November 16, 2000
Not for Bill Gates
In this fast-changing world, you are either looking for a good, safe job, or you are determined to stay anchored in one. Unless, of course, you own a pot of money. So if you’re Bill Gates, you can skip the rest of this article. Otherwise, read on.
The axe falls
You’re hard-working, able, and liked by your boss. Some less talented workers were fired a few months ago when the job market was halfway decent, but you’re on a long-term prestige project.
It just got canceled and you’re given three days notice. You enter the Twilight Zone.
First you panic. You think about bills and creditors. Pretty soon, you are staring angrily at the wall. Life is unfair. You surface guiltily at quitting time, and rush home, buying every newspaper and magazine you can think of.
You circle agency adverts, obliterating the phone numbers, You spend a fortune in phone calls and send your slightly out-of-date résumé to as many places as possible, making illegible notes in the margins of the jobs vacant section. Then you sit back with a sinking feeling and wait, and wait.
But what if you read this article, just before the ax fell. Well, one lucky break is that you have 72 hours. Take a breath, calm down, and plan. Think about what you can do - then do it, as soon as possible.
Hi Boss, Hi, Fellas
First, see your boss. Tell him you've enjoyed working with him (hopefully this is true). Ask him for a good reference. Chances are he's feeling a little guilty, if only because he has a job and you don't.
Ask him if he knows of any openings elsewhere in the company. Ask him if he can give you the names of team leaders for you to talk to - I got one contract that way that lasted for a year. Ask him if you can start late tomorrow and make up the time.
Then talk to your friends and colleagues. One of them may have received a hot call yesterday. Get their business cards. Talk to friends and colleagues from previous jobs. I have netted several good jobs in this way without even picking up a newspaper.
How desperate am I?
Next, sit down and think about what you are prepared to do to secure a contract. Are you prepared to travel or relocate? Will you consider a contract in Minnesota, Europe, Iraq, Mars? Will you take a cut in rate?
Your criteria may change and you will have to discuss it with your family, but writing it all down now will clear your mind. All this can be done in 30 minutes, over lunch. Then, get back to your current job. You will feel better. You will be in control. You will not stare at the wall.
You should always have your résumé as up-to-date as possible. Any new experience should be added. If you own a personal computer you can have a brand new résumé in minutes. If not, do whatever you must to get a well-written current document.
I have one résumé for mainstream contracting, one with a strong team leader flavor, one for teaching, and one for technical writing. Write down your contacts with phone and fax numbers, and email addresses, actions to be taken, follow up dates (very important), and comments.
Do the same for potential job openings. Check the Internet. There are dozens of job-search agencies, especially for technical jobs. The best job agency that I’ve seen is Dice (www.dice.com).
Not so bad
By the first evening in the Twilight Zone you should have sorted out several possibilities. The following day you should call as many numbers as you can, and fax, mail or e-mail as many résumé’s as you can.
Don't sell yourself short. If you have reasonable experience, and are willing to spend paid or unpaid time getting up to snuff, you are a better prospect than someone with nominally more knowledge, but less inclination to make an effort. On the other hand, if you have one year of COBOL experience you will not cut the mustard as a systems programmer for the local IBM support office.
You will, over a period of days, send out what seems like an avalanche of résumés. You will, if you are organized, target them precisely at the best prospects. You may feel that you have done everything possible to attain your goal. You have the best résumé and the best attitude in the business. You may feel that you can relax. OK, take a day off, see if your kids recognize you in daylight, find out what's been happening in the neighborhood.
When you get back to your list, check your follow-up dates. The best agencies have many job seekers. The best job-finders deal with dozens of applicants, and they can only juggle a certain amount of talent. You need to remind them that there is one more expert ready to earn commission for them. You may be able to remind them of a usable skill that you possess. Don’t harass them. If you do, they will conclude that you will harass an employer, and you may eventually begin a new career at McDonalds.
A new day dawns
If you have prepared yourself properly, you will get interviews. It is not within the scope of this article to discuss interview techniques, but there are two simple steps to take prior to a meeting. First, ask your agent for as much detail as possible on the person(s) who will talk with you, and on the company they work for. A good agent will give you tips on what to expect. Next, study for a while.
Now you are ready to go for a great job. You have done everything possible; you have reached the final hurdle. Give it your best shot. You will probably succeed. You will certainly succeed the next time or the time after that.
After all, you're willing to work at it.