Recovering Steadily After a Loss of Work

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sometimes it's your career that needs a bailout.

After you lose a job, it's important to shore up your prospects and your confidence, especially if the loss was sudden, dealt a blow to your ego or blemished your reputation. It won't cost as much as rescuing the world's economy, but it's still not easy.

Start the climb back by rebuilding your self-image.

"Whatever the situation, sometimes your confidence is shaken," said Kimberly Shanahan, a senior partner at recruitment firm Korn Ferry International's Reston office. She suggests that people move on from their setback and take the chip off their shoulder before jumping into a job hunt.

For some, this requires time and effort working through the emotions of failure, loss, anger, betrayal and disappointment. For others it's faster -- they tap their reserves of faith in themselves and focus on the long successful career, not the bad blip.

"It's all about attitude," said Bob Korin, 53, who left a job in account management with a major hotel chain in a reorganization this spring. He drew confidence from creating a work atmosphere at home and "a game plan to find a new job right from Day 1."

Within days of leaving, he sent a "blast e-mail to everyone" -- clients, colleagues and friends -- giving his new contact details and telling them he was looking for work. As a result, he received several e-mails with recommendations and offers of references, which he used to create a "testimonial statement." He has been sending that document out with his résumé.

Newly fired workers need to take time to understand what went wrong in the old job. "What was the environment like? Learn from that situation, and make better choices about the next job they take," said Marcia Feola, owner of PowerfulWork and an executive coach in Rockville.

More advice:

· Stay connected. Korin tried to have coffee with friends and colleagues who have large networks. He attended professional association events to stay in touch with issues in the meeting-planning and business-conference business. "It keeps you very current," he said, and gave him the latest buzzwords and trends to talk about with hiring managers. "It keeps you visible."

He created his own business cards for such events. "You need something to hand out so people know how to get in touch with you," he said. And he made it clear that he was actively looking for work. "You've got to check your ego. It's not easy." He thinks he's close to landing a job with another hotel chain.

Use your network to help you find opportunities and to connect with the best hiring managers in organizations. Networks may include former customers, people at your religious organization and those in groups where you volunteer, Feola said. "Those will probably be your link to the next job."

· Be prepared for questions. Shanahan remembers when WorldCom was unraveling and some employers were reluctant to interview people who had worked at the telecommunications firm for a long time. In such circumstances, you may have to work harder even to get an interview.

When you do, managers and recruiters will ask you what happened and why you left. They'll ask why there's a gap in your résumé, or why you took a year off. And if you worked for a company with executive indictments or other serious problems, you may be asked about your role. The key: "Be honest, direct and confident in their answers," Shanahan said. "Be matter of fact. Be ready for those questions." Practice your answers.

Feola agreed, adding: "You never want to be negative about the old organization. Don't badmouth."

· Rebuild your reputation. Depending on your situation, there are many ways you can do this. You may want to start with an inventory of your talents and accomplishments -- a cheat sheet to bolster your confidence. Or you could develop an A-list of colleagues who will attest to your abilities.

Some people consult for a prestigious organization as a way of polishing their résumés. This works especially well as a transition tool and gives you a chance to "see a lot of different companies and build your network," Shanahan said. She also likes to see people with volunteer projects or activities on their résumés when they're between jobs.

· Know what you want. Be clear about your talents and abilities and don't apply for every job that you see. That looks desperate and recruiters notice it, Shanahan said.

"You can say, 'I'm going to be relativelyselective and thoughtful about what I will do next,' " she said, and fill in with volunteering or consulting -- something that will add credence to your career bailout.

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