What To Do When You Lose Your Job

What it is, where it is, and how to get it. Plus: how to make a layoff pay off, recharge your resume, and use the hardest-working websites.

By Cathie Gandel and Hilary Sterne
Additional reporting by Neena Samuel and Kathryn M. Tyranski from Reader's Digest | March 2009

When to Hire a Career Coach

“Being laid off is a fact of business today,” says Elaine Varelas of Keystone Partners. “It’s not personal.” But that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a shock. Career coaches can help you navigate almost everything: handling emotions, defining skills and goals, and even adapting to a new workplace.

When you’re competing with top talent, the old saying is even more important: You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. “That’s why it’s important to have your act together,” says Bettina Seidman. “A career coach can help you do it right the first time.” That includes working with you to hone your two-minute pitch so you can quickly and effectively describe yourself and your accomplishments, prepping you for the interview, and proofreading your résumé to catch the typos that can torpedo your chances.

“You can get a lot of information on the Web or in books,” says Cheryl Lynch Simpson. “But a coach can help you apply that information to your situation and work with you to create your unique ‘brand.’ ”

Before you sign on with a coach, ask for his or her credentials and check the bio and client information, advises Anita Attridge. Also, “ask to contact previous clients.”

There is no governing body that certifies coaches. The Career Management Alliance and Career Directors International (careerdirectors.com) have directories, but the best way to find someone is through word of mouth, says Simpson. And experience is more important than certification. Some coaches charge up-front fees that range from $5,000 to $20,000. Hourly fees run between $100 and $500. Clients looking to change jobs may need four to six hours; to change careers, 10 to 14 hours; to get performance coaching, three to six months. “Make sure the coach doesn’t insist you start from scratch if you have already done some of the footwork,” Attridge says.

How to Use Career-Matching Sites
Maybe that job you just lost wasn’t really right for you in the first place. Maybe now is the time to evaluate your true interests and the jobs that might match up with them. You can start with these online aids.

  • profiler.com—Artifacts conservator or airline mechanic? This site uses the reputable Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, a 320-question multiple-choice test, to winnow nearly 60 occupations and find the best bets for you, using the responses of people employed in those fields as a metric. Cost: $18—and worth it if you’re looking for any and all clues to self-knowledge.
  • vocationvacations.com—These guys will arrange for you to spend a weekend-at a cost of several hundred to a few thousand dollars-with someone who does exactly what you think you might want to do, whether that’s acting or alpaca farming. Profiles introduce the mentors-an archaeologist, a landscape designer, a dog trainer, or a coffeehouse owner, to name a few of the 150-plus possibilities—and describe what you’ll do together.

How Long Will It Take You to Get Back to Work

You may need three months to get an entry-level position, but landing an executive spot may require a six- to twelve-month search, says Cheryl Lynch Simpson. In fact, one popular rule of thumb suggests you should expect to search one to two months for every $10,000 in salary you want (a $50,000 job could mean a five- to ten-month hunt). Employers are taking their time. In past years, they were willing to fast-track hiring before competitors could snatch up the best candidates, says Michael Erwin of career builder.com. But now employers scrutinize applicants in several rounds of interviews before investing money and manpower to train them.

The good news is that you likely don’t have to pack your bags and move across several states to find work; hiring rates are about the same around the country. Age can be a plus too. “With the 55-plus set retiring, you’re going to see a focus on bringing many of these people back on a temporary or flexible schedule so they can teach the younger generation,” says Erwin.

Your E-Portfolio/Website

Sometimes a paper résumé is just so 20th-century. Thanks to hosting sites like visualcv.com, coroflot.com, and carbonmade.com, you don’t have to be tech-savvy to create a digital résumé or e-portfolio. And you control access, unlike with a personal website. Start with your résumé, then add supporting information-examples of your work, sales charts, published articles, letters of recommendation, images, or videos. “It’s an opportunity to build your personal brand,” says Pierce Resler of VisualCV.

Studies show that hiring managers and recruiters Google many job seekers to see their online presence. If you’re considering creating a personal website, reserve your domain name today, says Randall Hansen. (Try godaddy.com or register.com. You’ll pay as little as $9.99 a year.)

Powering Up Your Resume

Career coach Elaine Varelas has a simple “so what?” test that she thinks every line of a résumé should pass: “If you say, ‘I managed six people,’ ask yourself, ‘So what?’ But saying ‘I managed six people with no turnover’ does answer the question. Résumés are all about results.”

You’ll also want to use strong, specific action verbs to highlight your results. “Worked, for instance, is a weak and overused word,” says Randall Hansen. “Use collaborated or led.” Here are a few more verbs that can help put the action back into your job search:

  • accelerated
  • accomplished
  • collaborated
  • constructed
  • created
  • designed
  • developed
  • devised
  • drafted
  • established
  • expanded
  • formulated
  • generated
  • implemented
  • improved
  • initiated
  • launched
  • managed
  • negotiated
  • operated
  • presented
  • produced
  • streamlined
  • supervised
  • tracked
  • wrote

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