Losing or lost your job?

Losing your job is probably not on your wish list, especially in 2009, when finding a replacement is relatively tough. Make the best of the situation, find the silver lining. Based on my experience – my position was eliminated in September 2008, and I started my new job in February 2009 – here is an approach for handling the situation. Stay tuned for updates.

1. Most likely it’s not your fault – or the fault of your spouse, child, parent, etc. who lost the job. Don’t blame yourself or that person for the situation you’re facing. I know (of) people at every kind of organization getting notice: public, private, for-profit, non-profit, big, small. Focus on what you can control and what’s good in your life.

2. Send an email to everyone you know, telling them what happened and what you’re looking to do. You might need a few days for gathering your thoughts. The most unexpected contacts can be helpful, and don’t discount anything. My realtor pointed me to her son-in-law, a recruiter who told me some truth about working with recruiters in different industries. Invaluable and totally unexpected.

3. Brace for impact. This could be a long haul. Talk with your spouse, etc. about significant life changes you might need to make. You should be optimistic but also realistic and pragmatic about the number of months you could be out of work. My wife had been on maternity leave for the school year but suggested returning early, and luckily she could. Consider pulling young kids out of daycare or at least cutting back the hours significantly. This saves tons of money and provides (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most working parents to be with little ones more than breakfast and/or dinner. I loved getting to know my kids’ friends’ parents and teachers; providing my wife extra freedom around her job as long as I was home; and participating in daytime programs I never would have attended while working.

4. Get your network in order and keep it going. LinkedIn is amazing for research. You need to learn as much about the industries and organizations where you want to work. Focus your attention.

5. Plan for major reset of salary and title expectations. A college friend told me not to get hung up about a possible pay cut. She presciently said every company would or should be looking to cut salaries 10%. Focus on feeling good about your contribution to your employer, your growth and, if you have one, your family.

6. Spend your time wisely. Spending eight hours a day online will not get you a job right now. Focus on 1-3 industries where your background is highly or obviously transferrable. Network like crazy into companies that post openings or where you want to work. Join industry associations, and attend events during the day and at night. It’s still all about who knows whom. Don’t know how to do this? Then ask one of those people who keeps offering to help. Get out of the house to see and meet people in person – but at more than “networking” and career events.

7. Spend your time wisely, part two. I regret not volunteering right away, figuring I’d find a job within a few weeks. Other than pitching in a bit at my son’s school, I was a louse. Volunteering is a way not only to feel good by helping organizations and people (including others who are in transition), but also to meet people who could have valuable insights or job leads for you. Maybe find one place that seems like a natural fit for your interests and background, and one that would expand your horizons. Focus on a strength and an unknown.

8. Spend your time wisely, part three. You might not ever have this much time again to work on you. The library offers a treasure chest of freebies to catch up on classic books, new hobbies and movies. On that note, though, for a few bucks a month, it’s worth joining Blockbuster or Netflix to watch even one movie a week. I blew this one. Focus on the inner you.

9. Spend your time wisely, part four. Since not having the time is no longer a remotely valid excuse, exercise more or start exercising. I suggest going in the morning. You feel better all day and only have to shower once.

10. Look at non-traditional employment: contract, temporary and part-time. Hiring companies find these arrangements less risky and good avenues to test potential permanent candidates. Some pay as much as you might have made full-time but without any benefits or so-called security/perks. Many firms in this space are focused on job functions or vertical industries so pick a few that match your background.

11. Print business cards, as suggested by a fellow Missouri alum when we had lunch shortly after I was out of work. These are cheap way to market yourself and feel good about presenting yourself in print. Vistaprint.com is an excellent source; I suggest paying the small fee to avoid having their logo on the back of each card.

12. Create a website that is just about your career, also suggested by the Mizzou colleague. This is an opportunity to learn a new skill and to tell potential employers a deeper story – about what you offer – than your resume or LinkedIn profile. See mine as an example.

13. Subscribe to TheLadders.com if you’re qualified for $100k+ jobs. In addition to searching for high-quality opportunities, you’ll be accessible to recruiters and hiring managers. Also, the daily emails have among the most useful job-hunting info available anywhere. There’s a monthly option, but consider saving some dough with the three-month subscription (or longer). Do not pay to join employmentcrossings.com or any of its affiliates; the job postings are redundant from many other places and therefore not worth the cost.


Ditto for Ford: Product focus

Ford has similar problem as GM. A core brand, Mercury, seems unimportant. Mercury cars are just fancy Fords, sitting in the same dealerships next to Lincolns, which are truly distinct from their down-market cousins.

Are people stepping up from Ford to Mercury to Lincoln, like Toyota expects with Scion to Toyota to Lexus? Those brands make loads of sense because they are significantly different. Honda has Acura, and Nissan has Infinity. No confusion about what these brands mean.

Did I forget to mention that GM and Ford cars tend to NOT rank highest in auto-industry lists out there? The last I checked, neither had a single vehicle in the Consumer Reports list of most-reliable used cars.

Also, regarding operating efficiency and profits, neither GM nor Ford has the opportunity to gain scale across its value chain for design, production and marketing. I bet the incremental revenue is minimal for keeping their extra brands and models distinct, instead of rebadging some models into the core brands. Ford could just kill Mercury because each Mercury vehicle is a Ford with dressed-up interiors. GM could put rename some Pontiacs as Chevys, and maybe some Buicks as Caddys. Bye-bye, GMC.

With more focus at GM and Ford on how wide and deep to run their businesses, management could more effectively deploy resources against goals.

What GM should do: Product focus

Big problem at GM: Lack of product focus. They do too many things without doing very well at any or many. Americans don’t need all those mediocre midsize sedans, for example. Honda and Toyota each has one midsize sedan that significantly outsells any GM competitor.

Do we need any Pontiac-Buick-GMC or Saturn dealers? GM should focus on the 2 American brands that are truly distinct from one another: Chevy and Caddy. Differences between/among brands should be significant. How different are Buick and Caddy? Chevy, Pontiac and Saturn?

First, rebadge any worthy vehicles.

Second, kill Pontiac, Buick, GMC and Saturn. Sell Hummer to Chrysler, where the trucks become part of Jeep.

Third, convert any willing dealerships into facilities that (1) service all GM brands and/or (2) sell certified, preowned GM vehicles. I’ve heard that dealers make a lot more of their profits from used cars and service, so the Pontiac-Buick-GMC dealers might welcome the opportunity to give up on new cars. Let the gov’t and GM engineer soft landings, but kill the brands as fast as possible.