In Part 1 of this article, I described what you can expect after job loss. While the feelings described in that article are normal (to a point), they also can interfere in, and in some cases sabotage your chances for finding a new job. Here are some suggestions on how to put together a solid game plan that will help you navigate what for many of you may be a brave new world ... job hunting.
1. Hunker down. Do a quick assessment of where you stand financially, and if necessary, start to cut out some of the fat in your spending habits. Although you're likely spinning in a whirlwind of emotion right after you get the pink slip, it's important to think rationally and realistically (or if you can't do it, ask a trusted person for help). You may need to temporarily replace that daily $5 Starbucks Frappucino with a home-made cup of coffee. If your children buy lunch at school, think about packing lunches from home at least until things get back to status quo (or better). If your family was dependent on your income, everyone is going to have to make some modifications to get the family through the job hunting period.
2. Determine if you should seek legal advice. Especially for high level employees in high octane jobs, legal advice may be prudent. I'm not talking about suing your former employee for wrongful termination (although some may feel justified in doing this). I'm talking about making sure your severance package is reasonable and accurately reflects the terms of your employment contract (if you had one). Many people need severance to cover their expenses until they can find a new position, so it's important to make sure you are getting everything you were promised. Although you may be well-equipped to re-read your contract yourself and make this determination, some people are so emotionally distressed over the job loss that their concentration and attention to detail suffer. Another set of educated eyes reviewing your severance clause or severance package may catch something you didn't catch.
3. Give yourself some time to recover. The amount of time each person will need (or be able to realistically take) will be unique to that individual. You may not have the financial luxury of taking too much time to recover, but whatever time you can give yourself, take it and try to work through the emotions. If you start a job search feeling depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and/or bitter, what's the likelihood that you will have a good job interview? And even if you happen to land a new job, these unresolved emotions are likely to have a negative impact on your productivity, attitude, and on-the-job relationships, which could result in another pink slip down the line.
4. Don't wallow. Giving yourself a chance to work through the emotions is one thing. Wallowing in pity, getting caught up in what-was and what-ifs, or engaging in other self-destructive behaviors (such as drowning yourself in alcohol to ease the pain) is an entirely different animal. You can't change the past. You can only learn from it. As hard as it may be to do, thinking of job loss as an opportunity moves you into the future. Thinking of it as a negative keeps you in the past.
5. Network. Use friends, family, and former co-workers as resources to find leads in the job market. Most jobs are found through networking as opposed to on-line or newspaper job searches. Recently, a friend who had lost her job reached out to me to ask if I knew of anyone looking for employees. It just so happened that another friend had sent me a message the day before saying she was looking for someone to work for her business. I put the two of them together, and within a week, my unemployed friend had a new job. You won't know if you don't ask, so don't be shy. Get the work out that you're looking and word will travel.
6. Pay it forward. If someone sends you a job lead, but the position isn't right for you or it doesn't work out, give the lead to someone else in the job market. People will likely remember your kindness and be more likely to think of you when they hear of something opening up that might be a good fit for you.
7. Decide what you want to do next as far as a career. Do you want to stay in the same line of work, or venture out into something different? You control your destiny. If you want to get into a different line of work, do what you need to do to make it happen. Take classes or volunteer even if it's just for a few hours a week to build up your resume in the field you want to pursue. If you need to take an in-between job or do some freelancing to make ends meet, do it; then once your resume is strong enough in the new field of work, start applying.
8. Target. Whatever you decide, prepare a resume targeted for particular jobs or particular companies. The resume should highlight your most impressive skills, qualifications, and experience. Targeting your resume and your job search shows that you're interested; generic resumes do not. In fact, when I receive a generic resume (e.g., To Whom It May Concern followed by some generic objective), I toss it in the trash. My reasoning? If the applicant didn't take the time to target his or her resume to the job I'm advertising, then that person is not likely to have the attention for detail or work ethic that I expect from employees.
9. Do your homework before you go in for an interview. If you get a job interview, make sure you know as much as you can about the job and the company. Do an online search and read as much as you can find about the business. This information will help you hold an intelligent dialogue with your interviewer about the position and the business. It also may help you anticipate some of the questions you'll be asked. If you know who will be interviewing you or who you'll be meeting at the company, search their name(s) to see if they've written anything that might give you a sense of who they are or what's important to them. You don't want to come across as a stalker in your interview ("I know where your kids go to school" or a similarly creepy kind of thing), but knowing something about them may give you an advantage in an interview.
10. Always ask questions. You're in a job interview. You want the person to give you a job with her company, but at the end of the interview, when she asks if you have any questions, you say no? You're getting ready (if hired) to commit a significant portion of your life (hopefully, right?) to this company that you have never worked at before; you absolutely should have questions. Questions show that you have interest in your future with the company, so before you go into the interview, prepare a list of questions (plural) that you would want to know about the company, the position, and the duties if you were to be hired. I recommend coming up with a list of as many questions as you can think of because the interviewer may answer some of the questions you have during the interview itself. While you don't want to ask something that she's already covered because she'll think you weren't listening, you also don't want to end up questionless in the end.
11. Follow up an interview with a thank you note or email. In a sea of applicants, the interviewer has taken his time to give you a chance to work for his company. Showing your appreciation is the least you can do, not to mention that it's a nice touch that surprisingly few interviewees take advantage of. And who knows? The few minutes that it takes to write a thank you note may well be what pushes you ahead of the rest of the applicants.
12. Focus on what you can control/change and blow off what you can't. Why add to your stress by worrying about things you have no control over? You can't control whether an employer will hire you, but you can control how you present yourself to that employer to increase your chances of being hired. You also can't control that you were fired, but you can control how you're feeling about it. It's likely that your last job is going to be a topic of discussion in a job interview, and one of the worse things a job applicant can do is sound bitter or angry about it. Maybe your former boss was mean or dumb or both, but saying that or showing that (nonverbal behavior often "speaks" louder than words) in a job interview will only reflect negatively upon you and reduce your chances of being hired.
13. Approach finding a new position with a positive attitude. The more positive you are about finding a new job, the more likely you'll find one. If you think you're going to fail, you probably will.
14. Approach the job search as a challenge. High-achievers love challenges. So use your strengths and positive qualities to pump yourself up and find a new job that blows your last job away. You are the same person you were before you lost your job. Let that confident person shine through and employers will take notice.
The road you're traveling down right now may not be the smoothest, but it's important that you keep moving forward. In the words of inventor and businessman Charles F Kettering, "Keep on going, and the chances are that you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it. I never heard of anyone ever stumbling on something sitting down."
© 2014 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved
Dr. Bourg Carter is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (Prometheus Books, 2011).