Unemployment Series

To understand corporate America's view of its employees, read Execution:  The Disciple of Getting Things Done, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan.  You are not the intended audience for this book; it was written primarily for consumption by C-level executives and Senior VP types.  A better title for this book would be, How to Treat Employees like Disposable Trash 101.  It teaches you that employees are assets, resources, but certainly not people worth caring about.  The attitude it conveys is unfortunately found all over the corporate world – toss your employees out, even well-performing ones, if you are unable to use them in the  future, or you can find a way to drive down costs by doing so.

In my personal experience, I find most people don't understand this.  They expect to be rewarded with further benefits, bonuses, and at the very least, continued employment for pouring blood, sweat, and tears at the direction of upper management.  When friends and co-workers learned I had been promoted and given a raise not once, but twice in a two year span, they would say, “Looks like your job is safe, you're doing really well.”  But I knew better – positive performance appraisals were no indicator of continued employment potential.

And so it was after 6 years of employment at Motorola Mobility, on the heels of the successful launch of what is now known as the OG Droid (the first phone to truly challenge Apple's three year iPhone dominance) and as mentioned earlier, year-over-year promotions, I was laid off (along with the rest of my team).  The reason?  Mobility wanted to grow staff without growing cost, so it was more cost-effective to lay off staff domestically and outsource to China.

I spent six months in unemployment and wanted share whatever insights, tips, or tricks I found beneficial on my path back to employment.

Rule #1:  Success Begins within You

My heart pounded loudly in my chest, and I could feel my face and neck heating up, as though my body was about to implode from within.  It was a Friday, and my last day official day was Monday the following week.  I had known this for two months, but the realization of it finally hit me full force.  What would I do after my severance ran out?  How would I support my wife and 3 kids?  Did I have the skills to find a new job in the current market?  What if I didn't?  Could I re-train with a new skill set?  Where would I get the money for this?  On and on, the questions kept coming, like a badly timed game of word association, unemployment edition.

Until that moment, I hadn't understood why people lost their confidence and self-respect from losing a job.  An internal battle was taking place, and I was losing ground as I moved in the direction of trying to fight it myself.  Within an hour, I was able to shift this dynamic with the following “tweaks” in my thought process:

1.  In the End, It's All Good for You

 

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said:

“How amazing is the affair of the believer. There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allāh and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” [Muslim]

From my perspective, Allāh had taken me out of what appeared to be a good situation and was preparing me to move on to bigger and better things.  There was a treasure out there somewhere, and it is implicit that a truly valuable treasure requires effort to find.  My effort in this case would be my plan of attack in finding a new job.

2.  Use Personal Anxiety and Fear to Your Advantage

There's nothing like the adrenaline rush generated from procrastinating until a project is about to fall off the edge of the cliff into the abyss of no return, only to be saved by pushing through an over-caffeinated night or two, with the fear of failure hovering inches over your shoulder.

The same feeling may occur to you, except that instead of one project with a definite deadline, you may feel an inward attack of multiple tasks and projects to complete to get employed again, and no definite date in mind except “right now”.

Take a deep breath, focus, and write down everything that comes to mind down.  From that list, pick the two tasks that you feel will have the most impact on your job search prospects, and focus relentlessly on them until they are complete.  If you're feeling anxious about the remaining list, use that anxiety to propel you to finish the first two tasks.

3.  Give Your Best and Leave the Rest to Allāh

If you were to take advice from either career experts, your family and friends, or even people in your work industry, you might find yourself confused about what direction you should take.  Evaluate however many options you can, and then take action in some way.  Predicting the future and knowing what is best for you is beyond your capacity.  It may be your time off has some benefit that would not be available if you returned to work immediately.  It could be to ward off some harm.

Whatever the case, take action, pray istikhārah, and keep moving forward.  It may be two months or two years before the right job falls into your lap, so be patient.  Take advantage of this time to benefit yourself in other ways, such as spending more time with family, taking care of your health, or learning new skills to enhance your résumé.

One note, I must say that I'm always confident in turning to Allāh because I make it a point not to fudge experience on my resume.  I always try to present my best self and stay truthful.  There remain many who lie about their qualifications (or lack of them) on the resume for a paycheck.  I don't understand how people can do this and expect blessings with income that's taken daily based on lies.  I would be afraid that just like the disbelievers, on a lesser level I was given something that be a blessing up front and a major curse later, either on me or my wife and kids.

Rule #2:  Get Smart with Your Money

I was given two months of salary post-employment and unemployment checks on top of this, so I was making more in unemployment than on the job.  When the two months expired, I turned to other means for either gaining income or saving money.

1.  Create a Budget

Without a doubt, you won't do anything meaningful with your money if you don't know how or where it is spent.  I admit I don't have the patience to collect every receipt, write down my spending, and balance a checkbook.  For people like me, there's mint.com (this is free).  I've hooked up my two bank accounts on there, so any transaction I run through my debit card (I live on cash only) shows up both in my online bank statement and on Mint.  I can categorize each transaction according to a category (it can be either automatically categorized or manually) and I can quickly see how money is spent.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of REALLY seeing how you spend versus how you think you spend.  You can use the tool to create a budget for different items and track whether you stay in or out of budget.  If you'd like to start, you can set aside budgets using the categories I use:

  • Gas and Fuel:  self-explanatory
  • Bills and Utilities:  Electricity, Gas, Internet, Cell Phone (some may also need water, trash, and sewage)
  • Business Services:  Subscription fees for internet services, online software like Turbotax, etc
  • Education:  My wife's budget for kids homeschooling subscriptions and purchases
  • Entertainment
  • Monthly Savings:  Meant for anticipated future expenses
  • Groceries and Eating Out
  • Shopping

2.  Find Alternative Sources of Income

One means of income was collecting unemployment insurance.  It wasn't enough, but it covered rent and some expenses.  For extra food costs, we were able to get food stamps on a special debit card (about $300 worth) and WIC (women, infants, children) vouchers because two of our children were two and under.  If you ever go to a grocery store and see a label that says WIC next to the price, it means that food qualifies for trade in with a WIC voucher.

Another way to get income is coupons.  Coupons for the food you buy regularly is essentially free money, so if you're tight on budget, make sure to get coupons.  Related to coupons, I picked up the book Coupon Mom and found I was able cut my grocery bill tremendously by implementing her tips.

Yet a third way is getting part-time or temporary jobs (because your other “job” is finding a permanent job that pays to the standard you expect).  I worked for one organization writing their advertising copy.

Finally, look within your local community for resources.  At the county level, you may find grants for studying (I actually acquired a $7000 grant which I was unable to use as I found a job before I could use it).

3.  Save Money on Expenses

The two expenses that have the most impact on your finances will likely be your rent or mortgage with utility bills, and your eating expenses.  Others might be car and health insurance, credit card debt (if you have a high monthly minimum), and random hits (like unexpected required car repairs).

One of the best ways to cut down on costs is rent/mortgage costs – if you can, move back in with your parents or your in-laws temporarily until you're back on your feet.  I don't normally advocate moving back in with mom and dad because of the strain this often puts on a marriage, particularly if it's the husband's parents, but in the case of layoffs and the potential for extended unemployment, I think it's a good idea (I think parents moving in to live with kids is great once they can' take care of themselves any longer).  If you can't do that, then consider if it's possible to move to a cheaper home.  If that's not possible, look for ways to cut utility costs – some agencies have programs for people who are unemployed, often via the city or the county you're living in.

Another big way to cut costs is reducing your grocery bill, utilizing the methods taught in the book Coupon Mom (there are other books and programs written by people into saving via couponing, that's the one I read).  One tip which reduced my bills greatly: looking at the per ounce or per unit cost of an item, and compare it with others around.  This will tell you if something is truly on sale.  You'd be surprised to find buying in bulk or buying generic is not always the cheaper way to go.  Another tip is to pay attention to sale cycles, as the price of many items will rise and fall regularly on a cycle.  For example, recently I bought 20 boxes of oatmeal because the price dropped from $4.79 a box to $2.50 a box.  Over the amount of time it will take me to consume that much, the next cycle will hit and I can buy it dirt cheap again.

For health care costs, I personally opted not to go the COBRA or single payer route once my group insurance ran out, and took Medicaid instead.

Rule #3:  Communication Skills are the Essential Job Hunting Tool

1.  Networking is King

When I searched for my first job out of college, a headhunter gave me this piece of advice – get an expensive suit, clean your shoes, and go to all the companies in your area, offer your resume to the receptionist, and tell them why you're there.  He told me most people are trying to find jobs in their PJs and underwear through Monster.com, and that you had to go out there and really go after it.

I have to admit, I haven't been successful in job-hunting via search engines, so I have no tips to offer about writing keyword friendly resumes, or creating high hit profiles.  Every single interview I received or job I've worked in the past 10 years came about as a result of networking with people who knew of positions that were about to open (but had not yet been communicated to HR).  That seems to be the reality of job searching – someone wants to hire, checks around internally with co-workers, interviews that person, then opens the position to meet HR requirements, then hires the person.

Given this, I recommend networking with everyone possible (trading phone numbers, emails, business cards, etc), both in person and on social media (including Facebook and Twitter, not just LinkedIn).  One phone interview I received was through networking I had done with professors I knew from Purdue (my alma mater), and when I posted a note on Facebook asking for du'a for an upcoming interview, I was messaged by multiple friends asking me to send over my resume, and in this manner, I received future phone interviews.

My list, in no particular order of importance, goes:

  1. College Associates (professors, fellow students, TAs, RAs, etc)
  2. Family (cousins, siblings, in-laws, uncles, aunts, etc)
  3. Friends (via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+)
  4. Previous Co-Workers
  5. Recruiters on LinkedIn

You can double, triple, and quadruple your list by recruiting people who have a stake in your getting a job (wife, kids, parents who are also professional and/or networked).

When you give your resume to others, don't wait for them to follow-up with you. Ask them when you can contact them for follow-up, and keep doing this after each follow-up until that lead is closed off in some way.

I also highly recommend making the effort to network with people who are top performers.  When top performers give recommendations to management, it's taken more seriously and the chance for an interview rises dramatically.

After all that, the most important networking you can do for yourself is, as the clever cliché goes, sending du'ā's in the form of knee-mail during the last 3rd of the night in qiyām'l-layl.

2.  Speak with Confidence and Integrity During Your Interview

The job interview can be an intimidating experience if you're unprepared for it.  The only way to get good is to practice giving interviews.  I would suggest checking Amazon for the top-selling interview questions book (I'ved used the Knock 'Em Dead series by Martin Yates) to get a feel for some of the questions you'll be asked on a general level (tell me about yourself, tell me one weakness you have, what are your strengths, etc), and start practicing those answers.

If you expect a technical interview, then research online and try to find the questions you'll be asked.  If you're interviewing with a specific company known for strange questions and interviews (Google, Microsoft, etc), then check online for these types of interviews; you'll find message boards and websites dedicated to listing the experiences of past interviewees.

For general questions, have a family member or friend take you through a mock interview.  For technical questions, see if you can do a mock interview with a colleague or someone in your field.  Ask for feedback on the content of your answer, your delivery, and non-verbal cues (looking down or away, fiddling, shaking legs, slouching, not smiling, and so on).

If you feel uncomfortable doing this with your family and friends, there are services in the state unemployment offices that will do this with you for free.  You may also find post lay-off  that your company has services to support you in preparing a resume and doing mock interviews, so take advantage of this.

Practice often, and make sure you don't exaggerate or lie.  The most confident interview you'll deliver is the one where you don't have to second-guess yourself or keep track of half-truths or full-untruths you told the interviewer.

3.  Communicating with Dress and Personal Hygiene

Dress well (laundered and pressed clothes, no holes, no stains, shouldn't be faded or threads hanging out, clean shined shoes), smell good, and see the dentist if there's visible crud in your teeth when you smile.  If you came from the East and were not taught to wear deodorant (no offense), start wearing some.  While you may not realize it, everyone can smell you (I say this as a person raised in the West who suffered this ignorance in my younger teen years).  And please don't use Axe, it doesn't last more than a few hours!

Conclusion

This article is by no means exhaustive. It's just a jumping off point, beginning with my own experiences as someone who has primarily (only) large enterprise corporate America experience.  Please use the comments area below to share your own insights, tips, and tricks.


36 Responses

      • Dreamlife

        They have to retrench about half the employees. But alhamdullilah – found out yesterday that I’m not one of those leaving. It was a wake-up call, though, and has prompted me to consider doing further training so that I can diversify my skillset for the time I do seek another job insha-Allah.

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      • Siraaj

        Some advice since you’ll still there:

        1. Get the resume ready
        2. Look online at the skills in your field that keep coming up and pay well.
        3. Get that skill =) Or some work during your next few months that will make anyone glancing at your resume sit up and take notice.

        Siraaj

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  1. SimplyMe

    Jazakallah khairen for this perspective on unemployment in the West.

    I would just like to point out that the coupons and unemployment benefits available in the West are not necessarily available in the rest of the world.

    And the cycle about lowering of food prices, it hasn’t happened where I am for years. Probably increasing every month, with new taxes and more money going out of our pockets than incoming.

    It is a blessing for many living where you are if you are able to rely on coupons,grants and other benefits. From where I am looking inshaAllah you have a better chance of getting back on your feet than any of us living unemployed in the Asian region.

    Praying for a better future for the unemployed around the world.

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    • RCHOUDH

      Ameen to your du’a and make all the current corruption and exploitation around the world give way to a just and righteous order based on Deen.

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    • Siraaj

      Ameen to your du’aas, there probably should have been a disclaimer about which audience would best benefit (likely people in similar circumstances as myself, as you mentioned, in the West).

      Over here, pricing cycles are done because if inventory is sitting on the shelf, it’s considered capital that isn’t being put to business use to bring in more profit, so the price is dropped from whatever very high markup it’s at to something lower (but still profitable) to clean out inventory, take whatever profits can be reaped, and then re-invest again.

      Are there people within the system you live that have written about dealing with unemployment via local means? I’d be interested to know how others get by.

      Siraaj

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      • SimplyMe

        If you could email me I could provide the details .

        I could not find your email address to contact regarding this question.

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      • Siraaj

        I could, but it may be better to share in the comments section so others can also benefit if they’re in similar circumstances, right? If you’d not like to share publicly, I’ll email you privately.

        Siraaj

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      • SimplyMe

        I wont mind adding to the comments after editing details. It is easier to explain with details that cannot be published here, as some details maybe personal and political.

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  2. RCHOUDH

    Assalamu alaikum,

    Mash’Allah great article with alot of sound advice! I’d just like to add a few things based on personal experience:

    1. For those of us wishing to someday open up our own business now may be a good time to look into that. The business doesn’t have to start out big you can initially do it from your own home if you want. The same goes for those wanting to become self-employed by working as a consultant, freelance writer, etc.

    2. I think temporarily moving into one’s family home can only really work if your family is the type to be supportive of you no matter what. There are some families unfortunately who may increase the level of stress you already feel over being unemployed, by “blaming” you for losing your old (due to some imagined incompetence on your part). There are also families who may try to pressure you to stop completely practicing Islam (by telling women to take off that headscarf or men to shave that beard) because they believe that’s preventing you from getting hired! I think that under those circumstances if you can still afford to, you should stay put in your own home or move to a cheaper place rather than deal with family like that.

    3. If you’ve always wanted to experience living in another country now’s a good time to start looking for a job outside of where you currently reside. Usually jobs abroad are contract-based so you can take the opportunity to experience life anywhere around the world and then return to your home country with greater job experience (and greater cultural awareness).

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    • Siraaj

      Salaam alaykum,

      Great advice, about point #2, I generally tell people to move out fast exactly because of the reasons you mentioned, and even with stellar in-laws, many couples still want privacy, and while brothers think their wives smiles and, “It’s really ok,” assurances mean the story is over, often they just don’t want to stir trouble and tension.

      Opening a business is a great idea. If I could say one thing about this, pick an idea and stay focused on completing it. I began working towards a personal trainer certification and was a good deal through reading and preparing when my slightly ADD personality took over (not clinical, I’m just making fun of myself) and I started looking to write apps for android and iPhone. In the end, I did neither, and didn’t establish a business.

      Have you opened up a business for yourself?

      Siraaj

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      • RCHOUDH

        Wa alaikum salaam wr,

        Right now I’m self-employed as a freelance writer. My name links back to one of the websites I write for. I just have to say though that most of the writing gigs I’ve landed so far don’t pay much so they’re only good to work towards acquiring supplementary income. People who can use such income include students, stay-at-home moms, the retired, etc. I’m sure there’s better writing gigs out there I just haven’t really looked into that yet.

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      • Siraaj

        I find that many who are paid specifically for writing have established a rep in their community and get paid for whatever niche or market they’ve become the designated expert in. More often, I’ve seen bloggers use their writing skills as a marketing medium for their expertise in specific areas where they either draw readers to their blogs for free info (and then have them click ads), or they sell products and services related to the topic.

        Siraaj

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      • RCHOUDH

        Jazakallah for this info and yes I’ve seen these types of markets in the writing field too. The only drawback is that you have to be aggressive in marketing yourself and your writing and you have to stand out from the competition, which is hard. But yes it is possible to make more money through writing by doing this.

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  3. Farhan

    SubhanAllah :-)

    “For the general questions, have a family member or friend take you through a mock interview.  For technical questions, see if you can do a mock interview with a colleague or someone in your field.  Ask for feedback on the content of your answer, your delivery, and non-verbal cues (looking down or away, fiddling, shaking legs, slouching, not smiling, and so on).”

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    • Siraaj

      Aha, here’s the friend who’s also in my field and led me through both sets of questions during a late nighter at Denny’s :D Got the job right after ;)

      Siraaj

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  4. waheedsofi

    MashaAllah super super super ……love ur blog bro …ur words touch my heart thanks for sharing such.a wonderful info …..

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  5. Farhat

    Funny, what I did was ask the right question. What are they outsourcing? Why can’t I outsource it and make money as well? What I found blew my mind. 

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    • Siraaj

      Salaam alaykum Farhat,

      There’s no problem with outsourcing, but many of us have to re-calibrate the way we view our relationship with the companies we work for.  In the minds of many, the long hours and hard work should have translated into continuous employment, not being replaced by cheaper labor.  This is the story workers are sold as they are asked to put in more hours for less money – loyalty, and determination to see the company succeed.

      So my message is that we set our expectations correctly – we’re in a transactional relationship, and when either side can find a better deal, they’ll walk.  The job is a job, and we do it well for the sake of doing it well, and for what we’re being paid to do.  Corporations more often do not care for you, and you ought to look out for #1 – yourself.

      Siraaj

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  6. Anonymous

    Jazakallhu Khairun for all the awesome suggestions. I am from UK graduated in Electronic engineering in 2010, but finding it so difficult to get into the field. I have done temporary admin jobs, charity jobs and others (now unemployed for longest time ever). Sometimes I get depressed :( then I look for some positivity online (like i discovered this article) and continue applying. Make Dua for me inshallah. 

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    • Anonymous

      Wa iyyakum bro, hang in there.  When I first graduated with a computer science degree and a math minor, it was some time before I landed my first full-time job (2.5 years), and the economy wasn’t as bad as this =)

      Give it some time, and when it’s right, Allah will provide you with a job.  If you have free time, make good use of it to develop yourself.

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  7. Sarandeebiyy

    Assalaamu ‘alaikum

    There are some Quranic verses that really help cope and dissipate the anxiety and grief:

    1….for surely WITH hardship there is ease (they have been created together!) : Surah Inshirah, verses 5-6

    2.No calamity befalls on the earth or in yourselves but is inscribed in the Book of Decrees (Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah. In order that you may not be sad over matters that you fail to get, nor rejoice because of that which has been given to you. And Allah likes not prideful boasters:Surah Hadeed, verses 22-23 (What was going to happen to you was written for you before it happened)
    Also, do not forget the possibility of starting one’s own business!

    Wassalaam

    Shiraz.

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  8. Ismaeel Abed

    As salaam mu alaykum
    I’ve been out of work for five months and it takes its toll on your self confidence and respect. I find it really hard to ask people for anything and am fortunate that my parents are alive and are helping by giving me a place to stay.
    Taking jobs that are readily available help in the short term and seem like you’re a job hopper-I’ve taken a course in Networking and have my CCNA but I just cant seem to land a job in this field as they require that you have 2-5 years of experience. I’m not big on lying either. I live in South Africa and would appreciate it if you could offer some advice

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    • siraaj

      Walaykum as salaam Ismaeel,

      I can’t speak to south africa well, but generally speaking, I would advise using your free time to expand your skills.  CCNA is ok to start, but you ought to consider a CCIE either in R&S or Voice.  Try to take advantage of as many free online resources as possible, or if you can afford it, subscribe to safari books online and start reading, training, and making yourself a more attractive prospect.

      your first job will be low-paying, but the real payment is the experience you can put out afterwards.

      Siraaj

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  9. Anjuynia Setashikato

    Assalamualaikm, brother, I was wondering if there is a way to contact you directly, I am looking for a guest speaker for an MSA event in Dallas, and am hoping that you will be able to point me in the right direction.

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  10. Anjuynia Setashikato

    Assalamualaikm, brother, I was wondering if there is a way to contact you directly, I am looking for a guest speaker for an MSA event in Dallas, and am hoping that you will be able to point me in the right direction.

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  11. AzzamS

    The most valuable tip in there:

     “Every single interview I received or job I’ve worked in the past 10
    years came about as a result of networking with people who knew of
    positions that were about to open (but had not yet been communicated to
    HR). ”

    However you should have expanded on what entrpreneurship as this was a Sunnah and the methodology of the Sahabah

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    • siraaj

      Jzk for reading, i wish i could expand on that, but i’ve never been one so i couldnt really do that discussion justice.  If you’d be interested in submitting such an article, that would be welcomed :)

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      • AzzamS

         InshAllah I will do some research on this and come up with a post if possible on time contraints.  Working closer with a few young Muslim who are interested in setting up own business and is highly encouraged according to the Sunnah.

        I have a book on the ‘benefits/rewards of busines’ written by a scholar which should make a good framework to write the post on

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