By Anu Sharma, a medicinal chemist in career transition, looks for the rainbow in the job search.
Bought out, fired, let go, laid off, relocated, transferred, leaving for personal reasons, shown pink slip, given poor performance evaluation, bullied into quitting, offered an opportunity to leave - doesn't matter anymore. Bottom line is, there is no job for you. Look somewhere else.
Now what? Perhaps you have the cushion of a severance package, a term with an outplacement agency or meager unemployment insurance. Perhaps not. But you have to face family responsibilities, financial obligations and uncertainty in your job search. You often look back and wonder, "But why me?" You answer it internally with some anger, some remorse, some guilt, some shame, and, to be honest, surprisingly, some feeling of liberation as well.
A few days after getting laid off, I came across an inspiring article by actor/comedian Ranjit Sourie on improvisation techniques. One of them is "Yes ... and," which involves accepting the situation "as is" offered to you - the "Yes" part - and build on it something new, giving a different direction, which is the "and" part. So with that mindset, I began my job search.
A job search brings a lot of uncertainty. But it is a phase that will eventually end, leading to perhaps something better, if managed intelligently. My friend Gina related job searching to finding a parking spot in a lot you have been circling for a while. You just have to wait. Many times, right near the entrance a car parked long enough drives out, leaving the most comfortable spot just for you, which perhaps you may not even have imagined for yourself; you realize it was worth the wait.
At one point, I wept bitterly and my yoga master said, "Whatever happened is an arrangement of a higher power, there is a plan for you, just do what you are supposed to be doing and make sure you do your best." It's also a phase to "let go" of your emotional attachments to joys and sorrows, disappointments and familiarities of your past to make room for unknown experiences ahead of you. He said, "Close your eyes and meditate upon the light down the tunnel, there is a beautiful scenery lying ahead."
Think of it as a phase to strengthen spiritual connections, clear mental blockages, revitalize the mind, body and spirits and give back some of ourselves to some noble cause and some higher good for a more satisfying life. To take risks that brings out the entrepreneurial spirit within you. To learn new skills, catch up with friends and family, network with other professionals, develop new hobbies, travel and explore life from varied angels. To pay attention to your secondary passions, lying latent, smoldering quietly within you as you slogged away at work.
Such was the case with a friend, Ruby, who after 20 years as an administrative assistant in a biotech firm lost her job following a merger. Instead of taking a transfer to another department, she accepted her severance package and pursued an undergraduate degree in her 50s. She was inspired by her granddaughters to write a children's book, which was published by a renowned U.S. publisher in America and now graces Barnes & Nobel bookshelves.
Despite the rejections therefore, this phase can be exciting, rich and fulfilling. "Every time you face a rejection, say, 'Thank You, You've directed me to something better,'" says Bob, the famous 80-year-old Berkeley beggar, who is homeless, hunchbacked with a white beard and shaking limbs. He loves books on philosophy, often spots souls in distress on Shattuck Avenue and dispenses freelance advice in exchange for spare change.
The day I left my last place of work, a coworker stopped by to wish me well. I expressed my apprehension about life without work after nine years of dedicated service. His response, "Looking for work is also work."
From my career management sessions with an outplacement agency my former employer placed me with, I have learnt that this phase is not just about looking for work as a source of a paycheck, but also an opportunity for transformation, transition, reassessment, reevaluation and reinvention, both in career and in life. True, it's easier said than done. But consider a job search as a project, which needs strategic planning, patience, persistence and continuous productivity.
It begins with asking several questions: who you are, what you want to do, where you want to go, what are you looking for, why do you want what you are targeting, what would happen in case you don't get what you want, how you will achieve your goals, what skills you possess, what needs to be developed, why is it so important, who can help you, what is the time frame, what is your budget, what are your accomplishments, where do you see yourself in the future, is there a backup plan, would a temporary engagement do, salary expectations, what to negotiate and how, why did you leave, what do you wish to see in your future employer, any career alternatives, any transferable skills, what are your target markets, what culture, size and values are important to you, what are your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, who would give strong referrals, what search engines and firms to use, how to reach out to recruiters and contact hiring managers, what to mention in the cover letters and query emails, how to network and approach an insider, etc., etc. This is the "Yes" part of improvisation, which begins with accepting yourself as an entity that can be marketed again.
The "and" part starts with personal branding. Practice speaking out loud before a mirror or a friend your positioning statements, your career objectives, your exit statements, your core competencies, your accomplishment stories, your personal characteristics, your responsibilities. You need more than just a well structured resume, which besides your achievements should also highlight specific situations, obstacles encountered, actions taken and outcomes. The reflection of your personality in the first phone screen, the non verbal communication during the interview and the follow up after the meeting also count. A business card, well crafted email signature, an online presence through a professional website, which allows you to add details of your professional and academic accomplishments, contribute to your personal branding.
As they say, 20 percent of the jobs you secured are by responding to advertised positions, while 80 percent are obtained by networking. Once you have refurbished and refined your brand, launch yourself out there. There are employers waiting for that perfect product like you, with all the core competencies, compatibility and chemistry for the compensation they are willing to offer. Post and update your resumes online at sites of interest, respond to openings, but just don't wait for someone to call you. With the volume of applications online, trust me, it's all random luck.
Make sure you seek opportunities for face to face interactions with potential employers and hiring managers by making yourself visible. Take a course related to your professional development, attend job fairs, industry events, networking meetings, workshops, trade shows, seminars, social gatherings, lunch with colleagues who could introduce you, phone calls to hiring managers and recruiters, anything to help build connections. One of the best and most professional ways of seeking contacts is via LinkedIn.com, which is an online paradise for making professional connections.
Frustrating as it may get, writing a daily log of productivity, having a regular schedule of activities and a To Do list with priorities highlighted helps maintain structure in life. Exercise and enjoy something daily. Learn and laugh a little everyday. Show your love to those you care. Say your prayers, if you will. Write down three blessings before going to bed each night. Reward yourself for small and big things.
Try to catch the rainbows. Count the glittering stars. Bask in the warmth of the sunshine. Go eat breakfast in the coffee shop across a busy street. Take walks admiring sunsets and sunrises and moonlit nights. Observe a bird, a bee and a baby. Feel the drizzling rains and falling snow. Dream some more. Dance as if no one is watching. Sing out loud.
For tomorrow, if your job search succeeds, this is what you could be missing....