Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Book Review: Learn to Bounce by Anita Caputo & Lee Wallace

Bounce is a sneaky book. Read it straight through quickly and it will seem a bit mundane, dry and repetitious. That's a mistake. Read it slowly, one short case at a time, and you will find yourself drifting off into reflection on your own life and career. That's quite therapeutic.

Three quarters of the book consists of two to four page stories of twenty-eight real individuals or couples (most often with their real names and given some of the details they reveal, it was a brave act to do so ... but then I always found tech work culture and people to be more direct and open) going through a layoff and ultimately successful job search after the high-tech bubble burst. One of the authors, Anita Caputo, tells her own story. From high-tech job she has now made the career transition from IT business manager to career coach, motivational speaker and management trainer. Disclosure: I am proud to say that Anita is a former colleague at the big N and a good friend. Fellow author Lee Wallace brings his 30 years experience as a career counselor and coach to the book.

The other quarter of the book consists of the authors' tips and strategies for success in finding new work. The book focuses on the impact of emotions and state of mind since the authors believe through their experience and that of the interview subjects that those are the critical elements of a successful bounce back, not just into any old job, but something that is fulfilling. Curiously, the presentation and writing style is not emotional, it is very matter of fact, but maybe that's a reflection of the philosophy of successfully bouncing back - "_ _ _ _ happens", the sooner you accept it and move on, the better off you are.

The large number of stories allows the authors to present a very wide variety of types of people, obstacles and eventual outcomes. Many are more difficult situations - people highly specialized, mid-forties or fifties, lengthy time with one employer (and thus not used to the job search process), children to support, medical problems to deal with, spending years out of work (technical skills getting rusty etc).

All are success stories, there are no tales of permanent failure and woe, though hardships along the route to success are not glossed over. No doubt, the tech meltdown caused some to fail (I know some tech families ended up staying in the City of Ottawa's homeless shelter, though I don't know what happened ultimately). There are many ways to fail. The authors have decided to focus on the positive.

Despite all its subjects coming from high-tech, this is not a book about high-tech. Company names are completely absent from the text, evidently a deliberate attempt to distance the message from the specific industry. The significance of high-tech is that the meltdown provoked a quite unique set of extreme and highly instructive circumstances - educated, skilled and experienced people suddenly faced a situation where their industry and technical knowledge were more or less useless because there were almost no jobs in the sector. They were thus forced to be imaginative and resourceful. But the gratifying result is that they succeeded anyway.

The importance of networking appears consistently in many stories, how making connections through others produced far more results than browsing the Internet. The interviewees and authors say over and over that the time to do networking is always - never to stop. When I was out of work, I found networking to be the most awkward and difficult of things to do. But it did get me at least one job and played a role in the other job I found after my layoffs. Networking is a two-way street - being able to help others find a job is deeply satisfying. In financial terms, it could be termed social capital. Just as you have financial capital, which store financial assets to be spent when you need them, and human capital of training, education, knowledge, experience and skills, which store value of use to employers, you have social capital of connections with people, favours and services rendered, which you can lever/"spend" to find a job (and can be extremely useful in doing a job as well). The authors note that quickest to find work were those with the best networks in place.

In terms of personal finances, the book mentions in passing a number of principles that seem self-evident but they sure help or hurt if you do them or not so the reminder is salutary: having savings to fall back on relieves some of the pressure; having to take on debt during unemployment "rots the gut"; investing in high-tech while working in the sector is a stupid thing to do (mea culpa, I did it), i.e. diversification is more important than "investing in what you know"; household expenses can be cut drastically if necessary (one family cut down to a third of what it spent before the layoff), ideally when the warning signs appear; the time to pay attention to family finances is during good times, i.e. start saving, mind diversification now and if you are too busy working to do it yourself, hire a good advisor.

If you ever get caught in a layoff, you need this book. It will remind you that, no matter what your circumstances, you can bounce back and it will guide you how to do it. Others did it, you can do it.

If you are working in a job you don't like or you feel in a rut, there's a fair chance you will get laid off sometime to relieve you of this problem (e.g. in my mini survey on this blog half the respondents had been laid off at least once). This book will give you ideas what to do next to find something better and make you feel thankful for the layoff.

If you are happily working in a great job (as I was in high tech before laid off), this book will help you understand that being laid off is not the end of the world. It is not even necessarily a net negative. Happiness does not come in only one job. In short, the people in this book exemplify the philosophy in the Tom Hanks line of the movie Forest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

My rating on this book: 4.5 out of 5.

To order a copy on-line, go to the LearntoBounce website. On Chapters it seems to be "temporarily unavailable". Update Jan.12 - Chapters has finally fixed the problem and it can now be ordered there as well.

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