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When the rug gets pulled

I wandered around my new corner office. It faced the garden and the front gate of our home. I was newly self-employed, or to be more accurate, I was newly unemployed and looking for work.

The organisation I worked for had merged with a larger bank. Not surprisingly, those of us who had senior positions were at risk. I was offered a good position in the larger organisation, but it was in a city I disliked, with people I didn’t connect with and a job that required very few of my best skills. With two small boys and a mortgage bond that would have been a saner choice.

But I had a bigger mission to fulfil and elected to accept retrenchment. I had no idea how difficult that would be.

For many years I was responsible for employing people, terminating contracts or retrenching people when their roles were no longer required. And I believe I did so sensitively. But you can’t be on both sides of the fence at the same time. It’s easy to read the death column in the newspaper until the name of someone who was dear to you appears there. It’s one thing to manage retrenchments from the safety of a good salary. It’s different when it affects you personally.

Retrenching people is not difficult, legally. The law is very prescribed and is standard practice among even the most historically stable employers in the world. To be blunt, it’s very difficult to screw up. But it’s not easily solved with a beautifully crafted CV and some training.  

It can be a devastating life event that can rock your world. It can also take some serious personal resolve to find work when the economy is slow, or you are older, or your skills are not in huge demand, or you just don’t know where to start.

Over many years of consulting in this field, I have received calls from people reporting: ‘My husband phoned to say he can’t find his way home’ ‘I have known for weeks that my job was gone – I simply don’t know how to tell my family’; ‘I can’t even think straight, what am I going to do?’ ‘My kids have just started University and I’m not so young anymore’; ‘How do you find work in this country when you’re the wrong colour?’; ‘I’ve been out of work for a year or more, what now?’ Others report that being retrenched was one of the most helpful things that ever happened to them and that they are now living the life of their dreams’

In the movie ‘Up in the air’ George Clooney plays a suave ‘hit man’ who tells people they have lost their jobs and hands out packages the company has prepared. He has a young assistant who makes inappropriate suggestions and shares the kind of wisdom about life you find on bumper stickers. But Clooney, after listening to a tirade from a father who asks how they will cope, replies calmly by saying: ‘I’m not a shrink, I’m a wakeup call’.

Being retrenched is a wake-up call, and you may not be ready for it. 

Here then are some ways to work with it rather than against it.

Stage 1: The Emotional Rollercoaster

Change creates stress, even when it is positive.

Much of the change in our lives we create ourselves. We buy a new home, get married, get unmarried, emigrate, change jobs voluntarily, start businesses or move to a new place.

But it’s very different when change happens ‘to you’ and you have no control over the decisions that affect you. Losing your job through no fault of your own can put you on an emotional rollercoaster, just as any significant loss in life can do.

It’s like falling off the edge of a building with nothing to hang onto. Your emotions seem to have a life of their own. You feel confused, then anxious, then angry, then hopeful, then guilty, then you start all over again. Emotions are not easy to separate since they all exist at the same time, leaving you feeling vulnerable, irritable and sometimes acting in ways that don’t seem like you. You are walking down the corridor and someone says the wrong thing and you are unsure whether you are going to smack them or burst into tears. Your internal conversation screams ‘Just don’t mess with me!’

Your emotions can also change in a second. You can go from feeling optimistic to hopeless without warning. A casual comment from someone can invite your unexpected wrath. Someone who swoops into the parking bay you have been waiting for gets a mouthful, you don’t even recognise your own aggressive behaviour: ‘was that me?’

During this time of emotional turmoil, it’s easy to forget what you are good at, or if you were ever good at anything. Your confidence takes a serious dive. And when job hunting efforts don’t deliver, your confidence goes down even further.

It’s also very lonely being out of work and the days can be long when you don’t know what to do next. Before that you had somewhere to go every day. Work to do. Things to get done, even if they had unrealistic deadlines. You had a social system at work. Even those colleagues who got up your nose were part of your life. You sit down in your beautiful home office and wonder what to do next. And your anxiety goes up as you hear another round of debit orders ping on your mobile phone.

Encouragement from well-meaning friends and family to ‘get out there’ and send out more CVs may be more alienating than helpful. You wonder if anyone knows how much emotional energy it takes to ‘get out there’, whatever that means.  

There is the danger of making impulsive decisions during this phase. Change your car. Sell the house. Retail therapy. Renovate the kitchen. Change the lounge curtains you’ve hated too long, now you can’t stand them! Buy a franchise for which you are wholly unsuited. Or do whatever else will fill this uncomfortable vacuum.

The truth is that you are in a kind of no-man’s land between the old and the new. You can’t go backwards and forward is hard. One of our human needs is certainty. And there is none.

Here are some things you can do to manage yourself through this phase:

1.1. Give yourself permission

The first thing to do is to give yourself permission to feel the emotional turmoil that comes with loss. Loss of a job can really throw you around, particularly if you see no hope for the road ahead or how you will cope.

Giving yourself permission means allowing yourself days to be sad and confused. Days to be excited about new plans. Days where you are positive and excited. Days when you feel hopeless. Days when you feel inspired.

Feeling emotions simply makes you human. They help us process loss. They are helpful messengers to guide and direct us. Even getting angry helps us make important decisions. We ignore our emotions at a cost. We can freeze them, like a bag of ice, for many years. Or we put them in the sun and we have a meltdown. But when it’s done, it’s done and we can begin to move on. My dear friend Dick Bolles once said to me: ‘When you have tears, God is very close to you’.

Without giving yourself permission, you can struggle on, trying to feel positive and getting more exhausted as you do. You pretend it’s OK when it’s not. You tell everyone you are fine when you are dying inside. Psychologists call this ‘denial’. Living in denial of what is happening only makes you tired and negative, even as you take expensive multivitamins and live at the gym.

While we are being thrown around, there seems to be no end in sight.

But the rollercoaster does come to an end, this does not last forever.

1.2 Remember what you have achieved

This is an important time to remember what you have achieved in your life so far.

Remind yourself about the difficult times that you got through, periods of huge stress you survived, things you did against the odds and are now proud of.

I have a friend who does coaching and won’t see a client till they have listed and sent him 100 things they have achieved in their lives, no matter how small they were.

It may be time to remind yourself what you have achieved before you write yourself off as a failure.

You’ve done it before, you can do it again!

1.3 Write a simple journal

Consider writing a simple daily journal. You don’t have to be a good writer, nor do you have to buy an expensive leather-bound journal.

Just buy an inexpensive counter book from the supermarket. Write the date at the top of a new page and jot down whatever is in on your mind. It may be your thoughts. Or how you are feeling. It could be ideas you have for the future – drawings of house plans, a logo for your business, a preliminary list of what you need to do next.

My friend Ruth recommended this to me when I first started my business. I was asking about books that would be helpful to read around change. ‘The best book you can buy about change’ she said, ‘is a blank counter book to write in’. ‘You mean journaling?’ I asked looking sceptical. I discovered this was nothing as formal as that. It was simply a place to make sense of what I was thinking and feeling. Convinced, I bought one on the way home and there it lay on the top of my bookshelf.

You may have noticed that this turmoil messes with your sleep. There is so much going on in your head. You gaze intently at the lines of the ceiling at 2.30am. The more you try to sleep the more anxious you feel. And so, with my head going around in circles at and unearthly hour, I grabbed my journal, made some tea, put the light on at my desk and started writing. It started with ‘Ruth told me to write this, I am not sure what I want to say. But here I am awake when I should be sleeping, so what have I got to lose? I must have written for an hour or more without stopping. I didn’t know I had so much to say! And it was random as she warned it might be. It included things about my two boys, my new business, the squeaking garage door, a layout for my offices one day… and so on.

This simple book became a place to make sense of many thoughts in my head. It helped find direction when I needed it. It tracked the turmoil from good days to bad days.

I remember a day when I seemed to be going around in circles. My wife suggested I try ‘that book’ to see what popped out. After ten minutes of writing, I had a clear to-do list. But I also discovered I had cabin fever and needed to get out. I locked up my office, got in my bakkie, went to look at boats at the Waterfront, saw a good movie, had chocolate cake with coffee and got home refreshed. The next day I rolled like a steamroller. Now, you can’t spend every day at the movies, but you can help yourself recover energy when you need it. And to be kind to yourself as you do. Maybe you know what you need to do, but you don’t know till you write it down.

Treat your journal as something that serves you rather than an obligation. Some days you may write a single line, other days a few pages. Give up being critical of your handwriting, or your style. You don’t have to present it to anyone, or even read it again. It’s about listening to yourself. This activity accesses a part of your brain we call ‘the observing self’. You may therefore be surprised by what you notice or find clarity about issues that have been confusing.

And then you can go back to sleep. Or pay for your coffee in a coffee shop. Or pick up your ruck sack and head home.

1.4 Nurture your energy

Change is tiring, so this is a critical time to look after your personal energy.

Here are some ways to do that:

Look after your physical energy by getting some exercise, by making sure you get enough sleep and by eating food that gives you energy. Drink more water and less caffeine. Get a massage. Use the bubble bath you have been collecting from hotels all your life. Get someone to rub your feet. Or do it yourself. Introduce naps into your life, with an alarm so it’s just a half hour. Yes, I hear you say that once you sleep, you sleep for hours. Your body just hasn’t heard about this, so practice naps. It’s easy to learn and with little effort offers huge rewards.

Look after your emotional energy by choosing the people you spend time with. Connect with people who will listen without judging or giving advice, who will challenge you in a way that is helpful and who will encourage your efforts. Get and give more hugs to people and animals. Avoid spending time with negative people, the ‘analysis paralysis’ types, the whiners, the armchair experts in all matters except their own and the Dr Freud hobbyists who want to psychoanalyse you. Get some space if you need it. Go to places that give you energy. Listen to music that inspires you. Do things that restore your soul.

Look after your mental energy. Avoid becoming a couch potato. Watch interesting movies. Read stimulating and helpful books.  Seek out journals that support your interests. Explore book shops or libraries and notice the kind of books that interest you. Discover some new interests. Have conversations with people who are good to talk to and can challenge your thinking. Avoid hours on the internet – there is adequate research to support that this fuels depression – even when you have a job. You sure as hell can’t afford that now.

Look after your spiritual energy. That means different things to different people. It may be meditation, prayer, yoga, mindfulness exercises, powerful music, time on your own in a quiet chapel, walking on the mountain or reading inspiring literature.

It may be keeping a gratefulness journal. Writing down things you are grateful for each day is an easy and powerful way to keep perspective and to notice what you are grateful for that has not changed. Write handwritten notes to people you care about and tell them what you appreciate about them. Or thank them for things they have done for you that you simply haven’t got round to telling them. Or gaze at the stars and remind yourself how huge this universe is, and we are not at the centre of it.

Get control over your energy every day, even when your tank is low. When you wake up, get up! Keep as regular a sleeping pattern as you can. Get up around the same time. Then have a shower and get dressed. Put your slippers away. Make your bed. Water the flowerpots. Write a to-do list for the day. Have something to eat without consuming excessive sugar or caffeine that will give you a quick high and let you down later. Spend scheduled time at your desk. Try 50-minute slots with 10-minute breaks. Go for a walk and get some natural light.

Managing your energy is an ongoing job for us all. Start by doing simple things to get control of your energy and take it one day at a time. Not every day will work. But then life is not that simple.

1.5 Be proactive  

It’s not unusual, after the turmoil has died down, to reach a dead zone. A place of hopelessness where you are not moving forwards or backwards. You’ve tried a few things with no success. You’ve done all you know how to do, but it doesn’t seem to be working.

I have already suggested that the best way to stay feeling down, helpless and worthless is to do nothing, get up late, stay in pyjamas, ignore personal grooming so that you look and feel awful, then spend hours on the internet.

It is important that you take purposeful, small steps without driving yourself into the ground. Sometimes short sprints rather than long tiring marathons can be more productive.

Find a place to work that gives you some structure. You don’t have to hire an office, you can create a makeshift office in a spare room at home if you have one. Paint it in your favourite colour and make it a great place to be in. Use a few second-hand items of whatever you have already. Or find a place outside of your home that works for you.

Make a daily to-do list, not so you have a guilt trip about how little you ticked off, but to help you decide what is most important to do, today. Filling your day with sorting things so you can get moving tomorrow may be wasting valuable time. You can sort the paperclips another day.

Consider renewing contacts with people you like and enjoy talking to. Your world can become increasingly smaller as you live in your own head, your own room and your own computer. Get out and speak to people, don’t hide behind mailing them. Spending hours on social media may feel satisfying but can waste hours you could be connecting with real people.

You won’t always feel like it, but there is something magical about starting. You may be waiting to feel better, feel energised and enthusiastic before you move. But positive emotions are not available ‘on demand’. You may often have to act your way into a new way of feeling rather than feel yourself into a new way of acting. Sometimes you simply have to ‘feel the feeling and do it anyway!’

That doesn’t mean driving yourself into the ground when you don’t have the capacity to do so, but it does mean taking action each day with what you do have.

Stage 2: Create Alternatives

Hope comes from having alternatives, so it’s time to explore new ways of earning an income.

Here are some ideas to get you started. This is by no means a finite list, so stay loose and write down your own ideas as you go. Then find someone you trust that you can share them with. Explore new ideas together and test your own ideas more rigorously.

You can also go to and use Conversation #10: I want to test my career goals (you can use it many times over) or Conversation #3: I want to test a business idea (you can test many business ideas, then print each of them out when you are done).

2.1 Identify specific organisations you want to work for

You may have been in one organisation for so long that the world outside of that is unknown to you. Use your contacts, the internet and journals to find who else does the kind of work you want to be involved in. Find the names of actual businesses.

2.2 Generate more career options for yourself

Write down ten new career options. Ask yourself: ‘What else could I do? ’And if that doesn’t work, what else could I do? and so on.  Your previous job need not define who you are, so thinking beyond it may give you some new ideas. Share them with someone you trust and who will listen and encourage your thinking without ridiculing your ideas.

2.3 Review your ideal job and lifestyle

Draw your ideal job and lifestyle in one picture, even if you can’t draw. Stick figures are fine. See what emerges. Maybe it’s time to pursue your ideal job? It’s never too late.

2.4 Test some business ventures

Explore new business ventures. If you had to start three new businesses that you knew something about and would be keen to pursue, what are they? Design a brochure for each of them, then test them with a good friend who can ask you questions about them.

2.5 Use what you’ve got

Design ten ways to use what you already have at your disposal; your spare room, your laptop, your garden, your car, your hobby.

2.6 Consider taking your best skills into a completely different industry

Consider using your current skills in a new industry that fascinates you. If you’ve always been fascinated by aviation, or food, how could you sell your skills into that industry?

2.7 Be willing to earn less to get started

Consider jobs that pay less than you were earning, or want to earn, but get you into the workplace. Sitting at home for months unemployed is not good for your energy or enthusiasm to move on. It may also be a stepping-stone to other opportunities down the track.

2.8 Do some free work to get in the door

Consider free work for a short period of time. It will get you in the door, create new networks, be good for you psychologically and give you something to do while you hunt for a paid position.

I was involved in retrenching members of my own HR team as we merged with the larger bank. In walked a young lady, Thandeka.

‘I have just finished my HR diploma and wondered if you had a position for me?’ ‘You haven’t picked a great week to find a job here’ I explained: ‘We are in the process of letting a few people go’ ‘Oh, I know that’ she said. ‘But I imagine there will be some gaps when they go, I don’t need to be paid and I am very good at queries, managing personal files and spreadsheets. I also speak three languages. I just want to get some experience’

So, with a belt and braces contract, Thandeka joined us for two months with no pay and provided some valuable support. Then the credit control department wanted to ‘borrow’ her while someone went on maternity leave. She would be paid for that. Many months later she was offered a permanent position in a different part of the business. She may still be there today and I hope she is being paid very well, she deserves to be.

2.9 Try something entirely new

Find a different role in a field or industry that interests you. It doesn’t have to be your dream job. It doesn’t have to be at the same level as your previous job, but it gives you access to a new range of opportunities in a new industry.

2.10 Try some bartering

Where could you do some bartering, when you can offer something in return for support in finding work? Where could you provide some administrative support in exchange for office space once a week. Offer to do some marketing and connect with people as you develop your confidence.

2.11 Reverse into an old role

Consider the jobs you did in the past and that you were good at. Perhaps started your career in an administrative position where you were really good. There is nothing demeaning about doing good work while you explore other options.

2.12 Remember old dreams

Consider some of your old dreams. Did you always want to run a guesthouse? How about converting part of your home into an Airbnb?

2.13 Develop five business cards

A few years ago, we were supporting a retrenchment exercise in the shipping industry. One afternoon we were exploring self-employment alternatives that might run alongside job hunting efforts.

I introduced the concept of five business cards. After all, who said you had to do only one thing?

The room went silent and the creativity was palpable as they grabbed coloured crayons, packs of blank business cards. In the space of perhaps an hour each of them had created five different ways of earning an income. It included taxi services, samoosas, cupcakes, clothing alterations, wedding dresses, graphic design, running a guesthouse from home, just as a start. One participant’s daughter was getting married soon. We discovered that everyone in the room had some way of contributing to that whether it was transport, flowers, cup-cakes, financial planning and putting lights in the trees! We would have organised one great wedding, and weddings are big business.

Develop five business cards for yourself. Imagine that you had to do five things that earned you money. Who said you couldn’t do bookkeeping two days a week, run a mini-guesthouse by fixing up the outside room, offer sightseeing tours over the weekend, organise weddings, do handyman jobs around town, type documents, do design work on your computer, supply the best chocolate brownies to local coffee shops and so on.

2.14 Make a hobby pay

Consider converting a hobby into paid work.

In another project we were busy with, one of the ladies said: ‘If I had to start a business by Monday, I would sell more of my famous milk tarts. I have been making them to order for many years – it’s time to make money from this!’ And so, with calculator in hand, we broke down her costs to the cost of each egg and how long the oven was on. She discovered that she had been making milk tarts at a loss for years! It was costing her more to make them than she sold them for. Once we had done some better costing, she was set to go and may already have a thriving catering business.

2.15 Search online like you can have any job

Consider looking for jobs online with no constraints of age, qualifications and experience so that it’s fun. Follow searches that interest you and see what turns up. Just snoop, as we say.

2.16 Ask for ideas from people who know you

Ask people that know you well to tell you what you do well.

It’s easy to become so involved in one role that we forget what else we do well and can offer potential employers. Stay loose and write down their ideas. Consider them overnight before eliminating any because you are not good enough, don’t like doing that or find reasons why that doesn’t pay.

2.17 Approach previous employers

Consider contacting previous employers or clients who may have forgotten about you and let them know what you can do for them. They may need someone in the short term, which gives you time while you explore other opportunities.

2.18 Learn some entirely new skills

Consider learning a whole new set of skills, something you always wish you could do.

How could you learn something new without investing a huge amount of money?

What online course could you do? What online learning is free that you could access? Who could you learn from who is good at this?

2.19 Make a list, talk to someone

You should by now have a good starter pack of alternatives, at least twenty. If not, go back and list a few more. Ask people who know you what you do well, what else they consider you could do.  

Stage 3: Job hunting is your new job

Job hunting is a job all of its own, and it takes effort.

If you have been in sales and marketing this may come more naturally, but if this is entirely new to you, it can seem quite daunting and overwhelming.

Jobs aren’t always available because you are ready for them, and it often takes time to find someone who needs someone like you, even if you are very good at what you do.

This can be tough when your hope and your energy is low. It may take some extraordinary effort some days. You can easily become despondent and tired, even depressed and sick when it drags on and nothing seems to work.

This is not the time to run yourself into the ground, but rather to do one day at a time. And be kind to yourself as you do.

Here are some thoughts about staying with it, especially when it’s tough.

3.1 It’s a numbers’ game

My friend Wimpie, who is a successful business development executive, has this wonderful advice:

‘Raak besig!’ In English that translates into ‘Become busy!’

Job hunting is about becoming busy! No matter how much help you may be getting from your current employer, or agencies that are working to find you positions, or internet postings you are busy with or coaches that are supporting you, you have to get up every day and treat job hunting as your new job. Waiting for ads to appear may take a long time since many jobs are filled internally or through networks.

Sales teams are driven by the number of calls they make, every day. If you were being measured on number of calls you are making right now, how are you doing?

If you are waiting two weeks for an agency to get back to you, or you are waiting for job postings to deliver, you are not busy. You need to be connecting with people every day, even just one, even those that are only referrals, or writing notes to those that have helped you.

3.2 Move beyond barriers to employment

If you take every barrier seriously, you can get very despondent.

Remember that some people won’t need what you do. Or don’t need it now. Other jobs may be reserved for equity candidates, for people with disabilities, or require minimum qualifications. They are simply not yours.

Maybe you consider yourself too old. That is certainly a barrier with some employers, but not for others. My friend Craig, who is a director in a successful business, specially hires older people. His two most successful salesmen are 73 and 77 respectively. And they bring in huge amounts of business with good relationships and expertise in their field. One of them doesn’t want to drive, so they pay for him to have a driver.

You can see why this is a number game. If you only see three people and each of them says you’re too old, you simply haven’t met the people who regard your contribution more important than your age.

3.3 Be clear about what you want

Now this seems obvious, yet many people who are job hunting are looking for a job with only a vague idea of what they want, or no idea at all. ‘Something in finance…’ ‘A strategic role…’ ‘I want to add value…’, or even ‘A job in Cape Town’.  They leave it up to the other person to work out what role would suit them best.

Identify where you want to work, specifically. Where geographically do you want to live and work? How much travel are you willing to do? What industry do you want to work in, and how will you make an impact there? Which organisations specifically do you want to work for and why?

Then decide specifically what you can and want to do for them.

3.4 Have more than one strategy

You need more than one job-hunting strategy to give yourself the best chance.

The job market has changed and therefore so has job hunting. There are more people looking for work than there are advertised positions. There is huge move towards organisations looking for candidates using LinkedIn and other online sites. As a result, agencies are getting a smaller chunk of the pie than they were before and only have a handful of positions compared to the open market. That means you too need a broader strategy and more alternatives.

The days when a good CV and online profile was enough to have your phone ringing off the hook are gone. Many people end up disillusioned after spending huge amounts of money on a CV, their social media presence, expensive printed material they have mailed to many employers and got no response. And they cannot understand why. They job hunt like playing the lotto, and some people do win, but not too many. They then assume there is no market, or there is something wrong with them, blaming often their age, gender, race and the economy. That in turn translates into less confidence than ever.

I am not, even in the slightest way, suggesting you don’t need those. Do you need good CV? Yes! Do you need a professional online presence? Yes! Should you work with professional agencies that are willing to help you? Yes! But you also need an active marketing strategy that generates alternatives. More than ever before.

3.5 Connect with real people

Job hunting requires connecting with real people.

It doesn’t mean attending every business breakfast in town, but it does mean deciding who you need to connect with, who they can connect you with and how you can get a conversation with people who need someone like you.

The process of connecting with people means connecting with people, real people, in real conversations rather than relying exclusively on mails, written correspondence, social media and even the most helpful agencies you can find. That means actively following up with contacts, letting people know how they have helped you, sending thank you notes and doing what you say you will do.

It’s possible that you have everything an employer needs, but no-one knows about you and you are invisible. You don’t have to be gung-ho, be a smooth talker or have a flawless marketing pitch. You just have to become visible in your own authentic way.

Follow up on contacts. Just because they don’t need what you do now, doesn’t mean they may not need it in the future. People resign, die, retire. Companies also grow and have new needs.

Say thank you to people who help you, give you their time, give you the chance to meet with them, share information about their business if you have asked for information or advice. Write them a note, give them a call.

They say we all know 1000 people, and maybe that’s true. The people in your network can help you connect with people, who may know people who need someone like you.

Just because you have many thousands of people on your database or on social media doesn’t mean you have a network. A recent social media post likened having thousands of contacts on social media to being rich in the game of Monopoly.

Stop writing mails and start talking to people.

3.6 Go for no!

Many people avoid asking for work for fear of hearing the word ‘No’. And after three no’s they are ready to chuck it up.

Asking for work may take some humility as well as some resilience.

A friend of mine managed a large multinational call centre where agents were getting disillusioned getting so few yes’s! Then they implemented a goal system called ‘Go for no!’ The goal was to hit your NO target every hour rather than your YES goal.

Confidence went up, sales went up and they started having fun.

Maybe you can too.

3.7 Get yourself a Board of Directors

It may be helpful for you to get a Board of Directors, people that can direct you, give you advice, hear your ideas and become a sounding board for you.

Find people who won’t just feed you positive encouragement, but people who understand that success means finding work and who will challenge you and hold you accountable for the things you agree to do. Look for people who are not just ‘signposts’ but have actually been there.

3.8 Go beyond traditional job postings

Since the bulk of jobs are not advertised, developing contacts and looking after them will be critical.

Anyone in business development will know the value of relationships and the power of referrals.

With many salespeople wanting to beat down the door, the gift of a good referral is huge.

Dick Bolles[1] explains how employers prefer to fill vacancies, then shows how job hunters do exactly the opposite. It goes like this.

Employers start by employing people they already know and trust. When that doesn’t work, they may hire people who present themselves with evidence of what they do. When that doesn’t work, they ask their network if they know anybody. Only when that doesn’t work do they hire agencies, since those often come at a significant cost. If they don’t want to do that, they post advertisements online or in newspapers. The least favourite way of hiring people is responding to unsolicited CV’s received in the mail in brown envelopes addressed to ‘whoever it may concern’. It remains the least successful strategy of all time.

How do job hunters look for work? Well, they often start by sending out CV’s and get angry or disillusioned that no one even replies. When that doesn’t work, they search job ads. But since the bulk of jobs are not advertised, they may not find what they are looking for. So, they contact agencies who will tell them they don’t offer job hunting services, they serve their clients who are looking for candidates. And in any case, they only have the brief for a small number of jobs at a time. And so, they contact their friends, often with a vague description of what they want, telling them they are looking for job. So are a few million other people. Then they hit social media, posting all manner of things on Facebook, where people go for entertainment rather than to employ someone. Then they resort to messages and emails rather than connecting with real people.

Using online job platforms can be very powerful. Many corporations now use LinkedIn more often than agencies. But that means making sure your online profile is accurate and appealing and that you have opened the setting that says you are available.

3.9 Be flexible to opportunities

Historically a job was a ‘piece of work’ not a job that was permanent.

So, stay open to short term contracts, single projects and even free work that allows you to make a difference, meet people, demonstrate the value you can add and build new confidence as you do.

That may mean doing work you didn’t first envisage, but that helps you get going. And those may lead to other opportunities you may not have envisaged either!

3.10 Be a gift

As you begin to job hunt, there is the danger of becoming a ‘beggar’ where your attitude and your approach is ‘please help me and give me a job’.

How would it be if you changed that approach to offering a gift, wrapped in a beautiful box with a bow. The conversation then becomes ‘here is what I can offer you, do you need a gift like this? And if not, do you know someone who might?’ That changes both your mindset and your energy as you do that.

And if the answer is NO, it merely means they don’t need it, or don’t need it now, or can’t afford it, or can’t afford it now. Or maybe they don’t like the bearer of the gift, that’s possible too. Not everyone has to love you.

3.11 Determine working hours

Imagine if you had a job and only pitched every couple of days, then took off for a week, then again pitched briefly before hitting the shopping mall, you would surely be fired.

See your job hunt as a regular job. You needn’t have a five-day week, or an 8-hour day, but it needs to be structured and regular. Short spurts of good work are better than long days of drudgery.

3.12 Make sure your CV says what you want

Job hunting is a combined skill of making sense of what you are good at, re-inventing yourself as often as you need to, and finding people who need someone like you.

Your CV on its own is not enough to find work, but it’s still an essential part of your toolkit.

Make sure your CV has a clear objective, shows how your experience contributes to that and how the kind of person you are makes you a good candidate. Avoid relying on qualifications, personal attributes like ‘reliable’ and ‘hardworking’ rather than telling employers specifically how you can help them.

If you need more help, see my article titled ‘Is your CV sabotaging you?’

 3.13 Stay in touch with potential employers

Stay in touch with people. Don’t expect a single visit to result in job offers.

They say people only buy after the 7th contact. If that’s true, then surely one contact is not enough.

Many years ago, we employed a lovely couple who ran a carpet cleaning business. They did a fantastic job at our home and were great to have around. I encouraged them to call us perhaps every six months since we had a few dogs and would certainly need their services again. But nothing we did could convince them to keep contact with us. We knew they were struggling to keep their business going, so all they had to do was phone and we would give them work. They never did, and I guess didn’t do that with any of their other clients either.

And then one fine month, we tried to contact them and they had gone out of business.

3.14 Taking charge of your job hunt

You are responsible for finding work, no matter what assistance you get from your employer, agencies, friends and contacts.

‘Once a person is determined to help themselves there is nothing that can stop them’ said Nelson Mandela.

If you had a formal job, you would have a clear job description, so there is no reason you shouldn’t have one now.

Here are some ideas for your new job description:

  • Look after your energy, every day
  • Activate or re-active your network. Do this proactively  and continue doing this. Don’t wait until you are jobless and desperate for help
  • Write a CV with an objective so what you can offer is clear
  • Use a range of job-hunting methods to create alternatives
  • Connect with potential employers in a direct way ‘Are you looking for someone like me?’
  • Get in the door. Even if it’s not your ideal job, or the pay is not great, get your name out there and show what you can do.
  • Keep contact with people you have seen. Send thank you notes. And remember the job that isn’t available now may be later. Make sure they can find you when they need you.
  • Pace yourself. One activity a day is better than taking a few weeks off then getting so exhausted you take more time off until the feeling passes.
  • Say thank you to people who help you, give you their time, give you the chance to meet with them or share information about their business if you have asked for information or advice. Write them a note, give them a call. Drop off a few of your famous chocolate brownies.
  • Follow up on contacts. Just because they don’t need what you do now, doesn’t mean they may not need it in the future. People resign, die and retire. Companies also grow and have new needs.
  • Keep track of your job hunt. Maintain a record of who you have seen, when you saw them, when you followed that up or sent a note, who they referred you too and when you saw them. That way you can measure your activity and progress.
  • Buy a copy of What Color is your parachute by R.N. Bolles. It’s my favourite career book and also the best-selling job hunting book in the world, for good reason.
  • Use a number of job-hunting strategies. Connect with agencies that support your particular line of work. Use the internet without expecting it to do the work for you. Activate your network and let them know, specifically, what you are looking for. Then get out there and do some direct marketing to employers that interest you.
  • Go to work every day. At a guesthouse I stayed in a few years ago, there was a chalkboard I saw in the kitchen that read: ‘Move forwards. Or move backwards. Just move’. You have to keep moving. Paul Tournier, the French physician said: ‘God guides us while we are on the way, not while we are standing still’. And Albert Einstein famously said; ‘Nothing changes until something moves’
  • Be kind to yourself and climb the ladder one rung at a time. No double steps. Have both feet on a rung before you take the next one. It takes time and moving faster or becoming stressed doesn’t make more progress.
  • When you wake up, get up!
  • Consider being self-employed, even if only for a while. Being self-employed means having more than one employer. Then do what you can with what you have. It can not only increase your confidence but also help you develop some job-hunting skills. You may even find you like it.

3.15 How to look good and fail

We did a wonderful exercise on a workshop I attended many years ago. We were considering what it took to set up a business.

It went like this: ‘What would you do if you wanted to look successful, but were sure to fail? Many of the ideas that came out of that were immensely valuable to me over the years and prevented us from spending huge amounts of cash on things that didn’t add value.

Let’s ask the question in relation to job hunting:

‘What would you do if you wanted to look like you were job hunting successfully, but were sure to fail?’

Here is a starter list of things to do, add a few of your own and have some fun. Then decide what you need to do differently.

  • Don’t tell anyone you are looking for work, not even your family. They already have enough problems of their own.
  • Act like nothing is wrong and avoid asking anyone for help.
  • Don’t exercise, since that’s far too much effort and there is no point in dying of a heart attack from overdoing it.
  • Eat food that makes your feel lethargic or lets you down soon. Lots of sugar, high-caffeine energy drinks are on the list.
  • Make sure you get very little mental stimulation. Videos, channel surfing and hours on the internet will do the trick if you keep it up.
  • Mix only with the friends who love misery, at least they will understand you. You can then talk about what a disaster this economy is and how unfair the whole system is.
  • Seek advice from armchair critics who tell you why your approach is wrong without offering you a better one, or people that are overly positive and suggest that all things come to those who wait, and that you are out of work for a reason….
  • Wait for something to happen rather than make things happen.
  • Take advice from people who know all the answers but they’ve never been there themselves.
  • Send out 100 CVs in brown envelopes to people you’ve never met. Get someone to construct them for you, then relax while they do their magic.
  • Contact agencies and wait for them to contact you.
  • Take a few months off to relax and start job hunting when you are well rested. 

Stage 4: Managing your money

At a time of emotional turmoil, the combination of impulsiveness and low energy can put your cash at risk.

Having no money is stressful. It can affect your confidence, make you negative, feel hopeless, and can even make you ill. You may have received a package to tide you over, but the stress of watching it dwindle with no work on the horizon is not fun and robs you of the energy you need to look for work which then puts more pressure on your finances.

We asked a few people what advice they had about managing money when they lost their jobs and put together this list. I am not a financial advisor, so this is not intended to override or replace any advice you get from accredited financial professionals.

This is also a time to beware of armchair advisors who have all the answers gleaned from a few articles they’ve read. Or those who know all the answers, they just haven’t done it themselves. But they know it will work! Others will help you get rich quickly if you would just give them your provident fund to invest. This is not the time to take financial risks you have not thought through and haven’t sought advice on.

With that in mind, here are some things you may want to consider:

  • Work out how many months your package will last rather than just holding you head and feeling guilty every time you go to the supermarket or fill the petrol tank of your car
  • Avoid impulsive purchases that make yourself feel better but which you cannot afford ‘Oh, what the hell….’ you say, ‘You only live once!’
  • Avoid buying the first franchise you can find and for which you may be wholly unsuited, check it out and make sure it is right for you and that it can fly.
  • Avoid renovating the kitchen you’ve been putting off for twenty years as a way of filling your time since you have a lump sum for the first time in many years.
  • Re-assess your budget and see where you can save money till your income is more sustainable.
  • Determine what expenses can be put on hold for a period of time.
  • Negotiate reduced payments on accounts. Make agreed regular payments on accounts even if they are small, rather than ignoring them. They don’t go away just because you don’t think about them, in fact they push your stress levels up every time you think about them or check the post box.
  • Guard against impulse spending by ‘quickly’ doing that cruise or changing the car while you have some cash, unless you have significant reserves that do not put your livelihood at risk.
  • Understand your options on pension and provident funds. It is not called retirement funding by accident and you may live longer than you think. Avoid spending this cash and find a reputable financial advisor to help you invest it wisely. Be careful of get-rich-quick schemes that offer double the return of investments available in financial markets.
  • Have fun saving money, making meals at home, watching videos you already have, lighting fires, going for walks with a picnic rather than eating out, going to the movies on 50% days and looking for entertainment that’s free.
  • Provide yourself with some treats as you meet milestones. It may be a simple meal out, taking advantage of ‘specials’ on certain days of the week. Or take a trip to the airport to do plane spotting.
  • Decide how to invest or look after your financial package while you look for work. Before committing to anything, be sure to do all your homework so you don’t get into trouble by making decisions without having all the facts. You could end up investing money you can’t access if you need it or having it all in your current account so it quickly disappears.
  • When investing money, talk to someone that specializes in this field rather than fall for schemes that are too good to be true. They probably are.
  • Discuss your money plans with people in your life. That could be your spouse, partner or best friend. Sometimes talking about it and getting a second opinion can help put things into perspective and make a clearer picture in your own mind of whether the choices you are making are beneficial or not.
  • Do some research on what benefits you are entitled to when you are unemployed. That includes UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) or policies you have that may cover you for retrenchment or loss of income.

Remember that the purpose of managing your money is to help you get out there and find work! Figure out what you need to do to solve the problem and not just live in a terrible financial situation till it drags you down and makes you ill.

They say no money in the bank focuses the mind. Use that focus to stay with the goal and find work.

Go for it and all the best!


©Andrew Bramley, Career Warriors. All Rights Reserved, 2019.

[1] Bolles, R.N. What Color is your parachute. Ten Speed Press

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