Monday, March 30, 2009
Just imagine, for a moment, what it must be like to be an AIG employee. Armed guards at the door. Your top executives threatened in horrific ways, even if they had nothing to do with the executive bonus debacle. Even AIG families have been threatened.
Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert, says there’s no doubt that current AIG employees are going to be “tainted” by the “bad corporate reputation” of AIG.
“Corporate brands and personal brands can build or destroy each other because they are both associated with each other. When a reputation management crisis occurs, the individual, regardless if he or she is an executive or a new-hire, is tainted in the same regard,” Schawbel says. “Even if you quit your job and interview at another company, that corporate brand will stick to you like glue.”
One group of employees who may be commiserating with AIG workers right now are former Enron Corp. employees, who saw their own company go through a similar reputation nightmare in 2001 when the company filed for bankruptcy and some executives ended up in jail for financial misdeeds.
Franny Oxford remembers interviewing former Enron employees in her role as a human resource manager for a large Houston manufacturing and distribution company in 2002.
“Maybe they received some coaching on what to say, but every one of the people I interviewed who had worked for Enron immediately told me what their role was at the company, how they were not involved in what happened, and how they had learned from their experience,” Oxford says. “For the most part, I bought it.”
Oxford says she hired a number of former Enron employees, and “they did very, very well.”
“Enron was one of those companies that was very focused on the bottom line. The people were held very accountable for their performance, and they focused on excellence. They were independent, good leaders,” she says. “And they were grateful to get a job.”
Oxford, now a human resources manager at an air quality control company in Houston, recommends AIG employees looking for a new job should also use the same tactic as Enron workers: Outline your job, explain how you were not involved in the problems, how you learned from the mistakes made and what remarkable skills you can bring to a new employer.
Schawbel agrees. “There is no question that if employees interview for a new job right now and have AIG stamped on their resume, the discussion will come up. You shouldn’t avoid it and you can’t get away from it,” he says. “Instead, you need to be honest and open about it.”
Schawbel, author of “Me 2.0” (Kaplan, $16.95) also recommends that current AIG employees understand that they have the opportunity to remain authentic, transparent and ethical, despite their company’s wrongdoings. “They can admit their company is wrong, even if politically it’s not acceptable. These employees can escape AIG altogether – or work to build the image of the company back up,” he says.
At the same time, working for a company evoking such public hostility right now will take some fortitude, he says.
“Whenever you meet someone new, they will ask ‘What do you do?’ and you’ll start talking about your company. If your audience doesn’t know you and is disturbed by the bad press your company just garnered, then they may dismiss you altogether,” he says. “Personal brands can go through rebranding to shake the corporate brand, but it might take a while to reposition yourself in a new role, in a new company.”
And AIG employees may face even more issues as they try and adjust to a new role within the working world. Oxford says that she noticed some former Enron employees “almost had PTSD” (post-traumatic stress disorder).”
“They actually seemed to have problems working in a non-stress environment, especially those who stayed the longest at Enron, the ones who worked right until the very end,” she says.
In the end, Schawbel says AIG provides an important lesson for all workers and their careers.
“It tells us that the companies we work for have influence on how we’re perceived. We need to make good decisions on who we work for, not just because of money or benefits, but because they are a great place to work with a positive reputation,” he says. “We have to consider everything we’re affiliated with, from our college to our company to our club or organization and even the people who surround us. We’re constantly being judged, and to shape positive perceptions we have to surround ourselves with exceptional brands.”
What are some other steps you would recommend for AIG employees or anyone who has been hit with a company scandal?
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Some days I think there should be another word for stress besides "stress." I mean, does one simple word really describe what millions of people are experiencing these days?
We've been complaining for years that we have too much stress at work. Studies have shown that we get headaches, stomach pains, back problems and may even make ourselves more susceptible to things like cancer because of the pressure we feel in our lives.
But nothing could have prepared us for what we feel now.
That's why when I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Judith Orloff, I jumped at the chance. As a psychiatrist, I figured she would have all the answers when it came to dealing with how to handle the stress we're feeling today.
And here's what I found out: She's got a lot of suggestions but ultimately, if we want some calm in our lives, we're going to have to put some effort into it. Sure, a doctor can prescribe therapy or even pills to help the anxiety, depression, fear and stress, but it's really up to an individual to find that stress-free zone we all wish a snap of the fingers could give us.
I caught Orloff while she was on a tour for her new book, "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life."
“For a lot of people who have things in their past like an insecure childhood, all the old patterns are being triggered by this crisis,” Orloff says. “People are really worried about what might happen.”
According to the American Psychological Association (APA) annual Stress in America survey, almost half of American workers say they’re stressed about their ability to provide for their families' basic needs, and eight out of 10 say the economy is a major stressor.
Orloff says that even though she is being deluged by new patients seeking help because of the current economic conditions, she says there are a number of ways for people to help themselves, and someone should look at this crisis as a chance to be grateful for “what is working in your life.”
Orloff says that those who want strategies to handle the stress being felt today should:
· Focus on the moment. “What’s killing people is focusing on what may or may not happen. Do what you can in the moment. If you lose a job, pick up the classified ads and start looking. Give yourself lots of affirmation. But stop thinking of the ‘what if’ and focus on the ‘now.’”
· Battle back the fear. It’s OK to admit you have insecurities or are afraid. Be specific about what scares you. By identifying your fears, then you can be better prepared to handle a situation that upsets you. Then, think about times you showed courage, even if it was simply getting out of bed when you felt bad. Let the courage infuse you, and not the fear. “It’s time for people to be heroes in their own lives,” Orloff says. “Believe in yourself and move forward.”
· Hang around positive people. Orloff says “emotional vampires” can suck the spirit out you with their negative and demoralizing talk. It’s better to engage people who are upbeat and who have positive things to say. Focus on how good you feel when you’re with good friends and a loving family and do things that relax you and make you feel better such as yoga, meditation, taking a walk or relaxing in a warm bath. Avoid things that add to your tension such as violent news stories, arguments or too much caffeine.
· Keep rejection in perspective. Job hunting can be stressful, especially if you’re rejected for a position. “Remember that you’re not being personally rejected. In these cases, it’s more important than ever that you have people around you who are your cheerleaders, who support you.”
· Attract hope. Even if you haven’t lost your job, chances are you know someone who has. When you start feeling depressed, connect with words, songs or art that have hopeful messages. Call a friend who has a hopeful outlook on life. Orloff says that hope is contagious – exposing yourself to hopeful situations will help lift your mood.
Finally, as dismal as the situation is for many people, Orloff says that she believes that our current crisis is really an “opportunity.”
“People are going to learn that no matter what is happening, they’re going to be OK,” she says. “I think many people will come out of this situation more empowered because of how they dealt with their problems.”
What are some ways you handle the added stress of the current economic crisis?
Monday, March 23, 2009
It's late. Most of the offices are dark, and the only sound if the "squeak, squeak, squeak" of the cleaning guy's cart as he slowly wheels it down a nearby hallway.
At your desk, you try again to focus on the work in front of you. You've been working for 14 hours straight, and only grabbed some potato chips and a soda from the vending machine for dinner. Your head pounds and your neck and back are one continuous pulse of pain. You long ago shed your jacket and rolled up your sleeves. Your hair sticks up in spikes after you've run your hands through it about a thousand times in the last several hours. You figure you now smell as bad as you feel.
But you have no choice. You can't go home yet. Probably not for several more hours, you think angrily. Someone you stupidly trusted has let you down. Instead of coming through with his part of the report, he missed the deadline and then gave some lame excuse about how he couldn't work late.
"Sorry," he said, walking out the door hours ago.
So, that left you with the problem. You have to get the work done by tomorrow, because that's when the boss wants it done. You can't afford to lose this job, and that means that if you work 24 hours straight to turn it in on time, that's what you're going to do. But in the meantime, you hope karma really is a bitch -- you'd like to see your co-worker get a toe fungus that eventually overtakes his whole body.
Many of us have been through similar scenarios in our career. We trust our co-workers to come through for us, and when they don't, we're angry and vow never to trust them again.
Unfortunately, with today's lean workforce environments, we rely more than ever on one another to get the job done. Our success -- and our company's success -- depends on employees working together efficiently and productively. If one of those cogs in the wheel is faulty, then the whole operation can be jeopardy.
Let's look at ways to handle co-workers that drop the ball, and how to get them to pull their weight:
1. No one is a mind reader. Make sure that if you need a co-worker's input by a specific deadline, you've made that deadline clear. Don't nag -- that's sure to annoy the other person and only lead to more communication problems. If you think there may be problem, be positive: "David, I just want to check in and remind you that our deadline for those figures is Friday. How's it going -- any problems? No? Great! That's wonderful news. I'll check back in a couple of days."
2. Don't be a martyr. If you know the only way the work is going to get done is by pulling some long hours, don't get angry that you're probably the only one willing to do it. Instead, be proactive. "Mary, we've really got to make sure this report is done by Friday, and it looks like that means we're all going to have to pull some extra hours. What section do you want to tackle?"
3. Be persistent. Most of us are working very hard right now, but we all know the people who seem to be extraordinarily talented at escaping their share of the growing workload. Don't give in simply because it's easier to do it yourself. You'll only end up hurting yourself because you'll burn out that much sooner and possibly ruin your health. Instead, be focused on your objective, which is making sure the co-worker follows through on a work commitment. It's best to do this when you're not under the threat of a looming deadline. Pick a quiet time, and say, "Bob, it seems that I'm usually the one who puts in the late hours when there's a deadline. I'm willing to do my part, of course, but I'd like to talk about ways we can split the work a bit more fairly."
4. Acknowledge contributions. You may be angry and resentful by the time a co-worker does come through, but your sullenness won't help. Instead, be appreciative so that the co-worker's helpfulness won't be a one-time thing. "I see that you got the figures to Bob in time for us to include them in the report. That really helped us meet the deadline. Thanks."
What are some other ways to deal with co-workers who may not be shouldering their fair share of work?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Everyone knows that when a boss starts "paper-trailing" you -- giving you written reprimands that go into your personnel file -- you're in deep doo-doo.
That's because written reprimands are what bosses do when they're seriously considering booting you to the curb -- or have already made up their mind and are just going through the paper thing because human resources makes them.
But what happens when you get a "verbal" reprimand? Is that the same as a "paper" reprimand?
Well, yes and no.
Obviously, it's not paper, so that makes it different. And, if the boss were really fed up with you, he would be writing down what you did (or didn't do) and shooting off a copy to HR. But when he just verbally disses your performance, you've been given a (brief) reprieve to get your act together.
Usually, a supervisor will say something like, "This is your official verbal warning" or something to that effect. When you hear that, it's your cue to either a) start dusting off your resume or b) craft a battle plan to save your butt.
And, in this economy with the crappy job market, I'd suggest you focus on Plan B.
So, let's look at an action plan when you get a verbal warning from the boss:
1. Set the tone. Ask for a time to talk to your boss when you won't be interrupted. Trying to discuss a serious issue such as your performance while on an elevator or in the break room pouring a cup of coffee won't serve your interests well. By asking for a meeting, you show that you're taking what he said to heart.
2. Ask for specifics. The boss saying, "You're not a team player" isn't going to be very illuminating, so ask if he can provide specific instances of this behavior. Don't be confrontational or defensive: Listen and take notes.
3. Set goals. Just as in a formal yearly performance appraisal, you should always have a clear road map of where you need to go. In this case, you're looking for things you can do right away to show the boss you're serious about meeting expectations. Then, ask about long-term expectations: Have those changed since your last evaluation?
4. Follow up. After you've had your meeting, use your notes to write a formal e-mail to your boss, outlining your expectations and goals. Tell the boss how much you appreciate the feedback. Make sure you send your boss e-mails when you've met those expectations: Bosses aren't the only ones who can paper-trail. Keeping track of your accomplishments is a good practice not only for employees who are in trouble, but as a way to have solid proof of your contributions. Set up regular appointments with the boss to make sure you're staying on track.
5. Kick your own butt. Once you've got a good idea of what the boss expects, it's time to take a hard look at your performance. Is the verbal reprimand an indication of a more serious problem? Do you need anger management classes, or perhaps more training in an area that makes you defensive because you lack the necessary skills? Are you deliberately doing a poor job because you resent a co-worker or the boss? This is a good opportunity to find a mentor who is willing to give you honest feedback and help steer you back on course.
What other steps should someone take after a verbal reprimand?
Monday, March 16, 2009
The thought of Tiger Woods not playing golf is enough to cause many fans and amateur golfers to hyperventilate. But what if one day no one wanted to pay to watch golf, and all the sponsors said they would rather start supporting ping pong? Would you advise Tiger to switch to ping pong? It would seem wrong to many who have watched Tiger's talent over the years. But then again, if there's not a living to be made in golf, why stick with it?
But what in the world will Tiger do? He's been playing for so many years and has so many contacts within the golfing world, can he make the transition to ping pong? Well, some ping pong coaches might say that Tiger is too old to learn a new skill. At the same time, there might be doubt that his age is beginning to take a toll, as evidenced by his recent surgery and rehab. But those who know Tiger might just say that he's got plenty of juice left, and he can learn a new skill and be great at it. Even ping pong.
That's the case for many facing career transitions today. Maybe they aren't pro golfers, but they have been good -- great -- at their jobs. Auto workers, mortgage brokers and even journalists are having to take a hard look at what else they can do, but believe they could be great at something else.
But for many of them, this mid-career job switch is daunting, if not outright paralyzing.
Recently I interviewed Alan Brown, a DHL pilot for 20 years. He agreed that many of those more experienced workers facing layoffs are not facing up to the harsh reality of today's economy.
“I’m 52. I’m a realist and a survivor. But it’s not realistic to think I can keep being a pilot, not with all the layoffs and the thousands of pilots that are already out of work,” Brown says. “I have to find another career.”
But Brown doesn’t hear of similar conversations among co-workers.
“I gotta tell you I’ve been flabbergasted that people (at work) are just sitting around waiting for the shoe to drop,” Brown says. “I think they’re in panic mode. They’re not doing anything right now. “
That’s a scenario familiar to Walter Akana, an Atlanta career coach who specializes in mid-career changes.
“I see a lot of people who are like deer caught in the headlights,” Akana says. “There’s a lot of fear about not knowing what to do, especially for the people who are mid-career. They’re a very hard group to motivate, but they probably need it the most.”
Brown, of Goshen, Ohio, says that he decided when things turned bad for his company to pursue a second love: computers. He says that he is “excited” about the possibilities of becoming a web designer, and has been taking classes through lynda.com, an online training and education site, and his local vocational technical school. He soon hopes to achieve his certified Internet web (CIW) professional certification.
“I’m not a techno-genius, and I’m not a computer engineer,” he says. “But I think with my life experiences and my maturity, I think I’m being realistic when I say I know I can make a new career in this field. I’m determined.”
Still, letting go of a career he loved for decades has not been easy for Brown, who admits that he has tough “moments” when he considers how his life has changed.
“It has been a sour pill to swallow,” he says. “But I believe we each have to discover and decide, realistically, what our purpose, talents and abilities are. Then it is up to each of us on how to act on those discoveries and become what we can.”
Akana says many laid off mid-career workers need to have the heart-to-heart talk with themselves that Brown has had, and to realistically examine how they can go about changing careers.
“I think this age group is more scared than any other,” Akana says. “So many of them are in a state of denial.”
Akana says that there are solid steps any mid-career worker can take to not only help ease them into the idea of changing careers, but to discover what other jobs they are capable of doing. He suggests:
1. Determining what has driven success. “Do a real thorough career evaluation and look at your personal branding,” he says. For example, ask yourself:. What are your values? What has made you successful to this point? What are your achievements? What are you good at? What are you most proud of? What did you do to reach your success?
2. Assess your strength. “Where do your skills and your passion and your values overlap? For example, if you sell insurance, it’s not about selling insurance. It’s about your ability to build relationships,” he says. “That’s what you’re good at and you like doing.”
3. If you could solve one problem, what would it be? While Akana calls this the “Miss America question” he says it’s designed to make people look beyond the obvious answer such as of “bringing world peace” and instead think about what one lesson they would like to teach the world. While admitedly a difficult part of the mid-career exercise, Akana says that finding the vision for your life helps you find the job that is right for you.
4. Avoid dead-ends. If you’re in the mortgage industry, then you know trying to find another job in that field isn’t a viable choice. But you can tranfer those skills – attention to detail, working well with people, negotiation, etc., into other growing fields. For example, Brown says that while he can dig a ditch or drive a tractor or even fix a leaky faucet, he found that his love of technology and the other skills he used as a pilot have helped him make a smooth transition into learning to be a web designer. (Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook to see where industry growth and jobs are expected.)
5. Be open. Akana says it’s a smart strategy to use personal passions and hobbies to transition into new careers, and also advises volunteering in a field that interests you as a way to gain insight and experience – and contacts – for a new career.
Brown says he’s excited about the new possibilities in his life. “I keep telling myself and others that losing my job and, or career, could possibly be one of the best things that ever happened to me, or us,” he says.
And, who knows, you might just love ping pong.
What are some other suggestions for mid-career job seekers?
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I had never heard of the "Premio Dardos" award until Robyn McMaster told me she had given it to me. While I'm disappointed this doesn't involve being given an award made of chocolate, I am still excited that someone as smart and "brainy" as Robyn thought this blog worthy of recognition.
According to the rules of the Premio Dardos ("prize darts" in Italian), I am supposed to pass it along to 15 other great bloggers in recognition of cultural, ethical, literary and personal values in the form of creative and original writing.
When I did a little research, I've learned that a lot of terrific blogs have already been recognized, so I'm going to try and mention a few that may not have received this award yet. If you've already gotten the award, then let this be a message from me that you do great work.
My list of bloggers, in no particular order:
1. Career Diva by Eva Tahmincioglu
2. What Would Dad Say by G.L. Hoffman
3.Keppie Careers by Miriam Salpeter
4. JibberJobber by Jason Alba
5. No Assembly Requiredby Thom Singer
6. Plant Whatever Brings You Joy by Kathryn Hall
7. The Urban Muse by Susan Johnston
8.Water Cooler Wisdomby Alexandra Levit
9. Cube Rulesby Scot Herrick
10. Career Encouragement
11. Evil HR Lady
12. Cranky Middle Managerby Wayne Turmel
13. Life@Workby Heather Mundell
14. Pongo Resume
15. Dr. Judith Orloff
I've been greatly inspired by these blogs, and hope you are, too. To my "Premium Dardos" recipients, I promise next time there will be chocolate. For now, take a bow.
Monday, March 9, 2009
If you would have suggested a year ago to employees that they should take an unpaid leave for a few days or even a week to help out an employer's bottom line, they might have suggested you assume an anatomically difficult position.
Now, employees are volunteering to take time off without pay in order to help employers avoid layoffs.
While career coaches are advising employees to use any furlough time to network and spiff up their resumes and interviewing skills, I began wondering what workers really were planning to do on their days off. Since I know many employees these days feel stressed and overworked (and have for many years), I wondered if all of them truly planned to keep their game face on when they were taking a furlough.
Lynnette Harris, employed by the state of Utah, told me that when she first heard employees were going to take a one-week furlough to help with the state's budget crunch, her first thought was that is was a much better alternative than making layoffs.
Her second thought was that she would finally have time to wade through her book club’s selection this month: the 900-page classic, “Don Quixote.”
“You can grouse about the furlough, but you can also look at it another way. So, I choose to think that I’ll be home to have a girls spa day with my daughter. I’ll clean out a couple of closets while the witnesses are at school and won’t stop me from donating things they haven’t used in years to a local second-hand store,” says Harris, who works for Utah State University’s School of Agriculture. “I’ll cook some things I don’t normally have time for because of work.”
It appeared Harris wasn't alone in her thoughts of using her furlough time for relaxing and catching up on her personal tasks.
Pati Brown, who works for the State of California’s museums and historical parks, told me she will use her two-day a month furlough, as mandated by the state, to paint her master bedroom, fix the patio cover, perhaps schedule a doctor’s appointment, get some car repairs taken care of and maybe even get her hair done.
While Brown and Harris were realistic about the future and know the financial hit won't be fun, I could tell they were both sort of looking forward to some guilt-free time off. I say "guilt-free" because one of the rules of furloughs is that you can't check your e-mails, sneak into work, make phone calls about work, etc. That's because if you do, it could cause legal problems for the employer because it could be argued you were working -- and that means you should be paid. (Sort of defeating the purpose of the furlough.)
When was the last time your boss told you to take time off, and forbid you to check e-mail? Or to even call into work? When was the last time you didn't feel guilty for not checking your messages while you took a personal day or didn't take your laptop to check e-mail on vacation?
That's why I was so struck by Brown's prediction: "This may permanently alter the American workforce once people adjust to the lower income.”
Harris echoed that sentiment. Like many working couples with children, Harris says she and her husband often have a hectic non-stop blur of constant obligations and activities. “Shifting gears might not be the worst thing for us,” she says.
So, I asked work/life balance expert Lori Long what she thought of the idea that the American workplace may be undergoing a shift. She agreed with the two women I interviewed and even went one step further, predicting that employers are going to see more than a quick bottom-line benefit from the furloughs.
“Workers may become more efficient because they know they have to get work done in less time. And, because these workers are going to be less stressed when they’ve had some time off, I think they’re going to be happier and more productive and creative,” Long says. “We may find that a temporary solution becomes a permanent solution.”
For right now, Brown and Harris say they’re viewing the furloughs favorably because they hope they will help avoid any layoffs.
“My husband is self-employed and his business has really been down, so I need this job for the money and the health insurance. If we take these furloughs for the greater good – to keep anyone from losing their job – then how can that be a bad thing? Sure, it’s going to cost us, but it also has made me really look at what we need, and what we just think we need,” Harris says.
What other impact do you think the workplace will undergo because of these tough times?
Thursday, March 5, 2009
When you get an angry or nasty e-mail from a co-worker, the first thing you probably want to do is fire one back.
"Listen, you moron," you type. "You can take your ridiculous ideas and shove them up your ...."
Don't send it. You know better. You understand that it's not smart to put such a message in an e-mail, but when you've been unfairly accused of something, or the co-worker makes snide comments about you or your job performance, you really, really want to respond in kind.
But before you burn up your keyboard typing back a nasty message, let's look at the smarter way to respond:
1. Walk away. Any time you get such a message, physically get away from it. Go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, walk a flight of stairs. Just remove yourself from the message until you get a chance to let your brain come off the "red alert" status.
2. Sit on it. Once you've returned to your computer, you still should not reply right away. If you can, don't even respond that day. But if the issue is time-sensitive, phone the person or talk to him or her face-to-face. Ask for a convenient time to discuss the issue. Be calm: "I just got your message and I think we should talk. When would be a good time for you?"
3. Weed out the uglies. Before your meeting, make note of the facts. NOT the ugly tone or the insults. Once you dissect it, you may see that the person has a point -- maybe you have missed a deadline, or said or did something that caused the co-worker problems. The best way to disarm a volatile situation is to be calm and say: "I think you have a point about communicating better. That's why from now on I'm going to ...."
4. Don't be bullied. If the person again results to insults, you say: "I am not going to be talked to that way. I'd like to talk about the facts and resolve this issue." If the situation again spirals into insults, walk away. You may end up having to involve human resources if the situation continues to deteriorate. Make sure you have a hard copy of the initial e-mail to show them.
5. Learn from it. You may come to understand from that nasty e-mail what it feels like to have someone be so unprofessional. Maybe you've done something similar when you've been peeved and sent an e-mail in the heat of the moment. In that case, you can benefit from No. 1 and 2. Walk away and sit on it. Don't send it. Have a face-to-face conversation or phone call when you've had time to calm down. It's always better to have a personal conversation about a problem, rather than using an impersonal communication method such as e-mail.
Have you ever received a nasty e-mail from a co-worker? What do you think is the best way to respond?
Monday, March 2, 2009
Recently on Twitter I told Ari Herzog that the photo he posted of a recent job fair reminded me of a herd of wildebeests looking for the last watering hole.
I've seen quite a few similar photos: Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people lined up for a limited number of jobs. From the slouching teen with multiple body piercings talking on a cell phone to the over 45 job seeker clad in a Burberry trench coat, tapping away on a Blackberry, they all stand in line trying not to appear desperate that they need a job.
Looking at these photos, I wondered if any of these people thought about trying to get a job in a market that wasn't so saturated with job seekers. But after talking with several people looking for work, I came to understand that many of them simply didn't want to move away from friends and family, and were hopeful the job market would turn around. Still others couldn't move because a spouse still had a job in that city, or because they knew they couldn't sell their home in this crappy housing market.
And then I spoke with Jenny Brooks, 32, who made the decision in June 2008 to move her family to Birmingham, Ala. from Coos Bay, Ore. to launch a public relations campaign for a new client of her Northern California employer. With her employer offering a $6,000 moving allowance and a promise of six months rent paid in the new location while she tried to sell her Coos Bay home, Brooks, her husband and two young daughters made the move to what they hoped was a great career opportunity in a bigger city with more to offer.
Unfortunately, that dream has come crashing down. A couple of weeks ago, Brooks lost her job when her new client filed for bankruptcy. She can’t get her old job back with her Northern California employer, because the economic downturn has also hit that company.
“It was sort of a perfect storm,” she says. “It just all happened so fast.”
While Brooks’ husband was able to transfer within his company to Birmingham, she is now doing freelance public relations work. She says that the home in Coos Bay is “way underwater” – worth less than what the couple paid for it. And, the renters who were occupying a home the couple owns in Phoenix has moved out.
“We took a big risk moving to Birmingham. We gambled and bet this would work out. But it didn’t,” she says.
Cheryl Palmer, a certified executive career coach and founder of Call to Career in Silver Spring, Md., says that in this rough housing and job market, “there’s no straight answer on what to do” when it comes to relocation for a job.
“There are more variables with dire consequences now,” Palmer says. “With the economy shrinking, the potential fallout (from relocation) is that much greater. You’ve really got to weigh some of the factors very carefully.”
According to a Relocation.com survey, people continue to relocate in the U.S., with the South and West attracting the most people. And while there are jobs in those areas of the country, it doesn’t guarantee such a move is right for you and your family, Palmer says.
She recommends anyone considering a relocation should:
· Do your due diligence. Make sure you research the financial health of the company and that it appears to be growing and doing well in spite of the recession.
· Scout the new location. “There is always the possibility that the job may not work out after you take it, so have a backup plan,” Palmer says. “You should know ahead of time what the job market looks like for people in your field so that you have a reasonable assurance that you can find another job.”
Brooks says she and her husband may end up moving to Phoenix, since that’s where they not only own a home, but where they have the most professional and personal contacts.
“You still get jobs based on who you know. Anyone can get a job at a fast-food restaurant. But can that really support a family? You’ve got to think long term,” Brooks says. “We really don’t have any contacts in Birmingham.”
· Get as much financial assistance as possible. Palmer says that some companies will help you sell your home as part of a relocation package, which is usually a positive sign that the company would be worth relocating for. In Brooks’ case, she says that the move actually cost about $2,000 more than she was given, and that doesn’t include the $1,000 it cost the family to set up a household and pay for things like utility deposits. “My advice would be to ask for everything (in relocation reimbursement). It’s your future and your family’s future,” Brooks says.
At the same time, you may have to consider footing the bill yourself if you want the job badly enough, Palmer says.
“The industries that really need people – such as nursing, or the employers in states like Wisconsin that are really looking for workers – they may offer assistance,” Palmer says. “But I’ve also advised some of my clients that if you want the job, you may be able to sway them to hire you by saying you’ll pay for relocation yourself.”
Despite losing her job and now being saddled with two mortgages, Brooks remains positive about the changes facing her.
“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve come into contact with amazing people. This move was something we needed to do. So I’d tell people not to let fear tell you what to do,” Brooks says.