Monday, March 30, 2009
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
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
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 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
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.
Monday, March 16, 2009
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.
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
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?
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
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
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
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)
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
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…何
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
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.