By Andy O’Hearn
Your boss has just sent you a note with a tersely worded subject line. Something has gone out of cosmic balance in the vast and uncharted universe of your responsibilities, and now it’s just a matter of which bus you will ultimately be thrown under.
What do you do next? Most of us automatically are tempted to step on the grief rollercoaster, putting up resistance until the writing on the wall is impossible to ignore, then yielding to an external locus of control.
Rather than trash your employer on Glassdoor, Vault, Jobitorial, Career Bliss or Wetfeet (where you probably should have checked before accepting employment there), you may find it more constructive to take stock of what you still have going for you, and then sketch out a game plan for how you will use your remaining time most judiciously.
With that in mind, here are:
Five things I did while still employed that are helping me with my current transition:
1. Get recommendations and referrals.
These are easiest to get while you are still in regular, face-to-face contact with key people in your organization. If you’ve done your job reasonably well, any number of associates will still be willing to provide these for you—so don’t be shy about drafting a few “memory joggers” of tasks you accomplished on their behalf. If possible, get at least one from someone a level above you, one from a peer, one from a subordinate or support person, and one from an outside supplier or vendor. Make a copy of the company directory, if possible, so that you still have access to this information once you have moved on.
2. Soft-sound your existing career network—especially your own “Board of Directors.”
The best time to network is while you still have a job, even if that job is going away shortly. It’s human nature to avoid unnecessarily tragic endings, so frame your outreach positively (“exploring other options”), and others’ natural inclination to want to offer advice or direction will often kick in.
Your “Board of Directors” is the steadfast “inner circle” of contacts in your network that have experienced you at your best, and/or worked side-by-side with you when you bounced back stronger from past setbacks. These could be “best bosses,” mentors, trusted vendors, association colleagues, project-team members, or co-volunteers. Enlist their support early in the transitional process—and be ready to return the favor when their own circumstances are challenged.
3. Cultivate an outside focus on something that is within your control.
Whether it is participation in a sports activity (e.g., my regular interaction with three different running clubs), a volunteer effort or charity, a treasured hobby, or a do-it-yourself home improvement project, it is very important to establish and cultivate something that will continue to respond affirmatively to your regular involvement, and where it’s easy to ascertain progress. This will act as a sanity check or meditative oasis when flare-ups and disconnects occur in your current work situation.
4. Eliminate or greatly reduce procrastination and distractions.
When your work was going full tilt, you had the perfect excuse to put off doing important, but not as urgent tasks . . . and likewise, to allow clutter and time-wasting activities to creep back into your non-work life. To set the stage for a successful job-seeking campaign, you will now want to carefully re-examine your priorities, and assign deadlines/boundaries for anything that could overly complicate your efforts. An excellent resource for this is Pier Steel’s “The Procrastination Equation.” Come up with a game plan, reward yourself for small successes, and immediately shake off any minor setbacks, as you catalog your progress in a notebook or on a chart. Rather than focus on how much you loathe the job-search process, act as if you were advising a protégé on how to sidestep the same obstacles that you encountered—and then adhere to that same advice yourself!
It’s easy to harbor grudges against those who either set the wheels in motion for your own demise, or who stood by as enablers without throwing you a heads-up lifeline. As the saying goes, the past is history, the future is a mystery, but today is a gift—that’s why they call it “the present.” You may never win over all of your perceived detractors—but you will earn a wealth of respect by the professionalism you exhibit. More importantly, you will free up the psychic energy to liberate your ambitions from the clutches of the “soul-suckers,” and direct it much more productively toward your next endeavor. Confidence is sexy to future employers. Don’t squander it on things that cannot be changed.
Five things I wish I had done while I was still employed, to help me find work now:
- Catalog work achievements in C-A-R or P-A-R format. This is much harder to do with the passage of time and/or limited access to work records.
- Stay fit. Nothing like getting ready for your first interviews in months or years, only to find that your interviewing clothes no longer fit. In addition, you will need the energy and endurance to job search at the end of the day, when you have already put in more than a full day of work. Health care is expensive enough, and once you and/or COBRA are paying the bills, it gets even more expensive.
- Arrange more informal face-to face meetings away from the office. Whether for lunch, coffee, or happy hour, these are the settings where co-workers will be more forthcoming with useful tips and leads, without it being as much of an imposition on their own schedules.
- Attend more events while still in a corporate or organizational role. Trade shows, association meetings, special events, presentations, even job fairs, are all excellent opportunities to exchange the still-credible company credentials and strike up conversations with industry decision makers and “influentials.” The work at the office will still be there for the next person to manage.
- Worry less.
Blogger Cindy Holbrook quotes these statistics about our worries:
- 40% never happens—so in essence we are wasting our time by worrying.
- 30% already happened.
- 12% are needless worries, e.g., what someone else thinks about us.
- 10% are petty and unimportant.
- 8% actually happens; of this percentage, 4% are beyond our control. We have some if not all control over only 4% of what we worry about.
Worry, to borrow a phrase from singer Tina Turner, “is a secondhand emotion.” Dispense with it (and the consequential regrets) to the fullest extent possible, to clear a space for the new, more positive developments that are destined to come.