1) “Without failure, there is no achievement” – John Maxwell.
In 2008, I had the sad responsibility of dismantling the staff of a regional jewelry chain in the wake of the economic downturn that affected many. As the VP of Operations, I had the job of letting each person know that because Wachovia had called our demand notes, we could no longer operate the business, and they no longer had a job. I told each one of them what I appreciated about them, how I thought they had helped their store, and thanked them for their commitment. No one has ever given me a class on how to fire someone in a positive way, but I did my best. I wanted each of them to know they weren’t a failure… they had incredible strengths that would no doubt be used elsewhere.
The next day, things got personal when I discovered I was laid off, too. Surprise! Time to take my own advice. How could I not feel like a failure? Job change challenges everyone’s sense of identity. And yet, the skills that I had developed training and leading and managing were valuable and transferable. The work to build a luxury brand and market it in the region was applicable to other organizations. Despite that, I would wake up each morning in a near panic scanning the online job boards and applying to everything from Undertaker to Executive Director of a museum. I was terrified that I wasn’t going to be able to feed my family. But I had to force myself to think of my skills and experience as a bank account filled with past deposits, from which I could draw in a new situation. Dr. Archibald Hart says it this way, “The problem with the church today is that they have no theology of failure.” I was challenged to see the failure of a business and the loss of a job in the overarching plan of a good God, and in fact redefine failure entirely. Flipping failure on its head and looking at it as an opportunity for achievement is the challenge for everyone in transition.
2) Your friends probably won’t find you a job, but they can find you an introduction.
We’ve all gotten it… the email from someone who’s been out of work for months and is begging someone to help them find a job. True confession… I was more likely to secretly rejoice it wasn’t me than help out. But then… it was me, and I felt that desperation and sent emails just like that. God, in His sense of humor, showed me what it felt like to be flat on your vocational face without much hope for employment, dependent on the generosity of friends.
I’ve since had hundreds of friends and acquaintances approach me in similar situations… some even this week! I tell them what I wish someone would have told me then: Make it easy for your friends to help you.
1) Make a simple one-page networking bio. It should highlight the top-level work experience you’ve had and what your personal “brand” is all about.
2) Select target companies and “types” of jobs you are looking for. Include links to job openings as an example.
3) Ask for specific connections at your target companies, nonprofits or churches.
These simple steps make it easy for your friends to help you. They are asking specific people at particular organizations that they already know to take a 30-second look at a graphic-friendly piece.
3) Use social media as a tool for your search, not a distraction from your search.
Waking up unemployed constantly tempted me to drift off into a comfortable distraction of Facebook posts and tending to my Farmville account… a total waste of time that gave me a headache and empty hours of pointless clicks. A much better path was available– If you don’t have one, establish a LinkedIn profile.
Build it out carefully, because it will likely be your digital introduction to your next boss. Make sure the career history matches the dates and flow of your written resume. Turn off the notifications feature of the profile, because nothing screams, “I am out of work and desperate” than 43 updates on your profile going out to your network one at a time. Add as many of your friends and business contacts as you can, because it expands your digital footprint exponentially. I do not recommend listing yourself as “currently unemployed” or “seeking employment.” Hiring companies feel that they have more leverage when negotiating with an out of work prospect. Lead with a current volunteer position or start a consulting firm. Join groups in your desired industry and actively participate in relevant discussions. Add volunteer and work experience so that your profile will best reflect you as a whole person. Recruiters regularly check LinkedIn profiles. This might be a good time as well to edit your online social media presence, as more employers are using social media to screen prospective employees. Maybe it’s time you took those photos of the last big office party off your Twitter feed…
4) Learn to love the desert, not the desserts.
I love French fries. French fries do not love me. I love all kinds of things that aren’t good for me: soda, donuts, whole pizzas… this was my plan to feel better about being unemployed. As you can imagine, it was not the healthiest route to go. The feelings of anxiety come naturally because of change… in fact, that is the definition of stress.
We sabotage our best efforts during times of transition when we eat poorly, sleep inconsistently, or indulge in destructive habits like excessive drinking or drug use. Transition challenges all of us to think and act clearly—establishing or renewing a time of reflection, meditation, prayer, yoga, etc. can bring clarity to issues you face in the “meantime.” Christian theology tells us that the “desert” is a time of identity formation… that God intentionally led the Israelites on a “roundabout” journey through the desert to develop their character. Like the Israelites before us, we tend to look at wilderness transition times negatively: “You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill us” (Ex. 16:3), when actually, God saw it as a time of love and betrothal (Jer. 2:2, Hosea 2:20). What we think was meant to kill us was actually a time God designed for us to grow closer to Him. I had to learn to love the desert because it made me dependent on a higher power who knew the future and who knew me and my needs… a tastier truth than Little Debbie snack cakes.
5) We have to fight isolation and find fellow travelers on our Transition Journey.
After the initial shock of losing a job or leaving a job wears off, my natural tendency was to avoid talking to people about my situation. In fact, I’ve found that embarrassment and shame tend to isolate me from the very people who could help me. Pride is self-defeating!
The answer is easy to say, and hard to do… call a few people you trust; somewhere between three to five is a good number. Ask them to pray or be supportive of you during your time of transition. If you’re in the same city, find a time to meet periodically to check in on progress and take suggestions on options. Commit with them to check in regularly about progress you’ve made and disappointments you’ve had. You need and deserve support! When we are under stress, our brains can’t make the best decisions. Having supportive friends who say to us, “I believe in you!” can keep us in a better place emotionally to evaluate options, rather than rashly seizing on whatever comes along first. The Book of Ecclesiastes says it this way, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Eccl. 4:9, 10). I have fallen down more times than I care to admit, but am so glad I had people around me who believed in me even when I didn’t, and who encouraged me through times of tough transition.