Insights of the Unemployed – Surviving Transition

12 Apr, 2009 | by

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I have officially ended my transition; it lasted just over 230 days.  As I sit and look back at more than seven months of uncertainty, I thought this would be a good time to share some ideas that might help others facing their own journey.  Please keep in mind that I am not an expert.  I have no advanced degree in psychology or training as a career advisor, I am just a guy that made it through to the other side and has a point of view.

Network
The key, and you already know it, to surviving transition is networking.  Groan all you like, but there are plenty of statistics that show how few people land jobs through the online job boards.  Use them to be sure, just don’t count on them.  Recruiters aren’t the sure source they were in times past; companies are cutting corners everywhere, including the usage of staffing firms.  It all comes down to who you know.  And don’t wait until you see an open job to start your calls, it’s just as critical to get in the door for the job open today as well as being there before tomorrow’s job is even posted.

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So start talking to every person you can, the person who cuts your hair, your doctor, your clergyman or the person sitting next to you on the train.  Remember there are no insignificant contacts.  I got some of the best leads from people I expected nothing from and nothing at all from people I expected to move mountains for me.  You never know who knows who.  (That goes both ways, with a perspective employer checking you out as well).  And don’t be afraid to be specific on how they can help you, ask for contacts, ask them to introduce you to people.  Help them help you.

And start listening.  Most of the people you speak with can probably use your insights right now, listen for hints.  People are wondering if they will be joining you on the other side of employment.  You have been studying the job market, seeing what skills are most desirable, talk to people about it.  Help them get focus in their career direction.  You are studying your industry and various companies like never before, share what you are seeing. 

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Methods of Communication
Networking comes in more shapes and sizes than people realize.  It comes down to communicating your situation and skills to people.  If you call or email the same contact month after month “just to check in” or “catch up” you are going to get stale and lose their attention.  Find different ways to reach out to your network.  Set up a web page, you get some experience in doing the work and can “announce” it to your people.  Write articles, demonstrating your expertise and create another connection opportunity by announcing its posting.  Attend professional meetings and conferences and share what you’ve learned with your network.  Volunteer.  Find new ways to reach out to people and stay current with them.

Anyone (and let’s face it everyone) can put together a resume.  Spend some time putting together a plan of how to market yourself a little differently than everyone else and you will be a giant step ahead of the pack.

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The Emotions
Transition may be one of the hardest things to go through, especially in this economy.  It is hugely important to stay positive.  If you are bitter about your circumstances, fearful about the future or doubt your abilities, it will show in your interactions.  So, put on a happy face.  I told everyone that this was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” 

Then, there is the reality of what’s on the inside.  Remember, there is no right way to feel.  In fact, you will feel so many different emotions, it may be hard to keep track.  To be honest, there were plenty of times when I felt I could take on the world.  I knew I was a resource waiting to be found by some great organization.  It was just a matter of time until I found a fantastic opportunity to match my incredible skills.

Then there are the other days, the dark ones where the fear and doubt overwhelm you.  No matter how you left your last position, you will have moments where you wonder, was it me?  Did they figure out I am not so good at what I do?  You will feel like a failure.  Images of living in a cardboard box or your car are optional.

My best advice, “phone a friend.”  Not just any friend, find someone that has been down this road before, or someone going through it with you now.  It’s human nature to frame situations in contexts we can understand, and many of your friends will be fortunate enough not to have been down this road.  They’ll try, and perhaps succeed, but keep looking until you find someone that can break through your storm clouds. 

You will doubt your abilities, your identity, your self worth.  Talk it out.  And if you can’t break out of that downward spiral on your own or with a friend, get help.  You can’t get yourself out of a hole if you are still digging it deeper.

You are entitled to feel any way you want in this situation, but how you choose to present yourself and your situation in your job search is a choice.

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Balance
Being in transition, you will probably go into lock down mode on spending.  That is logical and appropriate as you try and conserve and stretch what you have.  Part of the craziness of transition is that you don’t know when it will end.

Your daily productivity is also important.  Finding a job really is a full time job; don’t let anyone tell you different.  Sifting through job boards, networking, learning what you can about your industry, it all takes time, and more than people realize.  Keeping your productivity up each day is important and staying busy also helps with the sanity.

That being said, know your limits.  If you wake up grouchy, maybe hold off on the calls and stick to emails that day.  That negativity will come through in your voice.  And don’t be afraid to treat yourself.  Set productivity goals and if you hit them, do something you find fun or rewarding.  Remember that “all work and no play” expression?  It’s true.  You need to take care of yourself and find a balance. 

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Expect the Best
There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I don’t just say that because I found mine.  Recessions end, job markets open up.  Even now, there are jobs out there.  The company that laid off hundreds of workers last week is hiring a small number this week. 

While you need to expect the best, plan for the worst, just a little.  What happens if you don’t land a job and the money runs out?  While it is never fun to contemplate failing, the fear of it is what keeps you up at night.  So think about your options.  I am not saying to start packing, but doing a little bit of planning for the worst makes it much less frightening as it lurks in the back of your mind. 

And don’t be afraid of help.  Besides unemployment, you may be eligible for other government assistance.  There is no shame in getting help, so scour the web.  It never hurts to see what’s out there.  Hey, a little more help every month now means a little more time before the crisis.

Challenge yourself to make the statement “this is the best thing that ever happened to me” true.  Whatever that means for you, take control or your situation and make it real.  Transition may be one of the hardest things you ever have to face, but the best kinds of change are never easy.

3 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Rich Vinhais
    April 12th, 2009 at 7:25 pm #

    David,

    Let me be the first to say that I love this article. Very sound and humbling advice which I think will resonate for many. Especially these days. I’m genuinely happy you’ve landed a new role and have been willing to speak so candidly about your experiences. Wishing you all the best.

    - Rich

  2. Hayley Coles
    April 14th, 2009 at 5:21 am #

    Excellent article David, I could not agree more, I have been networking like mad, actually enjoying it, realising the constraints of my last job was like a living hell LOL! agree with the good and bad days. Luckily I have been freelancing since I was made redundant and nobody really knows what is around the next corner in these uncertain times. This will be a great help to others too. Congratulations on the new job. Hayley

  3. Orville Pierson
    April 27th, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    A colleague just sent me the link to this posting. I’m a career transition professional and author. This is excellent advice, some of the best I’ve seen. And very well written too.

    Good job, David.

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