Compliance professionals Ximena Restrepo and Andrea Richards, both recently dealing with the upheaval of job loss and change, recount their experiences in the modern compliance job market — and offer advice to those facing a transition in 2024.
The first time Ximena Restrepo was laid off was on a Friday afternoon in 2019. It was the week of the organization’s annual meeting and most of her coworkers were out of town attending the event. When an employee from HR asked her to leave her belongings behind and her computer on and to follow her to an empty office down the hall, Ximena had a sinking feeling. She knew what was coming.
The walk down the hall felt like an eternity. When she sat down, she tried to stay calm as she heard that her position had been eliminated and that day would be her last day of work. Given an opportunity to ask questions, she didn’t pose a single one; unprepared, she didn’t know what to ask. For Ximena, the most humiliating part was being accompanied back to her cubicle, watched as she packed her things and followed to the elevator and out the door.
Ximena likens the experience to having a bucket of ice-cold water poured over her head. She felt disoriented and was left gasping for air.
When she got home, she felt exhausted, confused, hurt, angry and sad. She took time to process the layoff that weekend and by Monday, she knew it was time to start the journey to find a new job. The journey took many months and ultimately resulted in her packing up her things and leaving her friends, family and a place she loved and moving to a new state.
“I wanted to stay,” Ximena says. “I applied to every job possible, but there were limited opportunities where I lived, and I had no choice other than to expand my job search. I was running out of savings and patience. The interview process was intense, busy and exhausting. My calendar was full of interview appointments. I had to write essays and take pre-employment, personality and skill tests. It felt like a part-time job.”
In early 2020, she landed a job in a new city, grateful she had found a position that matched her skills and interests. Fast-forward to June 2023, three years into the pandemic, and Ximena was laid off a second time. While still a difficult situation, this time was different. That’s because the second time around, Ximena was better prepared. She had emergency savings. She’d obtained advanced professional certifications. And although she didn’t expect to be affected, the organization had made employees aware of the company’s financial difficulties ahead of the layoffs.
Ximena’s company was just one of many organizations cutting jobs and announcing mergers and acquisitions to mitigate post-pandemic financial losses. In the fall of 2022, following the announcement that her former company had been acquired, Andrea Richards and her whole team were laid off. Andrea was able to work for a few weeks after the sale to help the CEO archive important documents and close the business, but once work was completed, she was faced with the reality that she was unemployed.
“My calendar was full of interview appointments. I had to write essays and take pre-employment, personality and skill tests. It felt like a part-time job.”
Ximena Restrepo, compliance practitioner, on her recent job search
Preparing for job loss before it comes
Given the economic and job market volatility post-pandemic, it is probable that like Ximena and Andrea, more professionals will experience a layoff. Because layoffs often happen without warning, knowing what to do in the event your position is eliminated is crucial.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of a layoff, take notes during the announcement. This is when important information such as last day of work, last paycheck, severance pay, last day of benefits and options for extended coverage will be shared with you. Research and understand the laws in your state designed to protect you following a layoff. Apply for unemployment. Assess your finances and determine how long you can be out of work and if necessary, reduce expenses.
Being prepared now can help ease your transition to a new job. Maintain your current licenses and professional certifications and think about pursuing additional certifications and education pertinent to your role, profession or the position you hope to obtain. Make time to attend in-person and online events to expand your knowledge and meet and network with colleagues. Stay up to date with key topics and trends by subscribing to podcasts, blogs, email newsletters and other publications. Write articles, apply to be a speaker and take advantage of opportunities to provide education relevant to your field. These are great additions for your resume and will help to get your name out there as an active, engaged and knowledgeable professional.
Let your network know you are open to work. Add the #opentowork tag to your LinkedIn profile and reach out to colleagues to let them know you are available. Having additional eyes and ears out there can be incredibly helpful during a job search.
In the decade that Corporate Compliance Insights has covered the corporate compliance and risk management profession, we've heard a common refrain: Compliance is a stressful, demanding career that routinely has compliance professionals at odds with their colleagues. But we wanted to understand more about what exactly makes compliance roles so stressful and to what extent jobs in compliance and risk management may place individuals' mental health in jeopardy.Read more
‘I wanted her to realize she wasn’t alone’
The day after her second layoff, Ximena attended an SCCE Compliance Conversation event, which provided her with a boost of encouragement.
“I made the decision to share with the group that I was just laid-off,” Ximena said. “Attendees from that session that I knew before or had just met me that morning reached out to me with uplifting messages and even a few job referrals. It was tremendously comforting.”
Among those many members who reached out was Andrea.
“Hearing Ximena’s story brought me right back to my last day of work,” Andrea says. “I knew how she felt, and I wanted her to know that she wasn’t alone. When she replied to my message with a heartfelt thank you, I realized how powerful it can be to reach out to one another.”
For Andrea, reaching out to Ximena that day was part of her commitment to making new connections and becoming more involved in her professional communities.
“I was so incredibly busy keeping my former company compliant and afloat that I had to work very long hours, not only during the workweek but weekends, too,” Andrea said. “I didn’t have the time to network or engage on LinkedIn or other platforms.”
Ximena’s dedication to building a professional and personal network not only provided her the emotional support she needed but also paid off when it came time to find a new job.
“I have experienced not one but two layoffs in less than a decade, and it was my network that led me to my next position both times,” Ximena says.
Being understanding and considerate of the time and resources your network may (or may not) have is important. Some may be able to go above and beyond to help you, and others, while they want to help, may simply not have the connections or time to assist. And remember, networking is a two-way street. Recognize that while you may be asking for help now, you should be willing to pay it forward by helping others in the future.
“I really appreciated Ximena’s willingness to connect with me, and to even go as far as giving me insight into other positions and industries I might be a good fit for,” Andrea said. “I reached out that day with the intention of supporting her, and in the end, she also supported me. Having a network is a very powerful thing.”
‘You still have to do the work — and it’s a lot of work’
A supportive network can only get you so far. Looking for a job today can feel like a job all on its own.
“Your network will cheer you up, refer you, connect you with others that might be hiring, but you still have to do the work — and it’s a lot of work,” Ximena said.
And for those who haven’t been on the job market in many years, it’s important to understand that times have changed. And the job hunt is a more involved prospect these days.
“I haven’t had to apply for a position for years,” Andrea said. “The layers and complexity that are now part of the job search surprised me at first.”
Being organized and dedicating time to your job search will serve you well in tackling the modern job market. Start by identifying the job titles, companies, industries, job responsibilities and salary you are looking for. This will help you narrow down your search and know where to look for jobs and allow you to create job alerts.
Next, create an application tracking spreadsheet to stay organized and to save time. Then, update your resume. Be sure it reflects your most recent position, experience, skills, certifications and education.
“Once I was ready to re-enter the job market I reworked my resume; four times,” Andrea said. “When I expanded my search into other industries in the healthcare sector, I started using AI programs to review the job posting and my resume to determine if I have and have included the experience and hard skills the position requires. I also include keywords and responsibilities outlined in the job posting, taking care to submit a resume that is an honest reflection of my abilities.”
A strong resume will help you land an interview, and ultimately, a job offer, and the interview is as much for you as it is for your potential employer. Recognize that the interview is not only an opportunity to show a potential employer what you bring to an organization but also to determine if the company is a good fit for you. Ahead of the interview, familiarize yourself with the company, the interviewer and the position. This can help to settle your nerves and will help guide how you answer questions.
Practice answering questions. Look up standard and common behavioral interview questions, write down your answers and practice in the mirror, or ask a friend to practice with you, which Andrea did with a job-hunting friend.
“We scheduled a standing weekly meeting and came prepared to ask each other tough interview questions,” she said. “We gave honest feedback on how we answered, paying attention not only to the content but the delivery and our non-verbal language.”
If the interview is virtual, as many are these days, especially in the early stages of a candidate search, set up your camera so that it’s directly in front of you, not off to the side. Ensure your background sets the tone, and do your best to be in a quiet environment. Always join about five minutes early to work out any technical issues and to avoid having the interviewer having to wait for you.
“I haven’t had to apply for a position for years. The layers and complexity that are now part of the job search surprised me at first.”
Andrea Richards, compliance officer, on her recent job search
After the interview, send a thank-you email and let your references know they might be contacted. And while many organizations are proactive about keeping candidates up to date, the reality is you may not hear back. If that happens, follow up, letting your interviewer know you are interested in the position and ask if there is anything they need from you. If you still don’t hear back, it’s OK to move on.
Times have changed, especially following the pandemic. The transition to online job postings, applicant tracking software and the sheer number of applicants means it’s even harder for your application to be seen by a recruiter. Twenty years ago, an internal employee referral used to guarantee a job offer, and 10 years ago it would guarantee a job interview with a hiring manager. Today you simply hope it will get your application in front of a recruiter.
But all hope is not lost, and job seekers still control their fate. Preparation, organization and engagement are just a few steps professionals can take to help make a successful transition to a new position.