Career Column: How to Market Yourself After a Layoff

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So, you've been laid off. You were a high-flying executive in a technology company two years ago and now you are grounded.

The good news is: you're not alone - there are thousands of other people out there in the same position. The bad news is: you're not alone - there are thousands of people out there in the same position, and you will have to find a way to set yourself apart from them as you look for a new position.

To move yourself forward through what will likely be an intensive search is difficult, but essential, and the operative words are "moving forward." If you merely present your past accomplishments to prospective new employers, you will remain planted in your past. Instead, you need to use your past experience to convince employers that you have the knowledge and skills of their company and their industry to help move them forward. If you can do that, you will propel yourself into a new position and challenge.

The reality is that companies want people who know how to win. Here's how to present yourself as a winner and come out on the winning end of a new job, perhaps in a new industry.

1. Learn How to Market Yourself.
Keeping an upbeat attitude may be the most difficult task of all. At a time when you may be feeling down and out, you must nonetheless remain positive and upbeat. Don't let yourself get disillusioned or sidetracked and never give up faith in yourself and your abilities. Most people hate acting as their own direct marketer, but that is what searching for a job is all about. People are not lucky - - they create their own luck. It starts with marketing the best product that you have - - you.

a. Create a focused plan. Research which industries and areas of the country are hot right now and identify companies within those industries and geographic areas that you want to approach. Don't assume that you must limit your search to the industry in which you last worked. If possible within the constraints of your personal life, look at companies in new areas of the country (or world). Once you have decided the industries and geographic areas in which you would like to search, network constantly and aggressively, but with focus. Direct your networking to where there are real opportunities. This also involves extensive research: you must learn who the contact people are in the companies, associations and cities in which you are searching and seek out those specific people.

b. Create the right pitch. In order to land an interview, you first must get past the "gatekeeper" - e.g., the secretary or administrative assistant who controls access to the person with hiring authority. This isn't easy and requires you to develop a pitch that sets you apart from other job seekers. The worst thing you can say is, "I'd like to speak with Bob Jones about employment opportunities." You will be dead in the water with that one. Instead, craft a pitch that demonstrates your knowledge of the company, its products, its markets or its industry. You are much more likely to reach Bob Jones if you tell his assistant that, "I have research on how the data warehousing industry can increase sales and would like to present my findings to Mr. Jones."

c. In the interview, sell yourself through your own questions. Most interviewers remember more of what they have said during an interview than what the applicant has said. To get beyond this, and to set yourself apart from others, you should impress the interviewer with your own knowledge of the company and its industry. The best way to do this is by asking concise, focused questions that allow you to demonstrate that you've done significant research about the industry, about the company itself - including its products, its market and its competitors. And last but not least, you need to demonstrate that, as a result of your past experience, you can help move the company forward.

2. Be willing to take a step backward.
If it appears that you may have to accept a position at a lower level on the executive ladder than your previous one, don't assume that you are losing opportunities to move forward. In a hot company, or a hot industry, you may move ahead faster than if you seek higher positions in companies or industries that are contracting.

3. Approach lots of companies.
In this economy, it is unrealistic to expect that you can successfully land a new job by talking to only a handful of companies. You should plan to approach a minimum of 50 companies, and contacting 100 companies is not out of the question. From this, if you have followed all the other steps outlined above, you should have a good chance of landing five to seven interviews.

Searching for a new job following a layoff can be one of the most difficult, draining and demoralizing processes that people have to endure. Or, it can become one of the most uplifting, eye-opening experiences that can change your life for the better. Just give yourself time, don't lose your self-confidence and follow a well-crafted plan. Most important, never forget that employers are looking for people who can demonstrate energy, intelligence, aggressiveness and persistence. And persistence will pay off.

Jeffrey Christian is the President and CEO of Christian & Timbers, the Cleveland-based executive search firm he founded in 1979, which now ranks among the top 12 such firms in the country. Mr. Christian was recently named to the Forbes Midas List which ranked him as one of the top 50 most influential deal makers in technology.

Editor's note: This column first appeared on CIN, an internet.com site for IT executives.

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