Saturday, August 16, 2014

Less is More - Really

Author:  Belinda G. Silver
              Business Manager and Educator

Being unemployed forces you to step back and take a long look at your life: your finances, your possessions, your relationships, and more. It also gives you ample time to do so, such as at two in the morning, when everyone else in the house is sleeping, except you. That was how I stumbled across a new movement that’s been sweeping the globe, called “minimalism.” Minimalism means making a conscious effort to reduce the number of possessions you own in order to gain more control of your life. The premise is, the fewer material things you have in your house and the fewer commitments you make with your time, the more you will begin to experience life more freely – hence the expression Less is More.

I, for one, am a typical American. I’ve spent a large part of my adult life working long hours, spending my hard-earned money on various items, and then working even longer hours to care for and maintain those items, I’ve accumulated over the years. So when I learned about minimalism, I decided to give it a shot, and lo and behold, those who tout it were right. As I began to see empty spaces in my house, I found that I no longer felt as chained down to the house as I had previously and it took less time to clean on a weekly basis. That meant, I could spend more time with my family.

This led me to wondering whether I could apply the same concept to my job search. So one day, I pulled out the tracking sheets that I have received in my first Job Search Basics workshop and began to analyze how much time I was spending on various activities. My findings surprised me, because, as chair of the Training Committee, I was supposed to “know better.” This is what I discovered about myself:

Resumes: I found that I had been spending an inordinate amount of time tweaking my resume. I was spending so much time adjusting it that I often missed application deadlines. I’ve since learned that my resume does not have to be perfect. It’s simply a tool for getting the interview. In addition, some fellow PSG members have told me they spent their early days, in transition, sending out resumes by the dozen, only to discover later that they were spending so much time on that process that they failed to use other job search strategies, such as networking, knocking on doors, and cold calling.

Job boards: Have your friends confided in you that they spend anywhere from two to six hours a day searching job boards? According to Richard N. Boles, author of What Color is Your Parachute?, looking for employers’ job postings are, “one of the five worst ways to look for a job.” A better use of your time would be to check postings maybe once or twice a week and then take time to physically follow up on some of those job leads. This will give you time to go out and actually visit the job sites. You might get an opportunity to speak with people who are currently working and who could give you a better idea of what’s actually available.

Surfing the Web: I have a confession to make. I always prided myself on the fact that I was great at multitasking and would sometimes have up to 10 windows open in my Web browser at the same time. However, to my surprise, that habit cost me hours of time that I could have used in other areas of my job search. The same is true of instant messaging. I had to force myself to turn it off when I was in active job search mode. I found it to be very distracting because I was constantly checking my e-mail or saying “hi” to friends who happen to be online, the same time I was.

Television: I told everyone “I only watch one or two programs a week,” which was true; however, what I usually neglected to mention was that I might watch the same program two or three times a week. That might not sound like a lot, but if a program is an hour long and you are watching it several times a week, those hours really add up. Nowadays, I am more aware of the amount of time I actually spend in front of the television. This has freed up several hours that I now use to work on other things.

Focus: My first three months in transition left me feeling completely overwhelmed. I had no idea how to organize my time as I went from project to project without a clear-cut road map. As time went on, I realized I had to prioritize my projects. Therefore, rather than work on them all at the same time, I learned to work steadily on one or two. Then as I completed one, I would move on to the next one. This simple act helped me accomplish more and left me feeling fulfilled, rather than stressed.

Maybe it’s time for you to look at your life and schedule. You might agree with me that sometimes “less is more.” Also, please remember that Mercer County PSG offers a phenomenal training program. Even if you’ve attended the job-training workshops in the past, take some time to revisit them. Although the basic information provided in the handouts is the same, the lessons learned change each time you attend a meeting, due to your interactions with other members. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Top Ten (plus 2) List for the Newly Unemployed

Author:  Richard F. Ober, Jr.
             General Counsel & Corporate Secretary, Isles, Inc.,
             Former Co-Facilitator, Trinity Jobseekers

There are many books about how to organize your job search, prepare your resume, interview effectively, etc.; fewer with practical tips about how to live while you’re ‘in transition.’ Here are some I’ve learned (a) from being in transition for 37 months, (b) as a co-facilitator of Trinity Jobseekers, and (c) from friends and counselors.

1. Run, don't walk, away from any 'executive career management' company that tries to pressure you into putting down $3,000-$10,000 up front because 'they have access to the secret job market,' etc. Nobody I know has been happy with any of these operations; several have sued. I regard them as predators on the unfortunate. There are many career coaches that work on an hourly basis.

2. Apply promptly for unemployment. Remember, you only get unemployment if the employer terminated you, constructively or directly. In New Jersey, if you have any interest in additional state-paid education, apply immediately. If you do, your 26 weeks of unemployment may be extended; if you wait until later, it won't. Applying on the internet:

3. Continue your health insurance. I’m not an expert on whether COBRA or one of the new insurance exchange policies under ObamaCare is the better deal. Find an expert.

4. Join a Professional Service Group. PSGs are community programs providing networking opportunities, training workshops and enrichment seminars. Search PSGNJ on the web.

5. Communicate honestly about your unemployment status to family and friends. This will help you manage their expectations about what you can do, how much you can spend etc. during this time. If you communicate up front, it will minimize potential negative feelings (disappointment, embarrassment) that you may face later on when you have to say no, or we can't. Also, they can help you network.

6. Live like you are unemployed. Cut back on all discretionary spending immediately. Don't put it off. You don't know how long it will take to land the right job. Review every monthly bill and consider cancelling the service. Shop for non-perishables at Costco and 99 cent-type stores. Pay off credit card debt and live on debit cards. If you have a home equity credit line, draw the full amount down and bank it for emergencies. Sell your ‘extra’ stuff on E-Bay. If debt payments are going to be a problem contact the lenders ASAP rather than missing payments. Watch out for ‘non-profit’ debt counseling agencies that advertise heavily on TV and radio; they are usually fronts for for-profit operations and many are under investigation by the IRS. See for your local legitimate credit counseling agency. Make sure that the organization is on the approved Justice Department list, or the HUD list

7. Set up a professional search office and plan. A job search is a full-time job. Promptly create a location for your search with lack of distractions, computer, printer, high-speed internet, telephone (consider a dedicated line for job search), fax, answering machine (consider telephone company voice mail service as an alternative that can be easily checked remotely). If you don't have outplacement or a good location at home, or can’t afford some of these items, consider a Professional Service Group (see #4 above), or even your local library. Reference librarians are a great resource for the unemployed. Make sure you have a professional-sounding email address and voice mail message. Free email is available from Yahoo and Hotmail and often from your college, among others. Get those interview outfits out of the closet and make sure they fit and look good. Set up a contact and application management system and adhere to it. Have a written marketing plan with goals that are within your control (‘10 calls per day’, not ‘2 interviews next week’).

8. Business Cards. Get professional looking business cards ASAP. You can get them from printers, office supply stores, or for a small charge from VistaPrint Put three or four key bullets, a mini-resume, about yourself on the back - to help people who come away from a networking session with many business cards remember who you are and what your skills are.

9. Keep up your morale. Make time for (free or inexpensive) fun, as a reward for completing job search plan goals. Don't pick up any bad habits. It is easy to over eat, drink and just not take care of yourself. Stay healthy and fit both in mind and body. Make time to exercise. Get yourself in the best shape of your life. Volunteer for charitable activities, to help others, which will provide networking opportunities as well as improve your morale. If you are depressed, get professional counseling. Medication may be advisable. Put together a Job Search Work Team of three-to-eight people who meet regularly to provide support, share ideas, and hold each other accountable. Your spouse is not the person to bear all of your emotions in this situation. Affirm yourself, but get over yourself. Talking out loud to yourself in the bathroom mirror is not a symptom of going crazy; it’s a positive mental exercise. Every day is “game day.” Psych yourself up. You, better than anyone else, know your exceptional strengths and attributes and you can affirm them to yourself. Try it for a week and see if it doesn’t adjust your attitude. At the same time, nobody – nobody – finds you as interesting as you do. Do not carry on about your problems or how great you are to anyone else.

10. Develop A, B and C Plans. Develop several alternative plans to re-employment at the outset. Execute them in an order so that one doesn't eliminate trying others subsequently. Write them down and review them regularly. EX: If you don’t (A) find another job in a big company, you’ll (B) look at small local companies, (C) start or buy your own business, or (D) become a consultant or substitute teacher. Consulting or temporary employment while you’re looking gets you in the door at potential employers and expands your network while keeping income coming in.

11. Network. Network with employed people as well as other unemployed. Networking should start with how you can help the other person. Have a list of target companies that people can help you connect with. Consider preparing a one-page, one-side networking sheet that has contact information and a very brief professional profile and lists potential job titles, target companies, geographic and any other limitations, and academic credentials. Become active in your industry professional organizations. Attend meetings, conventions, seminars in your job field. Many organizations will offer free or reduced fees to the unemployed. It never hurts to ask. Accentuate the positive in your networking relationships. Attitudes are infectious.

12. Maintain connections at your former employer. Don't burn your bridges. If permitted, bring home a company phone book, contact information and non-confidential samples of your work, but know what agreements about confidentiality, non-competes, etc. you've signed and don't violate them (but you can ask for waivers). If there have been mass layoffs, set up a group web site so those laid off can keep in touch.

Good Luck!