December 22, 2008

You've Lost Your Job. Now What?

by Charlie O'Neill

Your attitude will make a big difference

If you’ve just lost your job, chances are that your former employer has made some sort of outplacement service available to you. Employers retain outplacement firms and experts because they know that it is to their own advantage to help freshly released professionals focus their energies on finding a new job soon. Take advantage of whatever services are offered. We can all benefit from objective advice to help us organize an effective job search strategy.

Whether through an outplacement service or on their own, people who fare best in a job search have the practical mechanics well in control. They have updated, polished resumes, and well organized network of professional colleagues and referral sources. All of this is reasonably obvious. But there is another aspect of your job search effort that is even more important than the practical details. It can make the difference between success and a long, drawn out and frustrating effort with an unsatisfactory outcome. It comes down to something that athletes and successful business leaders all know: your attitude.

You are an experienced professional. You may feel that you don’t need a lecture on attitude, but if you invest five minutes to read the rest of this article with an open mind, you may find that what I about to offer will help—and it certainly can’t hurt.

I’ve worked for more than 25 years in the financial services business. For the past ten of those years I’ve run an executive recruiting firm and some internet job boards. Over that time, I’ve personally hired more than 200 people to work for me and through my search work I’ve had contact with more than 30,000 people in various stages of their careers and job search process. I’ve placed dozens of those people in very visible jobs with some of the country’s best-known financial companies.

Through those years I’ve developed an intuitive ability to spot the difference between job seekers who “Win” and those who are merely going through the motions. Hopefully, my experience can provide a framework of sorts as you begin your work toward finding a new job.

The crucial fact is that some people plan to win, and they do. Others think winning is something that will happen to them if they’re lucky.

Consider two candidates I know: One walked into my office one morning with his resume in hand and was hired by my client for a CEO position within the next few days. Another candidate was offered a job by a client on her first interview – at a much higher salary than had been considered for the position.

What these people had in common was the fact that in demeanor and attitude they immediately fit into my “A” candidate category and their new employers agreed. It takes me no more than five minutes on the phone or in a personal interview to determine where a candidate fits on my scale. I present the “A’s” to my client and hold the “B’s” in reserve. The “C’s” get filed away in the database, most likely never to be seen again.

Is all of this just about personal chemistry? Timbre of voice? Vocabulary? Charm?

Chemistry never hurts, but that’s not what makes the difference.

How do I spot the winners? It all comes down to five factors. They apply to people of every job level and in every field. Winners understand them; the “B’s” and “Cs” don’t. Let’s consider each in turn.

As we begin, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: Every day we hear about new job losses….layoffs…. downsizing…mergers….companies folding. In fact, if you Google the phrase, “layoffs in financial services” you’ll get 500,000 hits.

Not long ago, I conducted a survey among financial professionals who are looking for work and think their job search has taken too long: What did most of them say? First “insufficient number of jobs.” Second, “The poor economy.” Last week, an article in The Wall Street Journal quoted a business banker describing what some of his colleagues are doing: “They watch CNBC all day and surf the web.” He went on to say, “They’re completely beaten down.” The Big Picture sure is discouraging.
That leads us to the first simple truth winners know and others don’t.

Truth Number One: What do those bad employment statistics have to do with you? Nothing! We can’t control what happens in the global economy. Wining in a job search is not about dwelling on things we can’t control –it is only about what attitudes, behavior and activities we can put into place that will help us find new employment that is worthy of our abilities.

Set aside your concerns about the Big Picture because obsessing about it isn’t going to help you get your career on track. Winners know this; they focus on the work at hand.

Truth Number Two: You need to believe that you will win and you need to consciously radiate “Winner” in everything you do. A recent study confirmed what common experience already tells us: happiness spreads. Unhappiness and misery radiate, too.

Your attitude about your situation is contagious – it affects your success and directly influences those around you. Winners are focused; they broadcast success and confidence. Winners know how to ask for a referral without conveying a sense of desperation. They detach any personal negative emotions from the business at hand—because the grim, hard fact is that outside of your circle of friends and family, no one wants to hear it! Don’t make any networking calls until you internalize this truth.

Truth Number Three: Winners know that job loss is something that happened to them, but it does not define who they are. In the first few weeks you will experience a wave of negative emotions –anger, loss, regret. That’s a normal, universal human experience, and it is to be expected. There’s no shame in it. Experiencing these emotions does not brand you a failure. Turn to your personal support system –your family and friends and professionals as needed –for help as you work through this. Don’t internalize your emotions. Doing so will consume you, and you won’t have the energy you need for your new full time job ---which is finding a job.

Remember: You are not your job and your job is not you. A job is something you do but it is not who you are.

Truth Number Four: There’s a simple phrase we’ve all heard so often that is has become a cliché. “Plan your work and work your plan.” There is a method to finding a good job, and that requires continuous specific, purposeful, conscious activity.
Just as in any other type of sales, job success is directly related to how many qualified people you contact, how many you see.

Winners know that success is no accident.

Truth Number Five: Like many job seekers these days, you may be spending several hours every morning looking at web sites and applying to jobs online. Don’t rely on this as your primary job search method. Keep in mind that job boards don’t hire people. People hire people. There is a place for job boards, but they supplement and do not replace your “live” prospecting efforts. Depending entirely on job boards is actually detrimental because it creates the illusion that you’ve had a productive day.

You must concentrate your efforts on actions that will put you in front of people who will hire you. Does watching CNBC to study the latest bad news help you feel better and give you job leads? Does scrolling through countless job postings online put you in front of decision makers? Of course not. Winners know that to find a good job, everything they do is intended to help get them in front of people who can make hiring decisions.

To recap:

1. Focus on productive activity that will help you find a job. Dwelling on the Big Picture won’t help you; instead, concentrate your energy and efforts on things you can control.
2. Radiate success and confidence.
3. Remember that your success and value as a person and professional is not defined by your job. Ask for help.
4. Success is no accident.
5. Everything you do must be intended to put you in front of people who can make hiring decisions. Don’t be distracted. Use web resources in their place, but only as part of your overall job search plan.

Finally: It bears repeating-- Success is no accident!

Good luck!

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