Project Management Institute

Following his own advice




Last May, I found myself among the unemployed—it was the first time in my project management career that I was without work. And there was little comfort in the irony that I was also an unemployed career columnist.

It was time to put my own advice to the ultimate test.

I kicked off my search immediately with a large and active network (“It's Always Time to Network,” December 2002), contacts from my volunteer work (“Off-the-Job Career Development,” November 2003) and an updated résumé (“Managing Your Career in 2004,” January 2004).

Out of the House

The first day of my search, I scheduled a meeting for 8 in the morning with an unemployed friend. It got me out of the house and set the tone for a positive and energetic job campaign.

I treated my search like a job, averaging about six hours per day. Traditional advice calls for eight, but I think the number of phone calls, appointments, submissions and interviews are better metrics and I tracked all of them daily.

Some will argue that if I searched more each day I would have been re-employed sooner. I disagree. After a tiring and sometimes emotional day, it was best for me to quit and renew myself instead of going on and possibly embarrassing myself due to stress or fatigue.

Casting the Net

Like all job searches, mine was a sales campaign to sell myself. Salespeople know you need a large number of prospects to get a few appointments that might lead to a sale, so I used job boards and websites to find prospective positions, which I then qualified through my network. If a particular opening or company warranted further attention, I applied online but then followed up to find a contact at the firm or to locate the hiring manager to get an in-person appointment.

I also tapped into local networking groups, including one specifically targeting unemployed people. A friend questioned why I bothered networking with people who were also out of work. The answer was simple: It was a way to meet that acquaintance or friend of a friend who might lead me to a job (“The Strength of Weak Ties,” October 2005).

I still marvel at the connections made through that group. After attendees introduced themselves and said what kind of work they were seeking, most got several leads and contacts from the others in the group. The unemployed have family and friends who are working, after all. And these days, many companies simultaneously hire and lay off, so someone's old employer could become your new one.

In the end, my break came down to a “weak tie” made through a former co-worker now in a management position. I contacted him after applying for several jobs at his company, and the following week he asked me to come to his office. We had more of a discussion than an interview and I left that meeting with his promise to get back to me once he'd met with human resources. Two weeks later I had a verbal offer and the written one arrived a week after that.

My total time unemployed: eight weeks.

Lessons Learned

My former advice passed the test and the experience gave me a couple of new techniques to share:

  • 1. Try sprinting. I was advised to work in 90-minute intervals and then take a half-hour break to do something completely different. Working in sprints made the time pass quickly and allowed me to do personal things without the guilt of avoiding my job search.
  • 2. Leverage your virtual community. The future of networking is social media—so use it. I already had my online profile on LinkedIn and began using the new “What are you working on now?” feature to keep in contact with my network.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was that all jobs are temporary. I stand by my own advice that finding the next job now requires a permanent effort. So get to it. Your next job depends on it. PM

John Sullivan, PMP, is a happily employed project manager and writer in Dayton, Ohio, USA.

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