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Brother (O Brother) Can You Spare A Dime?

©2008 April Smith

Who should be “bailed out” with the limitless supply of money being brought down the pike from the feds?  Should it be the Wall Street firms, as it appears now will surely be the case?  Should it be the homeowners, who need to be rescued from the jaws of the crooked, too-complicated mortgage instruments that they were tricked into?  Or are there scores of other categories that are worthy and worthwhile recipients of the unlimited and undetermined largesse?

Whenever someone asks my opinion about this, I say, “What about all the loyal, hard-working people who toiled for years, laboring on the road week after week?  What about the people who gave up family birthdays, high school graduation ceremonies and christenings  just to put a roof over their family’s heads and maybe have a little time once in a while to take advantage of the many frequent flier miles they earned?  Oh, wait  – now that they have the time to use them, even those frequent flier miles have bottomed out in value.

What about all the thousands of people who went in to work every day when they felt lousy, who worked nights and weekends and 12-hour days when there was a big deal closing?  Some of them are being thrown away like used Kleenex to pay for reckless acquisitions and fear of the future.  Shame on you who continue to collect your multi-million-dollar bonuses with no consideration for these people.  They are your former cube mates, your colleagues, your friends.  At the very least, you should make an effort to reach out and do whatever you can to help them.

Okay, so your boss called you into his office and explained that these are tough economic times and that your services are no longer needed.  You know he’s been given the order to axe 20% of his subordinates to pay for the big bosses’ reckless acquisitions.  After the shock wears off (although it never will completely – once this has happened to you, you never get over it) what do you do next?  Hopefully you’re getting a fair package which will protect you for at least a few months, and if you could step into a new job tomorrow, you would (if there was another good job for you to step into, you would probably be working there by now).  Your company has offered you the services of an outsource firm where you can get help updating your resume, learning new skills and seeking new ways to find work.  Have you ever spent time in one of those places?  I don’t know what could be more depressing; the one I was at reeked of sluggishness and lack of confidence.

So what do you do for yourself?  You’re doing everything you can think of to find a new job, but that doesn’t take up the whole day.  How do you keep motivated and feeling like you’re still a vital, contributing member of your field?  Here are some ideas:

Stay in touch with everybody you’ve ever met.  Make a list, start at the top, and then start over again.  Send e-mails, make phone calls, and schedule personal visits.  It stands to reason that the more people who know about your situation and have your resume, the more likely you are to generate some interest.  Your daughter’s soccer coach?  His brother is in the same field as you.  Your sister-in-law works at a headhunting firm.  You get the idea.  But two tips:  1) don’t overdo it; people don’t want to hear from you more than once a week unless you’re funny and/or have entertaining stories to tell and 2) try not to overdo the old “oh poor me” routine.  You may be surprised how eager people are to try to help you, but  they will quickly tire of the “I’m the most pitiful person on the planet” act.  Meanwhile, keep in mind that it only takes one e-mail to the right person to change your life.  Think how you’ll feel when you log on and see, “My cousin’s husband is looking for somebody like you.”  What have you got to lose?

Try your hand at writing an article.  These days it’s relatively easy to get published on the Web.  Start a blog.  Respond at length to other people’s blogs.  You might be surprised at who takes notice of what you have to say.  You never know when someone out there will read what you’ve written and start a dialogue.  But one caution:  stick to what you know.  Nobody wants to hear what you think about the financial bailout bill in Congress if you’re a mechanical engineer.  And always, always read over what you’ve written several times before submitting it anywhere.  I swear I haven’t read anything in weeks (except maybe The New York Times) that didn’t have at least one dumb typo.  Like I tell my kids, you are judged by what you write.  You don’t get a second chance to make an impression.  Don’t think you’re a writer?  Does the idea of writing and publishing something terrify you and send you into paralysis?  Try this:  pick a subject you’re passionate about, and about which you know something.  Go for a run or a brisk walk and think about it for an hour.  When you’re done, just sit down and write as if you were talking to the reader.  And then edit, edit and edit again.  Try it – you might be surprised.

This is a way to keep busy in your field.  Use your imagination.  If you’re a mortgage loan originator, you can find work at a credit counseling agency.  If your field is mortgage data analysis, perhaps you can give a math lecture at a local community college or adult education program.  If you’re a computer expert, maybe you could volunteer at the local library or YMCA.  You never know who will be impressed with your knowhow and compassion and pass your name on.  We recently agreed to do some work for a state agency for no fee; it’s a modest gig every month and we expect to gain some publicity and experience from it.  In addition, we were recommended by a large, prominent law firm who, I’m sure, will be anxious to refer more business (hopefully paying business) to us once they see what a good job we do.  You never know who you’ll meet during your pro bono efforts.

Find out what trade group meetings, conferences and conventions will be taking place where you live.  If you live in a major metropolitan area, there is always something going on.  You can keep track of trade groups’ or service providers’ websites and check schedules for your local convention centers and major convention hotels.  You don’t have to register for the conference; in some cases you can hang out in the lobby.  Check the website for the conference in advance and see who’s registered.  You can send them e-mails or letters to schedule  meetings while they’re in town.  If it’s an important enough conference, consider traveling to another city, but you must have an agenda and a specific plan to make it worth your while. 

What do all of these things have in common?  The thread that runs through all of them is, “Stay busy.  Don’t give up.  Stay in touch and engaged.”  Of course, some days are easier than others.  If you get a crazy idea at 3 o’clock in the morning, why not give it a try?  What have you got to lose?