Monday, February 16, 2009

Preparing for Your Impending Layoff From AOL

Welcome! You've got layoffs: A preparation guide for AOL employees.

joetux2005Welcome, soon-to-be-former AOL employee! I'm Joe Loong, graduate of the AOL Layoff Class of October, 2007, and I'm here to offer you a few bits of advice gleaned from my own personal layoff experience.

I hope that these items will help you prepare for your own imminent layoff, and ease your transition into the job market during this worst economic climate since the Great Depression.

This guide is primarily written for Northern Virginia worker bees. Employees from other locations and pay grades are welcome to add their advice in the comments, which I will integrate to the guide.

Things You Should Do Now
Hey, it's not personal. It's just business. Except when it's not. Regardless, whether you volunteer or are "asked" to leave, whether the layoff happens on the 24-25th of February or March or any other damn time, here are a few things you should do ahead of time:

* Update your resume and online profiles: Hopefully, you've been doing this all along, but if not, now's the time. Especially important these days is your LinkedIn account.

* Detach from your corporate e-mail address: Speaking of LinkedIn, Carles, an AOL alum now over there adds, "Add your personal email account to your LinkedIn account, and then make it your primary LinkedIn email. It is heartbreaking when people are laid off and lose access to their email, and then can't recover their LinkedIn passwords. Don't let this happen to you."

Good tip: If you were silly enough to register for any accounts or profiles using your address (which you don't get to keep), make sure you update them with a personal e-mail address that you control. The same thing goes for any snail mail you got at work that you cared about. (I admit I still give my old cube address and phone extension whenever I don't want to hand out my real info, like for supermarket club cards and such.)

* Search for yourself: Google your own name -- if people are searching for you, will they be able to find you? If not, take steps to improve your own search results.

Doing a vanity search will also let you know if you need to sanitize your Facebook profile to make yourself appear more employable. (And if you're still using your Myspace page -- come on now, you're a grown-up.)

* Find your old performance evaluation forms (whatever it is they're using now, formerly GOALign, FPR, etc.), because this is the one and only time they'll come in handy -- they're useful for figuring out what the hell you did (if anything) during your career.

Thanks to the guidance of your manager, your annual evaluations should be chock-full of impressive-sounding numbers and metrics. So what if they're meaningless, or even completely made up -- you can still use them to spice up your resume. ("Programmed the home page, where my promotions were ignored by literally billions of impression eyeballs.")

* Take screenshots. Sure, maybe not every one of the products you ever touched has been sunset. You might still want to screenshot or sitesuck some examples of things you worked on.

* Use your employee discounts. Now's the time to take advantage of your employee discounts -- the Apple store, the Philips store, etc. But, don't go too crazy -- after all, you may be losing your job.

* Take advantage of your health benefits: Make appointments for checkups and any needed health, dental and vision procedures. Sure, you've got 18 months of COBRA, but you might as well use your benefits while you still have them.

Also, regarding your
Health Care Flexible Spending Account [suggested by anonymous]: I never participated, though my paperwork said you could continue files claims against your HCFSA balance under COBRA through the end of the current calendar year (there are some costs associated with it).

reports that employees laid off in 2008 had a day to use or lose their remaining balance, though I have no additional information about that -- you're going to have to find a member of the Class of 2008 to confirm or deny that, to figure out if you're going to want to draw down what's in your account before the big day.

* On making a copy of your ID.
I'm not saying you should do this. But if you did, it should be only for sentimental reasons.

* Stock up on office supplies. I'm not advocating wholesale theft. But some of those pens are nice. Also the ubiquitous Ampad Project Planner notebooks.

* Make a copy of your Fitness Center workout chart. This will help you track your descent into sloth and give you a sense of all the ground you need to make up when you start caring about working out again.

* Backup any personal files on your work machines. This includes anything that you have on share drives (not that you should have personal files on share drives). A portable or luggable hard drive is good for this.

IMG_0667* Have a plan for your swag. You've probably accumulated a lot of AOL-branded swag over the years. Like, say, commemorative leather and brass Circuit City coasters. (Oh, the irony.)

You're going to have enough to deal with, and packing up your things on layoff day is going to be stressful enough. And you really don't want to have to take multiple trips out to your car. So have a plan for what you're going to take with you, and what you're going to leave behind. This includes consumables, like food, sodas, beers, etc. -- either consume them beforehand, or plan on leaving them behind for whoever's left.

* Planning on leaving on your own accord? [suggested by Kevin Lawver]: "...if you're planning on leaving, wait a couple months and see if they'll take volunteers. I missed out on the whole severance, outplacement stuff by about a month..." (He has more to say about upper management in his comment.)

Things You Should Do on Layoff Day (Etiquette and More):

* Assuming you know what day things are gonna get real, dress in a manner appropriate to the occasion:

Layoff day, October 2007.

* Sequester Your Laptop: Bill Kocik suggests leaving your laptop in your trunk until you know you're safe -- this is to buy yourself more time in case you were slack and didn't back up your personal files. (Also, Verisign is looking for Java devs.)

* Twittering your layoff: I wasn't on Twitter for my layoff, but a lot has changed in the intervening time. Instead of giving exclusives to bottom feeders who justify gawking at mass layoffs as an "interesting sociological event," consider using the hashtag #AOLLayoffs09 for your layoff-related tweets and mobile updates. (You can also tag your subsequent blog entries, photos, and other associated media with "AOLLayoffs09")

If you aren't yet on Twitter... well, that wouldn't surprise me. Now would be a good time to start.

* Try not to toss your cookies:

Remnants from the Dec 2006 Layoffs

* For Blackberry users [from anonymous]: If you were issued a Blackberry and ported over your personal cellphone number instead of getting a new one, see if they can do a reverse port (so you can keep your cellphone number.)

* Take your time leaving. You're not being run out of town on a rail. Take your time and make sure you have everything you need. Check your mailslot, even if you've never seen it before. Say goodbye to the people you want to say goodbye to.

* Send your farewell e-mail. Now is not the time to settle scores. Don't burn your bridges. Thank people you need to thank, and make sure they have your contact information. I offer my own valedictory e-mail as an example.

Oh, and you get to keep your screenname (unless it has something that identifies it as an AOL business screen name).

* Look behind you at least once on the way out.

* The afterparty:
First, let me know where it is. I recommend Clyde's in Ashburn. That place is huge, so don't listen to any nonsense rumors about it being closed by the Fire Marshall due to overcrowding.

If you're going to hit up your former cow-orkers for sympathy nookie, or otherwise get toasted and sloppy... hey, what are they going to do, fire you? Just try not to burn any bridges, and make sure you have a ride home -- getting a DUI is not what you need at this point.

* Call your parents. Tell them not to worry. You'll be fine.

DSCF3405.JPGSo, You've Been Laid Off -- Things to Do Afterwards:

* Read your paperwork: There are some things you'll need to sign, and dates you won't want to miss. If you need to talk to an employment lawyer, talk to a lawyer.

* Transition/Outplacement: Whatever transition assistance they offer (if they do), take it. Maybe you want to open your own consulting shop, or need resume help, or just want to get out of the house and touch base with other members of your graduating class. At least see what they have to offer.

* File for unemployment [suggested by anonymous]: I didn't try to collect unemployment. Pride, stubbornness, stupidity, something. Don't let that stop you: Virginia | Maryland | DC

* Keeping in touch: You will lose touch with your work friends. At least a little bit. That's to be expected. The question is, do you want to be the aging alumni who hangs out at the old school way too much and too long, Wooderson? ("Awright, awright, awright.")

The thing about the DC Metro area is that you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a former AOL person. And some of us aren't completely useless. You're probably networked better than you know, just by being a cog in a big machine that's lost a lot of parts.

- On Facebook, join the AOL Reunion - DC Metro Area (they just had a reunion last week), and the other AOL groups and networks.

- There's also an AOL Alumni Association group. And of course, don't forget LinkedIn, Google Groups, etc.

- If you're staying in the area, network and participate in local events, like events listed in,,, and

* Join a gym: The perk I miss most was the convenient onsite fitness centers. I really let myself slide after my layoff. If you have a home setup that you actually use, or can come up with a bodyweight, biking or running routine that doesn't require a gym (and that you'll stick to), you can skip this, but for everyone else, don't wait too long -- join a gym. (Here are the Reston options I looked at -- I never considered Gold's.)

* On boomeranging: I wouldn't. I know plenty of people who have. Hey, a job's a job, right? Especially these days.

* Go have some fun: I didn't, really. Again, you might not be able to go on an around-the-world trip, but do something. You've got a window -- use it.


That's all I've got right now. I know I'm missing things. Really, I'm still in post-layoff mode myself, even though I've been out for 14 months and am half-assing it around as a social media/online community consultant, just like every other asshole out there.

If you've got tips to contribute to dealing with your AOL layoff, please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail, IM, Twitter, Facebook message or whatever and I'll add it to the appropriate spot.

Good luck with your layoff!


Anonymous said...

one small change to the very beginning:
Its not personal, its personnel.

Anonymous said...

Great blog and important info people should keep in mind Joe!

I'm a former AOL Recruiter for 6 years, and if folks need help finding a job, I may be able to assist. Please feel free to email me your resume to or send me a LinkedInk invite - Amy Clem.

Joelogon said...

I see you're going for a wordplay thing, though I was looking for more of a Godfather vibe: "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."

Thanks, though.

Joelogon said...

Amy -- goes to show, the networking is very important.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear the bad news, way to turn it around :-)

FYI, maybe I missed it, but was "Removing images of oneself shown under the definition of stupid (or synonyms) in wikipedia" on the to-do list?

Best of luck going forward!

Joelogon said...

Scott -- my own layoff is old news (10/2007), I'm just trying to help out the upcoming batch.

Re: wikipedia -- are you kidding?! My mullet and facepalm photos are some of my proudest works!

Anonymous said...

Another thing to do after being laid off: file for unemployment! The government has been collecting taxes from you for years; time to collect the benefits you've earned in return.

Kevin Lawver said...

Joe, this is a really good list. I think the only thing I'd add is that if you're planning on leaving, wait a couple months and see if they'll take volunteers. I missed out on the whole severance, outplacement stuff by about a month (I was told they wouldn't be taking volunteers, but voila, they did).

I think the other thing, the one I've had the hardest time with, is forgiving the utterly useless upper management people at AOL. It's been really hard to get over how completely they've destroyed the company. For those of us who believed in AOL over the years, that's the hardest part about leaving, is that now I finally see what a joke it is and how ruined it's become.

Getting over the realization that the company you've probably spent many years trying to save from itself has thrown you away isn't easy. I still don't have a good answer for that one.

Joelogon said...

Kevin -- hey, I always thought my legacy would be the "Employees Must Wash Hands Before Leaving" sign I put up in a CC1 first floor men's room. When that was taken down sometime in the 2000s, I was freed.

Carles said...

One more suggestion (from a former AOL employee, now a current LinkedIn employee):

Add your personal email account to your LinkedIn account, and then make it your primary LinkedIn email.

It is heartbreaking when people are laid off and lose access to their email, and then can't recover their LinkedIn passwords. Don't let this happen to you.

Anonymous said...

2 additional things:

1 - porting your cellphone number (if you gave up your phone number to AOL, I think you can do a reverse port back to a private account.)

2 - flexible spending.
(I've heard from others that you need to spend all of it that day.)

Joelogon said...

Carles -- thanks, I will integrate this tip.

Anon -- can you be a little bit more specific about #1? I'm not familiar with what you're talking about. Also, re: flexible spending, I can look through my own paperwork (I didn't do FSA), but can you point me to a source? It seems unlikely, and a quick search seems to indicate it would be accessible if you do COBRA.

Anonymous said...

#1 - It's for the employees that were issued blackberries from AOL. We were given an option to port our cellphone number to AOL or get a new cellphone number. For those that gave up their personal number, they may want to see if they can do a reverse port.

As for item #2, I'm not sure if this happened to other employees during the other layoffs, but from the ones that got laid off in fall 2008, they were told they needed to spend their flexible spending that day or lose it.

hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Amateurs, all of you!

Remember the 30-second rule for future jobs : Never keep more crap in your cube than it takes to throw in a bag and walk out in 30 seconds.

Applies to other employment obligations as well. Stay detached.

Good luck.

Joelogon said...

Anonymous: Wow, that's deep. Hey, I know -- I can steal Heat quotes so I can pretend I'm an outlaw, too! "He knew the risks, he didn't have to be there. It rains... you get wet."

Anonymous said...

Very nice list, Joe. I really miss your creative, witty and dry humor in the office. Those Pocky and those weird jello shot things were cool.

One last tip -- know that companies like AOL really don't care how you feel and don't take it personal. But, do take great pride in what you've contributed to people's online experiences along the way.

I think I still have your VPD and Rainman manuals after you were removed. It was good reading for the tumultuous week thereafter.

Thanks. I hope you're doing well. Especially after writing such entertaining and valuable entries like this.

Anonymous said...

Joelogon :

Honestly I have never heard of that movie, just sharing many years of experience.

A job is for making money. Keep your social network separate.

Plan for layoffs and downtime and live free.

mansionmogul said...

The "dressing appropriately" is great. I'm investing in a witty shirt ASAP.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Joe! The photo of the commemorative leather and brass Circuit City coasters brought a tear to my eye as my own is sitting in a box of AOL stuff that I still haven't unpacked. It's been sitting in the back of my car since November!

I also advise everyone try to get their last day on Silicon Alley insider. That was absolutely the highlight of my day. Cheers!

Joelogon said...

JC - I unpacked my stuff, let it breathe for a few months, then packed it up again.

As to getting mentioned by SAI (or Valleywag, Gawker, Paidcontent, hell WWTDD) -- you'll have to share your pointers for that.

Anonymous said...

This post makes me sad. Lots of painful memories. I'm honestly afraid for my friends who are still at AOL. And although I left of my own accord, I agree with Kevin Lawver - it is very hard to forgive the upper execs for what they did to that place.

Working at AOL wasn't like working so much as like being a member of a really big, really cool, and yes, often dysfunctional family.

I like my job at VeriSign, but if there's a certain time after which you stop missing your AOL family, I haven't discovered it yet.

Good luck everyone. Oh - and we're interviewing at VeriSign if you know Java.

bkocik at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Oh - I almost forgot, I have a potentially useful tip:

If you happen to know when layoff day is (and let's face it, we pretty much always knew) but for some reason you haven't gotten your stuff off of your laptop yet, leave it in your trunk until you find out if you still have a job. I'm not saying steal it, but they can't take it from you if you don't have it ("Woops - I left it at home this morning"), and that'll give you a chance to get the data you need off of it before turning it in. That's what I used to do. Use this advice at your own risk.

And Joe - if it suits you, you're welcome to note in the post that VeriSign is hiring (only Java devs right now). Interested folks can ping me directly. I will help if I can, I swear.

SciWonk said...

You also need to export your contacts into a file that you can take with you.

PS: Congrats on DCBlogs.

Anonymous said...

I am thankful that I asked you to write this blog entry. I owe you a beer!!!


KAT said...

Before you get cut you of course want to stockpile some money and double check your resumes, be sure you clean out the desk, and maintain workplace contacts. But- and this is approaching the survivalist fringe genre- save a month or two's worth of food in the freezer or pantry. Even more important are office supplies and toiletries/household goods. Welfare won't pay for those as easily. Read for further information- and with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

Great list Joe - helped me lots three weeks ago, when I was hit.

Here is my tip:

If you must use your AOL email after your let go. Go into webmail/settings and un-check the "Include Footer Ads". That option is no longer there once you have been un-internalized.