Jobs: How To... Survive A Layoff - Click for special report.
Transcript: Monday, March 23 at 1 p.m. ET

Assess Your Career Goals

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Nancy Collamer
Career Coach, author and founder of Jobsandmoms.com
Monday, March 23, 2009; 1:00 PM

Nancy Collamer gained national recognition through her advice columns and as the career transitions expert and "Jobs and Moms pro" for Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen Media network.

She is the author of several career-related e-books, including "The Back-to-Work Toolkit: A Guide for Comeback Moms" and "The Layoff Survival Guide: Practical Strategies for Managing the Transition from Pink-Slip to Paycheck."

Collamer has had first-hand experience of a layoff when in 2001 her husband, an IT executive, was laid off. They kept copious notes about their journey, compiled job search resources and created "The Layoff Survival Guide."

Today she answered your questions about post-layoff career planning.

Get more information on job loss recovery in our special feature, How to Survive a Layoff. Plus, get more how-to's and career-related advice in our Jobs section.

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Nancy Collamer: Good afternoon everyone.

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Anonymous: Is there anything I can do PRE-LAYOFF to prepare myself?

Nancy Collamer: You've heard it one hundred times before -- networking is the single most effective way to find another job. While you're still employed you have a multitude of reasons for contacting colleagues, vendors, co-workers and clients. Use this time wisely (and creatively) to expand and strengthen your networking web:

  • Attend industry association meetings. Volunteer to chair a committee or upcoming event.
  • Set up breakfast and lunch meetings with as many contacts as you can comfortably arrange. Set a goal of having at least two face-to-face networking sessions each week.
  • Check in with former co-workers who are now at other companies.
  • Activate (or clean-up if needed) your online social networks
  • Send articles of interest to key contacts with a short note saying, "Thought you'd find this intriguing. Hope all is well-look forward to catching up with you soon."

Be careful to use discretion when deciding how much of your personal situation to discuss during these meetings. The last thing you need right now is your boss learning about your desire to work elsewhere. The real purpose of your networking efforts should be to solidify your relationships with these people now, so that you'll feel more comfortable calling on these people for assistance in the future.

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Delran, N.J.: Hi, I was laid off during the dot.com bust and my current employer, a large nonprofit, is hiring, but not in my department. I'm a key IT professional. Should I worry or should I expect it and prepare? thanks...

Nancy Collamer: It never hurts to be prepared. Keep yourself visible to top management, activate your professional network and update your resume.

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Fairfax, Va: Your "Layoff Survival Guide" was a result of personal experience. I sometimes wonder how you had the courage to write that book when you were facing the calamity of being laid off.

Nancy Collamer: I'm one of those people who feels much better when I feel productive (I suspect I am not the only one). "The Layoff Survival Guide" gave me a constructive outlet that enabled me to help others and gave both my husband and myself something to feel really good about.

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Washington, D.C.: I know that I would enjoy another type of work, in fact, I'm sure of it. I think there's got to be a bright side to being laid off. I've read about people who quit their longtime high-profile jobs for simpler, more rewarding work, but it seems like such a feat. How do I begin to set these types of plans in place to do something completely different?

Nancy Collamer: Fortunately, there is a whole industry ready to help you through this process. For starters, there are numerous books that can help you begin your search. Some of my personal favorite authors on this subject include Barbara Sher, Richard Leider and Richard Bolles. As part of the assessment process, you might also find it helpful to take some career tests (technically known as online assessment instruments). Please understand that these tests will not give you definitive answers to your career dilemmas. What they can do, is help you gain a better understanding of your motivating skills, interests, etc., and open your eyes to career options that you may not have previously considered. To find some online options, google "assessment tests."

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Falls Church, VA: I was laid-off from my job a month ago. I had to do alot of legwork but I got my former employer to offer me continued healthcare coverage under VA's 3 month continued coverage law, and because of Obama's economic stimulus package I will only have to pay 35% of the premium. But after three months this will run out and if I haven't found a job by then, I will need individual healthcare insurance. What is the best way to find this? Are there any other options for coverage?

Nancy Collamer: You may be able to obtain health insurance at more favorable rates through other insurance providers, such as your spouse's benefit plan, a student plan, or plans offered through professional associations. Compare the specifics of the coverage (including any limitations pertaining to pre-existing conditions) to ensure the best value for your dollar. You can compare and contrast plans on sites like Ehealthinsurance.com (they also have useful information about COBRA and alternatives to COBRA on their Web site).

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Herndon, Va.: Hi Ms. Collamer. When you're worried about generating income but you think you want to take the opportunity to do something more fulfilling, what's the best way to handle it? I've been laid off and I don't want to go to the same type of work, but I also don't want to lose income or delay getting back to work.

Nancy Collamer: This is a dilemma faced by many of my clients and I usually advise people to first find a way to generate income and then begin to investigate new career or re-training options during nights or weekends. Having the extra income will buy you the needed breathing room to make thoughtful decisions without compromise.

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Northern Virginia: Just a comment: be open to possibilities. When I left a writing and editing job in 2000 due to a layoff, a business friend said lots of people were making money as "consultants." I didn't know what that word meant for someone in my field and dismissed it as off-point advice.

After working through things on my own, I wound up as a successful, full-time freelance writer and editor. Guess what, business people use the word "consultant" for what editorial people call a "freelancer." He was right all along.

Nancy Collamer: Great point. In this type of economic environment, it is crucial to think outside the traditional "job" box. Freelance or consulting work can lead to a permanent job or might serve as a springboard to creating your own income stream on an independent basis.

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Baltimore, Md.: A few years ago, my employer was telling everyone, "There will be layoffs this year." We knew from previous experience that people were only given a few minutes to pack their personal belongings and were then escorted out of the building, and their login name and password were disabled. So I copied all my personal computer files and e-mails onto a flash drive and then deleted them. When I got the pink slip a few months later, I didn't have to worry about my computer files.

Nancy Collamer: You raise a really important point here. Everyone should maintain a home based copy of their professional contact information (e-mails, telephone, etc.) It is a good career management strategy regardless of whether you fear a layoff.

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Washington, D.C.: I just learned that over 95% of my company's employees received retention bonuses and I did not, with the incorrect understanding over the past several months that most did not. I had a very good review for 2008 that was higher than at least 20% of the company and am a more senior level employee. I feel punched in the stomach and do not know how to proceed, ask to meet directly with HR, my manager? Please advise.

Nancy Collamer: Start your discussion with your manager. If you are unable to resolve the situation with him/her, consider continuing the discussion with HR.

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20036: What's the easiest way to transition from one career to another? I'm a writer but I'm interested in becoming a teacher. Obviously it would involve schooling but since I've been laid off I don't have a lot of time before I'll need to have a paycheck again.

Nancy Collamer: If possible, look into ways to earn some income as a freelance writer, while you investigate training options in education. Teaching is a strong growth field and there are some attractive educational options for professionals looking to transition into this field. For more information about opportunities in education, check out www.wanttoteach.com

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Changing Careers: When I was laid off, I wanted to make my hobby (home remodeling) into a new career. I found a community college progam in Construction Management and the adviser told me, "There is always a need for estimators and project managers, and they can't outsource your job." So I started taking classes and got an entry-level job with a commercial construction company. It was a big pay cut, but I've had steady raises and promotions, and I enjoy going to work every day.

Nancy Collamer: Nice to hear! Your story illustrates that getting laid off is not always a negative event. Kudos to you for having the courage to pursue a new line of work.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: I am an accountant and just got laid off from the insurance company I was working at. I have applied to several places for work, but with no luck. What can you advise me, as I am seriously looking into a career change.

Nancy Collamer: In this type of economy, you need to expand your job search efforts to find opportunity. Keep in mind that the best way to find work is through expanding your field of personal contacts. Over 70-80% of jobs are secured through networking. To expand your network:

  • Join networking groups -- both online and offline
  • Frequent job fairs
  • Attend trade shows and conventions
  • Go to local meetings of professional organizations
  • Attend lectures or continuing-ed classes in your field of interest
  • Read newspapers and trade journals for announcements about new hires or promotions, and then send a letter of congratulations to the appropriate party.
  • Get involved with an online newsgroup or e-mail link (see www.yahoo.com for how to start your own online networking group)

If you haven't already done so, establish a profile on both Facebook and LinkedIn (although bear in mind that LinkedIn is strictly for business networking, while Facebook is a blend of social and business).

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She is RIGHT about networking!: Nancy Collamer said "You've heard it one hundred times before -- networking is the single most effective way to find another job." I was laid off a couple of months ago. About a month ago, I sent my resume to someone I worked for in the past, interviewed with their new firm, and guess what, I heard today that I'm hired. This was NOT an advertised opening -- I wasn't going to find it on WAPO or Monster. Networking works.

Nancy Collamer: Thanks for the feedback! Indeed, this point cannot be stressed enough -- networking is vital to success in today's job market. I've been in private practice as a career coach for over a decade and networking has never been more critical then it is today. Networking is the best way to find a job because it enables you to identify opportunities before they are advertised to the public.

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Delran, NJ: Do you have any suggestions on using LinkedIn? Are there other social networking sites that you've heard to be successful for job hunters?

Nancy Collamer: I love LinkedIn! It is an incredibly sophisticated tool that enables you to easily connect to people. My best advice for learning LinkedIn is to just play around with the different features available on the site. Here is a tip about LinkedIn that I recently posted on my Jobsandmoms.com blog: http://jobsandmoms.typepad.com/jobs_and_moms/2009/03/job-search-tip-link-into-your-target-company.html

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Pensacola, Fla.: I have a suggestion to help laid-off people. Why not join a temp agency? I think people view them with disgust, but they are a great way to get some short term work to cover the bills, but also work well by introducing you to people working in your field and many jobs become permanent. My current position grew from a temp job. I have been promoted since them and loving what I do. Don't discount the agencies. They really can be a lifesaver.

Nancy Collamer: Great suggestion. Temping can be a wonderful way to earn some cash, make contacts and help fill in the gaps on your resume. You never know when it can lead to a permanent job. Speaking from personal experience, I landed my first job in HR after temping with my employer.

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More for 20036:: If you are willing to teach in Virginia, you should check out Virginia's Career Switcher program (http://www.doe.virginia.gov/VDOE/newvdoe/CareerSwitcher), an alternative route to teaching certification/licensure for individuals who have not completed a teacher preparation curriculum but have considerable life experiences, career achievements, and academic backgrounds that are relevant for teaching in pre-K through grade 12. I personally know one person who has completed this and another person in progress -- both are THRILLED at the career change. If you haven't already, you should spend some time as a substitute teacher.

Nancy Collamer: Thanks for sharing this resource.

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New York: I have been married for a few years and have been in my profession for roughly five years. I am extremely ambitious and know I still have a long way to go. However sometimes I feel my attitude to work is blocking me from starting a family. I just cannot imagine leaving work to raise children. Can you advise me? How can I plan this out for myself?

Nancy Collamer: Who says it is necessary to leave your career to start a family? The whole work-life balance question is something I discuss in detail on my website Jobsandmoms.com. Check it out and sign-up for our free newsletter.

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Anonymous: The last time I ever visited a career counselor was when I was at school and wanted to know the right career choice to make. Do you think career counselors can be helpful to adults as well and if so how and why? Could you also give me an idea of what a career counseling appointment would be like? What would they want to know from me?

Nancy Collamer: Clearly given my choice of profession, I do believe career counselors can be extremely valuable, particularly when working with adults who have extensive work/life experience. The initial appointment with a career counselor typically consists of an intake interview when you will be asked question about your work history, personal interests, goals, lifestyle objectives, etc. The next step in the process is an assessment phase to help you identify your motivating skills, values and interests. Once you have a solid understanding of what you do best and enjoy doing, you'll work with your counselor to match those interests with "real-world" career/job options.

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Individual Health Insurance: For the person writing in about individual health insurance it might be helpful to contact your state's Commission or Office of Insurance for pointers. Often, they have resources and assistance on purchasing individual health insurance on their Web sites, and every state's regulations are different.

Nancy Collamer: Great suggestion.

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Oviedo, Fla.: You are glossing over the difficulty of getting even "survival" jobs in this economy. Here in Fla., people are getting rejected at the grocery store and Target, which is seemingly always hiring. In some areas, the situation is dire. Please stop with the trite "update your resume" and "network" tips. Whole fields here like real estate, mortgage and homebuilding, newspapers, tourism and many others are laying off by the thousands. We aren't all surgical nurses. Being visible and flexible is getting me nowhere, and my neighbors also. My master's is gathering dust while we pay bills with my IRA. Many states are in this situation. My brother's commute is 25% faster in Boston due to fewer people employed, it is all over the news. Wake up.

Nobody is trying to gloss over anything -- there is no question that this is a painfully difficult employment market, particularly in certain regions of our country. Unfortunately, while there are no easy answers to these issues, there are certain strategies that can help in certain situations.

Hopefully, through forums such as these, people can get some useful tips and advice that can steer them in the right direction.

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20036 again: Thank you for the information, I am a Virginia resident!

Nancy Collamer: You're welcome.

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Nancy Collamer: Thanks to everyone for your questions today!

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