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Job Search - Avoiding a Personal Bailout

Tim Tyrell-Smith

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Whether you are looking for a job today or fear the possibility of needing to dust off your resume involuntarily in the near future, you need to be conscious of the financial risks. Those risks need to be a driving force in your feeling a sense of urgency toward creating and proactively executing your job search strategy.

The reality is that being out of work is full of ups and downs. The ups include the excitement of proving yourself in an interview and the possibility that your search will end in that perfect position (great boss, more $ and a really short commute). The downs can be staggering and painful to accept - especially if you have been employed for most if not all of your career. So, is it possible that your personal finances could get so bad during transition that you need to bail yourself out?

What would be the equivalent of a Wall Street Bailout in your house? How bad could it get and is it really possible?

Here's the set up:

1. You are a popular and well-thought of (insert title here) at your company. You've been there a year and have made good progress in helping your business unit grow and become more profitable. While not well off, you live comfortably and have some savings (let's say you have 2 months worth of salary).

2. One surprising spring morning, a press release hits your desk announcing a partnership with one of your biggest competitors. Hmmm. Well, you say, that should be interesting.

3. A day later, during an impromptu meeting, you learn that your company is being acquired by your competitor (who happens to be bigger and stronger).

4. Despite a real threat, you make the confident assumption that your role is vital to the company and the odds of your being “released" at some point is unlikely.

5. You clear the first round of cuts, quietly “high-fiving" others not on the separation list.

6. One month later, cut # 2 comes and you are walked down a hallway where your boss and the HR representative share the news of your separation. You are offered two weeks for every year worked (you've worked one). Lucky for you, the company has a minimum severance of 8 weeks - it starts Monday.

7. Monday AM you are sitting at the kitchen table in your pajamas, shaking your head. You turn on the computer and look for two things. The list of recruiters you worked with 12-15 months ago and the bookmarks you hope you saved for all those job search engines. You set up alerts on Monster and Yahoo!Hot Jobs and review a few keyword search results. You call and leave messages for the 3-4 recruiters who called you back last year.

8. Monday PM, after the kids are asleep, you and your spouse have a positive and optimistic discussion about what comes next, how you'll work together “to make it through this".

So when does the bailout become necessary?

During the next 8 weeks you get your resume updated, re-write last year's cover letter, continue trying to contact recruiters, continue pecking away on your laptop waiting for that magic job alert to hit your in box. The truth is 8 weeks is not a long time in the job search world - especially in a tough economy. Even if you landed an interview on day 1, it can take up to 8 weeks to get through two to three rounds of interviews.

During the next 4 weeks you come to terms with real budgeting now that not only are you out of severance but you are also now paying the cost of your prior company's medical plan. Where does this money come from? In some form, assuming you do not have Hank Paulson as your father-in-law, you will need to borrow money or spend your emergency savings.

During the next four weeks, next four weeks, next four weeks - If your search, despite valiant efforts, continues beyond the value of your severance, your emergency savings and your initial borrowing, what next? You've got a 401k, right? A line of credit with a few thousand left on it? This is the kind of bailout that we all want to avoid.

If you are a working professional, what are the lessons of this scenario?

1. Never assume that you and your company will never part and always have yourself ready in case things change. In this legal climate of “at will" hiring, it is smart and not disloyal to be prepared.

2. Keep all of your personal documents updated at least twice per year. This includes your resume, cover letter, list of references, biography, one page summary, personal business cards.

3. Stay in touch with your references and make sure they are aware of cool things you are doing at work. It will make it easier for them to support you down the road.

4. Take recruiter calls and do the best you can to help provide only solid and relevant candidate references.

5. Maintain your network even when you don't have to do so.

6. If you can (tougher today), qualify for and take out a home equity line on your house. Get as much as you can and don't spend any of it. This is harder to do once you are unemployed.

7. If you sense that something is not right - you are hearing rumblings - start your silent search. This includes a more aggressive engagement of your personal network as well as identifying upcoming local networking events, discussions with a few trusted recruiters, the updating of your online network profiles. Google yourself and determine how strong your brand is online.

8. Build your job search strategy now instead of waiting for an announcement.

OK, so that's the “scared straight" perspective. Please, please, please do not assume that it takes 3 months to find work. It may and I hope yours is successful in that timeframe. It may take 6 months or more.

Be proactive, have a sense of urgency about your search effort and give your network all the tools they need to help you. While you may not completely avoid the bailout, you can anticipate the financial pressures, plan for them and have a strategy to succeed.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is a veteran consumer packaged goods marketing executive with a passion for ideas and strategy. He writes the blog Spin Strategy™ - Tools for Intelligent Job Search, a new efficiency-based job search strategy and tool set that is based on the concept of “plate-spinning". It helps place the right efforts against the right resources to maximize the return in job search. He created Spin Strategy in 2007 after coming out of his own job search experience with a desire to share his new found methodology with anyone needing support in finding that next great role.

You can view Tim's blog at


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