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Suddenly Unemployed? What to do if you’re a victim of the current financial crisis.

(This blog post has been excerpted from a previous article by Dr. Strom in the Graziadio Business Report)

Wayne Strom, PhD
Wayne Strom, PhD

The global financial crisis is having echo effects across many business sectors. Having coached executives who had been fired or laid off, I would like to share some of the lessons I learned that are particularly relevant today.

If you were a manager or executive, the probability is that the ideal future job for you will never be advertised anywhere. Rather, executives are quietly looking for someone with the right skill sets. You, as a job seeker, must create the right circumstances through enough executive informational interviews to bring yourself to their attention. The executive informational interview is not an interview for a job. It is an interview for the purpose of learning more about an industry or more about a specific company. The primary objective of the executive informational interview is to establish personal chemistry-not to sell yourself. If there is any secret here, it is in knowing enough to allow “personal chemistry” to work to your advantage.

With that in mind, the following suggestions will help you cope with this challenging period.

What To Do

(click here for what NOT to do)

1. Be honest with yourself. If you made some mistakes, learn from them!
In interviewing executives who made firing decisions, they revealed the critical mistake leading to an employee’s termination is usually made two to four months before termination. Usually, that means the employee did not acknowledge his mistake nor take the steps to resolve it. Another example would be when the employee adopts an attitude of smugness or arrogance and is closed off to feedback or suggestions offered by others.

Could this apply to you? If so, do your best to learn from that experience.

2. Be honest with your family.

Don’t pretend that you are going to work if that is not true.

3. Do a complete cash flow analysis of your finances.
Determine the minimum amount of cash per month you will need to get by. What are all of the possible sources of cash? What are all of the unavoidable expenditures? Work with your family to set a frugal budget and to stay within it. Contact your state’s Department of Employment Development either on-line or by phone and sign-up for your benefits. You are entitled to them. Consider this experience to be part of your post-graduate education!

4. Determine how many months you can be unemployed.
This is an important number and it is based on your calculations from number three above. If you know that you have enough resources for six months you will feel less pressure to take the first job that comes along, which can be a mistake. On occasion, people who took the first job found themselves fired within a few months because it was not a good fit.

5. Contact your creditors.
Most lending agencies handling home and car loans would rather help you reduce your payments, maybe to interest only, than to go through the trouble and expense of a repossession. If you have credit cards, go to a not-for-profit consumer counseling service and have them help you to combine and reduce payments. Cut up your credit cards!

6. Dress up your resume.
People are rarely hired on the basis of the resume. The resume is a door-opener, that’s all. Use the interview to tell your story. Use the resume to get the interview. Use white space to make the paper visually attractive and easier to read. However tempting, do not overload a resume with information that may not be necessary and that can be stated in an interview. Creative use of “white space” can draw attention to key aspects of your experience.

7. Create a list of 100 names of people who might be helpful.
Criteria for being on the list must include having met the person and he or she being in a position to introduce you to someone high up in a corporation, or to get inside information for you. Don’t forget business school professors or classmates.

Cold call every single person on your list to set up a meeting, preferably in person. Hand deliver resumes if at all possible over mailing them. Your list is your primary source of contacts. If you are not working the list at least seven hours a day, you are not being proactive in your job search. In a major metropolitan area, you should attempt two interviews a day.

8. Ask your friends to critique your resume.
In general it is a mistake to inform your friends that you have lost your job and then ask if they know of any openings. Such an approach usually puts the other person into a defensive posture. A better approach is to ask if he or she would spend a few minutes critiquing your resume. Offer to buy them coffee and make it a short meeting. Then you can ask if they know people you might contact for an executive informational interview.

Remember that the direct approach of pressing for a job forces your listener into a yes/no position. When that happens, the conversation is quickly over. Your objective is to warm them up, gently build rapport, and gain their professional confidence so they feel comfortable introducing you to others.

9. Prepare, prepare, prepare!

People who prepare well and who request executive informational interviews generally have more doors open to them.

10. Establish personal chemistry:

  • Do advance research and know enough about the company and its products to ask intelligent questions.
  • Establish rapport. The best guide in my opinion to establishing rapport is Genie Laborde’s book, Influencing with Integrity.
  • Be fully present during the interview. Don’t permit your mind, or your eyes to wander.
  • Practice your best listening. Don’t be thinking of your next comment or question while the person you are interviewing is speaking. Stay relaxed and physically open.
  • Allow the “personal chemistry” to work between you and every person with whom you talk. You do not need to push or demand or grab at opportunities. You do need to be calmly confident on the inside and to allow grace to flow through you.
  • If you hint that you need a job today, the hiring executive will sense your desperation and the door of opportunity will quickly close. If you make no such hints, but are consistent in gathering information about the industry, where it is going, etc., then the executive informational interview will open doors to a wide range of face-to-face interviews. This is a powerful networking tool. It will lead to opportunities of which you may not be aware.

11. Be enthusiastic!
Think through and rehearse your story about past work experience so that you can be succinct, correct, and positive. Talk about the things that interest and excite you. In doing so, your energy will rise and you will raise the energy of your listener. Enthusiasm is contagious! Enter every conversation with a positive “can-do” attitude. Be on your best behavior in terms of simple courtesy. (I have seen highly qualified people dropped from a candidate list because they were too pushy or forgot to say “please” or “thank you.”)

12. Tell the truth.
If you get asked why you are looking for work, tell the truth. If you were fired, as opposed to laid-off or downsized, emphasize what you learned from that experience so that you will not make those mistakes again. Executives are impressed by those who have the integrity to take responsibility for their mistakes and have learned from them. If you lie during the interview process and the truth comes out later, you could find yourself fired again. Depending on the cause, being fired once is not necessarily the end of a career-a pattern of being fired may be.

13. Demonstrate your ability.
Look for opportunities to grow, to take responsibility, and deliver results. Executives are looking for associates who are intelligent, calmly energetic, physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. They are curious about experiences you have already had that show your competencies.

What NOT To Do

1. Don’t make yourself into a victim by leaning on alcohol or other drugs to avoid the reality of the situation.

2. Don’t decide to take a vacation using some of your savings.
Save the vacation as a reward for when you do find another job. If you take a vacation immediately after losing a job, you will not really rest, and you will miss the energy spike that usually follows job loss by a couple of weeks.

3. Don’t waste your energy complaining.
Your friends don’t want to be weighed down by your negativity and it may turn them off of finding you potential job leads.

4. Don’t rely solely on responding to advertisements with letters and resumes.
You are free to write letters and send resumes, but the truth is that unless you have some personal contact with the individual receiving the letter; it is unlikely that it will be read by the decision maker. Historically, a typical ad in The Wall Street Journal or Los Angeles Times seeking managers or professionals will have 300 or more responses. If an advertisement for an open position appeals to you, think about whom you know that might know someone in that company. Can you get a personal introduction? Even a telephone introduction will help. If you work with your list, you will eventually meet someone looking for a person with your competencies and experience. The most likely way to meet that potential employer is to be introduced. MAKE THE CALLS!

5. Don’t bad-mouth or be negative about prior employers.
If you are feeling bitter or betrayed, ventilate and resolve that with a skilled counselor before going on a job interview. Most trained interviewers will “smell” the hostility in your non-verbal responses and eliminate you from the prospect list.

Wayne L. Strom, PhD, is a professor of behavioral science at the Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Related Articles in the GBR

Suddenly Unemployed? by Wayne L Strom, PhD

The Human Realities of Corporate Downsizing by Wayne L. Strom, PhD

Downsizing with Dignity by Ann Feyerherm, PhD

The Strategic Downside of Downsizing by Seymour Siegel, PhD

Defamation Vs. Negligent Referral by Linnea B. McCord, JD, MBA

Author of the article
Wayne Strom, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Science
Wayne Strom, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Science
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