(As a public service, the following is the distillation of many job hunts and my surfing of wild economic times. Read and share with anyone you know hunting for a job. “The Lint Screen” is working hard to get this economy running full blast.)
Your boss asks you if “you have a minute”, and the pit of your stomach jumps into your heart and goes all Ricky Ricardo banging the congas and sending an alarm to your spinal highway dispersing anxiety on all major interstates and blue highways of your central nervous system. The message: your number’s up, you’re about to be whacked, laid-off, let-go, fired.
Or, if you prefer sunshine with your dark clouds, you’re about to be “made available for exciting new opportunities.”
Yes, it sucks.
Yes, you were screwed.
Yes, others deserve it more than you.
Yes, your ego is bruised and bleeding and feeling immense pain.
None of that matters now. The decision’s been made, you’ve been cast to the sea, and now you’re going to have to find a new land to call home.
Allow me to help.
In my checkered ad career pinging across the country, I’ve been ‘made available’ three times. Each was painful, but necessary to temper the steel of my resolve and give me the energy to prove those firing bastards wrong.
The fact is, I’m too stubborn and headstrong a man to have ever been happy working for someone else. Clients, I understood– but the Shakespearean characters I met at ad agencies, not so much. I was too entrepreneurial and lousy at playing agency politics. It took me a long while to realize this and some painful lessons, but eventually I learned. Fate has a way of nudging one into course corrections.
There is no getting around the pain of rejection because that’s what being fired is: flat-out rejection. Some live, some die.
You? You’re a casualty. With this economy, companies are dropping bodies like the Mafia hitting the mattresses. It’s not personal (even if your ego says it is).
It doesn’t matter, what’s done is done. Mourn, grieve, wallow in self despair, throw your ego a pity party, vent your spleen, spew venom, ooze bitterness and exhaust your frustrations and quell your rage. There, there, yes, you deserved better, you poor dear. You deserved much, much better!
Now, put on your big boy or girl pants, take an adult pill and get on with it. Chances are you weren’t ecstatic in your job anyway (were you?). Maybe deep down you always knew it wasn’t the right place for you, a good place for you. Well congratulations, chum, you just got another lottery ticket. Let’s do better this time, shall we?
Where to start your job hunt? Let’s make a checklist to keep things organized (20 seems a good number).
1. File for unemployment. It’s depressing, humbling, ego-shattering and terribly humiliating–– but the pay is worth it.
2. Look inside before looking outside. Before you start a job hunt, start with yourself. Spend some time and really think about what you want. What makes you happy? What frustrates you? What conditions help you excel? What conditions force you to you fail? What excites you, energizes you, gives you a feeling of accomplishment? What erodes your soul and saddens your heart? Let’s avoid those, shall we?
There is much to think about, and now is the time to think about it. It’s time to rearrange the furniture in your head– those notions that you always bump into, those past behavioral patterns that constantly trip you—now is the time for you to think about product YOU.
3 Recount your successes. Write them down in a burst of words, don’t edit, just flow. This isn’t for publication; this is for your subconscious to give your consciousness a wake-up call. Give yourself some pats on the back. Perch yourself on the ledge of the convertible and do a parade wave as you recall past accomplishments. Let your ego drive slowly, avoid book depository buildings and enjoy the ride.
4. Now that you’re feeling better, more confident, start working on your resume. Make it interesting. Pepper it with action verbs, attach numbers (if possible) to your accomplishments. Make it sound human, engaging, vital. Imagine the type of boss you want to work for. Imagine what type of person that person would want to hire (you’ve have thought about this, haven’t you?). Be that person (your future boss) and write to that person.
5. If you’re a creative person, pull together your best samples. Show the work that you love, the work that reflects your talent, sensibilities, creativity, humanity and personality. Don’t be afraid to show unproduced work if it’s better than much of your produced stuff. Great ideas trump all. Show your best and let it be your litmus test for your job hunt. If you love it and the person you’re interviewing with hates it, you have a good barometer that you may not enjoy working together. A wise CD once told me it’s a lot easier to find people who share your tastes rather than trying to fight people into sharing your vision. Your work is a reflection of you, use it to protect yourself from a bad fit.
6. Avoid the stench of ‘misunderstood genius.’ Creative people go through a natural maturation process. Many of us believe everything we do is brilliant and if it does not get produced it’s because of idiot creative directors or lousy clients or stupid focus groups. These people are misunderstood geniuses who somehow are being rejected by an imbecilic world. While most good creative people grow out of this phase, some unfortunately never do. They stew in bitterness and resentment and frankly are a complete drag to have around. You’re not one of them, are you?
7. Don’t carry a portfolio of excuses. There is nothing sadder than someone presenting work that needs justification for why it isn’t very good. No one wants to hear “my hack creative director watered the idea down” or “the client took the heart out of the concept” or “the director really didn’t get the idea.” Frankly, no one cares. It’s your work and you control what you show–– if you don’t like the finished product don’t show it. Or better yet, show unproduced work that you love that has not been tainted by the outside world. Don’t have any of that either? Hmm, maybe it’s time you considered another career. Seriously.
8. Think geography. Although it sounds basic, many people begin a job hunt without answering a very simple question: Where would you like to live and work? What places are deal breakers? Narrow your search by narrowing your geographical search. If a city interests you, learn all bout the places there you’d like to work, write letters and make calls and arrange a city visit, on your nickel. It’s an investment in your career that shows determination, interest, grit, passion and all those good things potential employers eat up.
9. Network like mad. Don’t think that want ads and Monster and Talent Zoo are the only portals to finding a job. Most jobs never get listed at all. Let people know you’re looking and see where it takes you. Call, write, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo the world. Plants seeds for success.
10. Talk to headhunters, but don’t think they work for you. Headhunters are paid by employers (if you want to know how business works, always follow the money and it will predict behavior). If a headhunter can make a buck on you, you’re golden– they’ll get your work seen. At that point, your work represents you. If it’s liked, you should get an interview. But headhunters are not in the business of trying to sell candidates. If your work is summarily and continually rejected, headhunters will not be enamored with you. It’s just like realtors selling property. Some properties are hot, some are not. The best way to think of headhunters is like a hunting guide. They can turn you onto something you may not have found otherwise. Headhunters should be a prong of your job hunting attack plan, but not your sole weapon. It’s easy to be lazy about your job hunt, and laziness will ensure you’ll be hunting a long, long time.
11. Research the places you’d love to work. Chances are you have a list of dream places you’d love to call home. Are they hiring? Who knows and who cares? You’re job is to get an interview. Even if they’re not hiring, you want to be known by them because things change fast and they may need you some day. The more people you know, the better your chances. Get to know as many people as possible and ask them for referrals to other people. Nothing is better than being able to drop a name and open another door. Networking is a beautiful thing and it really works.
12. Act like an ad pro and treat yourself like a product that is desirable, essential and must be bought. This sounds so basic but it is a tragic mistake way too many people (who should know better) make: be interesting, engaging and compelling in all your communications. All that stuff you’ve learned about advertising, guess what– it applies to you when you’re job hunting. A boring letter for yourself is like a boring product ad. A chest-thumping tirade for yourself is a self-serving ad for a product. THINK: what is this person looking for, how can I help them? Be creative, charming, intriguing and persuasive. Write like a human not a thesaurus. Focus your communications on them, and for God’s sake, be smart about it. Research the company, the person, the clients. Be a sleuth. Know their business, learn as much as you can about the people with hiring power, read everything you can about their market situation, competition, challenges, everything. Then use all those great ad skills you’ve mastered and write some great ads (letters, e-mails, voicemails, etc.) for your terrific product–– you.
13. Follow up. Give a time when you’ll follow up with a call to arrange an interview. Presumptuous? Sure, but you want to show eagerness, enthusiasm and interest. Then CALL at the appointed hour. Follow through with your follow up. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, “Chase them like rats across the tundra.” Yes, you will meet resistance and rejection–but you will also open a few doors. Remember: nothing happens until you knock.
14. Freelance. You have skills that are worth money, so try your hand at freelancing. This is a Trojan Horse strategy to job hunting. People are often much more likely to talk to a freelancer than a job hunter because they are buying chunks of time for talent, not the whole person. So try and get your work seen as a freelancer and let it be known you could be interested in a full time gig for the right company (the soldiers sit quietly in the horse’s belly). The beautiful part about freelancing is it gives you a chance to test drive an agency (it works the same way for them testing you), and you make money while you’re doing it.
15. Gird your loins and put yourself out there. Most people hate job hunting for one simple reason: rejection. And rejection sucks big time. Well, there’s no getting around it, you cannot win the lottery without a ticket and you won’t find a job without effort, so get over it and play the game. Many people want to play defense on a job hunt, leave it to the headhunter to act as their agent. If your work’s that good and you’re that fortunate to make it work, you’re lucky. Most people have to do more work. So write the letters, make the calls, augment and alter your attack plans and messaging. Remember, this is a campaign, for you. It’s organic; reflect and change as needed but for goodness sake, keep at it. Persistence and perseverance will win, eventually.
16. Interview when you interview. Too many job hunters act like a guest on David Letterman when they go on an interview. They wait for the questions and give their answers. They play defense. The silly fools. Yes, you will be asked questions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions, too. Prepare some smart questions (you have done a ton of research on the company, client and person you’re interviewing with, I hope). Be interested and curious. Rather than a job interrogation, have a conversation. Learn about working styles, interests, passions, ambitions, direction, whatever you’d like to know more about. Be genuinely interested because this is someone you will be a spending a lot of time with (if you get hired). This is someone who can make your life better or worse. The person deserves some notice, don’t you think?
17. Be honest. Really honest. Don’t B.S. whoever you’re interviewing with. Smart people can spot it and less-than-smart people may take you at your word, only to be disappointed later when they find out whatever you said wasn’t true. Besides, why lie about something this important? Be true to yourself in what you like, what you don’t like and want from a working environment. Honesty is your best protection against getting into a bad fit or a hunk o’ hell. Honestly.
18. Be positive. Talk, be open, caring, empathetic, curious, inquisitive, genuine, cordial and pleasant. No need to torch bridges or spew angry bile about where you worked or the numbskulls you worked with. Try to look forward, not dwell on the angry past (it’s like trying to drive a car while looking only in the rear view mirror). You’ll have plenty of time to wallow in your sorrowful past later (should you choose to, hopefully you won’t). For now, you want to get hired. No one, and I do mean no one, wants to be around a miserable bitter bastard. Imagine that.
19. Niceness counts. Someone took some time out of his/her busy day to spend time and talk with you. Do the right thing and thank that special person for the courtesy. In an age where everyone is overworked and over-scheduled you should be genuinely appreciative to those who made time for you. Besides, good manners mean a lot and will score you brownie points. There’s nothing wrong with that if it results in gainful employment, right?
20. Be a shark. Sharks pretty much have to be in constant motion to live. Think like a shark in your job hunt. Be organized, methodical, systematic, creative and persistent. You’ve got to keep at it, digging deeper and experimenting to get yourself out there, known, loved and hired. This crappy economy will thin the herd of weaklings. Step up, sharkie, and keep hunting until you get your fill.
And for goodness sake, try and enjoy yourself. I used to work with a talented art director who’d say, “If it were easy, it’d be easy.” True enough. Job hunting isn’t easy. Learn, improvise and enjoy the ride.