March 22, 2010

Job Seeking in Tough Times: after a layoff or job loss, or just during these times

Millions of people are seeking jobs right now.  More than 6 million people according to the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Up to 25 million people  are actually unemployed but are not counted because they are partially employed, under employed, or they are discouraged workers that have stopped looking for work.

Layoffs are continuing.  No industry is immune.  Even Mickey Mouse is in a funk.  Disney announced that it is closing ImageMovers in Marin County, cutting 450 workers.  One of my favorite former students works for this company.  I was stunned and saddened earlier this week to hear about this closure.  New United Motors in Fremont, California is shutting down in April with up to 5000 workers losing their jobs along with up to 50,000 workers in companies that support the operation according to the California Labor Federation.

This is not a new phenomenon,  nor will it be the last time the labor economy purges itself.  Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs during the weeks and months following the 2001 terrorist  attacks on New York and Washington. The airlines, the travel industry, aircraft, automobile, transportation equipment, computer electronics, and other segments of manufacturing were hit hardest with the largest number of layoffs.

In 1992 the defense industry laid off 200,000 engineers in California alone, as a result of the demilitarization of America. The country was having a difficult time moving industry from military applications to domestic applications of technology. The computer and electronics industries had not yet entered their nose bleed growth period. People were out of work and out of college with no place to go.

We are there again in the great unknown as far as the job market goes.  I see the glass as half full and filling rather than half empty and dropping.  I am seeing growth and opportunity expansion in hiring plans.  This week the stock market is reflecting the optimism.

What if you are graduating and have not gotten an offer yet?  What if you never found a job after graduating?  What if you lose your job?  People who face unemployment react to it in different ways. Anyone who has been unemployed knows that it represents challenge and terror, like riding a roller coaster. It can be scary and wild.

A lot has to do with your attitude.  Getting moved off track with your plans or getting laid off forces you to assess and take stock of your life and to get creative. You have time to think.  If you can view a layoff or period of unemployment as an opportunity and an adventure, you will find it a lot easier to cope.

Now, if you view it as the worst thing that has ever happened to you, it will be... But if you get organized and develop a plan while remaining active and positive, things will go much better.
(In the 30+ years that I have been working with people looking for work, nobody has died from the experience and everyone eventually finds a job... NO ONE I WORK WITH QUALIFIES TO BE PERMANENTLY UNEMPLOYED!).

So where should you start?

Be positive even if you don't feel positive. Being optimistic is just more productive.  Think of it as an opportunity that lets you use your talents to develop a new plan or to start a new life. It's OK to get depressed, but it's not OK to let it get the best of you. As a matter of fact, a psychologist, Paul Mattiuzzi (who I happen to be married to) said that the first rule is: "Don't panic. It will be painful, but you will survive."  Resilient people always survive.  They pick themselves up and move forward even if it is hard to do.

I believe strongly that there is a grieving you go through after losing a job.  It is like loosing someone...yourself.  You need to look to the future and move toward planning to making it happen.

Take stock - assess your financial situation immediately! Don't continue to spend and live like you did before you lost your job. As a student you probably have lots of pent up demand for stuff... Well keep it pent up for awhile longer... Get conservative in a big way. In a normal period it takes an average of 3 to 6 months to conduct a job search. This is not a normal period. The recession has expanded that job search time frame to 6 plus months. The recession is deep in some areas, but some employers are still hiring. Maybe just not the ones you had hoped would hire you. Look around. Ask questions. Figure out who is hiring and get on it!

Usher the resources. If you were laid off or fired, file for unemployment insurance immediately. Seek support immediately from family, friends, a church or synagogue or mosque, and university career and alumni offices. Join a job club.

People love to be helpful, and they can be if you give them clear enough information. Don't keep it a secret. Tell everyone that you are looking for a job. Describe what you are interested in and put a positive spin on it. Use phrases like "I'm exploring options" and "I'm seeking opportunities." Make it sound like this is an adventure.

If you are married with kids, tell the kids and let them identify ways they can help - like mowing lawns or cutting back on purchases. They will feel powerless if they think they can't help. Make it a mission for the family and have regular meetings on what is happening. Inform your parents so they can help. These days it is very common for parents or other family members to help financially, or with a place to live, or to be watching the want ads and articles in local papers or the web for leads on what companies might have opportunities.

Focus on your knowledge and interests. Assess your skills and expertise. Think broadly. If, for example, you were laid off from the electronics industry focus on industries that are expanding internet services, defense systems, or computer security.  Think also about organizations expecting huge retirement like government, or energy and utility companies. Make a list of all the possible companies you might contact that would be interested in people with your talents.

Research your options.  Spend time on the web looking at information on companies you are interested in and post your resume on the sites. You should spend a minimum of five to seven hours a week researching if you are conducting an effective job search campaign. Find out what areas are growing.

Be aware of technical, economic and political changes that impact your marketability. Read!!! Read everything you can get your hands on - the newspaper, technical journals, news magazines, business magazines and annual reports. The information that you will gain from being well informed from sources such as these include what industries are suffering the most layoffs right now, what new technologies are emerging, who is key in the emerging areas and what areas are growing.

Get involved professionally. Some of the best job contacts can be made at professional association meetings and activities. People tend to get smothered by what they do, never peeking out to see what the rest of the world is doing. If you are professionally involved and know your colleagues in other organizations, you can automatically get tuned in to where else you might fit.

I am extremely impressed with how effective the student professional organizations are at connecting students and alumni with hiring organizations.  The officers in these clubs and organizations are always the first people hired... clue to you.

Network. The time to develop a network is as soon as you chose a profession. Chances are the professional friends and colleagues you know in various organizations will be your lifeline to a new job. Don't lose touch with college friends and professors. If you have, get back in touch. What should you say when you get back in touch? Explain that you are looking for new opportunities and that you would like to come in and pick their brains about what is going on in their industry and elsewhere. Tell them you are seeking advice and ideas. The more people you talk with, the better your information will be on what to do next. People may be reluctant to meet with you at first, thinking that you only want leads on jobs, and they maybe unaware of any job openings. Tell them not to worry. You only want to brainstorm to help you come up with ideas, leads and a plan for what to do next.

Develop a plan. Synthesize the information that you have gathered from written and web sources and by talking with people. Identify all of your options. Brainstorm on the possibilities: target companies to work for, return to school, start a small business, open a French restaurant, buy a franchise, join the Peace Corps, travel, write.... In other words, all of the things that you have always wanted to do but  you never had the time. Only after these deliberations will you be ready to develop your plan.

Get creative. Remember you are a professional, a problem solver. Here is a problem that you can really sink your teeth into. Approach it in the same way you would tackle any problem... as a project to be managed... as a challenge you can conquer.