Fear and Uncertainty in Pittsburgh International (but the flight was great!)

I interviewed for a consulting job Thursday at their Pittsburgh headquarters.

First, MY FEET ARE KILLING ME. My black “fashion” boots with two inch heels look great but after two miles (it seemed) of walking, I was considering mugging a teen for her Yukluks.

The teen was spared when I found the Southwest Airlines waiting area and sat across from three women of middle-age.   They wore nearly identical navy suits (one had pink on the collar). They carried similar purses and computers and overnight bags, wore sensible shoes, and their hair of various styles had been sprayed so well that a Chicago wind would not have disturbed a follicle.

They appeared unaware of my observation, because their eyes never left their Blackberries  while they talked to each other.

Then I realized with growing unease…. They were CONSULTANTS.

I had just interviewed for a consulting role for which I would travel often.  I’m waiting for the final word from my interviewers. If my feet (now healing) and my patience survive, however, the big question remains:


I carry a sparkly purple wallet inside my conservative travel bag. I pulled it out and whispered, “At least I have you.” But the power of the purple seemed weak in comparison to the aura of similar pink lipsticks.

Perhaps I just had a horrible flashback to the seventies, but I am…. afraid….

Corporate Alumni Groups Offer More Than Memories

I am not a fan of reunions, listening to someone recount glory days from 20 years ago and asking, ‘Whatever happened to…” However, workers are taking a cue from the school reunion notebook and forming corporate alumni groups. Originally apprehensive, I have been pleasantly surprised at the results.

Forming a group makes sense. When you work 50-plus hours a week with folks, you form bonds.  Layoffs, transitions, and time have scattered my GE colleagues but we still love to get together for drinks and catch up. Then someone decided to make it a tad more organized and formed what eventually became known as the Signature Network on LinkedIn.

The Signature Network, named after the company GE acquired and transformed, includes pre-GE and post-GE employees. Vince Mazza is executive vice president of MH Equity, chairman of Brentwood Financial, and the unofficial organizer of the group.

While it started as a gathering for current or former employees, “the network is for anybody as long as there is no spam,” Vince explained. “We welcome anyone who is making a job transition , creating a business opportunity, offering a new product or new service, or just wants to be social. ”

“We like meeting new people and talking about new ideas. People have also found jobs through the contacts they made in the group,” Vince said.

Gatherings are held in major cities across America, from California and Texas to New York and Illinois. There are nearly 500 members on LinkedIn. Vince estimates 30 percent are former or current employees.

It took me a few years after my layoff to actually attend a Signature event. I had been a Signature intern, then a GE employee at the Signature business (renamed Partnership Marketing Group) for eight years. So why did it take me so long to join others for  a food, drinks and chat? I’ll be honest here.

  • Thought others would think I’m a loser. I’ve been through three layoffs and still looking for regular full-time work in corporate communications. I had no idea how common my dilemma was, though, until I talked to those in the same boat.
  • I was afraid no one would remember me. I worked behind-the-scenes on many communications projects, but I didn’t give myself enough credit.  Also, the smiles of folks who didn’t know me were just as warm. 

Corporate alumni groups are growing.  Some are organized and supported by the company itself. Deloitte’s alumni network includes its own website and passwords for former employees.  Others are formed by employees and range from the formal to coffee meet-and-greets. Anyhow it’s done, the connections you make and maintain can be beneficial even years down the line. 

How to Join:  look for The Signature Network in the Groups Directory on LinkedIn.

Regrets? Insecurity? Time to Clean House

I have talked to several career coaches. They all had different work styles, systems, and approaches, but they were consistent on one key fact: the most successful job hunters are also positive thinkers.

Ok, breathe. Yes, the job market is horrible. Yes, there are far more highly qualified people than jobs at the moment. And that helps us…. how?

I do have one solution to getting those negative feelings out, though. Clean up.

I’m not a neatnik. Heck, dust bunnies hold a regional conference behind my bed every winter. But the day after my layoff, I decided my closet was fair game. When ALL the closets were cleaned and organized, I felt better.

I’ve talked to a lot of women who have said the same thing. (Men just looked at me, puzzled, but feel free to speak up). So what’s the connection between cleaning and career searches?

I watch Clean House on the Style Network. A family of pseudo-hoarders get a little armchair counseling while a design team and clean up crew give them a fresh start. No matter the reason why we are hunting for work, we also need a fresh start, free from the cobwebs and stains that taunt us. They can include:

Regrets. “I wish I had…” “I should have done….” “I should never have….”

Anger. One networking group gives a new person 2 minutes to vent. After that, the rule is no venting or complaining–ever.   “We learned from experience that it wasn’t productive to let someone whine for long,” explained the group’s leader.  “We are a supportive network of job seekers with a goal to look ahead, not behind.”

Stir in insecurity, resentment and fear, and you have a real mess. So what is the psychological equivalent to bleach?

  • Experts state that physical activity activates endorphins that help us feel, if not great, then at least better than before.  
  • Tackling a small project successfully inspires a feeling of accomplishment.
  • Doing something mundane helps the brain to mull things over, to daydream and work out issues without interruption.

Essentially, a lot of us could use a small project that requires some level of physical activity while allowing the brain time to sort things out.  

My theory only goes so far, I admit. My husband could lose 10 jobs and still never be inclined to address the disaster he kindly calls a basement.

How to Avoid Poisoning Your Job Search

Perhaps one of the toughest aspects of job hunting is maintaining your energy when the hunt stretches out from weeks to months. After a while, cynicism and bitterness threaten to replace enthusiasm and determination.

Rejection is just part of the recruiter’s job . For 25 years, Michael Grillo has placed engineers and technical management in nearly every industry, in both up and down economic times.

There is a way to resist the bitterness and resentment that can creep up during a job hunt. “I face this in my recruiting efforts every day,” Mike said. “But look at each opportunity as a new opportunity and a new challenge.”

“For example, one day I called this company for the 30th time. They had said no every time I had called previously. But this time, the HR person asked me to help him find a welding engineer. I said I would love the opportunity! That call began what became a long-term successful relationship.”

It’s important to treat every call as if it’s your first, he said, meaning that you should exude the same confidence and humor in the afternoon that you felt when the day first began.

Bitterness has a way of leeching into our tone of voice, our comments, even whether or not we believe what others say. “Keep in mind the other person you encounter cannot understand your bitterness,” he cautioned.

“Some people and some meetings will be short lived: a one-time encounter, a 5 minute meeting. Chance encounter or regular engagement, though, stay positive. Keep negative thoughts to yourself,” he said.

Motivational Speaker Jim Rohn once said, “Learn how to turn frustration into fascination. You will learn more being fascinated by life than you will be being frustrated by it.”

Replace the word ‘frustration’ with bitterness and you get the message.

As Mike explained, “I always keep in mind that, whether it’s people, situations or leadership, something always changes.”  The job that didn’t seem right last week might have been altered, or the position that was frozen might be re-opened next month.

Don’t allow bitterness prevent you from seeing the changes and being able to respond appropriately.

Take the job that’s offered? Or pursue the job that fits?

The bills are piling up and you have an offer. It might be flawed, requiring that you compromise on salary, benefits or advancement. Or you  just have the nagging feeling that it isn’t right for you. But beggars can’t be choosy—right?

In the nine months between her job loss and landing at a Fortune 100 Corporation, Jennifer* turned down two job offers in the hopes of finding the ‘right fit.’

After her layoff, “I made a decision, and it wasn’t an easy decision, to take only the job that was right for me,” she said.

Staying true to that decision was tough, especially as her funds dried up. However, “I learned that I had the strength of mind—strength of character–to get through this,” she said.

Jennifer mentioned the job offers to subsequent interviewers. She believed her honesty demonstrated integrity.

Her interviewers must have agreed with her. She now has a significant role in a company that is growing despite the economic downturn.

I used to think that turning down a job offer was more ego than sense. After talking to Jennifer, I see that allowing a company to invest time and money in me until I find something better could also be a matter of ego.

Both parties benefit only if everyone agrees the arrangement is temporary. Perhaps that reasoning is contributing to the growing reliance on contractors.

Jennifer’s Tips:

  • Don’t limit yourself to what ‘networking’ means or what it should look like.
  • Networking is hard because there is no immediate gratification.
  • Getting the word out is essential. Don’t overlook your friends, or assume you know who they know. “I mentioned my job search to my girlfriend and she said, ‘Oh, I know someone in human resources at that company.’ I had no idea.”
  • Talk to everyone you meet. The woman at the dry cleaners isn’t in your industry, “But she handles the suits of executives and might have a useful contact,” she said.

*Some details have been omitted for privacy.

13 Job Hunting Tips that Work

I rarely use the word ‘inspirational’ to describe someone, especially when discussing job hunting. However, I met someone at a networking event who had lost his job after many years in the same industry. No matter what his job search had been like that month, Dave still managed to buoy everyone else in the networking group with his positive convictions.

After Dave landed his next job, he returned to the networking group to encourage us and share some of his favorite job hunting tips. I keep the list by my computer and refer to it regularly. 

  1. Get in touch and stay in touch with yourself and your family—both mentally and spiritually. 
  2. Write your goals down. Post your target re-employment date.  You’re more likely to achieve your goals if you set them and keep them before you at all times.
  3. Establish a compelling value proposition. What do you offer that will help solve their problems?
  4. Spend 90 minutes per day maximum at the computer. The best results come from actually talking to people, which goes along with the next point:
  5. Network your fool head off.  Keep your name before people so that, when an opportunity does come up, you immediately come to mind.
  6. Apply for a job after you have an internal contact.
  7. Learn, learn, learn (library, Toastmasters, LinkedIn, Yahoo groups, Tweet, blogs)
  8. Be good to yourself.  But this isn’t permission to overindulge or throw a pity party.
  9. Join or form an accountability group.
  10. Resist a rut. Try one new career search technique every week.
  11. Volunteer
  12. Rest and recharge weekly.
  13. Finally, ask for the order. That’s sales talk for asking the interviewer, “When do I start?” It sounds pushy—so what?

Losing a job can be frightening because it’s a loss of control.  However, as Dave points out, “While you can’t control when you land, you can control how long you search, how you search, and where you search.”   I hope the staff that he manages now finds him as encouraging as I do.

An email from God gives me a crazy idea

God sent me an email today.

The sender name was “God” and evidently wants me to buy his products.   Obviously this was spam. But sometimes even email that doesn’t interest you can provide a door to a job opportunity.

Since I request white papers and manuals online, I end up on various email lists.  The senders assume I still work for a medium to large company and invite me to attend conferences or listen to sales pitches.

I used to delete these emails because I’m unemployed. Today I did something different.

A salesperson at a company I admire requested that I listen to his pitch.  I am aware that I am just one of possibly hundreds receiving the email.  Instead of tossing it, though, I sent a thank you note. 

I apologized for not being able to accommodate his sales effort at this time and explained that I’m looking for full-time regular work.  If the sender knew someone in the Chicago area interested in hiring a communications professional, I wrote, then I would appreciate the tip.

I was surprised when I got a quick and positive response. The company representative said he would be glad to send my resume to a contact in Chicago. I responded with my resume and my gratitude.

If you hope to take the same steps, keep these points in mind:

  • Only respond to a company you know and admire
  • Acknowledge the email and thank him/her
  • Keep your note brief and concise.

If you find this advice helpful, let me know. And good hunting!