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6 Principles For Surviving Unemployment

By Cal Brown, CFP, MST, Author of When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms

You've been handed the dreaded pink slip. In other words, you've been laid off, fired, terminated, let go, canned, or "RIF'd" (Reduction in Force) -- whatever you call it, it's some of the worst information you'll ever receive. I'm sure that the pain associated with such news explains why bosses and owners have creatively crafted so many ways to basically say, "I'm sorry, your services aren't needed here anymore." So what do you do now?

Unfortunately there's no easy, one-size-fits-all salve that you can apply to your unemployed state. There are, however, basic principles that will speed up your job search and improve your prospects of getting hired. These six principles will help guide you through this financially and emotionally difficult time.

Principle 1: Avoid Résumé Red Flags

Through my experience of being a business owner, I've hired and fired many people. Between my executive assistant and me, we've seen countless job applications. Whenever we're hiring, my assistant is the first person to review all résumés. She keeps the ones that she deems worth my review and tosses out the rest. Even after this initial screening process, though, many résumés still leave much to be desired. Here are reasons why:

Poorly written. Make sure your punctuation and grammar is correct. Have knowledgeable people you trust proofread your writing before submitting your résumé.

Experience listed has no relevance to the job offered. Be sure to understand the responsibilities and requirements that are explained in the job description and align your experiences accordingly.

There are large gaps in employment history. Considering these difficult times, many people have extended periods of unemployment on their records. Explain reasons for the gaps including activities you engaged in that are related to the field of work you are interested in.

The applicant is a job-hopper. In other words, he or she has changed employers every year or two. On occasion, we find reasonable and acceptable explanations for too many jobs in too few years. Don't forget to include them on your résumé if you've had short work terms.

Principle 2: Finding a Job Is Your New Full-Time Job

Throughout your employment, you showed up at the office, Monday through Friday, for at least eight hours a day -- maybe you even worked weekends. Now that you've been laid off, you must commit the same amount of time looking for a job as you did to performing your previous job. You may wonder how you'll ever fill forty hours a week. I'll start with what you shouldn't do:

  • Watch TV.
  • Browse the Internet for fun.
  • Play on your gaming console.
  • Socialize with friends either online or in person -- this is fake networking, so don't fool yourself.
  • Take care of chores such as cleaning the house, shopping, and cooking.

This is not to say that you cut these activities out of your life entirely. When you were  gainfully employed, you participated in these activities after your workday; you should apply the same stringent standards to your current job search.

Principle 3: Be Visible; Don't Isolate Yourself

The first thing you may want to do after being laid off is to crawl under the covers and wallow. Unemployment can certainly lead to depression, which makes the job search even harder. It's a vicious cycle that can last months and lead to financial ruin. For these reasons, unemployment is the worst possible time to become a recluse. Instead, get out there and engage with your network, even if it's the very last thing you want to do. As a result, you'll be energized, and you will experience positive results. Try the following to stay active.

Start by picking up the phone and contacting your colleagues and business associates.

Join trade groups. If you presently belong to one, be sure to maintain your membership and continue to attend meetings.

Keep in mind that your network also includes friends, family members, former coworkers, and past professors.

Ask people around you about organizations that can provide you support and guidance then join them and contribute your time and energy.

Take advantage of social networking as well. Not updates that describe what you ate for lunch, but use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to reach out to people who can support you in your search.

Principle 4: It's a Numbers Game

In the world of sales training, you'll often hear the phrase, "What gets measured gets done." Top sales professionals keep track of how many phone calls they've made, how many appointments they've scheduled, the number of face-to-face (or Skype-to-Skype) meetings they've had, and how many deals they've closed. Highly motivated salespeople can at any given time tell you their average commission per sale. The bottom line is, by measuring their workflow they know how many "No"s it takes to get a "Yes."

In addition, all salespeople are taught that if you don't ask, the answer is "No." On the other hand, if you do ask, the worst result possible is still "No." By taking a bold step forward -- asking for help, a referral, or a position within a company -- you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Can it be embarrassing or even humiliating? Perhaps. That leads us to the next principle.

Principle 5: Seek Models of Persistence

If you don't persist during your job hunt, the result will be persistent unemployment. Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of the United States, eloquently extolled the importance of persistence. He said:

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

I'm sharing this quote not only to inspire you, but also to encourage you to surround yourself with positive people and resources.

Try reading the biographies of successful businesspeople such as Sam Walton who started Walmart and Ray Kroc, the man behind the success of McDonald's. Studying the lives of great entrepreneurs will motivate you, and their stories will also provide you with effective business-building ideas. You'll see that they faced tremendous obstacles and often experienced heartbreaking failure before accomplishing their goals.

Principle 6: Be a Lifelong Learner

There are innumerable resources related to finding a job. The good news is that lots of them are free. Examples include podcasts, video casts, chat forums, Twitter feeds, white papers, and articles. Whether it's a book or a blog, take advantage of what's out there. Remember, however, the line between entertainment and education can sometimes become hazy, so make sure that your career research isn't really recreation.

Don't stop reading once you land a job either. Remember that in this highly competitive Information Age, there's always going to be someone who is vying for your position. Therefore, researching voraciously throughout your working years is an essential part of staying on top of your profession, maintaining a competitive edge, and being able to quickly adapt to change.

Looking for a job is never easy. In fact, it can be horribly discouraging. I've had friends who had been out of work for more than a year and their unemployment had nothing to do with laziness or incompetence. Despite setback after setback, they kept at their search. They continued sending out résumés and e-mails and they enlisted the help of friends. They were always precise in their pursuit, asking others if they knew someone at a particular company or in a specific industry or field. Their hard work often resulted in jobs that were even better than their previous positions.

© 2011 Cal Brown,CFP, MST, author of When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms

Author Bio Cal Brown, CFP, MST, author of When Life Strikes: Weathering Financial Storms, has over twenty-five years of experience in the financial services field. He received his master of science in taxation (MST) from American University in Washington, DC, and his undergraduate BSBA degree from the University of Arkansas. Cal is currently an adjunct professor in the MST program at American University, teaching estate planning. 

Washingtonian magazine and Northern Virginia magazine named Cal one of the top financial planners in the greater Washington, DC, metro area and he has authored articles in Bloomberg Wealth Manager, Journal of Financial Planning, and Financial Planning magazines. He has also been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Smart Money, and other periodicals. He has appeared on CNBC, Fox 5 DC, the PBS Nightly Business Report, and was a regular guest on WAVA-Fm (Washington, DC).

As a speaker, he has addressed national audiences as well as local and regional professional and civic groups. Cal served as chairman of the National Capital Area chapter of the Financial Planning Association and continues to actively serve on boards and councils within his profession.

Cal is vice president of planning for The Monitor Group in Virginia, a wealth management firm working with over 250 clients and managing approximately $500 million in assets.

Cal also plays guitar in a classic rock cover band in northern Virginia.

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