How can employees overcome past-experience stigma?

Certain companies in the ed-tech space are known for their mass layoffs and toxic culture. Job seekers feel that this has become a blot in their resumes. How can one get rid of this stigma?

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In the fast-growing education technology industry, some companies have worked up a reputation for their toxic work culture, mass layoffs and often brutal firing practices. For job seekers who have previously worked for such companies, this can be a blot on their resumes, hindering their search for new opportunities. When potential employers see these company names on a resume, they may be hesitant to hire the applicant, fearing that they may bring negative baggage or may not have the skills to thrive in a new environment. Job-seekers can feel stuck and frustrated, not knowing how to move past this stigma and find new opportunities that align with their career goals.

However, it’s not true that this one wrong move will define their whole career. “Mass layoffs, sometimes carried out in a very inhumane manner, definitely force the impacted employees into hardships. However, the struggle is mostly temporary, and the laid off employees should never see it as a career setback. In fact, employers should understand that these employees deserve good employers too,” says A. Thiru, a C-Suite, HR professional.

“Mass layoffs, sometimes carried out in a very inhumane manner, definitely force the impacted employees into hardships. However, the struggle is mostly temporary, and the laid off employees should never see it as a career setback. In fact one should feel that they do not deserve good employees and not the other way.”

A. Thiru, a C-Suite, HR professional

The laid-off employees still have opportunities to get past this and align themselves better with their career goals.

Follow CHAOS: As Amit Das, director-HR and CHRO, Bennett and Coleman, rightly puts it, “The question is not how employees who got laid off can get rid of the stigma, but “how employees can rebound from career setbacks or bad career moves”.

Das opines, “The answer can be summarised in an acronym, CHAOS — for clarity, help, agility, order and stories”:

The foremost step is to get clarity on the career choices one really wants to make. What are the non-negotiables? It could be anything, from an inclusive workplace and flexibility, to learning opportunities.

Taking help from colleagues, mentors, or even reaching out to career counsellors is a good idea. Today’s workplaces and business environments are more collaborative and based on alliances. In fact, there is a whole book on the subject by Reid Hoff, co-founder of LinkedIn. The idea is to build a network that can help professionals find the right career option.

“The question is not how employees who got laid off can get rid of the stigma, but “how employees can rebound from career setbacks or bad career moves.”

Amit Das, director-HR and CHRO, Bennett and Coleman

“Being adaptable and agile is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” asserts Das. Professionals can invest in learning about the happenstance and chaos theory of careers and use each career mistake as a learning opportunity. The key is to identify specific learnings that can be applied in future.

Chance events such as losing a job may appear random, but chaos theory shows it may not be. Professionals can try to find order or patterns in a seemingly chaotic turn of events and perform more research on the employers before joining them. For instance, a question worth answering is, ‘Should one switch jobs only for more money?’

It is advisable to learn from the career stories of others, and also share one’s own stories. This contributes to the growing literature on the subject and may help someone by preventing a career mistake.

“The stigma associated with a particular company or industry may not entirely be fair or accurate. Still, it’s crucial to address any concerns potential employers may have and emphasise one’s strengths and accomplishments,” Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced materials business, Aditya Birla Group, points out.

Focus on strengths: Another important step to overcome past experience stigma is to focus on ones’ own strengths. “Instead of emphasising on the past employer, highlight the accomplishments during the tenure there. Discuss the projects worked on, new skills acquired, and the impact made,” advises Mishra. He points out, “Employers are more interested in what you can do for them than who you have worked for in the past”.

“The stigma associated with a particular company or industry may not entirely be fair or accurate. Still, it’s crucial to address any concerns potential employers may have and emphasise one’s strengths and accomplishments.”

Ravi Mishra, SVP-HR, advanced materials business, Aditya Birla Group

Network: Networking is another good way if one wants a job quick. “Connect with former colleagues or supervisors who can vouch for your abilities and character,” suggests Mishra. He feels, “having positive references can help offset any negative perceptions that may be associated with a previous employer”. By connecting with professionals in ones’ field and exploring new possibilities, one can expand one’s options and find a company that aligns with one’s values and career aspirations.

Reframe experience: Reframing ones’ experience is another good way of showcasing skills for a new job. “Job seekers can consider how the challenges they faced in their previous job helped them grow and develop new skills. For instance, they may have learned how to handle stress or how to be more resilient in the face of adversity,” advocates Mishra. These are valuable traits that can make a candidate more attractive.

Be positive: Ultimately, it’s important to stay positive and focused on one’s goals. By taking the right steps, one can move past any negative stigma and find new opportunities that allow one to grow and thrive in one’s career.

Additionally, employers (both old and new) can also help such employees and assist them in overcoming this negative baggage.

“The CHAOS acronym also works here,” says Das. Employers (new) can help clarify the drivers of employees and help them with career choices for the future. They can guide them to identify patterns in their decision making and thinking. Lastly, they can motivate them by sharing the stories of their mentees or team members, and even themselves, when they underwent similar experiences.

How can employers help?

Thiru adds, “Companies should handle mass layoffs with empathy in addition to serving necessary notice period or pay in lieu thereof. If the top management is really considerate, then companies should explore outplacement services, voluntary pay cut, and so on instead of terminating services though e-mails. Such companies will eventually bounce back with pride, and more importantly, with unparalleled reputation.”

“Employers should value the skills and experience that these employees are bringing into their organisation and not judge them based on past experience,” feels Mishra. Why even look at the negative stuff when people who have worked in the ed-tech space are well-known for their creative and innovative skills. They have brilliant ideas that can benefit any company.

Additionally, “HR leaders must drive new ways of helping employees, keeping ‘employee advocacy’ as top priority. This will eventually pay off in the long run enhancing organisational image,” points out Thiru. For instance, one can be a little more generous while offering notice pay by paying additional (up to 5X). Depending upon the service period and past performance record of employees, gratuity can be doubled too, he adds.

Being associated with a company that has a negative reputation can be challenging for job seekers, but it’s not an insurmountable issue. By being transparent and honest about their employment history, focusing on their accomplishments and positive qualities, and reframing their experience in a more positive light, employees can move past the stigma and find new opportunities that align with their career goals.

“I am not sure one bad career move can be considered a stigma. It is well established that careers today are inherently dynamic and unstable, and today’s workforce is more prone to career disruptions and chance events than before,” assures Das. In fact, as he points out, there is a huge body of research on this subject: Chaos Theory, Happenstance Learning Theory, Systems Theory Framework, Social Cognitive Theory and Cognitive Information Processing Theory. “These theories are being increasingly used by career curators and coaches to help their clients understand how jobseekers may respond to increased uncertainty in careers,” concludes Das.

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