What I learnt from redundancy early in my career

What I learnt from redundancy early in my career
Opinion: Career Leaders

As recession looms and tech media announce layoffs, Anna Sampson shares what she learned from her experiences with redundancy in the media industry.


I was made redundant from my first job in media at 22. This was an early lesson in an industry that is defined by disruption and change, and one I am very grateful for.

This experience taught me that rather than a career derailed, redundancy can be a welcome diversion. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and with the current wave of redundancies I thought it would be helpful to share some reflections. According to NABS, 2022 saw a “staggering” 1,432% increase in access to the charity’s online redundancy guides.

Losing your job can be destabilising, and when you are in the middle of it, feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty often take hold.

For me, it wasn’t the last time my career took an unexpected turn. The financial crisis in 2008 brought more unexpected news for the start-up I was working for at the time.

The impact and experience of redundancy can be varied. Individual circumstances contribute significantly. There is a lot of support out there for advertising professionals facing this particular career hurdle. NABS is a good place to start.

As I reflect on these two early experiences there is much worth sharing given the current climate.

Ask yourself what do I love?

Like many people, I stumbled into my first job in media not really having any understanding of what auditing was.

The surprise news that my boss wanted to pivot the business and my role was no longer required was a complete shock. It left me reeling, but ultimately it led me in an interesting new direction. With guidance from this early mentor I went from auditing to qualitative research at a media agency.

From this early experience I learnt to embrace change as an opportunity for a fresh start. Without an obvious progression plan you are free to ask yourself questions like what do I really want to do? What am I good at?

These were precisely the questions that my first boss Steve De Saulle asked me. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a qualitative research department at a media agency, but once I had answered these questions that is the direction he pointed me in.

Don’t forget that interviews work both ways

If you have lost your job you may feel at a disadvantage when job hunting. Redundancy pay can provide a financial buffer but not everyone benefits from this.

My second experience was during the 2008 financial crisis and this time I had no such buffer. I felt exposed and I wish I had asked more questions.

There is a lot that doesn’t get put on the job description and your recruiter (if you have one) isn’t going to fill you in either. A job spec is really a marketing tool and it’s in your interests to do your homework.

Here are some areas worthy of your scrutiny — remember an interview is also you interviewing the company.

1. Vision: What is the department or company vision and how are they going to achieve it? How does this role fit into it?

2. Career progression: What are the progression opportunities for the role you are interviewing for?

3. Company growth: What are the financial targets of the company/ department? What are the competitive threats and opportunities?

It is especially important if you are considering start-ups to corroborate anything you are told with Companies House and undertake some solid desk research.

An emergency stash is your superpower

It’s not easy to do and I didn’t manage to get there until my early thirties but ensuring you have an emergency back-up fund is a very good idea. The advice is generally three to six months’ worth of living expenses.

Once this is in place you will feel a sense of security that you won’t have to take the first thing that comes along. It also has the added bonus that you now have a super power — you can walk away from any job that isn’t serving you well.

Take risks

Without these experiences that derailed a logical career trajectory, I think my career would have followed a more linear path.

The flip from auditing to qualitative research made a jump from qualitative research to quantitative research seem possible.

I’ve constantly moved between big companies and SMEs. More recently the flip from trade body to consultancy has probably been the highlight in terms of satisfying my desire for variety and challenge.

Careers are increasingly squiggly and employers like candidates who have cross-functional skills. The ability to knit the work of disparate departments together is highly sought after, so take the risk and do something completely outside your comfort zone.

Nurture your network

I’ve watched colleagues turn their fortunes around post-redundancy due to their network. However, for me this wisdom came later to me in my career.

I didn’t see the value in networking. If I’m honest it felt like it wasn’t for me.

Taking the job at Magnetic, the magazine industry trade body, changed that. Six years in a role where networking was a key part of the job made me wish I had leaned into it earlier.

I love to meet new people and ask questions — that is networking. It’s not some abstract notion of self-promotion where you need to impress people you don’t know.

Without my network I wouldn’t have been brave enough to leave a job — this time to start up my own business. And I’m pretty confident if I ever want a different job it’s my network that will get me my next one.

Anna Sampson is the founder of Anna Sampson Consulting and was previously insight and strategy director at magazine marketing body Magnetic.

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