Sunday, January 10, 2010

Climbing Back Up from the Abyss: Part II

When I found myself suddenly UNEMPLOYED a little over three months ago, I began, in an unorganized way, to explore the online job sites, “the Ladders,” “,” Link-In,” and others. But like Lord Ronald, in Stephen Leacock’s nonsense novel, “Gertrude the Governess, or: Simply Seventeen,” I said nothing; flung myself from the room, flung myself upon my horse and rode madly off in all directions!

Disorganized Flight

I wasted lots of time and energy and some money doing it that way. Those sites, unfortunately including the Linked-In site, barrage you with “how to” articles of every sort, and scare you into thinking that whatever you are doing in your job hunt, you are DOING IT COMPLETELY WRONG. That, unfortunately, may also be correct.  The rules around job searching have changed.   But how do you distinguish the articles that offer excellent advice from those that exist primarily to scare us into subscribing to the services of this or that coaching or resume writing service?

One fantastic document--the “yellow brick road” to job search success--came serendipitously to me while browsing discussion groups on Linked-In. It is Olivier Taupin’s concise and highly informative slide presentation, LinkedIn for Job Seekers: Advanced Techniques For Finding A Job Quickly On LinkedIn. I have absolutely no affiliation with Olivier Taupin, I assure you. I’m just sharing with you a resource that I feel is certain can help you. 

I suggest, if you do NOTHING ELSE to prepare yourself for the job search, this should be your bible for getting started. Read it and take it seriously. Once you get the knack, you’ll be using Linked-In to its maximal effectiveness, and coming up with your own ideas to get yourself noticed. Olivier’s information is golden. Once I started following his suggestions, the number of people who read my profile and the number of times I appeared in searches, increased by leaps and bounds. Emails began to land in my mailbox, and the phone began to ring. I recommend that you read it carefully, save a copy in your favorites.  Refer to it often, and you won’t be disappointed.

In today’s economic recession, almost nothing about job searching works the way it did a mere two years ago. If you were accustomed, while you were working, to being canvassed almost relentlessly by professional recruiters, forget about it--the times have changed. You can’t just post your old tried-and-proven resume and sit back and wait to be contacted. You must actively seek out the attention of recruiters. Unquestionably, you need to change your style. That means you have to do a lot of things, in Linked-In, while you search, to make yourself stand out in the crowd.

I’ll be back later to tell you about the most effective steps I’ve taken to get noticed in positive ways (Hint: this blog is one of them). In the meantime, take good advantage of your current and past relationships—those that you have formed in business, and even your friendships. Friends outside your industry may KNOW people at target companies, and those relationships can help to get you introduced to hiring managers. Let everyone know that you are out of work—there is no stigma to being jobless in this recession, regardless of how bad you may feel about it.

And you are NOT worthless. You were great when you were working, and nothing about that has changed. If you are feeling down, out, and alone, take heart:  You are NOT alone!  You will find that people WANT and are eager to help you. If this comes to you as a revelation, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised. You will also find yourself changing in wonderful ways.

You are not alone

And never forget…you need to do all you can to help others too! Offer to write Linked-In recommendations or otherwise open doors for friends and colleagues. You’ll get a lot of personal satisfaction from simple acts of friendship like these. And your “luck” will begin to change.

Simple acts of Friendship

Just remember, unless you are very lucky and grab the brass ring quickly, today’s job searches tend to take more time than they once did.  Keep in mind: This IS NOT happening because of anything you did—you are no less competent than you were when you were working.  Drum that into your brain!

Try hard--Try very hard-- to not appear to be down or depressed, even if you're feeling like proverbial "Dirt!."  As much as possible, be your old optimistic, cheerful old self and, most of all, do not let BITTERNESS consume you. Prospective employers will not be positively impressed by the story of your misfortune.  They are looking for people whose presence enhances their own work experience and the atmosphere in the workplace.  By trying like hell, to present yourself in positive ways, soon it will become easy.

But you MUST dig in, prepare for a long haul, and learn the proven ways to get yourself noticed.  The effort will work if you work at it!

The Road Ahead

Stay tuned.

All photos by Michelle Alton

Friday, January 8, 2010

Climbing Back Up From the Abyss: Part I

I was laid off three months ago after having enjoyed a successful career in which there had never been a single day of unemployment. The company meeting began that fateful day with the President saying, with his best-practiced pained expression:

“Our company has had good days and our company has had bad days. And unfortunately this is going to be one of the VERY bad days.”

And it was all downhill from there. Just about half of the workforce was let go that day, as we stood around in the hallways after the meeting, Blackberries in hand, waiting to see who among us would be losing our jobs. One after another, the buzzers went off for everyone in my group, save one. And it was not I who was spared.


It was then that the emotional roller coaster began. In the week that ensued between the announcement and the “separation,” the first evidence of our misfortune was the way in which our former associates interacted with us. Most didn’t talk very much to us, except for during “knowledge transfer” activities. I guess it had something to do with what is known as Survivor Guilt. It seemed to be more uncomfortable that week for those who were left behind, than it was for those of us who would be leaving.

Soon enough, though, our relationships with THE COMPANY, were at their end, and we were set out into the job market during the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression. In the Industry in which we had worked, Biotech/Pharma, a series of large mergers and downsizing measures had placed tens of thousands of people like us on the street, competing for the same meager collection of jobs. This was NOT going to be easy. And after the first couple of weeks of attempting to get into the swing of the job search, the roller coaster swiftly morphed itself to carry me into a steep, swift plunge into the depths of depression.

Sound familiar?

Probably like you, over the years I had been sought after almost on a daily basis by recruiters, who while in pursuit, would become my fast and best friends—always there. Now, most had become unusually scarce. I had to call or write to them to follow up on the meager leads that I had sent their way (None were flowing to me in the other direction). Those recruiters who had long been in my network gave me little hope that the job market would open up any time soon, and were encouraging me to consider pursuing jobs that would pay less than half of my former salary. What??? Seems their commissions have been thinning out too!

Enter Linked-In. Intrepidly, I uploaded the tried-and-proven resume I had used, with minor updates, for pretty much the past ten years, and used it to create my online profile. While cruising around on the site (and searching online job boards), I waited to be found. And I waited. Nothing. Not only was I no longer sought after by hiring managers and recruiters; NOW I was almost entirely overlooked by them!

Deeper plunge into the depths. Now I was all the way down to feeling weak and worthless.


"Why Me?"

The few jobs that had looked promising initially had been awarded to existing employees, or had been cancelled because of budgetary considerations, or suddenly, my phone calls were no longer getting responses.

Fellow travelers on this roller coaster, if you are still spending more time in the dips than in the rises, take heart. You can turn it around. Though it is not a rapid process, it IS a process and you can take control of it and drive it to success—just as you had been doing in your career up until the dreaded day!

No, I am not yet back among the gainfully employed.  but I'm climbing the hill now, without any recent serious backslides into hopelessness. It may still take some time, but I feel very confident that the road ahead will lead to a new beginning.

"Rising Up"

Next week I’ll start the story of how things seemingly SUDDENLY began to turn upward for me. I hope it will help some of my fellow journeyers who have not yet reached the turning point. If you’re one of us, please follow my blog for a few more days; you may find the information to be useful.

For now, I wish all of us the best of luck in early 2010. I think it’s going to wind up being a positive experience!

All photography by Michelle Alton

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Silver Lining of being Unemployed

Well, it's now been slightly over three months since the devasting RIF that left me unemployed for the first time since I dropped out of college (later earned my degree while working full-time) at age 19. I won't say how many years ago that was, but it was a long, LONG time ago, to be sure!

Silver Lining

It's been a difficult time for a middle-aged Senior Director in Biotech/Pharma Clinical Operations to be in the job market in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic region. Tens of thousands of qualified professionals have been turned out on the streets due to mergers and downsizing, and there are dozens and dozens competing for each open position. Figuring out how to get your resume to be READ is a major mystery, and to actually reach the point of a face-to-face interview is a feat of monumental proportion! And we are competing with hungry, career-building, talented folks who are willing to do the job at discounted salaries, just to get the proverbial 'foot in the door." Tough business, this job hunting is!  It can seem like the most vast of wastelands.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

And how many times in the past three months, have my hopes been stoked, only to learn that "we decided to promote an internal candidate," or "the job position has been revoked due to budgetary condtions," or "Sorry, but you are way over-qualified for this position?"

But...after living for three months on the lower end (never higher than mid-level) of the depression/exhilaration curve, I've come to the point where I can see a "silver lining," and my fortune is starting to turn around.

So here it is, and let me be the Upteenth person to tell you: There IS hope out there for us--Never Give up!

Never Give Up

Up until this unfortunate jobless period, I had never been very much of a networker. Though books like "Never Eat Alone" extoll the virtues of a lifetime of reaching out, I hadn't even read it until this happened to me. So, thank the Good Lord that Linked-In has come along. It's an amazing tool.

Well, I don't know about all the "how to" articles that are out there on the job sites; I believe most are really there to churn up business from job searchers needing the services of various types of coaches. For every bit of advice out there, there's another bit -- equal and opposite. And some are, in my opinion, utter travesties, like one I read recently about how to "take ten years off your age." (Don't take a newspaper to your interview because only OLD people read newspapers.) Jeepers!

So you could spend a lot of time getting lost in the bog of advice--How do we know which advice is Golden and which is Rubbish?

Bridging the Bog

But -- Linked-In, if worked to the maximum, finds people from your past, with whom you may have had positive working and personal relationships, but who you probably haven't thought about in many, many years. It's like the play, "Six Degrees of Separation," which proposed the notion that one can find a relationship to any person in the world through no more than six connections. As an example, Linked-In somehow connected me to my brother, who works in the BANKING industry--pretty far afield from most of my professional network in the Pharma/Biotech industry!

In the past three months, Linked-In has brought people back into my life who I have been fortunate enough to have mentored, starting with my first management position. Many of these people have seen their careers blossom over the years--because they are downright great at what they do. But now, they are telling me that I had a lot to do with their success, and they have, in some ways, modelled their own management styles after mine! Can you imagine how wonderful it has felt to hear that? So I have the opportunity to rekindle some terrific friendships.

Friends Rekindling

But, the phenomenal thing is that all of these people have developed their own networks, and are providing ideas, contacts, and recommendations for me. It's astonishing. And, the extra, added benefit is that all this works as a super, non-pharmaceutical mood enhancer for the out-of-work job hunter! Self confidence comes rippling back, and it is reflected in all of one's contacts with recruiters and hiring managers.

Recruiting Contact

I don't have a job yet...these things do take time. But just yesterday, I was told by an astute company recruiter (for a job that is being created that I would just LOVE to have), "Think of this period as a vacation, Michelle. With a background like yours, you won't be without a job for long--and let's keep in contact at least once a week!"

Even if nothing comes of that particular opportunity, the New Year begins with a huge blast of growing hope and confidence! Thank you, Linked-In. With the New Year comes a New Beginning!

All photography by Michelle Alton

Pampering Your Search Psyche

How many times have we heard it said that “The SEARCH is now your full-time JOB?”
I have heard those words ringing in my ears almost constantly, even in my sleep over the last few months. And, in reality, we really MUST think of it that way. But wait a minute…

When you were working, weren’t your little breaks an important part of your day? A few refreshing moments, sprinkled throughout your work day, and a get-together with colleagues over lunch were necessary while you were employed. Right?

Believe me…during the job hunt, they are even more important. We need to make sure that our mindsare clear, our self-esteem is up, and our psyches stay healthy. Keeping ourselves “up” and discouragement “down” are keys to our eventual success.

I recently received, through a friend, the following piece of advice from one of her colleagues, now wonderfully employed (but who spent seven months without a job): “Tell Michelle to avoid being down! No employer wants to hear a down-and-out story!” Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Well, as obvious as it seems, I found myself thinking, what am I projecting in my conversations with recruiters and hiring managers?

Well, if we feel depressed and down on ourselves, it projects, even if we’re trying HARD to disguise it. So – fellow travelers on the path to full employment, here are some things that I have have learned that are helping me. Remember…there will still be down days and moments of self doubt along the way. It’s natural and perfectly OK. The main thing is to be able to ease ourselves back up and face each day with positive anticipation. Here we go:

1.   OK…the obvious things…get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, hug your spouse frequently, get a comfortable desk chair, get enough exercise and fresh air.

2.   Don’t think you need to forget about your hobbies while you’re working on finding a job. My hobby is photography. It’s more than a hobby -- it’s a passion. More importantly, though, my photos are a huge source of personal satisfaction. I know it’s a special talent, and gives me more pleasure than anything I can think of (OK--I know what you’re thinking…but it’s even better than that because it ‘s ALWAYS good)! Plan some fun things on the weekends. Mondays will seem less dreadful.

3.   Do take frequent breaks. There were times when the thought of sitting at my desk, and facing a day of Linked-In on my computer would grow a huge aching and gnawing dread in the pit of my stomach. So don’t do it all day long. Give yourself a start time, and end time, and go outdoors for a walk, or take a short drive in the country. Do something that feels good.

4.   When I was working, a great cup of tea was a wonderful refresher several times a day. Indulge yourself. It’ll do a world of good.

5.   Find time to get together with your friends—make lunch dates! It’ll help make you feel connected and … friends may give you suggestions and leads that you haven’t thought of yourself. People DO want to help you…think of all the times that your friendship has meant the world to others. Your friends have not forgotten! And besides, it will be fun. Fun is still OK!


This is not the end of my list…but it is enough for today! I’m off now for a cup of Passion Fruit Green Tea. Yum!!

All photography by Michelle Alton