Oh No!" to Opportunity - Surviving the Pink Slip

Guest post by Diane Danielson

Slips happen. Specifically, pink slips happen to good people. It's a fact of life. Some of the most successful leaders have been fired or passed over for promotions. Take Andrea Jung, now CEO of Avon. Despite her achievements as the company's COO, she was initially passed over for the top job. And how about Oprah, who early on in her career was taken off the air in Baltimore and told she wasn't a good fit for television as an anchorwoman? Goodbye news, hello talk shows! Heck, if she had buried her head in the sand or moved to an even smaller metropolitan market, half of us wouldn't have known what to read for our book clubs.

When the unthinkable happens to you (yes, we could have said "if," but really, it happens to everyone), you've got options. You can (a) sit there at your desk muttering and squeezing a stress ball until the veins on your forehead pop out; (b) bawl to anyone who will listen; (c) initiate intensive chocolate or retail therapy; or (d) step right up to the table and start talking. Sure, (a), (b), and (c) may feel good for a while. But (a) and (b) won't pay the rent (or even pay for tickets to the play "Rent.") And (c) will just leave you feeling bloated or broke, and definitely guilty.

No one's suggesting that you don't have the right to sing the blues a little. In fact, it's a good idea to vent to a friend or significant other and engage in some self-therapy right after the catastrophe. Otherwise, you may waste time with your valuable networking contacts lamenting over the past instead of ramping up for your future. Spend a few days getting over your anger, hurt, and disappointment, and finding a few positives (things you learned while in that job or with that client; things you can do to ensure that you avoid similar catastrophes; or even appreciating the gift of time to pursue a pipe dream). With all that out of the way, you can now regroup, face the world, and do something about your situation. 
Shift gears into job hunt mode by first calling a brainstorming session with friends, mentors, former colleagues, etc. You can even ask close contacts to review your resume for editorial suggestions (an easy, non-intrusive way to slip someone your resume and have it proofread). This is also the time when you need to start building your job-hunting strategy, which will serve as a guide to keep you focused and make it easy for others to help you. 

With your strategy in place, it's time to make things happen by networking both efficiently and effectively. The following is a list of some simple things to try that can help you network your way back onto the career track. 

1. Get specific. Use your initial brainstorming sessions to develop a clear picture or idea of what you want to do. Better yet, find a company you'd like to work for or an individual whose job you've been lusting after for years. Convey these specifics to your contacts. While you may think this will limit the input you receive, you'll find that it really doesn't. Instead, it gives people a tangible idea of what you want. Most of the time, your contacts will come up with relevant alternative suggestions. 

2. Think back. What if you have no idea what you want to do now or you're considering changing careers? Think back to three interesting and fun projects that you've done in any part of your life (professional and personal). This could include running a church fund-raiser, mentoring a young employee, coaching your child's soccer team, or giving a major presentation. Write down the aspects of the projects you liked, the skills you used or developed, and why the projects were successful. Generally, a common thread appears that might give you some new ideas about a career direction. You also might be surprised by how different those projects are from your current career path.

3. Listen up. Still stumped as to whether to pursue your current path or make a major change in career direction? Think about what you like to do in your spare time. Is it mountain biking alone in the wilds or participating in a team sport? If you enjoy the camaraderie of the latter, then maybe freelancing on your own is not the best fit. Listen to your own personal likes and dislikes for career clues. Still perplexed? Turn to trusted, appropriate contacts and ask, "What do you see me doing?" If nine out of 10 people think you should be in sales rather than accounting, then maybe, just maybe, they might be on to something. 

4. Open wide. Don't dismiss the wild and wacky idea out of hand. Have an open mind! We often tend to like what we know. But by trying something new, something outside your comfort zone, you could find a whole new set of skills you never knew you had. Consider the job hunt as your own personal excellent adventure, with interesting people and surprising plot twists, and the possibility of a happy ending for all. 

5. Follow up. Follow up with every individual whose name has been provided to you by a contact. Even if it seems like a dead end. You never know whom else that new person might know. But this is where having a clear job-hunting objective comes in handy, because following up with a bunch of random and unfocused contacts is time-consuming. However, the alternative is not attractive. For example, if you don't appear interested, or fail to follow up on someone's suggestions, why would that person ever give you another name, suggest that someone else give you a name, or even listen for opportunities that might appeal to you? Some simple job-hunting rules of etiquette include:

§ Follow up in the way your contact requests -- via phone, e-mail, whatever.
§ When e-mailing a new contact, make the subject line crystal clear and include the name of the person who referred you. That way your e-mail won't be considered spam and will show that you respect your new contact's time.
§ When sending a resume by e-mail, put your full name in the name of the document. That way when people detach it to save on their network or hard drive, or forward it along to another person, it is easily identifiable as your resume.

§ Make it easy for new contacts to follow-up with you by having personal business cards. Inexpensive ones are available on-line and can simply contain your relevant contact information. However, it's even better to add a brief skill description, like "marketing consultant," "computer sales," or "technical writer/editor." You can even have several different versions tailored to the different avenues you're pursuing.

6. Follow through. If you're going to start networking for a job, you must be physically and mentally prepared to act on suggestions given by other people. It's not a good idea to ask for someone's help two days before you set sail on a two-week Caribbean cruise; or if you're still lying in bed, surrounded by balled up tissues and take-out menus, watching Lifetime, and moaning, "Why me?"

7. Don't forget to say "thank you." If you follow-up with a lead, send thank you's to both your original and your new contact. Depending on how close you are to your original contact, you can express your gratitude verbally or via e-mail. Your new contact should be thanked by letter or handwritten note. We know of one job hunter who secured a job by hand-delivering a thank you note later the same day. An e-mail is also okay in certain situations like when immediate follow-up is required. 

Above all, focus on the positive throughout the new process. Remember the things you like about yourself, how far you've come, and all the hurdles you've already surmounted in life. Take pleasure in making new connections and thinking about your new direction. It's exciting! Look in the mirror in the morning and do a little dance. Why? Because enthusiasm - and the doldrums - are contagious. Oozing excitement rather than leaking the blues will make you more of an asset to the people and businesses you're reaching out to - and if you force it a little in the beginning, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

The above article is based on an excerpt from Table Talk: The Savvy Girl's Alternative to Networking by Diane K. Danielson and Rachel Solar-Tuttle,(1stBooks, 2003 Reprinted with permission.)