Unemployed? Death or Glory: It’s Your Choice

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I recently saw a comment below a CV tips article: “I have been out of work now for 6 months. I am a Chartered Engineer with many years of Project Management experience with good skills and a good CV. Your tips would only work if there are suitable jobs out there, but in these troubled times there are few here in the North West. Thanks anyway.

Feelings of sympathy obviously come to the fore, but they’re closely followed by bafflement.

These troubled times … It’s hard to conclude that times are that tough when currently there is a 20,000-a-year shortfall in the number of engineers being produced by Britain’s education system, against what’s required, according to a recent research study by Engineering UK. Additionally, Brexit uncertainty amongst foreigners is impacting positively for UK engineers wanting to work in the UK.

A desolate North West? The North West’s list of top 200 organisations, compiled by Manchester Metropolitan University, is littered with manufacturing, engineering and other engineer-using companies. Michael Page’s site carries an extensive number of ads for engineering, production and project management roles in the North West. Other sites do too.

Must be a poor candidate, right? Well, they’re a Chartered Engineer, so right up there with doctors, lawyers, accountants and the other professions. Retaining chartered status demands continuous personal development (CPD), so knowledge and skills absolutely have to be kept up to date. Also, project management skills are always in demand for engineers. Finally, the person doesn’t seem to feel professionally disadvantaged.

So what is the problem? In fact, this situation is way more common than most people would imagine, especially with senior role-holders. The impact of unemployment can be considerable and cause loss of confidence, severe anxiety and even depression. A person’s whole family can become affected and there can be a significant social cost, over time.

When the floor drops from under you …

None of us can be sure that we won’t one day become trapped in that same situation, and that’s quite sobering. If you do, remember that the start of successfully overcoming any problem is to find the cause. Without recognition and acceptance of whatever the problem is, it’s akin to taking aspirin for a headache when in fact you’re carrying an undiagnosed brain tumour. Let’s look at five factors that conspire to trap capable people in long-term unemployment.

  • Status. It’s ironic that the very success previously experienced by a career professional can become a millstone when they lose their job. There may be an abundance of jobs about, but remaining wedded to a certain level of job title, seniority, responsibility, direct reports and budgetary expenditure can significantly cut down the number of ‘suitable’ jobs for them.
  • Standard of living. Level of salary and personal benefits are obviously linked to this, as is a perceived level of social standing and pride or ego. Being rigid can severely restrict the prospects of finding a job anytime soon and people losing City jobs, for example, are often stunned to find that jobs paying over £100K are rare in the real world.
  • Location. If a major employer departs an area, the availability of certain job types can decline at the same time. Restricting a job search to the immediate vicinity can be like looking for an investment banking job and a new Michelin star restaurant when you’re living in the Outer Hebrides.
  • Age. Despite extensive legislation, the world of employment is unfortunately prejudiced. Recruiters often want a fast result and no risk on the way to their next bonus, so all the time they have a choice, they’ll likely pick the supposedly young, keen, ‘dynamic’ whipper-snapper over the old fart every time. Having said all of that, the phrase, “No one wants people of my age anymore,” is just not true, but people can cling on to this psychological prop.
  • Hope. Hope is a seductive temptress and it’s the real killer because it sucks time away. “We can definitely find you something soon.” “I reckon we’ll have new jobs opening up here next month.” “You’ll be a real catch for someone, let me call some clients.” All the time there is hope, people wait. Waiting is death, to both job prospects and personal resilience.

Attack! Attack! Attack!

If, God forbid, you’re caught in the same situation, you have to get past those five highly toxic, very bitter pills. Of the people that I’ve seen rise again like the proverbial Phoenix, they did it through method, not clinging on to the wreckage of their last job with hope in their heart and the words, “They’ll get back to me soon,” on their lips. The following 10 step plan of attack is derived from their actions.

  • Analyse your prospects. Set a deadline of one week. Take a long hard realistic look at your prospects versus your constraints. If jobs are thin on the ground and you’re financially screwed, accept it and own it. You don’t have to tell anyone, just be honest with yourself and you’ll become free of the shackles.
  • Refocus. It’s time to make some decisions. To move forward something has to give from the above list, and only you can choose. Whatever you do, just choose and do it now. If you don’t choose, eventually that choice will be made for you, and that truly will be a dark day.
  • Become creative. If you need to look wider afield, at other locations, for example, you don’t necessarily have to obliterate your whole current life to accommodate it. How far can you commute, if really pushed? Can you live away for four nights a week? Can you negotiate at least some days flexible working from home? Can you get help with travel costs? And so on. Whatever the challenges, be creative and you’ll lessen the damage.
  • Get job hunting skills. Unsurprisingly, your search, application and interview skills will be out of date, so bring yourself up to speed. It would be desperate to find that life-saving role, only to get rejected because you accidentally cock up the interview.
  • Widen the hunt. Look at other sectors and what transferable skills you may have for which an employer might be grateful. Yes, you might have to take a hit on scope, seniority or salary, but the chances are you’ll be better off than you are now.
  • Be proactive. Do the job boards and recruitment agencies, but get out there and talk directly to employers. Chase those as-yet unadvertised jobs. Network like a demon on LinkedIn. Be open and honest that you’re looking for your next role and talk to people inside the types of organisations who employ people like you. Ask for referrals. People really do love to help someone who is clearly trying to help themselves whilst battling tough odds.
  • Work anyway. Keep yourself busy and in touch with the real world. One of life’s cruel ironies is that a job is always easier to get when you’ve already got one. Volunteering is a job and you’ll keep your skills current.
  • Up your capabilities. Invest in yourself and your skills, the pay-back is always huge and forever. Aim to make yourself even more attractive to potential employers. Don’t do this as an excuse to avoid looking for work, take short focused courses, or plan self-study projects.
  • Do the maths. Plan to compromise. Arising opportunities may not be perfect, so be flexible. Know what you want and negotiate hard, but be practical. Any job is better than no job. Everyone understands if you’ve had to take a hit for a while. If you’ve been proactive, you’ll get respect for it. If you’re shouting, “I can’t hold on much longer! Help me! Help me!” you’ll be shunned.
  • Grow younger. If you’re feeling old and knackered, it’s time to dig out the smoke and mirrors. Have a good look at lopping ten years off your CV and LinkedIn profile. Never lie, but do it by losing earlier experience and un-dating your qualifications. Literally yesterday, this worked with a highly capable sixty-year-old who suddenly started getting calls. It’s not right, but it’s real, and worth it to be able to show your true worth to an interviewer. Hopefully, by the time they spot your age, they’re already sold on you.

The above ten step plan will at the very least get you moving in the right direction again. With every step, remember that your networking, CV and applications should not be about you, but about what you can do for your next employer. What can you deliver? If they want that, you’re in. It’s a tough old road, but tomorrow is another day so pick yourself up and make it count.

Very best wishes.

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About the Author: Jon Gregory is an experienced management consultant, re-organisation specialist and recruitment professional. He currently works with both organisations and individuals, helping to get the right people working effectively in the right jobs. Jon tweets advice from @letsfirewalk and edits www.win-that-job.com

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