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 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
- Monthly Savings: Meant for anticipated future expenses
- Groceries and Eating Out
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’aa 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:
- College Associates (professors, fellow students, TAs, RAs, etc)
- Family (cousins, siblings, in-laws, uncles, aunts, etc)
- Friends (via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+)
- Previous Co-Workers
- 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!
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.