14.1  Keep Calm and Carry On

During WWII, the British government placed inspirational posters in strategic spots all across England. London was being bombed relentlessly and people were on the verge of panic. The message was simple: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Sometimes there is very little you can personally do to change things - you just have to keep calm and carry on. This recession is one of those globally devastating events that cannot be fixed by any one individual. No one escapes the new reality. Recently laid off workers face tons of competition. New graduates are particularly hard hit by the downturn as they struggle to find their way in life. An entire generation of young people is caught up in the recession’s paralyzing grip.

Life until 2007 was soooooo promising. Before 2007, technology, expected baby boomer retirements, and the constantly expanding global economy offered what appeared to be an extraordinarily bright future. For those who recently joined the ranks of the unemployed, life is not so promising. It is, in fact, very challenging.

Keep Calm and Carry On. The message is two-fold. It is important to be calm, but you must also carry on. There may be nothing that you can do to end the recession, but there are things you can do to help yourself during these trying times. Keeping calm and maintaining a positive attitude is essential. Carrying on is where the power lies.

Sometimes it is necessary to find alternative, legitimate uses of your time during a period like this. Carrying on means having purpose in your life even when you can not find someone who values your services with a salary. You place value on your time by doing something of value.

I was reminded in a most graphic way recently about the consequences of doing nothing. I saw a young man who graduated in June of 2009 and had been interviewed for a very good job. A ton of other new graduates qualified for the job but he got the interview. As the interview progressed, the interviewer asked: “What have you been doing since you graduated?” It had been more than a year since the young man had been doing something really productive (being a student) and it was a legitimate question. The young man was perplexed by the question and answered, “I have been looking for work.” The interviewer probed: “Is that all you have been doing?” The first answer was not impressive ... The real question the interviewer was asking was, “What have you been doing to improve yourself as you look for work?” The answer was: “Nothing.” That young man is still unemployed.

These times are challenging and you have to measure up. Employers will expect you to multitask on the job so you must demonstrate the ability now. Besides looking for work, DO SOMETHING! Do something for yourself, do something for someone else...

You need to have an answer to the question, what have you been doing since you graduated or since you were laid off, other than just looking for work. Yes, looking for work can seem like an all consuming task, but it is not enough to impress an employer when you have been out of work for more than 6 months. The average length of time it takes to find a job is now 6 to 8 months. Many people are taking much longer - up to two years - and some people will become part of the permanently unemployed as certain jobs disappear from the labor market forever.

There are a ton of people out there running a little faster and jumping a bit higher than you are. People always say, “I don’t have time to do anymore”. When I was a student I took a class from the famous artist, Joseph Raffael, who said, “The more you do, the more you can do. The less you do the less you can do.”

What do you need to do to make yourself an attractive candidate for your ideal job when opportunities are not quite so boundless? What will make you stand out from the pack? Take a career class, learn a new language, improve your computer skills, travel, build something, start a small business, volunteer at a homeless shelter ... the possibilities are limitless.

One construction management student started his own home repair and remodeling business and even employs other students on the projects he takes on. He has more work than he can handle and is finishing his degree while he works. Every job he does affords him referrals to the friends of his current customers. Every job he does is another reference for the incredible work he is capable of doing.

Sometimes it is a matter of being in the right place, doing the right thing, at the right time, organizing your luck by being ready for opportunity when it occurs. Taking a career planning class or reading a career planning book (seriousjobseeker.com) goes a long way to preparing you to take advantage of the possibilities even before they hatch.

My all time favorite story is about a job seeker in the last recession who could not find a position no matter how hard he tried. He had interviewed repeatedly with no resulting offer. He volunteered to teach a computer class at Mustard Seed, a school for homeless children. That so impressed the interviewers at a large state agency that they offered him a job.

One job seeker who took my career planning class met a hiring manager at a career fair last spring, and then noticed that the market was faltering. He wrote a letter offering to volunteer for the summer. The manager and the company president were so impressed with his approach that two weeks after he started volunteering they hired him.

Another job seeker who took my class last spring met a manager at the spring career fair and requested an informational interview (on site company visit - a class requirement). During the visit he learned all about the company and they got a chance to look him over and see his enthusiasm. That (and having a resume ready) was all it took for them to offer him a summer internship that will last well into the fall ... this in the middle of the recession.

Still another job seeker who took my career planning class two years ago discovered that his current employer, Sacramento Regional Transit, was not going to be able to offer him a permanent position at graduation. He networked with the RT managers he had worked with. They put in a good word for him with a San Francisco consulting firm doing railway design and construction management. That connected him with a full-time career position that is just perfect given his interests.

Even in the tightest market, things are not always what they seem. If you only look at the bad news you miss the good news. There are always companies hiring. I read local and national stories about companies that are growing. For example, the Sacramento Business Journal is full of articles about companies that are expanding operations. The most exciting story I have read recently is about Altergy Systems. According to the Sacramento Business Journal, this company has 50 employees in Folsom and “plans to hire 20 more employees -- mostly in sales, engineering, and product line management -- by the end of the year”. Now that’s a tip!

There are things you can do now to enhance your chances. What are you doing with your time right now?

Keep calm and carry on.