Authors: Stephen M. Pollan,Mark Levine
Tags: #Psychology, #Self Help, #Business
Jason took some woodworking classes at a local DIY superstore. He dusted off the classic Hasselblad medium-format camera he’d used years earlier and joined a photo club in order to make use of its darkroom facilities. He continued on the board of his synagogue. Jason and Beth both joined the high school football team’s booster club, since they went to most every game to see their son play. Surprisingly, it was at a football game that his personal network first began to pay off.
The booster club member who handled the PA announcements at the games couldn’t make it one day, so Jason volunteered to take his place. Up in the tower overlooking the field he introduced himself to the man who was the regular spotter. It turned out this fellow, Sal Yamen, was a longtime friend of the coach of the football team. Jason and he got to talking during breaks in the game, and they hit it off.
Sal was the owner of a company that imported and distributed toys. While his company handled a wide variety of products, what he was most excited about was a line of highly detailed figures based on movie, comic-book, and sports heroes. The figures were more sculptured miniatures than action figures, and Sal planned to sell them through comic-book stores, hobby shops, and sporting-good stores. Jason told Sal about his experiences selling and marketing to specialty dealers in the consumer electronics industry. The two agreed to go out for drinks after the next week’s football game. That meeting led to a more formal lunch and follow-up conversation at Sal’s office. And that eventually led to Sal’s offering Jason a job as national sales manager of the new product line. The idea was for Jason to personally lead the sales effort nationwide, and to train the existing sales staff, who were used to toy stores, to service the accounts. It wasn’t the kind of offer Jason had been expecting would come along.
Someone who’s employed has the luxury of picking and choosing when to take another job. She can analyze the twenty main elements in each job offer she receives, focus on the important ones, and weigh whether or not to accept the new offer. When you’re unemployed you lose some of that luxury. The secret to having some choice in the matter is to approach offers realistically as early in the process as possible.
I’ve found that many unemployed individuals start their job search being too discriminating and, after spending an uncomfortably long time in a fruitless search, become too willing to settle. Early in the process, flush with whatever severance pay was received, and perhaps energized by outrage and the desire for revenge, job seekers set their sights high and either ignore or turn down offers that fall below either the income or the status level of the job they held previously. Then, if they remain out of work, there’s a tipping point in the process when suddenly their optimism turns to pessimism. Their severance may be gone, their savings used up, and their credit lines tapped out. Outrage is no longer expressed as revenge, but as fear and desperation. They take any job they can find. With their confidence at a new low, their finances shot, and their family’s patience and understanding eroded, they feel compelled to stick with the job they took in desperation for far longer than they should.
My advice to clients, and you, is to be more realistic from day one, and accept that when you’re unemployed it really is the money that matters most of all. Remember, your choice isn’t between your own job and the new offer or opportunity you’re considering; it’s between unemployment and employment between some money coming in and none. If you reach this conclusion early on, you’ll be able to target the best-paying of the opportunities available. For example, you’ll take the job as an office temp as opposed to the job as a waitress, the job as a manufacturer’s regional sales rep instead of the job as a retail salesperson.
I would suggest giving yourself two weeks of full-time traditional job hunting to find a position similar to the one you just lost. If there’s a big demand for your experience and skills you’ll see that within two weeks. If you don’t get interviews within two weeks, lower your sights, find the best-paying options that
readily available, and grab one. With that income coming in you’ll have the time to start job fishing. You’ll also be in the position of now being able to weigh any offers you receive against an alternative: your current job.
What’s essential is that you compare any new offers to the job you currently hold, not the job you were fired from. That job is gone. Using it as a template against which to compare new opportunities will only prolong your unemployment. Ironically, I’ve found that the earlier my clients get reemployed, even with a job at a considerably lower income level than the one they previously held, the sooner they end up returning to that higher income level. It seems that it takes less time to take a step or two backward, and then another step or two forward, than it does to move forward from the dead stop of unemployment. People who are working seem to attract new job opportunities.
While Jason enjoyed meeting with Sal and discussing the opportunity in the toy industry, he still felt some hesitation about taking the job. I asked him if the job with Sal’s company would pay more than the temporary marketing job he currently held. It did…quite a bit more actually. It wasn’t located as near to his home, but it provided far more paid and unpaid time off. And it certainly gave him a chance to learn some new things. So what was the problem? I asked. Jason said it didn’t pay as much as his job with the electronics company, and, truth be told, he didn’t think the toy business was as prestigious as the consumer electronics business.
I waited a moment, thinking how to answer. But then I realized it was best to be direct. Jason was a big boy and he’d shown himself to be resilient and strong. I told Jason he didn’t have a job in the consumer electronics industry, earning six figures; he was working as a temporary marketing executive for hire, earning considerably less. The choice wasn’t between the job he’d lost and this new one; it was between the job he had and this new one. It was time to stop looking backward and start looking forward. Jason said he appreciated my being blunt. He said he guessed he had to “bury” his old job. I agreed, but told him not to look at this as the end of something old, but the beginning of something new.
No one is more aware of the transitory nature of employment today than someone who has just been fired. And no one should be more determined to make sure he takes charge of his future leaving.
It’s vital that you not let reemployment cloud your vision. No matter how much better you feel about yourself, regardless of how much more humane your new boss seems, you were still hired to be fired. This is the way the job world works now, and the sooner you accept that and come up with ways to deal with it, the less likely you’ll be to experience unemployment again in the future.
Keep looking for work, even though you’ve got a job. Remember the rules I outlined in chapter 9. If you get another offer that represents an improvement in two important factors (income, proximity, paid time off, unpaid time off, or opportunities for learning, or perhaps health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, tuition reimbursement, or retirement plans), grab it, regardless of how short a time you’ve been at the other job. If you’ve been at a job for between a year and two years, grab any offer that’s an improvement in just one of your important factors. And after two years on the job, take any offer that represents any improvement at all.
Don’t think that you’re damned to change jobs every two years for the rest of your life. If your current job continues to offer more than the alternatives out there, that’s great; stay there. But the moment it doesn’t offer more is the moment you should move on.
Jason knew his job with Sal selling the toy figures wouldn’t last forever. One of the things he and Sal had in common was an understanding that the consumer product business today was inherently unstable and insecure. Today’s hot toy or electronics product in a specialty store was destined to become tomorrow’s loss leader at a discount store. Sal said all he hoped was to be able to keep riding the wave for as long as possible. Jason agreed. For him it meant that he’d have to keep on looking for work, albeit primarily through his personal networking, even while trying to build up the new product line across the country. And if he found a better job, he’d take it.
But as he and I discussed, that wasn’t such a bad prospect when you analyzed it. He had a nice steady income. His work was actually interesting, since he was learning something new. Besides, he was back taking photos again. His woodworking classes hadn’t turned him into a master carpenter, but he was able to redo the molding in his den. The high school football booster club had asked him to become the full-time announcer the next season, his youngest son’s senior year. He had gotten a lot of kudos for his work on the synagogue board. When he looked at his life, rather than at just at work, he realized he was actually a lot better off now than he had been before he was fired. He was back working again…and this time he was working to live, rather than living to work.
is a success in life, then
is play; and
is keeping your mouth shut.
SOME OF YOU
entering the job market for the first time are probably wondering how long you have to pretend to read this book before you can hand the book back to your parents, thank them, and then go on doing exactly what you intended before they tried to offer you advice, through me. Some of you may even have turned to this chapter first as a shortcut rather than reading from the beginning as your folks suggested. If you fall into either of these categories I’d like to make a deal with you. If reading the next three paragraphs doesn’t convince you to continue on to the end of the chapter, you can go ahead and quit. It will be our little secret. But in return, if you find the next three paragraphs intriguing, you have to promise to finish the chapter. At that point, you can decide whether or not I know what I’m talking about and if it’s worth your time to go back and read the book from chapter 1 on.
Everything your college career office told you is wrong. Interviewers and recruiters couldn’t care less about your grades; your class rank; or in most cases, the college from which you graduated. In most cases, it’s who you know, not what you know, that counts. How did your teachers and advisers get things so wrong? Well, in the first place they’re working in an academic environment rather than the real world. Academics have no idea about practical things. Unlike everyone else in the working world, they have tenure, meaning the only way they get fired is if they commit a violent felony. There’s an old adage that says, “Those who can’t do, teach.” In many cases that’s true: some of your professors couldn’t succeed in the real world and so they retreated to the safety of the academy. In other cases your professors never even tried to succeed in the real world: they stayed in the theoretical world rather than venturing out into the practical one.
The nonacademic staff who work in the career office
to tell you that your grades and your rank are important, and that a diploma with your college’s name on it is particularly valued. Why? Well, the college has been trying to convince you to work hard for those grades and that rank. If it tells you that, upon graduation, no one will care if you had a 2.7 or a 3.9 GPA, it won’t be able to convince you to work hard. The college has also been taking a lot of money out of your pocket for four or more years. If it told you that, other than in a few rare cases, the college from which you receive a diploma doesn’t matter in the real world, that would fly in the face of its charging you all that money. The aim of the career advice you get from a college is to make sure you keep working hard and paying your bills, not to help you get a job.
If you go out and look for work in that meaningful career you’ve chosen, you’re going to end up just like your parents, working longer and longer hours; earning less than they’d hoped; having no job security; and feeling emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually unfulfilled. They entered the job market with the same idealism and enthusiasm as you have right now. They shrugged off their own parents’ warnings and concerns. The last thing they wanted was to replicate their parents’ work lives. Well, they got their wish. Your parents got to lead work lives different from their parents’: work lives that were less satisfying and fulfilling. Your parents gave you this chapter to read, not because they think they know best. They know they
know best. They know they made mistakes that led to unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their work lives. Your parents don’t want you to make the same mistake they did. They want you to fire your boss before you even get hired and start your work life fully in charge of your present and future. Besides, your youth and inexperience can actually be helpful in some elements of the radical approach to the job market I advocate. That’s what I explained to Liz Mandel when she first came to see me.
Liz is a twenty-one-year-old recent college graduate. Her father, Don, is a high school principal who went to college with one of my children. Her mother, Jacquie, is a math teacher at a private school. A very petite redhead, Liz looks younger than her age, despite her very fashionable dress and appearance. After doing very well in her suburban Long Island high school, Liz went to a well-respected private university located in Manhattan. Her family had too high an income to obtain much financial aid or get many subsidized loans, but not enough savings or liquid assets to be able to pay the very large tuition bills. As a result, Liz took out a series of unsubsidized loans that she had to begin paying off upon graduation.