Keeping Your Job Search Alive

January 16, 2009, 7:30 am
Keeping Your Job Search Alive
Posted by Spencer Cutter

Mr. Cutter was a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., working in the leveraged finance group. After nine years with the firm, He was laid off in the spring of 2008. He holds an M.B.A. from UCLA and lives in New York with his wife and 20-month-old son.

Spencer CutterI have learned that, like many other processes, the job search has a life cycle of its own. There was the Introductory Phase, when I initiated my job search by preparing my resume, doing research, and making some initial contacts. Then there was the Growth Phase, where I perfected my resume and elevator pitch and targeted specific companies to begin aggressively marketing myself. I was busy making phone calls, submitting applications, following up on job leads, and going on as many interviews as possible.

The Growth Phase seems to then be followed by the Mature Phase. Since I have been out of work since the spring of 2008, I reached the Mature Phase of my job search sometime last fall. At some point, the activity level slowed down and leads ran out. The evolution of my life cycle was accelerated by the collapse of my former employer, Lehman Brothers, and the fallout that followed.

In August, people interviewing me were defensive. By October, they were locked-down in their bomb shelters and were not going to answer the door for anyone. For example, I was extremely close to landing a job with a large, international bank here in New York last September. However, in early October, after watching the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge by 700 points every other day, they decided to put everything on hold. We agreed to keep in touch and I followed up just a few weeks ago. Their business has fallen off a cliff and now, rather than considering hiring, they are hoping to be able to avoid layoffs.

The next natural step of the life cycle is decline. Since I have not yet bought the winning lottery ticket, I cannot afford to allow my job search to enter the Decline Phase. Things naturally slowed down over the holidays and I took the time to regroup, both literally and emotionally, and made the decision to kick off the New Year with a new effort.

I don’t have many leads or ideas that are genuinely new, but I do have a lot of contacts that I allowed to go somewhat dormant since they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I am starting the year by reaching out to everyone that I can think of. I am turning over rocks that I may have turned over before in hopes of finding out that something new has developed there in the last five months.

I am encouraged by the fact that the volatility in the financial markets seems to have subsided somewhat and a new year means a new P&L for many places. However, this is likely to be a long fought war of attrition and the key to success is going to be fighting to avoid the Decline Phase.

Readers, how do stay optimistic during a prolonged job search? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.

Protecting Your Privacy When Job Hunting


Q: I have a good job with great benefits and pretty good working relationships. The department is challenged right now, as we do not have the ability to add people to do the work more efficiently or get funding for projects that are important to the business. I would like to start looking around for new opportunities, but in this digital age, I’m worried that a job search is no longer a private affair. Do you have any suggestions?

A: You are correct to be concerned that a job search might no longer be a private affair, especially when executed on the Internet. In the early days of digital job hunting, many job seekers’ biggest concern was whether their current employers would get wind of what they were doing. But that has changed in recent years, according to Pam Dixon, executive director of the California-based World Privacy Forum. “Unfortunately, identity theft and fraud are alive and well,” she says.

Ms. Dixon and her staff are constantly receiving calls from individuals whose identities have been compromised in some way because they gave away too much information during an Internet-based job search. Because of this, Ms. Dixon’s first piece of advice to job seekers is to avoid openly posting their resumes online. “If it’s open on the Web, then it’s kind of like big game hunting,” she says. “It’s hunting season, and you are the game.”

Whenever possible, contact the person doing the hiring and submit your resume directly to him or her, recommends Ms. Dixon. In recent years, this has gotten easier; one of the biggest shifts she has seen is that more and more employers are allowing prospective candidates to contact them directly.

What’s more, most large and midsize companies now have fairly sophisticated Web sites where you can apply for specific positions. That’s important, because when you submit your resume to a specific person or employer, there is an expectation of confidentiality, says Ms. Dixon. But when it is simply posted on the Web, any hint of privacy goes out the window.

These days, with the ease of identity theft, it’s also a bad idea to include your home address on your resume. Consider renting a post office box for the duration of your search. You can also get a temporary cell phone number and email address dedicated to your job search. “Resumes go far and wide,” says Ms. Dixon. “So, if you have the funds to make your information temporary, do it. You don’t want to give up information that you’ll want to take back later.” That includes your social security number, which should never be shared unless required. Government applications, for example, are an exception.

On the flip side, by making your job search too private, you could inadvertently limit your exposure to legitimate sources for potential jobs, says’s Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Patrick W. Manzo. “There is always a trade-off between exposure and confidentiality,” he says. “The most effective job search strategies typically involve maximum resume exposure.”

One approach is to take advantage of the privacy features that many job sites – Monster included – offer. “Specifically, job seekers have the ability to control the degree of exposure their resume receives,” says Mr. Manzo. “They may make the resume fully public and searchable in Monster’s resume database – or they may choose a more limited exposure option.”

Alternatives include hiding certain identifying information on a resume, such as your name, contact information and current employer. When this feature is activated on, for example, interested employers can only contact the job seeker through a confidential Monster email address. The job seeker can then review the job posting and respond if interested.

Make sure you also consider other Web sites – not just job boards. With the explosion of social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter comes a whole new host of challenges to the digital job search. You need to ask yourself: “What persona am I sharing with the world – and specifically to potential employers?” Having an online presence is important to the job search, according to Mr. Manzo. Just make certain that anything you post on a social networking site isn’t going to offend or alienate a potential employer.

Write to Career Q&A at

Ways Job Seekers Can Find Old Contacts

When Rick Featherstone, 49, was laid off from DHL in August after nearly five years with the company, he dived into his Rolodex to call old network of colleagues and business associates. He figured it would be easy to reconnect. But it turned out that many of his former coworkers had moved on and finding them was a challenge. Mr. Featherstone, who had worked at just three companies over the previous 22 years, quickly realized his contact list was sorely out of date.

Four months later, the former IT manager has found many former colleagues, but in retrospect he says he has learned a valuable lesson: “You have to be ready to move at a moment’s notice, you aren’t going to work for the same company for 50 years.”

Many laid-off professionals who’ve worked at the same company — or just a few firms — over their careers may find that their networks have gone stale. Experts recommend networking be done consistently and be nurtured throughout a career, but that’s not always feasible in a world of 70-hour workweeks and family commitments. There are ways to jump start a network that’s out-of-date and to rebuild rapport with former friends and colleagues.
Dead Ends

First, you actually have to find these people. The email address you used a year ago may yield only a bounceback message now. Michael Duncan, 44, was laid off from a software-development firm in late October. While working for the same company for 11 years, Mr. Duncan hadn’t done much networking. “I just had this assumption that I didn’t need to worry about it,” he says.

To rebuild his network he emailed former colleagues, did Internet searches and asked ex-coworkers to reconnect him to people they have stayed in touch with. But Mr. Duncan has had trouble locating former managers for references, particularly a manager who moved overseas, whom he still hasn’t found.

Social- and business-networking sites such as LinkedIn and Plaxo are good ways to find old connections. LinkedIn officials say the site has seen a 36% increase in membership over the past six months as executives scramble to rebuild their networks. You can search by name or company to find old acquaintances. Personalize your network invitation request with a memory the two of you shared or a reminder of who you are, says Cheryl Yung, a senior vice president of outplacement firm Lee Hecht Harrison. Once you’ve re-established your relationship, you can also view the friends of your connections, and request an introduction to people at companies that interest you.

If you already have a LinkedIn account, keep it current. An update on David Stevens’s LinkedIn status indicating that he was “up for grabs” spurred one of his contacts to alert him to a job opportunity. He interviewed for the job and within two weeks of being laid off, he was back at work.

Once you’ve located people in your old network, a simple holiday card to a former manager or colleague — or calling to wish them a happy New Year — can reopen dialogue, says Ms. Yung.

It can be daunting or uncomfortable contacting people you haven’t spoken to in years — especially when you’ve just been laid off. But, you can use the spirit of the season as a crutch; December and January are prime months to get reacquainted with old friends and colleagues. Also, try to attend as many holiday parties as you can; look for people you’ve lost touch with and speak to people you’ve never met, advises Bettina Seidman, a New York career-management counselor.

Once you’ve made contact, arrange a meeting. “Email and networking sites speed up the communication, but they don’t do the networking for you,” says Liz Lynch, author of “Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online.” Career coaches say it’s critical to set up in-person meetings and attend networking events. Be mindful of your contact’s time; you might not be the only one asking for help. Ask for 10 minutes to chat, or offer to catch up over coffee or lunch, says Ms. Lynch.
Professional Groups

If you’ve exhausted your efforts to find people or need to start from scratch, professional associations are a good place to begin. Associations give you access to other professionals who may work for or have contacts within companies you want to work with. Finding a local chapter is as easy as plugging your industry and the word “association” or “society” into a search engine, says Laura Hill, a career coach with The Five O’Clock Club in New York.

Once you find the association, join up and look for events the local chapters are holding. It’s an opportunity to network with people who will speak your industry language.

If you’ve been in a more senior executive position, consider volunteering to speak at industry and trade conferences or offer to serve on committees for professional associations, says Ms. Seidman. Volunteering to work at professional events like speaking occasions, luncheons and networking affairs are also great ways to meet people, says Ms. Hill.
Back to School

Alumni associations can also be helpful. In wake of the financial crisis, many colleges are ramping up their alumni services and even holding career fairs and networking events for alumni, says Ms. Lynch. Contact your alma mater’s alumni-relations office to get access to their online database. Once there, you can search for old friends by name or class, or search for alumni at different companies or industries you are interested in working in, says Ms. Hill.

Informal networking can also help. If you find yourself standing in line at the bank or grocery store, strike up a conversation with the person behind you, says Susan Guarneri, a career coach based in Three Lakes, Wis. “You should network with everyone you meet because you don’t know who they know,” says Ms. Guarneri, who once got a job after receiving a tip from her exterminator.

And remember, networking is a give-and-take experience. Figure out what you can offer — whether it be a contact, a lunch or a favor. “It gives the signal that you’re in it for the two of you,” says Ms. Lynch.

Write to Dana Mattioli at

Speeding Up the Process of Finding a New Position

If you find yourself suddenly unemployed or if you were laid off months ago, it’s probably no surprise to hear that it could be several months before you’re gainfully employed again. According to employment experts, these days it can take six months to find a job after a layoff. Here’s how to manage an extended job search:

Do a self assessment. Take a step back and decide if you’re working in the industry that’s right for you and using your strongest skills. Before beginning your job search — or if you’ve been at it a while without success — evaluate where your skills will be the best utilized. Deanna Leonard, executive vice president of Williams, Roberts, Young Inc., an executive coaching firm in Winston-Salem, N.C., advises her clients to take a Myers Brigg test or other psychological assessments to get a handle on strengths and weaknesses.

Have a financial plan in order. Take an inventory of your financial responsibilities, savings and debts and construct a financial plan to sustain you; if you did so early on, but the search is dragging out, reassess your plan. Register for health insurance or Cobra benefits immediately; laid-off employees generally have up to just 60 days to register for Cobra once they receive their eligibility notice, says Ms. Leonard. File for unemployment as soon as you’re eligible, as there may be a lag time in getting benefits.

Go beyond the usual suspects. “The hidden job market accounts for 70% of jobs out there, and the only way to reach [them] is by networking,” says Ali Chambers, vice president of ClearRock, an executive coaching and outplacement firm in Boston. Whether it’s by reconnecting with contacts over coffee, attending meetings of professional and trade groups or finding old colleagues on LinkedIn, networking is integral to landing a job today. “Don’t spend all day on the job boards when you should be out shaking hands and meeting people,” says Ms. Leonard.

Make yourself stand out. Hiring managers are flooded with résumés nowadays. Brett Good, president of recruiting firm Robert Half International’s Southern California and Arizona locations, says your résumé should have “return on investment statements” that show potential employers how you can generate revenue, save money, or otherwise make an impact on an organization.

Stay relevant. Stay on top of developments in your industry through newsletters or a professional group. If you’ve been out of work for several months, consider enrolling in a technology class or seminar related to your field at a community college to build on your skills. There are also free online seminars given by professional organizations, says Tony Santora, senior vice president for Right Management’s Transition Center of Excellence, which is responsible for the outplacement firm’s strategy for career-transition services globally.

Be patient. Job searches are taking longer because hiring managers are interviewing more people for open positions than in years past, says Mr. Good. Update interviewers with whom you’ve had a positive experience about your status. And temper your follow-ups with “enthusiasm and professionalism” without becoming a pest by calling too often, says Ms. Chambers.

Write to Dana Mattioli at

Tool Up for Midcareer Job Hunt

Tool Up for Midcareer Job Hunt


While finding a new job in a recession is tough, midcareer job seekers have some advantages, career experts say.

Midcareer workers have experience under their professional belts that younger colleagues don’t. And they have the versatility that comes to practitioners who have picked up various skills along the way, recruiters and counselors point out.

But positioning yourself right in a midcareer job search is still a must in an economic environment that finds employers cutting hundreds of thousands of jobs every month. Here are five tips from experts on finding a job.

1 Review your résumé.

Midcareer job seekers should make sure their credentials, especially for technology, are up to date.

“It’s important to keep your skills refreshed and updated,” says Kim Isaacs, director of, a career-advice site. “People in midcareer can get very complacent, and they may rely on their employer to sponsor training. Don’t rely on your employer, because they may not have your best interests at heart.”

Instead, take charge of your own professional development. “It’s just very competitive out there. If you go into the job-search world and you see a lot of skills on job postings, you need to have those,” Ms. Isaacs says. “Even if you’re happy in your job, once in a while go out and look for your job title and see what skills are being requested frequently.”

2 Look for hybrid jobs.

Midcareer workers could help themselves find a new spot during the recession by looking for hybrid jobs, which require knowledge of more than one skill, says Betsy Richards, director of career resources at Kaplan University, an online education service.

“If you can show you have multiple talents, you have a better chance of getting the job over someone who has spent their whole life being very focused,” Ms. Richards says.

“We are moving away from the focused job where someone is only doing, for example, finance. Instead, they might be doing finance and project management,” she says.

3 Network.

You’ve built personal and professional relationships over the years — now use them.

“Tap into your contacts, and your contacts’ contacts,” says Jill Silman, vice president with Meador Staffing Services in Texas. “If you’ve gotten 10, 15 or 20 years under your belt, then your reputation can work for you. If you are kind of a quiet player, then you are going to have to rely more on your network.”

Don’t be shy about telling people you are looking for work. “You tell a couple of people, and they tell a couple of people,” Ms. Silman says. “It won’t hurt to have more eyes and ears out there looking on your behalf.”

4 Know your online tools.

Ms. Isaacs suggests that job seekers “build their own brand.” That can include creating a Web site to highlight your portfolio of work and qualifications.

This recession will be the first time some out-of-work midcareer workers use the Internet to find a job, and it’s important to learn how to conduct an effective online search, Ms. Richards says.

Focus on job boards that target specific industries or salary ranges, rather than a general listing service, advises Bob Skladany, chief career counselor for “Ask yourself: ‘Where would an employer post a job for someone with 10 or 20 years of experience?’ ” he says. “If you go to specific job boards, you are apt to do much better. The entry-level jobs tend to get broadly posted.”

5 Be flexible.

Because the recession has increased the competition for jobs and squeezed companies, job seekers should prepare to take a pay cut, Ms. Richards says.

“Expect a lesser salary than what you are used to because of competition,” she says. “There are a lot of midcareerists out there looking for work. There are a lot of people out there who have a lot of experience.”

Ms. Isaacs says that as a way to get started, workers can take positions with fewer-than-ideal hours, or even relocate or enter a new industry.

“In this tough job market, you need to be flexible. Consider temp work — it’s not a bad thing. Consider contract work,” Ms. Isaacs says. “Consider relocation or a career change. Because there is such a big applicant pool, employers can be selective. So that’s why it’s important for job seekers to know what their transferable skills are.”

What Is Your Greatest Weakness? The Dreaded Question

Worldwide Panel LLC, a small market-research firm, is getting flooded with résumés for four vacancies in sales and information technology.

However, officials expect to reject numerous applicants after asking them: “What is your greatest weakness?” Candidates often respond “with something that is not a weakness,” say Christopher Morrow, senior vice president of the Calabasas, Calif., concern. “It is a deal breaker.”

The weakness question represents the most common and most stressful one posed during interviews. Yet in today’s weak job market, the wrong answer weakens your chances of winning employment.

Some people offer replies they mistakenly assume that bosses love, such as “I am a perfectionist.” That response “will be used against you” because you appear incapable of delegating, warns Joshua Ehrlich, dean of a master’s program in executive coaching sponsored by BeamPines Inc., a New York coaching firm and Middlesex University in London.

A careful game plan could help you cope with the shortcoming query in a way that highlights your fit for a desired position. Job seekers who field the question well demonstrate that they can “take initiative and improve themselves,” Mr. Morrow says.

The key? Thorough preparation. Career specialists suggest you take stock of your weaknesses, focusing on job-related ones that won’t impede your ability to perform your duties. Tony Santora, an executive vice president for Right Management, a major outplacement firm in Philadelphia, says an information-technology manager flubbed a 2007 interview by choosing a personal foible as his reply: “My true weakness is that I am a terrible cook.”

Rehearse your responses aloud, role play with a friend or videotape yourself — but don’t memorize your words. As you review the video, look for aspects “you would like to change so you can continue to get better as you practice,” says Peggy Klaus, a leadership coach in Berkeley, Calif.

The IT manager changed his tune after practice sessions with fellow job seekers and a counselor in Cincinnati for Right Management. He instead said he worked such long hours that he found it difficult to stay current with world events. So, he spent 30 minutes every evening catching up at home.

When the manager pursued an opportunity at a global drug maker, his revamped response “really resonated with the interviewer,” says Mr. Santora. The manufacturer hired the man.

It’s equally important that you consider an employer’s corporate culture. While being interviewed by a start-up, “you could say, ‘My weakness is I get bored by routine,'” says Ben Dattner, a New York industrial psychologist.

Last month, an aspiring executive director of a nonprofit group in suburban San Francisco nearly jeopardized his selection because his reply to a variation of the weakness question ignored one of its core values, according to Ms. Klaus, a board member there. Near the end of his interview, she wondered whether he might have problems with any aspects of the job. “No, I am confident I could do it all,” the prospect declared.

His flip comment dismayed Ms. Klaus, because she felt he lacked awareness of his weaknesses. She says his response raised doubts among board members that “he would be able to take critical feedback,” an attribute the organization values highly.

Because the man was well-qualified, the board gave him a second interview — and demanded a fuller explanation of his weak spots. He said he had been “unprepared for that question and nervous about coming out with a big fatal flaw,” then described his tendency to make decisions too fast during workplace crises. Board members’ doubts disappeared, and they picked him for the nonprofit’s top job.

Ideally, your reply also should exclude the word “weakness” and cover your corrective steps. Dubbing your greatest fault a “window of opportunity” signals your improvement efforts should benefit the workplace, says Oscar Adler, a retired Maidenform Brands sales executive and author of the book, “Sell Yourself in Any Interview.” For instance, he suggests, a salesman might note that he sold more after strengthening his facility with numbers.

When an interviewer pops this nerve-wracking query, your body language counts as well. The wrong nonverbal cues undercut your credibility. Certain candidates hunch over, glance furtively around the room or wring their sweaty palms. “They sort of look like they’re being asked a question they can’t handle,” says Mr. Adler.

Maintaining eye contact, regular breathing and a broad smile impress employers that “you’re prepared for the weakness question,” says psychotherapist Pat Pearson, author of “Stop Self-Sabotage!”

For the same reason, you seem thoughtful if you pause before responding. But don’t wait too long. “If you’re going to take a minute,” Mr. Morrow cautions, “I’ve just identified your weakness.”

Write to Joann S. Lublin at

Weakness Warnings

A sample of wrong answers to the most common interview questions:

“I have no weaknesses”

“I am a workaholic”

“I can’t seem to meet tight deadlines”

“I am impatient with incompetent people”

“I lack judgment when I’m under stress”

“I sometimes make mistakes with my work”

“I’m detail oriented”

“I like to drink now and then”

“I can’t tolerate trite interview questions like this one”

Source: WSJ reporting