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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How to Defend Your Job When Your Boss Gives You an Ultimatum

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Imagine this: You’ve worked at an established company for several years. You know most of the staff and executive team, and have even been promoted for your hard work and contributions. Then, one day you learn that the organization’s about to implement major structural changes that could change how your department’s run and jeopardize your job security.

Layoffs seem inevitable, right? Well, what if you had the opportunity to defend your job in a brief presentation? Yes, it’s a rare occurrence that doesn’t come around often in these situations, but it does exist. I know because it happened to me. So, trust me that if you’re put in this situation, it’s pretty important for you to know how to handle it. After all, your job’s on the line here.

Step 1: Get Into a Positive Mindset

OK, so you’ve thought through all your options and decided that you want to stay. Sure there’s a ton of upheaval, but at the end of the day, you love your job and you’d hate to lose it.

Great, that’s a big decision to come to. Now’s the even harder part, staying positive when everything’s (and everyone’s) falling apart around you. No matter if your company’s restructuring, shifting priorities, or introducing new management, big changes almost always guarantee discussion among employees. And it’s rarely uplifting and filled with inspirational thoughts. So while it’s easy to get caught up in the gossip or allow low morale to dictate your behavior at the office, it’s essential that you rise above it to maintain your reputation—and position.

To do this, you’re going to need to reflect on your time at the company. What have been your major accomplishments? Favorite projects? Milestones? Take a step back from your experience (and away from your desk and the office) to remind yourself of positive moments. Make a list, look at it, and remember that you do like it there. (And if you have trouble making this list, maybe you shouldn’t be fighting so hard.)

Second, eliminate emotion from the equation. Not forever, but definitely for right now. You want to stay as upbeat as possible and work hard not to take anything too personally. Easier said than done, but consider that your mantra during this transition. Because when you’re feeling confident and (mostly) free of negativity, that’s the ideal time to take next steps.

Step 2: Prepare Your Talking Points

So, your role’s on the line. Your company decision-makers aren’t quite sold on the importance of your position—or that you’re the right person to do it. Couldn’t an intern do it? Couldn’t it be automated? Now’s your time to show them that isn’t the case, that they’d be making a mistake by letting you go.

While your first instinct may be to appeal to emotions (or the fact your rent doesn’t pay itself), the people who will be deciding your future aren’t doing that. They’re likely looking at numbers and hard facts. So that’s what you need to do, too. Draft a document that highlights your accomplishments and how they’ve benefitted the business.

Be sure to include:

  • Milestones: Pull from your resume and review past projects and victories. Whenever possible, tie them to numbers and growth.
  • Positive feedback or testimonials: Ask colleagues for references or cherry-pick glowing commentary from past performance reviews.
  • Things you want to accomplish in the future: Consider where and how you see yourself contributing to the business moving forward.

And, just like any other public speaking situation, you should rehearse. More so than many other public speaking situations, you really need to present with confidence. The idea of making a case could make anyone nervous. But you want to come off as someone who’s 100% sure of her value.

Step 3: Make Your Case

OK, so now it’s go-time. You’ve scheduled a meeting with the decision-makers and arrive ready to reclaim your job security. Here’s how to present in a way that is as polished and professional as you are. You’ve got this.

Print out one copy of your talking points and inform your meeting attendee(s) that it’s simply for you to reference your main ideas. Then, offer to send them the document once the meeting has ended so they can review as needed. This helps your listeners pay closer attention and prevents them from skimming ahead while you make your case.

Then, reinforce your enthusiasm for the job right away. You want to immediately make your claim to show respect for the executive’s time while also proving that you know exactly what you want out of the meeting.

Try something like:

“First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. These past few weeks have really allowed me to step back and reflect on my time at the company as [job title]. I’ve even revisited past contributions and milestones during my time here—which I will discuss with you shortly—and has only confirmed how much I love my job and will do what it takes to keep it.”

Next, showcase your research. Provide an overview of the past contributions, current projects, and future aspirations you assembled to prove you can reflect, stay productive, and think long-term even during a transitional stage. The key here is to speak factually as it pertains to the business, rather than boast about how great you are.

Finally, summarize and restate your main point: You’re here for a reason and it would benefit both parties if it stayed that way.

Don’t forget to send a follow-up thank you note or email after all is said and done. Based on the conversation, you may want to ask for an addendum or revision to your employee contract. Be certain to save any written correspondence—including all of your job highlights. Those can be great to add to a personal site, resume, or LinkedIn page.

Phew! Now it may sound daunting, but I promise: Defending your job makes you a stronger, more confident employee and professional overall. If nothing else, you’ve had a chance to review your many accomplishments and work on your presentation and public speaking skills. And who can say no to that?

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