Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Home for Love Your Layoff

Please note that Love Your Layoff has a new home. Please visit: for all future posts. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wish List File

Two significant things happened to me this week. First, I got my files in order (thank you Kacy Paide of The Inspired Office !) I now have folders for: unemployment, writing, networking, office work samples, and creative work samples. Plus, one more: the Wish List. While most of my files are dedicated to past or current projects, only the Wish List is truly forward looking. In it, I'm placing reminders of the things I want to do when I'm employed again.

And that leads me to the second significant thing that happened this week. I did a Google search on Love Your Layoff, and discovered an endorsement from the poet Jessica Smith on her LookTouchBlog. What really moved me about Jessica's post was her own story of unemployment, having to go stretches of time without a paycheck, and how recently worries about money have slowed her writing.

Jessica's life inspires me in so many ways. Her dedication to writing and publishing poetry is something I never had the guts to try.

My first reaction to her post was anger at the world for not being more supportive of poets. But then I realized that it was not the "world" that needed to be more supportive, it was me. That poetry was something I loved, that I admired Jessica's work, and I hadn't done enough to support it when I was employed.

So, the first item I added to my Wish List file was a copy of Foursquare as a reminder to purchase a subscription when I'm employed again--ditto for 32Poems and Flim Forum press .

Now here's the challenge: if you're unemployed, take a moment to consider what you would like to support when you're employed again. What's really important to you? Who has inspired you? What programs, organizations, artists or writers have changed your life? Then start your file. Perhaps there are ways you can help already. Things that don't cost money, such as volunteering or even writing a nice thank-you note. I guarantee it will make you feel good.

And, if you are employed, maybe there are some organizations and people you can support today. Make a list and act on it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

New Routines

Yesterday marked the start of my new unemployment routine. Awhile back I had a post about Routines to Savor Time (RTST), the basic concept being if you're unemployed take advantage of the time by incorporating some routines to achieve creative, practical and/or physical goals, which is something I did last year. This time around, my routines have taken a bit longer to cultivate. Still, I thought I'd share them here to: a) solidify my commitment, and b) hopefully inspire you to consider some routines of your own.

Drum roll please for the 2009 routines...
  • Memoir: Write a 300 page memoir at the pace of 1,000+ words per day
  • Blog: Write 3 posts per week
  • Exercise: 5x per week, alternating running and weight lifting
  • Clean: 1x per week, entire house
  • Visit: Free parks, museums and entertainment, at least 2x per month
These routines, of course, are in addition to actively seeking work each day, submitting applications and networking. It's important to strike a balance between the two. Because, on the one hand, you should take advantage of your time off and schedule relaxing activities. On the other, you need a job.

What I've found helpful is splitting my day. I use the morning for RTST to achieve my writing, exercise and cleaning goals. The afternoon is completely dedicated to finding work. And, oddly enough, I find I am more successful at both tasks when there's a finite amount of time to achieve them per day.

Within that structure, setting mini goals, such as "write 1,000 words before 7:30am" or "apply for one position per day" or "attend a networking event 3x per week" helps you to feel a sense of control and accomplishment often lacking during a span of unemployment. Try it, and let me know how it works for you!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Unemployment Haircut

Eight weeks ago, I got my last hair cut. It's been bobbed since the fall (I know, I need to update my headshot). And I love it that way. However, as mentioned in a previous post, maintaining a bob is expensive. When I had long hair, I got it cut one every 3-4 months. The new haircut requires maintenance every 6-8 weeks.

So, when I went in today I had to tell my hairdresser that I was unemployed, and, as such needed a cut that would look okay growing out. She walked around me, picked through some strands of my hair, and looked pensively into the mirror.

"Okay," she said. "We'll just clean it up. And, lets do some sweeping bangs. I trim bangs for free, so we can still see each other while you're looking for work."

That was music to my ears. Particularly because today has been one big headache. I woke up at 6am to write and was on a roll till 7:30 when the house wakes up and the morning routine begins: diapers, dressing, brushing, breakfast, driving, drop off. By the time I got back and settled, I opened my computer to continue, Internet.

Needless to say, the rest of my morning and afternoon were spent alternately trying to:
a) fix the problem
b) do things that didn't involve the Internet (run, shower, clean)
c) visit places that have Internet (two coffee shops, so far, and currently in one)

All the while trying my hardest to be patient, thinking: the universe must want me to take a break. But I wanted to trail blaze today, so we were at odds.

Anyway, I love my hairdresser. It took me years to find her. What's more, we both went through some crappy but life altering moments these past two years. She was in a car accident that nearly killed her and took her out of work for 9 months.

When we first met, we were both hard chargers. Cramming our days with activities. Taking lessons, fixing up houses, getting ahead in our careers. Today, our major topic of conversation was naps. She takes an afternoon nap every day and was highly recommending I incorporate one into my daily routine. Which does sound tempting.

An hour later, my hair looked fresh again. She showed me some drying tricks for home. And, very kindly, gave me a discount on the cut. Another example of friends going above and beyond. And while the rest of the day has had its ups and downs that one small hour was bliss. Almost as good as if I'd actually taken a nap.*

*Update: I caved and took a real nap. Feeling 100% again. Plus, the Internet came back on!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One month down, ready to hustle?

Today marks the start of my fifth week of unemployment. At this point last year I had two job offers, plus strong leads for two additional positions. I was a hard charger, pushing forward, determined to get a significant pay raise, an impressive title, and the flexibility to pick my child up from daycare by 5:30pm. And after three months, miraculously, I had that.

This time around, every thing's different. While I've done a couple interviews, the results have been slower. Some companies are waiting for funds to arrive to hire for their vacancies. Others are so inundated with resumes that only the applicants in complete alignment with a niche are considered. Positions at organizations that have had layoffs are considering people who were laid off first. To make matters worse, I've heard from several people who were hired only to be laid off months, or even days, later.

Like my house it appears my worth has depreciated -- despite the fact that I have more skills and experience. There's simply less demand. As a result, I am expanding my job search to include freelance and temporary contract work. Or, as some of my friends like to call it: hustling.

Now, as any of you who have been on unemployment are well aware, you must report any money you make as a contractor to unemployment. Any amount earned that week is subtracted from your check. So, it's important to be selective about the types of work you take. Otherwise, you'll waste time better spent on networking and applying for full time positions--not to mention your routines to savor time.

Before accepting freelance work, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does the project excite me?
  • Is it in alignment with my professional (or personal) goals?
  • Will I meet people in a position to help me find additional work or a permanent position?
  • Do I have the proper equipment, software and resources available to complete the job?
  • How much time will this take me?
  • Is it worth the money? And how/when will I get paid?
  • Will this project be too stressful to manage while I'm looking for a full time job?
If you like your answers to the questions above, then sign the contract and start working. If you don't like your answers, then by all means, don't take the gig. You will have other opportunities. Trust your gut. Remember, you've only got six months to collect unemployment benefits. After that you're truly on your own and won't have the luxury of being selective. So use your months wisely.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Escaping the Doldrums

I'm not going to sugar coat it. Today was a really tough day. It was one of those days, inevitable in a job search, where hope seems futile. A day where no amount of previous effort seems enough. Where interviews were mercilessly rehashed in my mind. Where my email box was devoid of good news.

I spent several hours this morning writing and rewriting a blog post that went no where. I had lunch with a very nice woman, but neither one of us seemed to have the right connections for the other. I walked home from lunch in a DC heat wave, sweating and crying. No hope. No hope. No hope.

Upon returning to the house, I sat back down at my computer. Looked at all the job boards but found nothing of interest. Sent follow up emails to some friends. Ate a hand full of Oreo cookies.

I had entered a total, utter, state of self-pity.

It reminded me of this scene in one of my favorite childhood movies, The Phantom Tollbooth, where Milo gets stuck in the Doldrums -- a sticky, gooey, kind of drugged out place where nobody does anything. To get out of the Doldrums, he has to do useful things, such as spell words or recite multiplication tables.

And perhaps I was channeling that scene this afternoon. It started with the memory of a promise I made to a friend of a friend to help him find a summer internship in DC. I dug the email up and read his resume (which impressed the socks off me). I brainstormed a list of people who might be able to help him. I wrote a pitch email and sent it out.

Next, I saw one of my good friends had just created a LinkedIn account. I logged on and wrote an endorsement. While I was on, I remembered two other people I wanted to endorse and posted recommendations for them as well. Then, there was another friend of a friend looking for work, and I realized I had a great contact for her and emailed a request to connect.

By this point, it was 5:15, and I needed to dash out to daycare. While I was there, I was talking with the woman who watches my daughter and discovered that her daughter was searching for a summer internship at a hospital. And, again, a friend came to mind who might be able to help. Got home and sent another email out. Oh, and then there was another wonderful friend of a friend, who wrote asking for some fundraising help. Again, I thought of someone right away!!!

And just like Milo was able to pull himself up out of the Doldrums in The Phantom Tollbooth, I pulled myself out of a really crappy day by helping others. While it's true that my search went nowhere today, I like to think that I helped someone get a step closer to their goals. Plus, I got myself out of the Doldrums.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Get Recommended on LinkedIn

Yesterday, I dedicated my morning to a surprisingly fun activity: endorsing people on LinkedIn. Actually, I got started by asking people to endorse me.

For the longest time I ignored this function on LinkedIn, fearing it would be too time consuming for the recipient and uncertain as to whether anyone would accept the request. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded.

For starters, of the eight colleagues I sent requests to six agreed to endorse me right away. Of those, five have already submitted their endorsements, all in the course of 24 hours! Which means I now have a recommendation for every job I've had since graduating college. But here's what really struck me: the warmth, generosity and sincerity of the recommendations people wrote. Many of whom I have not seen in years.

These endorsements were an excellent reminder for me of what I do best. It's one thing to write a list of qualities you embody in your work. Quite another to see what you're remembered for by colleagues and business partners. And knowing your strengths is a path to greater self-awareness and success in life.

But the real joy for me was reciprocating the gesture. Endorsing my colleagues brought back memories and a true appreciation for the talented individuals I've had the pleasure to work with over the years. It's nice to see how people have grown and flourished in their careers. I am so proud of the work they are currently doing and the amazing work that is yet to come.

Whether you're employed or not, I highly suggest dedicating an hour or two to endorse former colleagues and classmates. And don't be afraid to ask people to endorse you! LinkedIn manages the process with ease -- if you've never endorsed, or requested an endorsement before, here's a quick overview:

Request Endorsements:
  • Click the "Request Recommendations" button under your job title
  • Select a LinkedIn member from your contact database
  • Next, there's a form letter -- delete that and write a personal message to the recipient (Note: do not enter a name, LinkedIn automatically inserts "Dear [contact's first name]"for you although it doesn't show it to you in the form letter)
  • Once your contact has entered an endorsement, you will be alerted via email and instructed to review and "accept" the endorsement -- nothing is posted publicly until you approve it
  • After you accept the endorsement, you are immediately prompted to reciprocate the gesture and endorse your contact
Submit Endorsements:
  • Visit recipient's LinkedIn profile and click "Recommend" beneath the company where you worked together
  • Next, there's a form where you can submit the recommendation
  • Write a brief (2-3 sentences is fine) entry with a focus on positive attributes and qualities of the person you're recommending--also remember to state how you worked together, particularly if this is not apparent from your job titles at the time

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Resolutions

Being unemployed is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Earth Day to the fullest this year. And as I was pondering just what to do, I came across a Tweet from Whole Foods announcing a "simple green resolution" contest on their blog. The idea is to commit to one simple green resolution to start on Earth Day (to enter the official contest, visit the Whole Foods blog).

This inspired me to make some green resolutions of my own.

1) Stop using disposable bags. For some time, I've taken reusable bags to our grocery store, but I need to start using them for all shopping trips. To that end, I have two, compact bags that I carry in my purse. It's my mission this year to use them for all purchases!

2) Stop using disposable soda & water bottles. Luckily, giving up caffeine makes this resolution much easier. Still, with summer on its way, bottled water become ubiquitous at outdoor events. I think the key here will be planning. Drink plenty of water before leaving the house, and make sure to put some tap in a reusable bottle.

3) *Visit Theodore Roosevelt Island. Ever since moving to the DC area, I have gazed with curiosity at Roosevelt Island -- that small, easily missed National Park to the side of the GW Parkway in N. Arlington. This year I'm going to finally cross that footbridge and take a look around!

If you're unemployed like me, I hope you'll consider spending some time outdoors to celebrate nature today (even if in the rain). If you're at work, allow yourself a break to walk outside and appreciate the flowers, birds, and other creatures in your environment. Look up at that big beautiful dome of sky and think of the massive, endless space beyond it. We are living a little miracle here on Earth. Lets protect and appreciate what we've got.

*Addendum: I did, in fact, make it to Roosevelt Island today. Note to others considering a visit: bring a friend! It's a bit creepy walking around alone. That said, I saw the most amazing Pileated Woodpecker directly upon arrival -- a not so subtle sign that this is a place worth visiting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Filing for Unemployment

If you've never filed for unemployment, the thought alone could quicken your pulse. Last year I had visions in my head of long lines, cranky government employees, piles of paperwork, and an entirely bureaucratic, outdated system that I would have to fight tooth and nail to get benefits. Well, I am here write: that could not have been further from the truth.

Compared to getting a passport or drivers license, obtaining unemployment benefits is remarkably easy. Or, at least, that has been my experience in Virginia (last year) and DC (this year). Both have a simple online submission process that requires minimum information and effort on the part of the filer. Once your account is established, your only work (aside from the obvious) is filing a weekly claim. Here's where Virginia and DC vary in their forms, though. Both require you to apply for a minimum of 2 jobs per week, but only Virginia requires you to enter specific information on the jobs in the weekly claim. While the extra step is annoying, I did feel an odd sense of security having my stats on file with the state. This time, I'll have to remember to keep a written account of the jobs I apply for, in case DC wants it. But, in the meantime, filing online takes less than a minute in DC -- and I love that.

Furthermore, once your claim is approved, it can be direct deposited into your bank account. Easy, easy, easy! The flip side is that you don't get very much money. My weekly payment is about what I made in a day at my last job. But, every little bit helps.

Some people don't file for unemployment out of pride. They consider it a benefit for "other people". I think this recession is starting to change that perception though. I mean, look at me, I've got a bachelors and masters degree. My last title was chief operating officer. And, yet, I am on unemployment right now, like millions of others across the country. There's no shame in that. There's no shame in saying, I did my best and now I need help.

When I was younger, I used to think: couldn't these unemployed people find work somewhere, doing something useful? Retail, food service, entry level office work. And while it's true, it might be easier to find something if you look outside your field, it's equally true that taking a job you hate is the quickest trip back to unemployment. It's a vicious cycle. Better to take advantage of the resources available to you, empower your search, and find a job that excites, motivates, and pushes you to the next level. Having a regular, albeit small, unemployment check each week is one such resource.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What I'm Giving Up

Unemployment is a time to consider what's essential. Last year when I was laid off, I had a really generous severance package and with lots of job prospects, I felt pretty secure with moderate adjustments. I reduced my gym membership to a restricted hours plan. I cut my allowance in half. We ate out less.

This time around, I'm not quite as confident. For starters, it's possible I'll be out of work longer than the 3 months it took me last time. And without severance, things get real pretty fast. I'm erring on the side of caution and giving up as many non-essentials as I can stomach. In particular, my entire allowance and entire gym membership. If you read my entry about working out for less then you know giving up the gym is not a big deal. I'll run and lift weights at my house for free.

Allowance is the real sacrifice. When my husband and I first got married, we opened a joint checking & savings account, but also opted to each keep a private checking account. All individual purchases come out of this account: clothes, shoes, haircuts, makeup, dining out, classes, entertainment, gum, magazines, books, music, etc.

Luckily, I had a bit of reserve saved up before becoming unemployed, which should get me through the next couple of months if I'm frugal. In the meantime, it's a fascinating study in what is and isn't essential to spend money on in the short run.
  • Clothes: I shouldn't need to buy new clothes. I have enough suits for interviews and jeans and t-shirts to wear around the house. Nonessential
  • Hair: My hair is really short right now, but no job = no bob. I'll need one last trip to the salon to get things evened out and ready to grow. Semi-essential
  • Makeup: I don't wear very much, but I stockpiled the expensive stuff at a Christmas sale. All the rest, I buy at the beauty bodega down the street for less than $6 a piece. Semi-essential
  • Entertainment: First, DC's full of free museums and many lovely parks. Second, my bedside drawer is stacked with books I haven't read. Third, we've got NetFlix, TiVo and various online viewing options. Nonessential
  • Eating out: This is both an easy & hard one. It's extremely easy for me to eat what's in the house. On the other hand, one expense that's always worth it (especially in unemployment) is connecting with people over lunch and drinks. Essential
All told, this is a pretty lush life. And while I guarantee there will be times when I am lusting after some it shoes, clothes, or gadgetry...I'm going to try very hard to keep things in perspective and wait. I know what it's like to have credit card debt, and I don't want to experience that again.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Refinance Denied

Five years ago my husband and I bought a severely neglected 1940s era condo/townhouse. The windows were shattered, the bathroom destroyed, and the kitchen a virtual cockroach morgue. And yet, at the tender age of 25 & 26, we saw potential. We also thought it might be our last chance to buy something. The market was steadily rising above our means.

The first year in our home we saw drug deals on the street and sidewalks littered with used condoms, diapers, and half drunk 40s. We had neighbors knock on the door asking to borrow money for beer. A cop stopped my husband, on a walk with our dog, to say: "This is a bad neighborhood. Better walk your dog somewhere else, buddy."

Undeterred, we focused on what we could control. We replaced the windows, the back door, and the bathroom. We tore up the cheap carpet and refinished the hardwood floors. We removed the kitchen cabinets (and the shower of cockroach carcases behind them). We replaced the banister and the radiator covers. We painted the rooms. Put wood blinds up on the windows. Bought a new range for the kitchen.

And as the years passed by, the neighborhood started to prosper. New owners made similar improvements to their units. The condo association hired a professional groundskeeper. The condo board became more pro-active. And a really cool collection of neighborhood kids started hanging out in our cul-de-sac -- skateboarding, riding bikes, playing games -- adding a sense of community to the place. More neighbors moved in with dogs and kids.People learned each other's names.

And I suppose with all of the improvements to the external and internal landscape of our life here, I thought we might have some hope of refinancing our home this year. We didn't enter the process blindly. We stay current with housing prices on RedFin and Homes Database. We're aware of foreclosures in our neighborhood. So, two weeks ago, I cleaned every inch of our home. Decluttered, organized, vacuumed, scrubbed. I bought flowers. I baked cookies.

My husband and I attentively greeted the home inspector. Pointed out all of the improvements to our home. The place never looked better in its history. And I couldn't help feeling a sense of pride. We had transformed this modest crack house into a warm, inviting home. We had done everything possible to make this place presentable. There could be no regrets.

And I think that's why I cried when we got the estimate. We bought our home in 2004 for $235,000. In 2005 and 2006, similar condos in our association went for well over $300,000. In 2007, it dropped to $270,000. And now, here in 2009, our home is worth an estimated $145,000. Refinance denied. We would have saved $450 per month on our mortgage had it gone through. That would have helped ease the burden of being unemployed.

I know this is not a unique story. People all over the country are experiencing it. And I could be mad at the banks for irresponsible lending; or borrowers for irresponsible dept; or the government for allowing it to happen. But, in truth, I am responsible. The buck stops here. We haven't been lucky in many respects this past year or two, but it's material. We've got our health. We've got each other. And, really, we've got a home that is so darn full of love I can't help but feel joy in what we've accomplished here. It reminds me of that old camping adage: leave your site cleaner than when you arrived. We've done that here. We're living it. Regardless of what it is worth, we came here and made this house a place worth living in.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vacation Patience

Last week I was out of town for a long anticipated vacation. Even though it was only my second week unemployed, I committed myself to the break: no job hunting, no Tweeting, no blogging. This would be a true break from all work.

And, you know what? It was really hard. As much as I wanted to stay present and enjoy every millisecond of my break, those creepy, lingering thoughts popped up in my head:

"You're not working hard enough. You'll never be able to afford another vacation. If you don't Tweet, blog and email this week, people will loose interest. You're just one in a billion people looking for work right now, and those people aren't on vacation."

Meanwhile, I'm in a visual paradise. Ocean views out the front window. Steps away from a nature preserve of wetlands speckled with egrets and a driftwood beach. Gorgeous 70 degree weather, sunny with a light breeze.

I still got lost in my thoughts, replaying interviews and responses in my head. Plotting out action steps. Fretting over details.

One thing that did help: I made a conscious effort to observe my thoughts. Each time I started to wander into a critical, self-defeating diatribe, I could hear another voice calling out in the distance:

"Give yourself a break, Katie -- you're on vacation! There's nothing you can do about the past or future. You're living now and you're in paradise."

And now I'm back. Sitting on the old couch in the living room, looking out at our budding dogwood tree. The world went on while I was gone. It was good to have a break. And it's also good to be back: blogging, Tweeting, emailing. Enjoying the work that is my life right now. Trying to be patient as the future unfurls itself like the buds on our tree.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Social Networking and The Organic You

It strikes me how completely different the start of my job search is this year than last year. For starters, social networking. I know there have been a million blog postings and articles about this already. But it's one thing to read about it, quite another to experience it.

Where as last year, I sent an email announcement to friends and colleagues that I was looking for work, this time I put it in my status on Gmail and Facebook. I Twittered. I blogged. And the responses came in, just the way they did last year. So what's changed here? Different methods. Similar results. Well, yes...and no.

Getting leads is about the same. But the process after that is different. This time, I'm prepared for employers to follow me on Twitter, read my blog, friend me on Facebook, join my network on LinkedIn. They will have access to my hobbies and pastimes, causes and interests, past jobs, current thoughts, future aspirations.

And, there's something very organic and lovely about that.

Because, after all, humans are not very good at describing themselves. I could write you a novel about who I am, but you would get a more accurate view by:
  • observing my interactions with friends;
  • seeing how I align myself to causes, interests and ideas; and
  • reading my thoughts about topics other than myself.
That's why a cover letter and resume only tell a very small part of the puzzle.

I'd like to think that this "organic me" available online is a better representation of my potential as an employee. That if a company takes the time to see me in my native surroundings, they will know pretty quickly if I'm in alignment with their company culture and ultimately a good fit for their team. And that's what I'm really searching for in the next job, the ideal alignment of my interests, goals and aspirations with that of my employer.

So, if you're thinking of hiring me: thanks for visiting. This is me -- the organic Katie Kemple.

If you're looking for a job (like me), I suggest embracing your organic online self and be active!
  • Showcase your interests: Blog, Tweet, and comment about things you love and care about. What's important to you and when is the last time you sent a link, posting, or comment about it?
  • Increase your interactions: Show future employers how you collaborate with others, lend support, and share ideas. Are you a team player online? Do you comment on other people's posts? Do you offer help?
  • Follow prospective employers: Read their blog posts, follow them on Twitter. Discover who they are organically online. Do they have a similar hobby? Are their work ethics and philosophy in alignment with yours?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Unemployed, again

Time to get real. Today is my last official day in the office. A couple of weeks ago, my boss and I began a discussion that has ended in a decision to part ways. It's been hard not writing about this, but I needed to keep it confidential until the details were confirmed.

Transitioning into unemployment is both very similar and very different than it was a year ago. Last year my initial reaction was shock, heart-break, confusion. I didn't see it coming. But I also had lots of help: severance, a job outplacement consultant, and a network of untapped resources for informational interviews and job prospects.

This time around, I knew it was a possibility that things wouldn't work out. And when it came time to part ways, it felt right. Of course, it's still been difficult. This time there's no severance, no professional help, plus the awkward situation of telling former colleagues, friends, and acquaintances that I'm on the market...again.

All the old, familiar fears have floated up out of the woodwork like animated ghouls: "You'll go broke! No one wants to hire you! You're a looser! You'll never get a job in this economy!" Oh, and all the paperwork! Filing for unemployment. Transferring retirement accounts. Canceling...anything that can be canceled to save money.

And yet, there is also the calm, steady voice from within with its reassuring counter: "You're going to be okay. This part of your life has ended, but a new part is about to begin! You are one step closer to realizing new goals, new dreams, a new life."

So, I will go into the office today. I will pack up my picture frame, shoes, and extra coat. My bowl and bamboo utensils. The stapler I bought with my own money. I'll hand over my files, my key pass, my laptop. And I'll say goodbye to the dedicated, amazing souls that made working there a pleasure.

Then, I'll walk down the stairs, into the lobby that I first entered almost a year to the date. But this time, when I walk through the door, it will not be to an office and coworkers and business. It will be to a cool spring breeze, new flowers, blue skies and the old steady magnolia tree in its glory once more. And I will be okay.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Strangers Lend a Hand

Yesterday when I was reading a Wall Street Journal article on strangers helping strangers find jobs an incident from several years ago came to mind. I was at a diner in Georgetown and had just finished my meal when I realized, to great embarrassment, that I'd forgotten my wallet at home. As I started to explain to my server what had happened, a gentlemen seated further down the counter offered to pay for my meal. I will never forget my feeling of gratitude towards that man for his simple act of kindness.

Having been unemployed several times, the experience transfers. At first, there's a sensation of fear, realizing you no longer have income. Then, you're explaining your situation to people (networking with strangers). And, seemingly out of the blue, a person hears you -- really listens to you -- and offers to help. It never ceases to amaze me that it happens every time. How friends of friends extend their network, former colleagues, spouse's colleagues, neighbors, acquaintances from daycare, old friends from high school and college, and now even virtual acquaintances via Twitter, LinkedIn and the rest.

It's made me realize that I was never truly alone at that diner in Georgetown, and you are not alone either. That this hidden network has always existed, sitting silently on all sides, waiting for the word to step in and help out. That people are pulling for you. That they want you to succeed.

So, if you're unemployed right now, let the shock wear down, start telling people your story, and eventually you will find someone who's listening, someone who has been, in fact, waiting to hear your story.

And if you're employed, open your ears to the conversations around you. Need surrounds us in small ways and large. When we open ourselves to hear the message, we can create better outcomes for everyone, whether it's buying someone lunch, offering a smile, or actually helping a stranger find a new job.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Workout for less

Gym memberships have been on my mind lately. Last year when I was laid off, I had just joined a high end fitness club: individual TVs on all the equipment, towel service, good shampoo, and disposable razors (not that all of my time was spent in the shower, but you know what I mean). And it was the one luxury I could not give up. Instead, I switched to the "matinee plan" which basically meant my hours were restricted to the times when the gym's empty (11am-4pm weekdays, 1-8pm weekends) and that suited me just fine for the months I was without a job.

A year later, I'm starting to rethink the gym membership. For starters, I rarely go anymore -- but not for the reason you're thinking. I don't go because it's more convenient and enjoyable to workout from home. After months of exploring classes, doing circuits on the machines, and trying really hard to enjoy the elliptical, I honed down my workout to two activities: weight lifting and running. The funny thing is, both require next to no equipment.

Lets talk weight lifting first. In December, I bought this book: Men's Health Ultimate Dumbbell Guide by Myatt Murphy. I bought it because I wasn't seeing results with the weight machines at the gym and I didn't feel like shelling out money for a trainer. I also bought it because the instructions, routines and equipment were simple. The pictures were uncluttered and showed both men and women doing the exercises. As someone who has never been formally trained in dumbbells (or any other weight lifting) this was *so simple* to understand. Total investment was about $30 for dumbbells and $19.95 for the book. Results? AWESOME! In just 2-3 sets per week of the beginner routine, I saw major changes in the first month. Far better than the months of machine work that yielded next to no results.

Next, running. Well, I love running. I'm very slow (11 minute mile, people), but it's one of the most satisfying activities to do outside. It relieves stress and burns calories like nothing else. Plus, there's not too much you need to know, aside from a few good stretches at the end. Investment here was $50 for running shoes and $50 for an iPod shuffle (I need music to run.) Again, outstanding results in a short period of time. Just about all of my pants are loose after a few months of running for 30 minutes 2-4 times per week.

Annual Cost vs. Benefit
My at-home workout of weight lifting and running, which yielded noticeable results, totaled $150. My gym membership, on the other hand, cost $960 for the year, and didn't have much of an impact. So, if you're in the middle of a layoff, or just trying to cut back, I suggest doing a cost/benefit analysis of your exercise expenses versus results for the year. You might discover that it's not much of a sacrifice to ditch the gym membership.

For some additional ideas on how to workout for less, check out this article from the San Diego Union Tribune: "Survival of the Fitness".

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The jobs I didn't get

My husband often makes fun of me because I'm constantly cataloging events of the past and infusing them with meaning. Case in point: jobs I didn't get. There are several jobs in my career history that I applied for and really felt I should have gotten, but did not. In each case "not getting the job" paved the way for a bigger, better, or more interesting opportunities. Coincidence? You decide...

The first time around, I was a 22 year old promotion assistant at a TV station in Boston. After about a year on the job, I saw a listing for a position in the station's LA branch writing descriptions of TV for the blind. As a creative writing major and TV lover, I instantly thought it was the perfect job for me. Plus, I was dying to leave Boston. I interofficed my resume to HR and gave my boss a heads-up that I might be leaving soon (cocky, right?). A few weeks passed and nothing. Then, the job's no longer posted. Then, I found out someone else in my department got the job. So, I stayed in Boston and a mere two months later met my future husband at a birthday party (hey, it would have been impossible to attend if I was living in LA).

Next time around, I was a 25 year old cultural arts publicist looking for a new job (preferably one that did not mandate grueling weekend & night performance duty in addition to 9-5 office hours). I applied for a PR position at a local hospital. Made it past two rounds of interviews and felt primed to go all the way. Sent endearing, perfect thank-you cards to all involved. Two weeks later I found out they picked the other finalist. Darn. But then four weeks later, I was offered a PR job at another TV station. where I really wanted to be.

And finally there was last year, I was a 29 year old laid off mom pining over a position at a national broadcast agency. The job description felt like I had written it myself, that's how closely aligned it was with my goals and experience, but what I didn't realize (what I couldn't have known) was that the job was specific for a reason: they had an internal candidate. I didn't even make it past the first interview. The afternoon I got the email was one of my lowest in the job hunt. But (as mentioned in a previous post) a mere five hours later I was offered an invitation to apply for a position as COO of a multimedia non-profit. And you know where that got me...

In short, the universe acts in mysterious ways. Sometimes you just have to accept that what seems like the right fit, is not. There's something else in store for you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Big house, little house

Last month I went to a party at a mansion: high ceilings, full bar, personal gym, screening room, pool, you name it. One of my friends (not the owner) was showing me around and at the end of the tour, turned to me and said, "Is it wrong that I want this?" That question really struck me. It lingered for days in fact, perhaps because of my childhood.

When I was a kid, I wanted one of two things, to either live in one of the tiniest places possible (I had fantasies about living in this vacant Fotomat booth in our grocery store parking lot) or live in a mansion. There was no in-between. Coming from a regular (albeit, charming) middle class, two story home, I wanted to experience something different.

As it turned out, wish #1 came true. I live in a place slightly larger than a Fotomat booth, smaller than my childhood home, but no where near mansion size. And you know what? I love it.

And so, when my friend posed this question, "Is it wrong that I want this?" it made me wonder, what if things had turned out differently, what if I'd gotten the mansion instead of the townhouse? To my surprise, the mansion suddenly felt like the lesser of the two options. And believe me, it had nothing to do with the house where the party was hosted, which was hands-down gorgeous, but when picturing myself as the owner, here's what came to mind...
  • Containment: With a gym, pool, bar and cinema, I would never have a reason to leave the house. And one of my great joys in life is leaving the house. I love chance encounters, sharing spaces, and allowing little diversions to add adventure to my plans.
  • Cleaning: Big houses take longer to clean. I guess if you own a mansion, you hire someone. For me, cleaning is meditative. A weekly rite that takes exactly one blissful, soul searching, hour.
  • Things: Lots of space means lots of things, and I only like to own a few things. In fact, I'm constantly plotting ways to get rid of things.
  • Empty rooms: Mansions have more rooms than people. Even in my parents' house, having more rooms than people kind of freaked me out. I can't sleep thinking about all those vacant spaces.
Fate put me in the right house. And in these lean economic times, I'm grateful to have small tastes. The world outside our doors is so big. It kind of makes you wonder why so much attention is put on houses in the first place. We no more own these dusty walls than a tree owns soil or a bee owns air.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fail Faster to Succeed Sooner

This weekend I stumbled across one of those rare gems in the blogosphere: intersected and its creator Jamie Varon. Ms. Varon is a woman with her priorities in order. She started a job, spent two weeks there, realized it wasn't worth it and quit (w/o another job lined up). What has she done since then... hmmm, started an awesome blog, become a guest contributor to Brazen Careerist , and created a campaign to get hired by Twitter. My opinion? This lady doesn't need Twitter to hire her. She's found her calling. Check out her site for some no-nonsense, follow your passion, get the job of your dream advice.

In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to examine my job search under Varon's "6 Ways to Not Play it Safe " framework. Last year, I actually got a little high minded and set a motto for 2008: fail faster to succeed sooner. Of course, I didn't realize just how soon the universe would help me achieve the first part of my motto by unexpectedly laying me off...three weeks after returning to work from maternity leave.

So, anyway, I pretty much dedicated my year & job search to not playing it safe. But did that philosophy work in my favor? Here's how I measure up against Varon's 6 rules...

1. Go against what everyone tells you to do
Example: Turned down job offers while still unemployed, holding out for a "dream job" and "dream salary."
Result: Got offered a "dream job" and "dream salary" two months later.

2. Listen to your heart and not your logic
Example: My logic told me, "You are under qualified to take this position!" My heart said, "Who cares? You'll learn! Take the position!"
Result: Took the job. It wasn't all pretty, but I learned a hell of a lot more than I would have had I taken a "safer" position at a more established company.

3. Put yourself out there

Example: Arranged informational interviews with anyone who would take my call; put myself in uncomfortable situations; and pitched my skills to strangers.
Result: Awkward? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. I met people who became mentors; received useful advice; and ultimately scored a job.

4. Dance on stage, sing karaoke, be a volunteer at a magic show
Example: Became a regular at a weekly poetry open mic. Read my work to a crowd of strangers.
Result: One of my poems was published on a bus. Met some cool people. Wrote a poem everyday for a month. Allowed myself to feel okay with reading stuff that wasn't perfect.

5. Be clear on your dream(s)

Example: Wrote down my dreams at the start of my search. Then proceeded to have an actual dream (like at night) that not only predicted my exact salary (okay, w/in $500), but also the location (two blocks south of the building I would work in, and the only landmark in the area I would have recognized in a dream).
Result: Offered a job in alignment with the dream description and the "dream" salary & location.

6. Fail
Example: Despite doing everything humanly possible to get a job at one of my favorite organizations (a job I was out of my mind convinced I'd get), I failed to even make it past the first interview (that really hurt). I bawled my eyes out.
Result: A mere five hours after getting my heart crushed, I got a job offer to be the COO at an innovative start-up.

The long & short of it?
Not playing it safe will get you places. Varon's list is a useful frame work for job searching & life. The challenge is to keep up the momentum. To continue to push yourself to the limit. To never stop dreaming. To be uncomfortable. To take risks. To fail faster to succeed sooner.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bad Day

Well, it's pretty rare, but even I have bad days. Today was one of them. Nothing seemed quite "right" today. And I'm not going to blame situations. It was me. By about noon, I was feeling contracted, defeated, and depressed. So, I went across the street for a cup of tea. Then, with tea in hand, I started to journal through my frustration. Writing always makes me feel better. Whatever situation is troubling me starts to loose its power as it enters the page.

And it got me thinking, what exactly is a "bad day"? How could a "day" be "bad"? Shouldn't every day be appreciated? Shouldn't every day be loved and tended to as something precious? Something rare even? Now I'm going to get a little esoteric and say that I feel all the elements that make me "me" have waited billions and billions of years to live this very day. It will never return again. And here I am wasting it! Calling it "bad" when I should be honoring it.

And as I was pondering this, I started to feel myself expand. Leaving the coffee shop, I looked at the people I passed and smiled -- my lungs filled with air and released their worry out into the wind -- the day was light and the world brimming with possibility again, opportunity ripe for the taking. This was not a "bad day" it was a "day" and there were still many things I could do to make it a wonderful day, and exciting day, an outstanding day -- to do justice to the opportunity to live a day such as this -- to walk out any number of doors -- not into war or rain or famine -- but into serene white clouds, people respectful of each other, soft cool breezes tickling my hair.

This blog is about embracing a layoff, but it's also about embracing the unknown, living in the moment, and engineering more opportunity via optimism. This does not mean, however, that it's always the easy choice. It would have been easier to blame people or situations. It would have been easier to throw a fit. It would have been easier to eat a box of donuts or drink a double espresso. The hard work is realizing and appreciating what is and loving the small moments of the day when truth reveals itself to you. Often it is the "bad" days that give us the most opportunity to seize the moment and learn from our frustration.

So, in honor of "bad days" and Friday the 13th, I challenge you to convert a "bad day" back into a "day" where anything and everything is possible (as it is).
  • Change scenes -- get up from where you're sitting and find a peaceful spot...whether that's your bath tub, a walk around the block, a library, a convenient store, a park...wherever you feel you can release yourself from your worries and fear for a moment. Write, drink a cup of tea, read something inspirational, stare at the rows of soda bottles or books or gum. Or simply close your eyes, sit, and be in the moment.
  • Take a deep breath and say to yourself, "I'm having a hard time, but I know that this is temporary and that I will feel better eventually. There must be something of value today."
  • Think about the opportunity surrounding you. What would make this a "good day"? Is there something exciting you could do? Is there something nice you could do for yourself or someone else? Would a change in environment help? Would a change in projects or focus help? Would seeing or talking to someone you love help?
  • Acknowledge the world around you. Hear something. Smell something. See something. Taste something. Ask yourself if you are in pain right now. If you're not in pain, are you in joy? Is there something you could find joy in right now? Something small? Something huge? Could you see one thing today and appreciate it?
And if you're able to do that, I welcome you to share what you appreciate here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Online Brand: Own Your Experiences

There are quite a few articles and posts out there about protecting your online brand. Between social networking sites, blogs, and personal websites potential employers have more power than ever to investigate your personal life & habits. There's also a lot of fear surrounding this fact. People have become hyper paranoid about being tagged with an inappropriate photo or viewed enjoying an esoteric hobby. Well, I have some atypical advice: accept it, own it, move on. How did I come to this realization?

About five minutes into a second interview at a PR firm, I was introduced to the CEO as Katie the "bellydancer." This was not information I had shared, nor would I have cared to share it. I had actually Googled my name before the interview. What I didn't realize is that, because I was logged into Gmail, Google showed me different results than my interviewer. Logged out of Gmail, the first result of the search was my former bellydancing website cached, with photos. (At the time of the interview I hadn't danced in a year, and had no plans of returning to it).

What to do when your alter ego shows up at an interview? Invite her in from the cold. Once the cat's out of the bag, there's no denying the fact: you are a human being with a life outside of work. Is that such a bad thing? While it may depend on the job...and the alter ego...I tend to think these instances can make you more memorable as a candidate.

That said, don't let an alter ego catch you off guard. Blushing, nervousness, or any behavior that hints at embarrassment will make you look bad. One thing I had in my pocket? I'd written a business school application essay on lessons learned as a dancer. So, when it's come up (and yes, it has reared its head several times) I can speak with confidence about how bellydancing made me a stronger negotiator, public speaker and manager.

There's always the chance that your alter ego will prevent you from getting the job. But, you might ask yourself in that case, was the job really "you"? If you can't be your most genuine self at a company, it probably isn't worth working there. As a side, note, I did get offered the job at the PR agency, but I didn't take it. It just didn't seem like a place where I would feel comfortable being myself.

Okay. Homework. If you have a hobby, alter ego, or any other potentially embarrassing information about yourself online -- brainstorm possible questions from an employer. Then write a list of how your online persona has helped you develop as a professional. What about that experience will make you a stronger candidate for a position? Next, practice saying it out loud (I *love* the car for these conversations). Get to the point where you can speak with confidence and ease.

And if you're still paranoid? Read Network World's "13 Ways to Boost Your Online Reputation" . Actually, this is a great article to read, even if you're not paranoid!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Transition = Creativity

Today I was feeling absolutely giddy. The spring weather teamed with daylight savings meant one thing: change. And it made me realize something, it's not just spring that I feel this about. I also love the transition from spring to summer, summer to fall and fall to winter. I love the change from day to night and night to day. The transition from high school to college, college to work, from one city to another, and from job to job.

Some transitions last only a few minutes (bye-bye sun), others take a month or so (hello spring!), and still others take a few months (where's my new office?) Transition, in my experience, has been a huge opportunity for creativity. Take for instance, my pregnancy -- sort of the ultimate 9+ month transition -- during which I got a masters degree, worked full time, and wrote a collection of poetry. There's just something about the uncertainly that makes me more alive. When I'm outside, I hear the birds, I notice the miniature purple flowers in the grass, I smell the thawing earth. The old routines are gone and so I am forced to step outside of my experience.

That's part of the reason why I find unemployment so interesting. As Rob Taub pointed out in our Q&A last week, "A layoff is the perfect time to assess where you belong... most people never do. Many employed professionals are misaligned in their careers but lack the time or energy to do something about it. Unemployment frees you up to give full attention to defining what it is, clearly, that you CAN and WANT to do, WITH WHOM, for HOW MUCH and to WHAT END."

Unemployment (especially in the form of a layoff) is a gift that some people will never experience. When I look back at the past year and how much I've learned as a result of having to find a new job -- and then transition into a new job -- it's overwhelming. Had I stayed in the same place, my experiences would be no where near as diverse.

So, if you're unemployed right now, free yourself to fully embrace the uncertainty. Take advantage of it. Use it. Sit in it. Let it thrill you a little. Let it scare you even. Let it do what it will to get you to the next place.

And in the meantime, pick up a novel or memoir for motivation. Travel literature, for instance, is all about transition, living on the edge of uncertainly, excitement and creativity...
  • Don Quijote : The first novel, ever. A coincidence that it's also one of the all time best books about transition & travel? I think not.
  • On The Road: Makes travel seem very affordable: loaf of bread + salami = enough food to cross America. Well, maybe only if you're Jack Kerouac.
  • Candy Freak: Travel + vintage candy = Steve Almond classic. Any book w/ jacket copy like this is worth a read, "...explores the role candy plays in our lives as both source of pleasure and escape from pain."
  • Eat, Pray, Love: Elizabeth Gilbert makes transition look devilishly fun without loosing its sense of uncertainty. She keeps it real.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Talking With Strangers

Networking is a euphemism for talking with strangers. Even if you work in a field where cold calls are the norm, like I do, it's still hard. But like most tasks that are uncomfortable, this one yields high rewards. Your best opportunity to talk with strangers (TWS) during a job search is the informational interview. Of these, you should be prepared to take advantage of passive leads (friend: "I know someone you should meet...") and proactive leads (you research and "make" connections.)

TWS Passive Leads
The easiest way to start TWS is offers from friends, family, and former colleagues. The strangers they'll introduce you to are more akin to distant relatives than strangers. First things first, research makes TWS much easier.
  • Play 20 questions w/ your friend (know how they know each other)
  • Read the company website (bare minimum: "About" page and "Careers" page)
  • Google/news search the company the morning of the interview (in case of major news)
  • Google search name of contact for context only (don't ever reveal to a contact that you've done this or mention personal information you might have found online)
It's okay if your stranger doesn't have a job opening for you. It's okay if you're not interested in working for his/her company. One of my all time favorite informational interviews was at a company that challenged my beliefs.

Think of this stranger as a gatekeeper to an unknown world. Your assignment during the interview is to find out what your stranger's world looks like (who lives there, what's the work like, how's the pay scale, what are the local customs?) Does this world excite you? Do you want to live in it? If the answer is "yes" then your next assignment is to convert stranger to friend.

Use clues garnered from the first part of your interview to translate your skills & experience into your stranger's world. Discuss how you could fit the picture. Ideally, this will lead to the words "We need someone like you to... " or, "I know someone who..."

TWS Proactive Lead
Once you've mastered passive leads, try a cold call or two. This involves some soul searching though, so start by making these lists (see my posting Informational Interviews & Dream Jobs for additional background):

1) What are your dream jobs?
2) What issues do you care about?
3) What organizations and/or people have the dream jobs you described in question 1 and/or work with the issues you described in question 2?
4) What is your dream salary?

Next, go online and research contact information for the people who have your dream jobs (ask friends & relatives if they have contacts in this line of work). The final step: pick up the phone and call!

You'll have to be persistent. You may have to call multiple times. But it will be worth it if you get some time on the phone, or even better, face time (always ask for face time!).

When my husband was in college he wrote a book for his senior thesis. The #1 person he wanted to interview for the book was Alan Ball (writer/producer of American Beauty and, later, Six Feet Under). My husband called Ball's assistant diligently for months before he finally landed the interview. Was it worth it? Hell yeah.

Put simply, you have absolutely nothing to loose and everything to gain. When you set your goals high, you might just achieve more than you ever thought imaginable.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Expert: Rob Taub, RésuméPro Plus

Well, here's a real treat. Rob Taub, veteran job search consultant and creator of RésuméPro Plus took some time out of his busy schedule for a Q&A on best practices. In addition to his impressive credentials, he's also my uncle and someone I've turned to for expert career advice since entering the work force. Believe me when I say: he's the real deal. Here's the skinny on resume writing, networking, layoffs and more, from a pro!

You started your career as a teacher. What was the catalyst for your transition to career consulting?

Oddly enough I answered an ad in the Boston Globe that read, “Sales Opportunity - “work in a beautiful office, talk with professionals all day, make good money and never make a cold-call”. That was 23 years ago.

What is the most common mistake you see people make on resumes?

(a) Leaving off an objective and (b) putting in a self-serving objective: Let me explain.

I liken the objective on a resume to the title on a book cover. If the title read “Indy 500” you would assume that it has something to do with racing; even if only the backdrop. You wouldn’t have to read through several pages to know. In fact, you may never have picked up that book in the first place; especially when there are so many other books on the shelf with titles, saving you time and guess work. With regard to “self-serving” objectives, such an objective might read like this: “Looking for a growth opportunity in a growth organization that will utilize my skills and experience and provide opportunity for advancement” Duh! … Who isn’t?

Now more than ever, companies need to make smart moves and hire good people. Companies need to see how you can help them advance their agendas not your own. Candidates need to target their assets to the employer’s needs. It begins with “Positioning” the product and that starts at the very top of your resume with the objective.

CV or Resume: what's the difference and does it matter?

CV is a history of where you’ve been and what you’ve done; the Resume is the potential you have for where you are going and what you will be doing. CV’s are mostly used for Federal, Institutional and Academic positions; and all too often mistakenly used for private openings when a Functional resume would be more effective. By the way, there are 10 different resume styles of which Functional is only one; Chronological is another.

When a company asks for applicants to include a salary range on their resume, what's your best move?

Include it. If you don’t you will be automatically disqualified. Most people try to get around because if they’re too low they’ll be disqualified or if too high, too, they’ll be disqualified; nonetheless you have some chance. Leave it out? “Auto-disqualifier” – no chance, nothing…nada…nil…nichts…neit

When writing a cover letter, should you go for the hard sell or stick to the facts?

I would have to settle somewhere in the middle. You do want to “sell”, but not “hard”; and you want to sell using facts – concrete info that positions you as a viable candidate, for example you may say in the middle of your cover letter, “Some of the skills I developed over the years that would be of benefit in a college teaching/administration capacity would include the following:

  • Solid professional presence and significant relationship development experience

  • Administration, staff development and operations management

  • Highly perceptive in ascertaining individual and group needs

  • (Etc…)

Is it better to email or snail mail a "thank you" note?

It really depends on who it is that will be receiving it. Similar to resumes … what’s the best resume format to use? Depends on who will be reading it. Also remember that every contact including rejections should receive a “thank you”. You might want to consider as a rule of thumb, to send a hand-written “thank you” (regular mail) to those who reject you. All your other contacts are on going while these are ending. If you respond with something relevant, professional and memorable (which in this digital age may very well be a hand-written “thank you”), you may keep the door open for another day.

How have social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter changed the job hunt?

70% of your time in a job search should be spent networking. (Limit the time you spend applying online to 1 hour a day). Making and staying in touch with networking contacts is a must. Social networking like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc. are great portholes because you can network without drawing attention to the fact that you are looking for a job! To be most effective you must make sure your updates on these sites are full of valuable ideas and resources for the readers.

What's been your best moment as a career consultant?

Everyday is filled with some really great moments. Everyday you help someone; and when they know it, they let YOU know it.

If you could give job seekers one piece of advice, what would it be?Something I read just this morning! “By believing passionately in something that (still) does not exist, we create it. The non-existent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired” –Nikos Kazantzakis

Ok - ok … something less esoteric then: I said it on my blog the other day – When communicating with others, don’t make them plow through jargon. If they understand it they’re unimpressed; if they don’t, they’ll take out a book and read.

Any other advice?

I guess I’d go with the Four P’s I invented back in the day: “Prepare to Practice Patience or P_ _ _off”. The impatient person (a) speaks without thinking and (b) is less likely to listen and consequently will miss all the signals.

And, finally, since this is a blog about layoffs, have you ever been laid off? If so, what were your "lessons learned" from the experience?

Yes, 3 times in 4 years; and the biggest lesson learned, years later, is that you shouldn’t take it personally EVEN IF resultant of personal differences or personality conflict.

Other lessons learned? Unemployment can leave plenty of space on your calendar. I learned that unless you’re careful, free time can be squandered easily, and important momentum will be lost.

A layoff is also the perfect time to assess where you belong (specific industry, job function, company culture); most people never do. Many employed professionals are misaligned in their careers but lack the time or energy to do something about it. Unemployment frees you up to give full attention to defining what it is, clearly, that you CAN and WANT to do, WITH WHOM, for HOW MUCH and to WHAT END.

Finally, there’s a temptation after you’ve been laid-off to take a time off to spend with family or to take on projects or go on vacation. DON’T DO IT! DON’T DO IT! The longer it takes for you to return to the marketplace, the harder it’ll be.


For expert advice on resumes, interviewing and more visit Rob Taub online at RésuméPro Plus and the blog Job Searching With Rob.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Routines to Savor Time

Both times I've been unemployed it took me three months to find a new job. Three months is both a short and long amount of time. Short enough to live low on unemployment, severance, and savings. Long enough to tackle a dream...that is, if you allow yourself to savor the time.

Savoring time may seem obvious if you've never been unemployed, but it can be a huge mental hurdle to jump. Thoughts run through your mind like a news ticker "Why aren't they calling...How long can I wait to make a payment...What am I doing with my life...Am I ever going to have a paycheck again...Need to write a cover letter...Why aren't they calling?!#$%"

That's why I'm an advocate for developing routines to savor time (RTST). First off, RTST are a much needed distraction from the voices in your head. Second, they introduce a sense of meaning and accomplishment back into your life. Third, they keep you in the present (away from the pain of the past and fear of the future).

When developing your RTST, consider what could improve your life overall. What have you dreamed about doing but always dismissed because you "don't have time"? That's no longer a valid excuse. You have TIME! And if you're going to be unemployed for 3+ months, what could you do with that time that would have a positive impact on your life...even when you start a new job?

My routines included: exercise 3x week; clean house 1x week; walk dog slowly w/ mug of coffee at 8:30am & watch everyone else cram into their cars to go to work 4x week; keep my daughter home from daycare 1x week and go to museums, parks, visit friends; write a poem everyday 7x week, for one month; see a matinee 1x week.

Here's your homework. Make a list of potential RTST. Don't censor yourself. Write the first things that come to mind. You can use the categories below to get started.
  • Creative (life long goals & aspirations)
  • Practical (cleaning, home repair...)
  • Fun (exercise, playdates, day trips, matinees...)
Once you have established a list, select your favorites and assign a weekly or daily "routine" and "goal" for each (example: write 500 words of the great american novel 1x per day; run 3 miles 4x per week). If you still don't think you've got enough "time" here's some inspiration...

Write a Novel in One Month
: The National Novel Writing Month website has tools & tips on how thousands of people have written a novel (50,000 words) in the space of one month.

Muscular Body in One Month: Read how Four Hour Work Week author Tim Ferriss went from skinny to muscular in four weeks (plus the pictures to prove it!)

Clean Your Entire Home in One Hour: Great article on Associated Content site with strategy for cleaning your entire house in one hour.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kill the Future

The company that eliminated my job last year had another round of layoffs yesterday. Hearing from people peeled open the experience like a fresh wound. The confusion, frustration, anger. The sense of instability and fear in what the future might hold.

For me, those first 24 hours moved in slow motion. I can slip into the memory like it was yesterday. That odd sensation of leaving the building at 9:30am. With no place to go, I drove.

My sense of the present moment hightened sensation to everything around me. I could see again, I could smell, I could hear. There was no future. It was just me, alone in my car, living it moment by moment. And I wrote this poem...

I (heart) Balloon
Today, while driving on Route 50, I looked up
and saw a red heart shaped balloon
float over the roadway. Float over
and up. And I said, "Oh!" to no one,

I was alone in the car. The balloon kept
going, out of my sight. Free and bold--
so bright and odd against the baby blue

sky. Its cord cut. Like me, no longer
pregnant. Like me, without a job.
Like me--just stare as I float by, not

knowing where I'll land. And you may
gasp, "No!" thinking what would you do--
but I know that the air exhilarates.

There are things in life that job loss cannot take away. In fact, I realized, that my job had stolen something from me all those years: it had taken my sense of the present and replaced it with "security in the future."

How swiftly the present ran back into my arms like a child that morning. And as we embraced, I knew that things were okay. Not that they were "going to be okay" but that they were "okay" here in the present moment.

So to my friends and countless others who find themselves without a job this morning, I encourage you to take a deep breath, to look around you, to see, smell, let go of the future, and welcome the present back into your life.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Are You "Mad as Hell"?

Sara Clemence's article "The Just-Laid-Off Checklist" on reminded me of one of the best pieces of advice I received the morning of my layoff: "go see a movie." The words came from my job outplacement agent, and for some reason, they are the only ones I remember from that morning (aside from the infamous "...your job has been eliminated").

It just so happened that a layoff classic arrived off my Netflix queue that afternoon: Network. In case you haven't seen it, the movie starts when network news anchor Howard Beale looses his job. With two weeks left as anchor, he announces on live television that he will commit suicide by shooting himself on air. As you can imagine, the plot only gets better. The pinnacle moment being his instruction to all viewers to open their windows and scream out loud "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

Watching Beale's speech again, I saw how strikingly relevant it is today. For starters, the movie takes place during a similar period of economic crisis in America (1976). If it was delivered on air tonight it would still make sense (just substitute "recession" for "depression" and "Iraq" for "Russia").

He not only describes a state of economic depression but individual depression -- the solitude of workers arriving home at night to eat dinner alone in front of the TV. His rally to viewers to stop the cycle and declare their worth, to admit to themselves and the world, "I'm a human being God damn it. My life has value!" is as powerful now as it ever was.

Beale says that nothing's going to change unless people get honest, and that starts with getting "mad as hell." And I think what he's getting at here is "feeling" something, feeling anything passionately again. That's what the experience of job loss is all about. A fresh start. A new horizon. And in particular, the day after you're through being mad, when you start building your life back up again, with a greater sense of who you are and a stronger foundation.

Entrepreneurship and the "Recession Rush"

The launch of's layoff widget yesterday, reminded me of lessons learned from the Gold Rush of 1849: it's more profitable to sell pans & shovels. Those who elected to supply miners reaped the rewards of filling a timely demand. As the notion of a long term recession grows roots in the American psyche, I predict we'll see a bit of a "Recession Rush" to get appropriate products to market.

Here are two of the latest: offers visitors a place to rant anonymously about job loss, track layoffs, and rate employers. The comments are a little snarky for my taste, but the site as a whole is a good concept. It meets a need that I felt while unemployed: a sense of community. One can't help but feel less alone by reading the numerous "layoff stories". At the same time, they are ripe with the fresh cut of pain one feels immediately following a job elimination. I found myself looking for an optimistic anchor on this site, a place to be forward looking, and collaborate to make the most of new beginnings.
Another site that's surfaced is . This site, for me, has a brighter feel to it. It's less snarky and has some really fantastic writers who post useful tips and stories. The postings are original, smart, and take a variety of perspectives into account from spouses of layoff victims to freelancers scraping for work. Plus, they have some regular columns such as "screwed" (news on latest layoff) and Recession Briefing (aggregates the top recession related articles).

Heard of others? About to launch your own "Recession Rush" product? Feel free to post links in the comments below. I'd love to hear what else is out there, or about to arrive on the scene.

And if you've recently been laid off, maybe it's worth considering: are you a layoff entrepreneur? Do you have something valuable to share with others in the same position? Or do you think this recession will make fools of those looking for gold? Only time will tell, but for now it's encouraging to see new products released -- more proof that even in a recession there are opportunities to be found.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Is Happy Hour Still Happy?

On Friday I went to a happy hour organized by fellow alums of Georgetown University's Executive Master's in Leadership program. Our program was a cohort of 40 students and we were (still are) very close. In general, this group is a shot of energy. But the last time I saw everyone was in July and since then just about everyone had...laid people off, been laid off, gone on furlough, and/or seen their life savings evaporate. Walking in, I was curious to see just how "happy" the hour would be...

One classmate had to restructure her department and was preparing to take a furlough. Time off without pay is not exactly ideal, but as mentioned in one of my previous posts (Does 10% Reduced Pay = 10% More Time?) there are some advantages. While on furlough, employees are instructed not to check email, come to the office, or conduct anything that could be perceived as "work related activities." In an age when many employees regularly check email through the night and weekend; take laptops and BlackBerrys to the beach; and generally allow themselves to be available 24/7--a mandatory break sounds pretty good to me. The more my classmate talked about it, the more it seemed things weren't all doom and gloom. Plus, she has a life outside of work: she gardens, teaches, travels. She would be able to do more of the things she loved with her time off...even if it meant less pay.

Another classmate had been hit harder. Her husband's work nearly evaporated with the collapse of the banking industry. Meanwhile, her part time job had been eliminated and she was looking for full time work. The more we talked, the more positive aspects of her life emerged. She was teaching a few classes at a university and told me about her latest course, where she had the freedom to use more creative exercises and simulations. The joy that came forth as she described the impact one such exercise had on her class gave me hope that her layoff would put her in a position to continue creating similar experiences and meaningful work.

And then there was one classmate who had been laid off in December. A true role model for networking and getting this done, she was briefing me on her latest creative endeavors and job prospects, when we were interrupted by a phone call. Ten minutes later she was back in the bar and we were celebrating. A prestigious consulting firm had just offered her a job.

If so much hope and optimism surfaced in the stories of classmates most effected by the recession, how about the rest of our cohort? Well, one classmate had raised record amounts of money for her non-profit and was receiving invitations to participate in exclusive conferences around the world. Another classmate had signed a huge client at his agency. A third classmate snagged the lead in a television documentary. A fourth announced she had fulfilled a childhood dream to publish a children's book.

So, is happy hour still happy? I think it is! While there was a little more gloom than usual, everyone had some level of joy, optimism and hope for the future. Opportunities abound, even in a recession. It's a call for all of us to take a "furlough" from work--if not physical than mental--and ask that question we were so good at answering when we were five: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

Sunday, February 22, 2009

COBRA Gets Friendlier

If you were laid off after September 1, 2008, COBRA just got friendlier. The stimulus bill will pay 65% of your premiums for the next 9 months. Even if you took a pass on COBRA at the time of layoff, you have a new opportunity to sign up.

Having been unemployed twice in my life, with the option to take COBRA, I'll say this: it's expensive. The first time I was eligible, I was a young, healthy 23 year old and still had to shell out $500+ a month to stay on the plan. Lucky for me, my parents were willing to chip in. If I was laid off today with the same $500 COBRA payment, the government would chip in $350 and I would only have to pay $175...which is still a lot of money while unemployed, but much more reasonable than the full amount.

Then the question becomes: can I buy an individual health insurance plan that will cost even less than the government subsidized COBRA? A quick search on eHealthInsurance yielded a plan "as low as" $93 per month -- it's a PPO with a well known health insurance provider, but the deductible is $1,200 and the office visit copay is $30. This isn't a bad option if you're healthy and unlikely to need to chip into that $1,200 deductible anytime soon. For comparison sake, it would be $82 less per month than my former COBRA payment with government help.

One thing to consider about online health insurance estimates is that an estimate is all it is. Enter more information for a formal quote, and you could see your price skyrocket. If you're someone who uses medical care frequently, you might be better paying COBRA and staying with your current plan (especially if you've already contributed a significant amount to an annual deductible).

The second time I was eligible for COBRA, I went onto my husband's health insurance plan instead. Joining his plan cost more than what I was paying as an employee, but it was much less than I would have paid on COBRA.

Overall, know your options. There's more than one way to get health insurance. If you decide to use COBRA, make sure you get the government contribution. If your former employer hasn't contacted you about the government program, be proactive and give your HR rep a call.