Moving Forward After a Job Loss

Jan 24, 2019

By AMA Staff

Sander A. Flaum is founder and principal at Flaum Navigators. He is Adjunct Professor of Leadership at the Fordham University Graduate School of Business, where he chairs the Fordham Leadership Forum, His new book is The Best Thing that Ever Happened to You: How A Career Reversal Can Reinvigorate Your Life. Flaum spoke to AMA recently for an Edgewise podcast. The following is a condensed and edited version of that interview.

AMA: What’s the biggest myth today about the job market?
Sander Flaum: Well, the biggest myth is you can’t find jobs. Everyone is downsizing, but the fact of the matter is if you’re a salesperson, for example, and you have been over quota in your career and the company’s closing down, you’ll always find a job. If you’re a research person who has come up with some great new products, and the company may be closing or may be acquired, you’ll always find a job. So it depends on the value that you bring. Jobs are always there for winners, and people have to keep that in mind.

AMA:  What happens to people who lose their job? What are some of the negative emotions they go through?
Flaum: Well, what I’ve seen among many of my clients has is a lot of anger and depression, and a desire for retribution—“I’m going to get that person.”
Many senior people who have gone through this have sought out some kind of psychiatric therapy to get them through it. Because you have to remember that you only have so many hours in a day. How are you going to spend your time?  Are you going to be angry? Or are you going to focus on positive behavior or try to carve a new chapter in your life? Besides therapy, which I do recommend, you want to speak to people you trust, colleagues. You want to maybe speak to a former superior to whom you reported to get some good advice and start really to reach out. That’s the key thing——really reaching out to every one you know for some advance.

AMA: What are some of the most common mistakes that people make when they’re pitching themselves to potential employers and recruiters?
Flaum: The most common mistake that I have seen, being with a lot of MBAs at Fordham and having been the CEO of a large global agency is that people don't take time to brand themselves. Who are they? What have they done? What have they accomplished? So Branding yourself is really, really important, and you have basically 15 seconds to say what you’ve done that really distinguishes yourself from everyone else. 

AMA: What exactly does branding yourself mean?  It means blogging.  It means tweeting.  It means writing a book. 
Flaum: Well, we do a good job in how to brand a firm and how to brand a product but a terrible job in branding ourselves.  So if you said, “Okay, Sander.  So why don't you tell me a little bit about you?” "Well, I’ve introduced more major products in the pharmaceutical industry than anyone else; more products that have done [$1 million/$1 billion?] plus. That’s what I’ve done." That’s the branding.

AMA: Okay.  Let’s go to the next rung on the ladder. What’s the single most important thing you have to do to distinguish yourself from your competitors, to make yourself more marketable? 
Flaum: You begin the process by doing a lot of research—first on the firm with whom you are interviewing to really try and ascertain what their issues are before you walk in to the interview. Then you do some research on the people or person with whom you’re interviewing. Try and find something in common. Remember, it’s always about relationships. Focus on building a relationship with the people with whom you are speaking and that puts you out in front.

AMA: How should I use my résumé or CV to sell myself?  What should I stress or not stress?
Flaum: Most of the CVs that I see are just awful.  They list job, job, job, job. Here’s what I did; these are the products that I handled; this is the research that I’ve done. I taught school. I was the professor; I was thedDean; blah, blah, blah. People don't care about that. It’s always about the WIIFM—“what’s in it for me.” A résumé should have major accomplishments on it.  Nobody cares about the job title or how many jobs you’ve had with a different company. Tell me what you did to stand out. Why am I going to love your CV more than anyone else?  What can you do for me?

AMA: What are some key strategies to consider in preparation for the job interview?
Flaum: Number one: Keep in mind: smart people speak slowly, not at a rapid pace. So the slower you speak, the smarter you sound. If you go back and listen to the great speakers of our time, they speak very slowly.
Number two is rehearsal . Always rehearse the interview first; don't just go in there blind. Meet with a colleague. Meet with a mentor. Rehearse and role play. The most important thing during interviews is that a recruiter speaks 80% of the time. You speak 20% of the time. That means the recruiter’s having a great conversation with you. They’re talking more than you. The last thing is: prepare the right questions.  One of the key things is, “Ma’am, could you tell me what the expectations are of the job?”  “Well, you know, Sander, that’s a very interesting question. Why are you asking that?” “Well, it’s important because not only have I met expectations. My goal was always to exceed them. That’s why I’m asking the question.”

AMA: What are some of the techniques and tricks employers and recruiters use during interviews to ferret out the A candidate from the B or C candidate?
Flaum: Well, one of the key things they’d say would be: “Okay, Sander. Tell me why you left or lost your last job.”  They are very, very keen on this question because if you say something bad about your boss, if you say something bad about the firm you were with, you’re dead. They’re not going to hire you because you if you say something bad about your past employer, you’re going to say something bad about your future employer. So you must always positive. You have to rehearse and come up with a positive thing to say. For example, “Well, it’s just one of those things where the person who I report to—very, very smart—and I just didn’t see eye to eye on one of the key issues, and we both thought it[would be best for me to move on.” And that’s the way you handle that.

AMA: How do I maximize my references? Whom should I include on the list and whom should I avoid?
Flaum: Here’s a little secret that very few people are aware of. And unless you have a good friend or friends as the recruiters, you’ll never, ever know this. When recruiters start checking your references, of course they’ll go through the list that you gave them, but then they will go far beyond that list and start calling the chairman of the board—not the Human Resources Director, but someone else in Human Resources whom they’ve met before. They will call former underlings and former peers of yours to really ascertain what you’re all about.

So what you must do—which very few people do—is before you leave the firm, you write a note or a letter, and you articulate why you left the firm. Have Human Resources and your former boss agree to the verbiage. Let them edit it. But you have to be saying the same things that they are saying…or you’re dead.

So many people I know have gone so far with the various search committees. They have done well, and all of a sudden they don't get the job. You don't get the job if you are telling the recruiter something very different from what they’re hearing from your boss. So that’s the secret.

The following AMA seminars will help you in your job search:
Developing Your Personal Brand and Professional Image

Moving Ahead: Breaking Behavior Patterns That Hold You Back

About the Author(s)

AMA Staff American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.