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Outswimming the Sharks

Harvey B.Mackay on how to recover when you get fired, and how to ask for a raise.

Get help. Get stabilized. Get busy. You didn't have time to keep in shape when you were logging those 12-hour days at work? Well, you have plenty of time now. And once you get rolling, you not only feel better physically, you also feel better emotionally.

Getting stronger and healthier helps put a lot of other things in perspective. You may have loved your job, but dying for love, particularly for love of a corporation, may not have been the smartest thing you ever did.

Once you feel the young tiger inside you start to stir again after years of slumber, it's a lot easier to handle the bumps in your career. And when you do go in for interviews, if you're in shape, you'll look better and have more self confidence than in years.

Then start learning. Friends, relatives, old schoolmates, customers, vendors, business associates, professional advisers. Focus on the positive - you have something to offer. By helping you, all whose assistance you solicit are helping themselves as well. They're helping put you back in a position where you can do them some good.

You need to take inventory: financial, professional, and emotional. It's time to revise your budget. There are advisers who will tell you to cut down on everything. Not me. You can't cut down on your medical needs. If you can swing it, don't cut down on your kids' needs - it hurts them too much, they can't hide the hurt, you'll be infected by guilt and that will affect your own self-confidence and ability to perform.

Self-improvement is the one area in which you should really increase your spending. Take courses. Upgrade your skills. Enhance what you already know and pick up new material. Nothing impresses me more as a potential employer than someone who is out of work but still actively going to school. It's the true test of your determination to present an up-to-the-minute, trainable, quality package to an employer.

Get a routine. Like yourself again. Make love to your significant other. Spend extra time with the kids. Read. Have a little fun. And get busy, none of us has time to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. If you're fired, it's a great way to prove to yourself and others that you're capable of bouncing back after a setback. It's a real confidence builder. It's the single best thing you can do for yourself.


You've survived the downsize; now it's time to upsize. Judging by the beaded foreheads I've seen over the last 30 years, asking for a raise can be traumatic. There's a right way and a wrong way, yet whether it's shipping clerks or CEOs, the common denominator is the same: unvarnished fear.

o Business is business: Don't try to use a personal crisis as a lever to increase your income. It's unfair and it won't work.

o Know what you're worth. Don't think you can march in and ask for a raise that's out of line with what your company - and your industry -pays people for performing at a similar level.

o Don't go in with an attitude. Calmly decide before the meeting whether you're prepared to issue an ultimatum.

o Do your homework. Have your rationale for a raise in writing, including customer letters, supervisors' notes, and your desk calendar.

o Show your boss what you're going to do for your company in the future. Your goals should be specific, measurable, and in writing.

o Timing is everything. Don't ask for a raise when you just blew the GM account or when the last two quarters were downers.


From Sharkproof (HarperBusiness), by Harvey B. Mackay. Copyright (c) 1993 by Harvey Mackay.