Wednesday, 14 May 2008

"Bouncers" Author Interview

Back in December I posted a review of the fine book Learn to Bounce by Anita Caputo and Lee Wallace. The book gives valuable advice on how to overcome a job loss and again find fulfilling work.

Anita agreed to answer a few questions I had after reading the book. Here are the answers. There are some especially valuable comments about how to deal with finances before and during an unexpected job loss.

1) Why did you and Lee write this book? What was lacking out there that you felt it worthwhile to put all that effort into a book?

We wrote the book to provide hope and inspiration to people who are in job search mode. We decided to write the book when tens of thousands of people had been laid off when the bottom dropped out of the global high-tech industry. The unemployed had no productive outlet in a market that offered few, if any, jobs that suited their skills and experience. We wanted to restore people’s confidence and encourage them at a time when there was little good economic news. We wanted to highlight that some individuals did find work – not just any job, but work that fit them well. We wanted people to know that “If they can do it, you can do it!” even during the worst of economic times.

FYI, as the USA moves into recession and thousands of jobs are being lost, particularly in the financial sector due to the credit crunch, the stories and solid advice apply equally to anyone experiencing unemployment.

2) What surprised you the most, or differed the most from your preconceptions about the realities of being laid off?

First of all, I never imagined that it could happen to me. Isn’t that typical? And I still believe that if we had not had such a huge economic downturn, I would still be working in high-tech wondering what I would really want to do.

When I saw others being laid off, I always thought how lucky they were to be collecting a severance package and having time off, particularly if they were laid off during prime vacation times. Here is what I learned.
a) Being laid off is not a vacation. Finding another job is a full time job!
b) Severance/redundancy payments are not winning the lottery. If you are out of work for an extended period of time, and/or if you have large financial obligations, you will need every penny of what you were paid and maybe even more.
c) I find myself being more empathetic and I will “go out of my way” to help someone who is laid off. There is nothing like “walking a mile in another man’s shoes” to know what it is really like. Providing someone who is looking for work with connections to other people who can help them, or to potential jobs is very important to me.
d) I will treat someone who is laid off from a job the same way I would treat someone who has resigned from a job. When someone is laid off, I recommend you have a celebration, take them out for lunch or follow whatever ritual you would normally follow. Often when someone loses their job, they feel like they have done something wrong (even if/when they haven’t). Treating them equally helps to reduce the stigma a laid off person feels. It helps to bring proper closure to what was an important part of their life. There are two things people did for me are very memorable. One, a colleague that I worked very closely with sent me flowers saying “This is the first day of the rest of your life”. Secondly, when I went out for lunch with someone who was employed, I was very grateful when they volunteered to picked up the tab.

3)What was the greatest challenge in writing the book?

Getting it done! As we have often said, Lee Wallace and I had real jobs. We did not get paid to write. We had to make the money to pay for the book.

Staying motivated was also a challenge. Working as co-authors had many benefits. One significant benefit was “picking up the slack” or helping to motivate the other person as/when required.

4) What are the main financial bits of wisdom coming out of the experiences of the layoff-ees?

Save while times are good. Definitely save and cut back on expenses, particularly “if the writing is on the wall” and you think you may be laid off.
Pay off any debt that is not tax deductible, i.e. invest in something that makes you money. If you are debt free, you will have the financial flexibility to pursue the work and life style you want without feeling pressured. If required, have the courage to ask for financial assistance from family and friends.

The following tips are direct quotes from the people we interviewed in Learn to Bounce:
  • Control your costs if you get laid off, to minimize your debt.
  • Be prepared to start at the bottom if you go into a new field.
  • Pay attention to your finances. A projection of expenses and income will tell you where you stand.
  • Cut back expenses if necessary.
  • Save and invest when times are good.
  • Accept support from your family and friends.
  • Don’t expect the same salary you were making in high tech before the downturn.
  • Be prepared to start again from the bottom, if you are changing fields.
  • Get your finances in order when times are good. Those who were prepared didn’t panic when they got laid off.
  • Be financially prepared in case you get laid off. If you do, cut back immediately.

5) What proportion of the people in the book would still be happily in high tech if the meltdown had not happened?

Your guess is as good as mine. I suspect almost all. The reason I say that is that each and every one of the people we interviewed were relatively content with their work until the down turn happened. If you like challenge in your work and a positive work environment, which most people do, then the high tech environment satisfies your needs. High tech is a fast paced, challenging and exciting sector to work in. When people were laid off from high-tech during the early part of this decade, due to the terrible job prospects in the sector, people had the time, opportunity, and in some cases the financial means to explore other career options.

6) Is there any way to prepare people for a world of layoffs; who should do it - the employer, schools?

Interesting question. Being prepared for “a world of layoffs” is really being prepared for “a world of job change”. The only difference between being laid off and quitting a job is who chooses to initiate the job change. I think life experiences have prepared generations Y and perhaps X to live in a world of change and to expect a portfolio of careers. Younger workers typically do not expect to spend the rest of their life with one employer and certainly not in one job.

Regardless of who initiates a job change, the keys to landing another job quickly and easily are clarity of what you want to do next, and leveraging your social network to land the work of your choice.

7) Do you think there's a conflict between loyalty to the employer and loyalty to yourself?

Not at all. Loyalty to yourself is loyalty to your employer. Assuming that loyalty to yourself be working in an area of interest and doing work you are passionate about, then you will love your work. In turn you will do your best and your employer will love your work too! As long as what a person enjoys doing and the environment they like to work in, matches what an employer requires and what they offer, everyone wins.

8) Is loyalty to the employer an outmoded concept? How do you think people should manage the balance between what the employer wants you to do and what you want to do? Has your experience being self-employed influenced your perception of doing what you want vs what the employer wants? For instance, as a self-employed person are you able to do exactly what you want all the time?

Loyalty to an employer is not an outmoded concept. See #7. The definition of loyalty in the dictionary is “a feeling of devotion, duty, or attachment to somebody or something”. No where does it say for “how long”.

It is up to you to be clear about what you enjoy, what you want and what you don’t want in a job. Likewise it is up to an employer to be realistic and clear of the kind of work expected and the work environment it can offer. The key is to have a perfect match. If there is an aspect of a job that you perceive as not being totally aligned with what you think you want to do, it may be worth taking the risk and trying it. The reality is that until you actually try something, you really don’t know how much you may enjoy doing it. Recently a reporter told me and Lee Wallace a story of how she accidentally fell into a career of writing. She never thought she would enjoy writing until she did it.

There is always “stuff” that we prefer not to do. For some it can be the basics of caring for yourself, like cooking, cleaning or exercising. If you feel like you are leading a fulfilled life, you are finding a way to get the necessary things done, while staying focused on the things that fulfill you; doing the things you value and enjoy most. Work is part of living your life in a manner that fulfills you.

With respect to myself and self-employment, self-employment gives me flexibility in my schedule that suits my family life most of the time. I am usually here for my teenage daughters, the other relationships that I value, and for my volunteer activities. That being said, there have been many times that I have missed parent teacher interviews or other important school events because I was out of town. Those important responsibilities get completed at another time that suits my schedule or my husband is able to fulfill a responsibility for us. Just like everyone else, I am always managing my life and my schedule to strike that right balance.

9) Any more book projects on the go or in your head?

There is definitely more to come. We live in a world filled with opportunity. The challenge is choosing the work/project that I want to do next, the work/project that I am passionate about, and the work/project that will provide the financial rewards and life style that I desire. The beauty and challenge of self-employment is that the choice is mine. That choice comes with 100% responsibility for the results too.

As I write the answers to these questions, I am leveraging my network to determine what I will be doing next and how.

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