How the last recession spurred a career transition for one IMPACT Group VP and her advice to those fearful of job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What started as a week or two stuck indoors has quickly turned into a public health emergency that has caused some businesses and industry sectors to come to a screeching halt. Life as we know it has changed, and like an echo from the not-too-distant past, many are comparing the potential job losses with those of the Great Recession.
IMPACT Group’s Vice President of Coaching Excellence, Roni Chambers, reflects on her own experience of job loss and career transition during the last recession and how that difficult period turned out to be a pivotal moment in her life and career.
On the Front Lines of Layoffs
Roni served as HR Director at Anheuser-Busch from 2003 to 2010, which not only included the peak of the Great Recession, but also an acquisition by InBev and subsequent restructuring that left many jobless. In all, Roni estimates she personally laid off more than 1,000 employees—many she considered family and some with 30-year careers at Anheuser-Busch.
One of her first layoffs was that of a veteran sales employee who flew in from Detroit. After delivering the news to him, Roni gathered his company cell phone, car keys, and computer—which likely contained all his personal data—and put him in a cab to fly home, to tell his family he no longer had a job. “His company car was towed from the local airport before he even landed back home. It was painful,” she recalls with an obvious note of regret in her voice. “We ended the careers of so many people. We changed their lives with just one short meeting in a conference room.”
Wading through Job Loss & a Career Transition
Burned out after years of layoffs, Roni welcomed her own departure and career transition in March 2010 after more than two decades with Anheuser-Busch. Angry and bitter, she admits she spent several months wandering aimlessly through life. As Roni faced her new realty, she realized that even with 15+ years of HR experience, she had no idea how to transition to the next opportunity after a job loss.
In the summer of 2010, Roni found her way to GO! Network, a local career services program in St. Louis. Once a week, Roni and 200+ other participants were empowered to learn new skills, from interviewing and networking to developing an elevator pitch. “The program was a safe place to ask what we thought were stupid questions, like ‘Do I need a business card? What’s an elevator pitch?’ GO! Network healed me and helped me find my way again after job loss.”
By fall 2010, the program was looking to close up shop, but Roni felt it had not yet run its course. She stepped into the executive director role as a volunteer, supporting herself—and sometimes the program—with funds from her own retirement. “This time was very powerful for me, although scary,” she says, “but when you can’t go backward, you must go forward.” In all, GO! Network served more than 4,500 out-of-work professionals in the St. Louis area from 2009 to 2013.
Roni ultimately pivoted into career coaching and established a consulting practice helping others through their own career transitions. She credits her success to her time leading GO! Network, where she learned to embrace change, push through fear, and retool her skills. In 2019, Roni joined IMPACT Group and now leads the outplacement and relocation business lines, as well as a global network of 240+ career coaches.
Lessons Learned during Career Transition
As we wait to see the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the job market, Roni offers some advice to employees concerned about job loss and a career transition. “Don’t think, ‘it can’t happen to me.’” She recommends employees educate themselves on the new legislation for laid-off or furloughed employees, as well as their current employers’ policies on severance, sick pay, and rehiring. She also suggests proactively connecting with industry contacts.
The current crisis will likely change the job search process. Roni believes jobseekers will need to be creative as in-person networking programs just won’t work in our age of social distancing. But she is confident we will find innovative ways to continue helping each other as we walk through this together and come out on the other side, hopefully for the better.
Has the coronavirus forced you to make hard business decisions?
For more than 30 years, IMPACT Group has guided both companies and their employees during major transitions, from small separations to major downsizings. We’re here to help you navigate change. Learn more about our outplacement services and 1:Me approach today.