and knowledge in what to do for my next professional move. Of course, I had no idea that such a move would be forced upon me.
Fast forward 6 months, and there were signs that all was not as rosy as it seemed. I felt an air of tension around the senior HR managers, and rumors started swirling around the dreaded words: “layoffs” or “downsizing”. Of course, part of HR’s responsibilities was to ‘manage’ those rumors, usually in the form of official staff memos telling them not to worry, which of course, had the opposite of the intended effect. Even the staff in the HR department (myself included) was worried, as we knew we were not safe from the corporate axe.
After about 3 more months of this, during which the rumors had furiously intensified despite management’s best efforts, the day finally came. The dreaded memo. The SS was here! SS in this case of course, referring to ‘Staff Separation’ scheme. Our company announced that it was laying off almost 30% of the workforce, referencing the usual justifications: “tough economic conditions”, “difficult times”, “necessary for the survival of the company” etc. The memo stated that a second memo would be issued to all affected staff in a few days’ time. Not even the common decency of a face to face meeting. Such is corporate life in America.
Morale at that point was, understandably, very low. Everyone had a pained look of anxiety on their faces each time they refreshed their inbox, dreading the arrival of the second memo. And then a few days later, the second memo went out. I still remember that day as if it was yesterday; I had just returned from a delicious lunch at Chipotle (double meat burrito, super protein packed!) and when I walked back into the office (admittedly a little late), the looks on the faces of my colleagues said it all: on most relief, but on others just a grey, downcast look that could only mean one thing. I hurriedly rushed back to my desk and opened my inbox, praying to the high heavens that I was not among the chosen. Alas, my prayers went unanswered.
When I saw the memo in my inbox, my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach: I was to pack all my stuff and vacate the premises by the end of the day itself. My mind flashed to all the bills I had to pay: rent, student loans, utilities….. whatever was I going to do? So I did the only thing that made sense in the moment: I ran into the bathroom, locked myself into a cubicle and just sat there and cried.
To be continued in Part 2.