Unemployed: Laid off. Downsized. Restructured. Fired. Resigned. Though the circumstances by which a person becomes unemployed may vary, the “U-word” might as well be a four-letter word when it comes to finding your next job. It is true that many great executives find themselves unemployed by no fault of their own – change of ownership, change of leadership, change of company direction, etc. Whatever the reason may be, though, it doesn’t make it any easier to find a job when you do not have a job.
That is why, without fail, we counsel people to look for their next job while still employed. However, if you find yourself unemployed and looking for a job now, this article is for you.
How to Handle the “U-word”
The sports and entertainment industry is unique from most other industries in that it is incredibly small. As LinkedIn has proven for many of us, degrees of separation are usually 2-3 people, max. Thus, it is not hard for an employer or hiring manager to make a few calls to find out the “real” story on why you are unemployed. For that reason, to the extent you are not under an NDA and are able to disclose, it is best to be diplomatically honest about how you became unemployed. “Diplomatically” is the key word here. Despite your inclination or preference to do so, never disparage your former employer. If you do, the people who interview you will wonder what you will say about them if found in a similar circumstance.
Chances are you are not the first unemployed interviewee your hiring manager has ever seen. As a veteran interviewer, I can attest that what is not said by an interviewee is what raises the red flag about how s/he became unemployed. Once the red flag is raised, I find myself questioning the trustworthiness of the candidate, and hone in on that missing piece when checking references. Inevitably, the truth comes out within a phone call or two.
Even when candidates tell the truth about their unemployment, potential employers still need to verify the story. This is why it is always best to be as upfront and honest about your circumstances as legally possible.
Managing Your Ego
When you are unemployed, you automatically lose negotiating power when considering job opportunities. Whether you made $1 million or $50,000 in annual salary with your last role, if you are unemployed – and not receiving severance – your salary is $0. Employers know this. They also know that the longer you are unemployed, the more desperate you probably are to take a job.
Regarding salary, I always preach that you will never get what you don’t ask for. However, when you find yourself drawing the line at a certain salary or expecting a certain level of responsibility but still not getting hired, it’s time to shift your “ask”. Though you know what you are capable of responsibility-wise, in many cases, the unemployed are in the unfortunate position of having to prove themselves all over again.
That said, there are many examples of unemployed people holding out for the dream job and salary and getting it. Whether or not you can hold out for that dream job is up to you.
Managing the Fear of the Unknown
Finding yourself unemployed is stressful, even if you chose to leave your job and were not forced from it. The greatest unknown when unemployed is when and from where will your next paycheck come? In my 10 years as an executive recruiter I have spoken with many unemployed people. In almost all cases, the longer the person is unemployed and actively looking for a job – typically nine months or more – the more negative their outlook the future becomes, particularly if they have had numerous interviews and no viable job offers.
During this time, it is imperative to keep your head up and stay positive. Easier said than done, right? One step that might help is working with a career coach. You should also speak with and network through mentors to help set you on a path. One must ask for honest feedback in order to get it, so take that step using the resources available to you. Usually the best place to get that feedback is if you are paying for it (career coach) or speaking with someone you trust (a mentor).
If you have been job searching for over nine months and have had no viable job offers but have relevant experience for the positions for which you are interviewing, something is off and it is imperative for you to figure out what it is. Most people make the mistake of expecting to get their answers by way of feedback from interviewers. The problem there is many interviewers do not provide feedback and, often, when they do, it leaves you little insight on how to improve your situation.
Whether you are unemployed now or find yourself unemployed in the future, be prepared to clearly and confidently articulate what you have to offer potential employers through your previous success stories (achievements). Be prepared to tell prospective employers what problems you can solve for them, or what needs you can fill. Do this and you should not be unemployed for very long.