Perhaps one of the worst feelings a person can have is that she doesn’t have options. Not the $150-on-IPO-but-worth-less-than-a-buck-now-type options. Options in terms of career, job skills, professional growth. Choices. Researchers have shown that the biggest cause of depression is a person’s sense of a loss of control — as in having no choices, no options. Even the illusion that we have choices can put us in better spirits.
That’s why the startling layoffs in recent months have been sobering, if not depressing. Suddenly, people aren’t job-hopping as a matter of choice. They’re being forced out. They’ve lost some control over their careers — at least temporarily.
As once high-flying e-companies close up shop, many a tech worker is dusting off the risumi and looking for a new job. But if you’re a tech worker in the Internet economy, you may find yourself competing with the 232,000 other people who lost their jobs this year.
Some have suggested that the economic “correction” was long overdue and will introduce a Darwinian atmosphere (i.e., the fittest will survive).
So how do you ensure that you’re a survivor (and we’re not talking about the TV show)? Here are a few tips for the job search:
Take a reality check. In human resources parlance, “Conduct a self-assessment.” In other words, think about what you want not only from your next job but also from your career. For example: What are your values? Do you prefer teamwork or independent work? Do you want a career or just a job?
Lower your expectations. The days when employees called all the shots are over. As a recruiter friend of ours said, “I’m tired of having to check if there’s a foosball table at the employer.” We’re not suggesting that you lose your sense of self-worth. But some employers are still resentful of the days when they had to pay exorbitant salaries just to get someone to answer the phone. They now have little patience for attitude.
Be flexible. Many a programmer decided that he would program only in one kind of language — that’s it, that’s all I do. Sorry. Today’s job seekers will be asked to do more than one thing — that is, unless you’re a brain surgeon who specializes in treating epilepsy in infants or some other highly specialized and rare-to-find skill.
Go for the cash. What’s worth more: a low-paying job that actually gives you cash or an even lower-paying job that promises lots of stock options? We don’t recommend you completely abandon employee stock-purchase plans. But we do suggest that you not spend cash that you don’t actually have.
Go to Unexpected Places
It may also be time to look at other industries. We’ve seen the “banish the thought” reaction when we suggest looking at traditional organizations or companies that may not be at the cutting edge of Web development. Yes, that means you’ll have to start over and work on a basic Web site that has nothing close to interactivity. Yet this may be the ideal opportunity to be a hero to a company that doesn’t have a clue.
Look at some CEOs and other leaders who have jumped jobs into positions that seem completely unrelated to their previous work.
Take California’s recently appointed “Energy Czar” (the one hired to oversee the state’s recovery from its energy fiasco called “deregulation”). His name is Richard Sklar. His previous job included being the Clinton administration’s representative in southeast Europe helping to rebuild war-torn Bosnia and Kosovo. Before that, he headed San Francisco’s much-maligned municipal railway (a.k.a. MUNI).
Terry Semel, the former cochairman and co-CEO of Warner Bros., is now the CEO of Yahoo There is a connection — while most people think of Yahoo as a directory/search service, it does base a significant portion of its business model on advertising — just like traditional media. But it’s still something of a leap.
And, finally, don’t hold your breath. The economy is going through a longer-term adjustment. Things may get worse before they get better. And the heyday of the last few years is pretty much over. The next generation will have to come up with something else.
It’s not as depressing as it sounds. It was a great party, and we’re all privileged to have been a part of it. But now it’s time to get back to work.
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