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Bradley Richardson on Losing Your Job
Bradley Richardson, managing partner at recruiting firm Kaye/Bassman International, is an internationally best-selling business author, professional speaker and recruiting and career development expert. His counsel has helped guide the recruiting efforts of such leading companies as Southwest Airlines, AT&T and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has written two best-selling books on career transition: Career Comeback: Eight Steps to Getting Back on Your Feet When You’re Fired, Laid Off, or Your Business Venture Has Failed—and Finding More Job Satisfaction Than Ever Before and Job Smarts for Twentysomethings. In addition to being a guest columnist with The Dallas Morning News, Richardson has also shared his expertise on “Good Morning America,” ABC News, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, Bloomberg Television and NPR. Here, Richardson shares his tips dealing with a job loss.
How did you come up with the idea for your book Career Comeback?
I was sitting at dinner with my wife and other couples. My wife pulled me aside and said, “Don’t say anything. So and so just got let go today.” Well, you’ve got five guys sitting round the table, and you’ve covered movies and sports—what do you talk about? You talk about business. But nobody could. It was the elephant in the room that nobody wanted to talk about. I looked around as I’m discovering this and I thought about my own experience; I’d just had a company fail. Of the five guys in that room, all five had been laid off or let go as a result of a merger or acquisition in the last 18 months. We talk about it like cancer or divorce in hushed tones, yet everybody goes through this and is experiencing the same thing.
That and I saw another career coach on an interview on the local news. The reporter said they just announced 1,000 layoffs here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “What’s your best advice?” the reporter asked. The career guru paused and said he recommended they network and tell everyone they know they’re looking.
I thought that was really bad advice. I thought, “You have a chance here to really help people.” Those two events were the catalyst for me.
After researching how people cope with a job loss, what did you learn?
I interviewed many other people who’d gone through it and their spouses and families, and there’s an emotional upheaval they go through. There’s a process of healing that needs to go on. Whether you screwed up and got fired or you just happen to be one of the people who got laid off, you still have to deal with these things and your family does, as well. There was nothing out there that addressed that unspoken side of it. Here you are with your world and your self-esteem ripped apart—great, we’re going to give you a three-step process of writing a résumé, getting on Monster.com and getting a job. It doesn’t work that way.
Who is it important to be during the first 30 days after a job loss?
Be completely authentic. A mistake a lot of people make is to try to put on a brave face, covering up anger, hurt, disappointment—any of those things. They try to put on a brave face for the public, their families and themselves. I really believe that being yourself involves looking at yourself in the mirror and asking, “Was this my fault? Was there something I could have done to prevent this? Did I work hard enough, smart enough? Did I play the game? Was I not thorough enough? Did bad habits from the past plague me?” Saying, “Was this something I could have corrected and, if so, how can I correct that in the future?”
But also saying: “I’m a good employee. I’ve had a successful track record throughout my entire career. I’m politically correct, I do good work and I can’t help that the board decided to merge our company with another. I can’t help the fact that the market went to hell and we lost our major customer. Hey, I’m still the same fantastic, high-performing employee and competent person that I always was. This has no reflection on me whatsoever.”
What should someone do if he or she was fired for cause, not laid off?
The key in this situation is to acknowledge the mistake and “course correct” next time out. They should make a list of things, opportunities, companies, situations that they will look for. They should write down a checklist of behaviors to adhere to that will reinforce the newly adopted behavior as a constant reminder of where they need to go and the sting of where they’ve been.
How do people know when they’ve fully transitioned through the emotions of the job loss and are “back to normal?”
You have some people who kind of go into a tailspin. In Career Comeback, we address, “When do you know that you’re back?” It’s not a defining moment. It’s not when you get a new job. It’s just like a relationship. That’s really what employment is—a relationship. It’s a microcosm of a family or anything else.
People think, “Oh great, I’m employed again. I’m cool.” No, you’re not. Then it’s a whole new process. You’re the new kid in school. You’re becoming acclimated to a new culture, new ways of doing things, proving yourself again. You’re wondering, “Is this ever going to happen to me again?” It’s kind of like being healed from a disease. You may get the all-clear sign, but it’s really when you wake up and you realize, “Hey I don’t have anything to worry about” that you’re back.
How should people present themselves to a potential employer if they were fired or if a bridge was burned?
You can get references from a lot of places; they don’t have to come from your direct former employer. The important thing is to be honest with yourself, the recruiter and the new employer—without offering more information than necessary—or it leaves a question or doubt in their minds. When talking to a headhunter, the more vague you are, the more suspect you are. You have to hang it out there. I can tell someone was canned when they say, “It was mutual.” Or when someone says, “It was just a personality conflict,” that means, “I was a pain in the ass.” The more vague you are, the more the benefit of the doubt is going to go with the employer.
What are the top traits employers are looking for in a candidate these days?
Communication skills—bar none. What’s going to separate someone? What’s going to cause one person to get the job versus another? How well, how smoothly, how confidently that person communicates—and the fact that they want it, not in a desperate way. But there’s nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about something, regardless at what level or how tenured you are. Everyone wants to be wanted. People play hard to get sometimes and I think they don’t communicate well. It’s not what you’ve done, it’s how well you’ve done it and how well you communicate it.
What are the three most important things for a person to do during the first 30 days after being laid off or fired?
1. find solid ground; become stable emotionally and financially.
2. Find out what others need from you. This often impacts others who are as shaken up as you are. Reassure them and acknowledge and address their concerns and even anger. And find your support system. Who and where will you turn to for advice, resources, stability, an ear or place to vent?
3. Find out what matters to you, so you head on the proper path and don’t make the same mistake again. This can be a fresh start, but you need to make sure that your actions are consistent with what you really want.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Taking stock of myself and saying, “Am I really living up to my potential?” That’s a big one. This is an opportunity to reevaluate not only where I’m going, but also what I want to do. As I grow older and have kids and my kids grow older, I take stock of where I am in my life and I think, “Am I becoming the man I want to be? Is this putting me on the path to become the person that I am supposed to be?” I think that’s a lot of it right there.
The best thing about change is...
…to look back and see how far you’ve come after it’s done.
What is the best change you have ever made?
The best change that I’ve made is making the change to this career and this organization, because it’s allowed me to become the man and the father and the person and provider that I wanted to be.
For more information about Bradley Richardson, visit www.kbic.com.