By: Shaun Rein
Anger. Then fear. Self-doubt crept up insidiously and turned to desperation. Finally, happiness. Those were the feelings I went through after I lost my job during the dot-com blowup. The two founders cut the entire staff of their startup, leaving me on a job hunt for the third time in three years. That was not the way it was supposed to be, I thought. I had worked hard, hit my quotas, was a moral person, and yet here I was looking for a job again. I was so dirt poor that I had to use three credit cards to buy my fiancée’s wedding ring.
My fear, anger and desperation got real bad. One cold winter day I met my fiancée (who still had a job as an investment banker) in Harvard Square. I noticed that she was drinking a $3 fresh-squeezed orange juice. I threw a tantrum like my 3-year-old, Tom, does when he doesn’t want to take a nap. I couldn’t believe she would spend so much. That $3 was more than I could make in a week. She looked at me, said, “You need to get perspective” and ordered me to take a deep breath, go home, watch Frasier and get my head out of my you know where. She was right. I had totally lost perspective.
Many job hunters lose perspective so much they let fear control them. Letting fear rule you is never good. One of the worst culprits in causing fear is reading negative news. Down the road, some historian will look at the role the media, looking for eye-catching headlines and desperate for eyeball hits and sales, played in destroying business and consumer confidence during the Great Recession by exaggerating the depth of the economic pain.
Whenever I read the news, my head feel like it will split open. The media make it feel like the world is ending, like we are all going to end up living in cardboard boxes while our children end up in pauper schools, shivering from cold and hunger.
My first advice for job hunters: Stop reading the news for a while. That is what I did, and it helped me get better perspective.
Reading columns by Chicken Little economists like Paul Krugman, who predicted that we were entering the Great Depression II and that the Euro would break up, cause people to get scared, lose perspective and exaggerate the difficulties the world faces.
The American economy is bad, but we are nowhere near the Great Depression, as Krugman predicted. During those dark days, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president and Yankee great Babe Ruth ruled the baseball diamond, 25% of the country was unemployed, and that number actually underestimates the severity. Then it was common for one breadwinner to have to feed a family of eight. There was no Social Security. No Medicare.
Today most American families have two income earners and fewer than five mouths. Unemployment is below 10%. Food stamps circulate. Even with our bleak unemployment situation, we are nowhere near the Great Depression pain that gave rise to Nazism, Fascism, and Bolshevism. It is downright irresponsible to run headlines and columns likening the two periods.
No matter what you think of Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck or Nancy Pelosi, we are not entering a dark period of history like World War II. Even if we hit Japan-like economic stagnation for 10 years, as Krugman frets we will, the world won’t end. True, business and consumer optimism is low in Japan, but the quality of life there remains high. People can eat. Kids go to school. And people can afford medical care.
• The Dow Jones index has risen 60% since Bank of America acquired Merrill Lynch. The share price of Google has risen 45% in the last year, IBM 20%. Instead of breaking up, the Euro has actually rebounded 20% since Krugman predicted its demise.
• Job hunters need to get perspective on the world economy and not make decisions based on fear. If you go into your job hunt too fearful, you won’t exude the confidence and have the rational thought you need to plan that job hunt.
• Aside from losing perspective and letting fear get to them, there are two other common mistakes job hunters make.
• First, they don’t look at job hunting as a full-time job. They e-mail out a few résumés a day, maybe go to a happy hour at a bar at night and claim they are actively looking for a job. Wrong. You need to plan your day the same way you would if you were in a full-time job.
I had the following plan: Make at least 10 cold calls to potential employers a day. Have two face-to-face meetings, informational interviews or actual interviews a day and send out 10 customized cover letters and résumés to potential employers.
How do you get the interviews you want? Never call human resources. Their job is to filter out applicants and organize the process. The best way is to get in front of the heads of the divisions or functional heads like marketing and sales you want to work with and make your case.
For instance, I thought about working for Morgan Stanley in sales. Instead of calling HR, I cold-called the head of sales for the division I wanted to work for, told him why I thought Morgan Stanley was such a great firm and how I thought I could contribute. I scored a job offer.
Finally, too many job hunters rely too heavily on friends and family members for leads. The problem with that is that most people are selfish and will keep their best contacts to themselves. If you are a salesman in Boston, do you think a fellow salesman will share his best contacts with you? Most likely, your friend fears losing his own job and will introduce you only to lower-level connections.
Contrast that with asking someone originally from Los Angeles who now lives in Mumbai for help in finding contacts in Boston. That person in Mumbai will not view you as competition and will almost certainly be more eager to assist you.
Losing a job can be the start of a demoralizing, stressful time.
Don’t let fear and self-doubt creep up on you.
How many people have you seen unemployed for years on end?
Even the best people lose their jobs. After all, Steve Jobs got fired from Apple.