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June 5, 2008

Surviving a Layoff

former yahoo marketing manager jessica bowman

Photo Credit: Lisa Wiseman

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Jessica Bowman, 31, former Yahoo marketing manager

While interviewing at Yahoo last September, Jessica Bowman quickly fell in love with the company's college vibe. Lunchtime found employees lounging on big blow-up couches dotting the lawns of the 34-acre campus, just outside San Francisco. Buildings and signs were painted loud purple and yellow, Yahoo's corporate colors. The place oozed creativity, and Bowman got giddy thinking about how far she could go there. She was offered a high-profile position doing search-engine optimization, a new field that would increase the site's online visibility. "It was my dream job, the kind of company I thought I could work at for a very long time," she says.

By the new year, Bowman had settled into a pricey one-bedroom in the city's cozy Russian Hill section, replete with its own washer and dryer, a luxury in the city. Her view overlooked San Francisco Bay, and from a certain angle she could even see Alcatraz. She rode the cable car everywhere. "I was like a permanent tourist," she gushes. Adjusting to Yahoo's sprawling complex took a bit longer. Bowman often got lost on the way to the restroom. Her department was so large she couldn't remember coworkers' names.

When Bowman's boss called her into a conference room in February, she assumed that it was for a brainstorming session. She even asked a colleague if he had been invited so she could be prepared. (He hadn't been.) But Yahoo was in the midst of massive layoffs that would ultimately claim 1000 jobs. "We've gotta let you go," her boss told her, only 106 days after she started.

Bowman was so devastated she couldn't even open the folder containing details of her severance package. She was given the day to clean her cubicle, which was littered with photos of trips abroad, Post-its, and even boxes from her arrival that hadn't yet been unpacked. She spent the afternoon in a haze of shame and fear. "At one point you think, I'm a failure," she says. "It's very hard on your ego." Not to mention the practical realities — she was now unemployed in one of the country's most expensive cities.

The next day, a shell-shocked Bowman slept and ate little, but quickly grew tired of the self-pity. By day two, she was plotting her comeback. She e-mailed several notable industry bloggers, positioning her pink slip as a point of pride. She'd solved so many problems that Yahoo no longer needed her services, she quipped. Bowman also plugged her availability. "I basically shouted from the rooftops that I was good at what I did, despite being laid off," she says. That led to several posts on well-read blogs about her dismissal, publicity that inspired e-mails from colleagues, friends, and potential employers. She scored two less-than-perfect job offers that she had the confidence to turn down. "I have an in-demand skill set, so I don't have to settle for any job," she declares. The contacts she made led to consulting gigs, which freed up her schedule to write a book. (She plans to self-publish it online.) It's a how-to for women who have been laid off, of course. Sample: "Don't dwell on it. That stuff comes out in your voice and in your body language." The working title: Laid-Off Renegade.

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