After six months on the job hunt following a layoff, you got so discouraged you gave up. Now the savings that kept you going for awhile are almost gone and unemployment benefits aren’t enough to live on. It’s time to renew the search.
Or maybe you’ve been able to be a stay-at-home parent for a few years but the recession is making that option more and more challenging. Or perhaps the Web-based business you started didn’t take off as you’d hoped. Or maybe you retired a few years ago but find that the money runs out before the month does.
Whatever the reason, getting back to work is a job in itself. It can be a daunting process. Before you start searching the Web or the classifieds in your local newspaper, you may have some personal work to do. People who do well in the job hunt (and in life) are those who honestly confront the challenging realities that go with the process.
- Personal assessment: or rather, reassessment. It’s only natural to go overboard one way or another. Studies show that people often see themselves as more competent, qualified, and gifted. (Even psychotherapists are guilty of this one, with one study showing that over 60 percent see themselves as above average — a statistical impossibility.) Equally damaging to a job search is the opposite –- underestimating your skills or downplaying their importance. We are not all residents of Lake Woebegone where “all the children are above average.” Nor are we losers when we’ve been out of the workforce for awhile. The challenge is to honestly acknowledge both our strengths and our weaknesses.
What to do: Be as balanced as you can in making a list of what you have to offer. You think you’ve only been raising children the last six years? Give yourself more credit than that. If you’ve been running the PTO or organizing the annual school book sale, you have marketable skills. Laid off? Yes, the economy may be to blame. You may have fallen victim to office politics or new policies may have been unfair. But it may also be that your reluctance to learn new skill sets or your attitude had something to do with it. Those are things you can change. If you don’t trust that you see yourself clearly when you look into the mirror, ask people you trust what they see as your strengths and weaknesses. Then play to your strengths. Make sure those are the skills and attributes you put on the top of the resume and at the beginning of the interview.
- Be willing to consider jobs that are a “step down:” If you were at the top of your career or had gone as far as you could go in your prior company, you may feel that anything less is, well, less. Not necessarily. Consider the stress that goes with being in a position of authority. Consider the isolation. Consider the impact it has on family relationships. Maybe the higher income and status come with a higher price.
What to do: Willingness to take a step down can be framed as a personal choice, but only if you mean it. Human resources personnel can sense when a prospective hire is desperate, not honestly rethinking values. If, on the other hand, you do thrive on the stress of top positions, think about going the part-time route for awhile. Offer an employer the option of hiring your level of experience on a part-time basis. Many would jump at the chance. Or think about approaching smaller companies that usually can’t afford someone at your level. Approach them with your willingness to work for less for a year or two in order to get back on a career track, with a raise contingent on what you can produce. Are you seen as old for the job? Talk about the option of hiring you on to mentor a younger up-and-comer. Anything that keeps the hole in your resume from growing is a positive step.
- Make sure you have the education and skills: If the average second-grader can negotiate the Internet better than you can or if you are still typing 10 words a minute, you are going to be out of the running for many jobs. The days of secretarial pools that type and file are long over. Further, if the job you really want requires another degree, certification, or evidence that you’ve kept up with the field, go for it.
What to do: If you’ve been a holdout on learning computer skills, get over it. Technology is here to stay. Many communities have leisure programs that offer training in computer skills. If you have a teenager in the neighborhood, ask for a tutorial in how to write documents and run a spreadsheet and how to get on social networking sites.
Many community colleges are responding to peoples’ need to upgrade their professional skills through their continuing education department. Talk to your unemployment office about whether you can maintain your benefits while getting more education and training. No? Then volunteer at a place where you can learn new skills or find an Internet site or software that will bring you up to speed.
- Prepare for rejection: This may be the hardest obstacle to enthusiasm for a job search. Applying for employment is a guaranteed exercise in handling rejection. It’s likely that there will be many candidates for any vacant position. Only one person will get the job. Even if you are one of the top two finalists, only one will get an offer.
What to do: Accept that rejection is part of the process. Take each rejection seriously as a potential opportunity to learn what gaps in your skills or presentation you need to fill. Don’t take rejection personally. It’s not. Companies are looking for someone who “fits.” We can’t be all things to all people.