October 11, 2015

Coping with New Employment Environment

I read an interesting and insightful article online called “Hired! Turning a Demotion into a Promotion” which is accessible at www.money.cnn.com/2009/07/10/news/economy/_demotion/index.htm?postversion=200907.

The main point of the article is that individuals need to rethink their strategies for securing new employment, and, in many instances, need to accept a lower-paid position in a different kind of organization with a different career path, compared with the firm that laid them off. I can relate to this to some extent. When I was not selected as a partner in the law firm for which I worked in 1978, I was essentially told that I needed to look for another job. While I was not immediately laid off, my position was eliminated, and I eventually moved into a status in which I was no longer in full-time employment, but was paid only by the hour for the work I did.

I started my search by trying to get another law firm position, but realized that I would not find a suitable situation. In fact, I received an offer that was withdrawn. It forced me to change career paths, and I began the search for a corporate legal department position. Although my salary offer from Pitney Bowes was nominally higher, I effectively took a pay cut to move to a much higher cost area at a time when salaries were increasing rapidly because of double-digit inflation. In effect, I followed the path recommended in the article when I was 30 years old.

I successfully convinced Pitney Bowes that I was genuinely interested in a complete career change, and that I was not simply waiting for a better private law firm opportunity to emerge. It was obviously a great long-term decision for me, even though the gap between my pay and the pay of those who stayed in private practice widened significantly over the next 10 years. I threw myself into my new career enthusiastically and never looked back.

The lesson I would impart is that the strategy described in the article can work in any economic environment if individuals genuinely accept the fact that what they lost is not something to which they should continue to try to regain. Looking back and regretting the income once earned from a past job is not productive. Figuring out how to maximize the opportunities in a new situation is the best way to go.

I believe that even when the economy recovers to normal GDP growth, the job market will look very different from what it did two years ago. People will need to be more resourceful, more intellectually engaged, more flexible, and more able to manage their emotions. Falling back on credentials will be less important. Relying on past accomplishments will be less useful. Above all, being comfortable with the fact that each individual will need to reinvent himself or herself frequently to adapt to a faster-changing and more complex environment will be an essential skill.

Like many people today, I believed that it was going to be a very long time before I got reemployed. However, once I got more flexible and enthusiastic, I found myself much more employable.

I do not mean to minimize the difficulty individuals have today in getting resituated. We have a serious, long-term structural unemployment problem that will not get corrected without a lot of pain. I do believe that many individuals can minimize their pain by following the path described in the article.