Monday, April 26, 2010

Parting Is Truly a Sweet Sorrow

A little more than a year ago, I parted with a job I thought would last a long time, one more victim of a wave of recession-induced layoffs in this country.

The following year’s journey turned out to be active and productive for me, despite occasional moments of fear. Three months later I started this blog and launched full steam into social media. I managed to keep my financial head above water later in the summer by doing freelance writing, editing and marketing. It didn’t replace having a job with benefits, but it was a good bridge. I became so busy, though, that I had to cut my blog activity from five posts a week to two.

Now that I am back in the world of the mostly employed, my focus has shifted to the matters at hand in my job each day. And, with a 3-hour round-trip commute each day, the time available to contribute my thoughts and expertise, as well as marketing efforts, to this blog has dwindled down to almost none. So, now I must part from this wonderful excursion in the world of blogging for my fellow post-layoff travelers.

Thank you to everyone who has contributed ideas, comments, kudos or complaints since I started One Tomato at a Time in June 2009. You have been great.

Please look for me on LinkedIn if you would like to continue the conversation. One Tomato at a Time will not disappear, but rather go into a dormant stage, since the information remains relevant and is completely searchable. I invite you to share the link and individual posts you found most useful with friends and colleagues who are struggling through the process of picking up the pieces after a layoff.

My best wishes to all.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Springing Forward and Finding a Job

It’s spring again, almost time to plant this year’s tomatoes and herbs. I might even pot up a pepper plant this time. Last year I planted tomatoes on my deck as self-therapy after being laid off without warning in the throes of a recession. This year it’s a celebration of renewal, as I see hope for the future of the job market, at least in the Washington, DC, area.

In the past few weeks, I have learned of several people who recently found jobs, not all in their original line of work, but nonetheless, jobs with salaries. These people, like me, had been out of work for months, if not more than a year.

Since starting this blog in June 2009, I have posted more than 110 entries. After writing about my tomatoes, the birds and chipmunk in my yard, and anything positive that came to my mind, I turned my lens on how to deal with life after a layoff. As I was working out the process for myself, I wanted to share what I’d learned from experts and my own experience as a hiring manager.

My goal was to get back on my feet and into a new job in the quickest, most efficient and painless way possible, and to help others along the way. Before letting panic set in—which, in light of gloomy media reports on the jobs market and a shaky time for my own profession of marketing, was a real threat—I decided it was better to be proactive and to stay active. I’m glad I did.

Along the way, I have found ways to keep my head above water. First, there were consulting and freelance jobs, then a small on-site contract job, and now a larger contract that could take me into the long run. It took me a year and a month to get where I am today, but persistence and a positive outlook helped me maintain momentum.

If I have one piece of advice for anyone who has been out of a job for a long time, it is: Never give up.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Interview Panic When You’re Rusty

Has it been a long time since your last job interview? Months? Years? How will you handle it if now an employer asks you to come in for an interview tomorrow?

After a long gap, despite all you’ve heard and read about interviewing, a sense of panic can set in when there is little preparation time. Maybe you thought you’d never reach this crossroad again. You’re gulping, breathing a little harder or worried you won’t sleep tonight.

It’s time to quickly oil up the rusty pipes and get ready. There are some techniques to stave off panic while preparing to put on your best self and win the job.

Start by mapping out your day, and then sticking to your plan. Your day could look like this:

9:00-10:00 a.m.—Review the company’s website thoroughly and read the job description again, taking note of key words. Check online for the latest industry issues that may be affecting the company’s business.

10:00-Noon—Review and practice telling your best success stories and answering potential tough questions. (Didn’t write any success stories yet? Now’s the time to make some bulleted notes you can use as talking points.)

Noon-1:00 p.m.—Take a full lunch break away from your computer. Eat healthful foods that give you energy and a sense of well being.

1:00-3:00 p.m.—Print resumes and compile your portfolio or other visual materials. Write down the address where you’re going and the phone number. Organize what you will bring with you, review it once and then set it aside in a staging area for your departure.

3:00-4:00 p.m.—Time for some exercise or a fresh air walk. Don’t skip this in your day. It’s important for your whole being, especially your brain.

4:00-5:00 p.m.—Pick out your interview clothes. Press or shine anything that needs it. Assemble your complete outfit in a convenient spot so you have no clothing decisions to make before you leave for the interview.

5:00 p.m.—Call it a day. Relax over a good meal and light evening activities, such as reading.

Get to bed early. A full night’s sleep of 7-8 hours can make an important difference in your energy level.

If you methodically plot out your time this way, adjusting for what works best in your personal situation, you will have covered all the bases and be as ready as you can be to win over the recruiter or hiring manager…and get that job.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Do Your Homework Before Accepting a Job Offer

It may seem counterintuitive in today’s tight job market to think of turning down a job offer, but what if you took a job and then found out you’d entered a lion’s den or a totally dysfunctional organization? It’s happened to many of us—everything seemed good on the surface, but inside it was another story.

You can increase your odds for job satisfaction, longevity and general happiness at work by doing some advance work—if not before applying, at least before accepting an offer.

Before you get to an interview, research the company or organization by searching on LinkedIn or Facebook for recently departed employees you can contact for an inside perspective. Use your network. Also, look for news items, S&P data, stock values and annual reports to see if the company is on good financial and ethical ground.

When you arrive for an interview, get to know the receptionist (if there is one) a bit. Notice how you are greeted. Use this opportunity, only possible when inside the building, to gather intelligence on various aspects of the company. Notice, for instance, how people relate to each other. Ask how long people you meet have worked there and what they like about being there. Observe body language and listen for oral clues to staff morale.

Try to ascertain how the company operates. Do departments operate in silos or are there functional, cross-departmental teams? How are employees evaluated—once a year or regularly, one way or 360, formally or informally?

Assemble your findings to create your own employer profile—not the one they publicize. Rate what you found against your own priorities. Then you can make at least a relatively informed decision that could make the difference between taking a job that will last or one that will disappear in a short time—or one that will be fulfilling compared to one that will make you miserable.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What Should You Bring to a Job Interview?

When you arrive for an interview, you want to be prepared for all possibilities, especially probing questions. After all, the goal is to get the job you want. You should also bring a few items that will help you shine and leave a positive and indelible mark in the interviewer’s memory. This is your chance to beat out the competition—in person. What should you bring?

What you bring depends on your past or intended line of work and what’s relevant to the position being filled, and it also depends on who is interviewing you. Recruiters, unless they are specialized, probably won’t want to see a portfolio, but hiring managers will. Charts and graphs showing financial success could work in your favor in either situation. If writing samples are required, in most cases, you should plan to send them electronically.

If you bring a portfolio of work samples, such as design or project work, it is important to keep it simple. You don’t want to be encumbered by a pile of materials or shuffling papers around during the interview. The focus should be on you, not your stuff. You also don’t want to overwhelm the interviewer and take up too much time.

Here’s a brief list of the main items that you might need:
  • Portfolio or other recent, relevant documents—enough to use as talking points or visual demonstrations of your capabilities 
  • Copies of your resume printed on quality paper—enough for each person you will meet (check ahead to be sure)
  • Pen and notepad or notebook—for taking notes for yourself and to show your interest (just don’t overdo it)
  • Calendar, if you carry one (but keep your Blackberry or cell phone on mute and out of view)
  • MOST IMPORTANT: A well rested and prepared YOU
 For more, see these earlier posts on portfolios:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

There’s No Magic Bullet for the Job Hunt

Don’t you wish you could close your eyes, spin around, open them again and learn that you’ve been hired for your dream job? We all do, but it definitely doesn’t work that way. There is no magic bullet, no one answer to the “How do I get a job?” question. Unless you are very, very lucky and land a job quickly, or you give up hope and drop out (in which case you should seek counseling help right away), if you want to get a job you just have to keep going. Dropping out will get you nowhere.

Finding a new job after a layoff in a down economy takes hard work, ingenuity and persistence. You are competing with a vast sea of other laid-off professionals for a compressed bank of job openings. Seems depressing, doesn’t it? It could be, but with the right approach you can overcome the odds.

It is important to maintain a high level of energy and attention in order to achieve your goal in the shortest time possible. Eat healthy foods and exercise, take fresh air breaks, call a job search buddy, listen to music that inspires you and stay as positive as you can. Stay as organized as you can by establishing files and maintaining a calendar and expense records. Your attitude will pervade every meeting, letter, hand shake and phone call—so maintaining a realistically optimistic outlook should be part of your job search strategy.

Set aside up to six core hours a day for your job hunting activities. Overdo it and you could burn out. The secret lies not in the number of resumes you send out each day but rather in developing and following a strategy that fits today’s job market. That means using your connections, targeting companies, doing research, ferreting out the hidden jobs that never get listed, and staying current.

The job hunt process doesn’t have to cost you much. Email and electronic applications have reduced the expenses formerly associated with sending resumes. You can find low cost ways to network with local business leaders and peers in your field and conduct informational interviews. You can also network online and by phone. Friends and family may be able to help through people they know.

You could decide to go back to school and learn a new set of skills either to enhance your career chances in your previous line of work or to give you a shot at a new field where jobs are predicted to be more plentiful.

No, there’s no magic bullet, but to use a sports metaphor, you can’t win the game if you’re not in it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It’s Tax Time—What Can You Deduct as a Laid-Off Jobseeker?

The last thing we all want to deal with is taxes unless we expect a refund. Chances are that as a laid off worker, you will be eligible for a refund this year, if you played your cards right.

Hopefully, you’ve kept records and receipts since your layoff, because if you have been looking for a job in the same profession, many of your job search costs are deductible on your federal tax return. Also, if you’ve been collecting unemployment, hopefully you’ve had taxes deducted.

The IRS allows a few job search-related itemized deductions, including:
  • Employment agency or headhunter fees (if you pay them yourself and they are not later reimbursed).
  • Resume preparation, printing and postage (and faxing).
  • Long distance or cell phone charges related to your job search.
  • Career coaching fees, and travel or phone costs related to their services.
  • Local travel expenses. Mileage by car is reimbursed at 55 cents per mile, but you need to keep a log of your car travel, including local trips for job search purposes, including parking. If you travel by public transportation, be sure to keep track of your fares as well.
  • Unreimbursed out of town travel expenses for interviews, including meals, transportation (air, train, taxi, bus), lodging, parking and tolls.

If you didn’t do it in 2009, I recommend keeping an inexpensive travel log with you all the time this year and setting up a spreadsheet to record your travel and other expenses. That way when tax time comes around again, you’ll be ready.
This CNNMoney article is from last year, but it has many excellent tips for unemployed taxpayers that remain relevant.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Encore! Encore! Take a Bow for Your Encore Career

Many people who lost their jobs in the current economic doldrums have decided to go back to school and learn new skills. Others have decided to shift their careers in new directions. These people will take the stage again in new roles, often in public service or with nonprofit organizations, and I applaud them. They obviously have faith in themselves and the determination to keep moving forward, two key ingredients for career success.

Earlier this month I participated as a judge in a marketing and publications awards competition among continuing education programs at private and public colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada, conducted by the University Continuing Education Association. Marketing professionals, graphic designers and writers formed two teams to evaluate hundreds of entries in seven hours. It was exhilarating to see some of the great programs created to give people a second go at a career. And, the experience showed me today's vast array of opportunities that are available to explore and master new fields by going back to school.

This week I talked with an enterprising woman who has been “in transition” since last April when she was laid off. She has used the last year to retool her skills by taking multiple courses in certificate programs and is completing a Masters degree in order to reshape her career and re-enter the job market.

You might think that with no income other than unemployment benefits, going back to school would be impossible for you, but there are options to check out. For instance, there are foundations and other organizations that provide scholarships and grants for adult students pursuing a degree as well as specifically for women, veterans and minority groups. Colleges and universities sometimes facilitate such funding. Before you rule it out, it’s worth your while to do a little online research, talk to your local community college or university counselors, and peruse your options.

The jobs that are available today are not the same jobs vacated by layoffs last year. Requirements have changed because of business needs and technological advances. How you use your “out-of-work” time could determine whether you will be able to get a job and how soon … and how much you will make. How will you re-enter the stage?