The emotional roller coaster of chasing job leads, interviewing, and then getting passed over for a position can be extremely difficult for out-of-work CIOs. But if an executive succumbs to self-doubt and depression, the job search will only get harder and more frustrating.
"As difficult as it is, you have to maintain a positive attitude and not take the rejection personally," explained Russ Tessman, the information technology division manager at The Vermillion Group, an executive search firm based in Des Moines.
"Who wants to hire someone who's got a negative attitude or comes across desperate or depressed? Nobody. But I've talked to candidates that are so depressed that it's like, 'who wants to bring that cancer to our company?'" he added.
In the first part of this two-part series on how CIOs can survive job search rejection, "Advice on surviving, and advancing, in a tough job market," experts and CIOs offered guidance on how CIOs can adjust their focus to make themselves more resilient and their job search more productive. In this second part, I'll explain what you can do to keep yourself emotionally strong in the face of rejection.
Create an interim structure in your day
When you lose your job, you also often lose the structure of your day—there is no longer a reason to rise at a certain hour and lead a Monday morning all-staff meeting, for instance. According to career consultants and recruiters, when the structure of corporate life is eliminated, it's imperative that you immediately organize your days to keep a healthy, focused mind.
Yet, there's some disagreement about what kind of structure is right when you're unemployed. Tessman advises that you make the job search a full-time endeavor—a 10-hour-a-day, five-days-a week effort.
"You have to keep the pipeline full," he said. "People need to treat getting a new job like a job. I see too many people who are unemployed and have one or two interviews going on."
While no one would deny that looking for a job is serious business, career consultant Ruth Luban, a Santa Monica, CA-based psychotherapist and author of AreYou a Corporate Refugee? A Survival Guide for Downsized, Disillusioned, and Displaced Workers, (Penguin 2001), believes executives need breaks from the job search for better mental health.
"I don't think you should spend eight hours a day on job searching—four or five hours a day and then close the book," said Luban. "It actually makes more sense to do this in short periods of time…because you can get it done more efficiently if you do it in a balanced way."
For Niamh Darcy, an unemployed CTO, keeping busy has helped her put her work life in perspective. It's not the sole thing that defines her, she explained. Her cultural background as an Irish national also has made a difference, she said.
"Coming from Europe, I'm less defined by my job than Americans are, so being out of work doesn't make me feel less of a person than I think people who have worked in high tech and are American," said Darcy.
But Darcy recognized that, regardless of her cultural mindset, she needed to set up a daily schedule.
"It's important to have structured time because you can feel that you've accomplished something in the time you've spent," said Darcy.
Creating a job hunt schedule
To create a schedule that provides maximum resiliency in difficult times, Luban recommended that the schedule include the following:
- Specific bed times and waking hours each day.
- Regular exercise and good nutrition.
- Specific hours for researching positions, networking, and job-search related meetings.
- Daily excursions to a coffee shop or locations where a person can be around other people.
- Evening social activities with family and friends to further avoid social isolation and withdrawal.
- Creative time spent on projects, classes, or volunteer work.
"Telling [unemployed] people to relax is useless, but give them a task—that will really help them," explained Luban.
Darcy, for example, has blocked out time for volunteering with the Boston-based program NFTE that helps high school students create business plans.
She recommends out-of-work colleagues do likewise. "I've encouraged some friends to do some volunteer work, even if it's just a small amount," she said. Donating time can give you a sense of accomplishment that sending out resumes and making calls cannot.
A time to pursue dreams
But volunteering isn't the only option for occupying yourself. Kirk Gallion, CTO at Pennsylvania-based Octagon Research Solutions, a life sciences company, said unemployment can provide an opportunity to pursue career dreams.
"IT folks often have ideas in their back pocket and they might want to take an opportunity to move that thing forward [along with continuing their job search]," said Gallion. Such activities might include teaming up with another unemployed person on short-term projects or advising venture capitalists on the viability of a young company. There can be great advantages to keeping busy in this manner, among them bringing in some additional money, noted Gallion.
For CIOs who haven't had hands-on technology projects for a few years, a small project management account can give a person the chance to roll up his or her sleeves and create other success stories to tell in interviews. This is critical as employers are looking for CIOs who are doers as well as thinkers.
"What people are looking for now are not just thought leaders, but people who are nuts and bolts people and can make things happen," said Gallion.
The need to keep skills current
Working on small paid or unpaid projects can help you keep a positive mental outlook and learn new skills; but so can continuing to develop professionally through coursework—even during dry periods. The key here, however, is to not let professional development efforts overshadow the job search or to use studying as an avoidance tactic.
"If someone can do an evening course, I think it's absolutely critical that they hit [job searching] at 8 A.M. to find leads, to do the research," advised Tessman. Don’t, he warned, believe that there is time to just put job searching to the side and go back to school. Living off severance packages or savings while taking loads of courses just means dealing with eight months of job searching with little income left. However, educational work can help bolster your mental outlook and professional marketability if done within the context of a job search.
How to avoid spinning your wheels
In today's job market, you will probably be faced with some rejection. So it's easy to get discouraged and give up mentally. This mental fatigue and depression can hurt future job interview opportunities.
"Inside themselves, they're [candidates] sending out resumes and they feel it's not going to make a difference," said Deborah Brown-Volkman, president and founder of the Long Island, NY career, mentoring, and coaching company, Surpass Your Dreams. "But it then comes across when they're speaking to people and it comes across in their cover letter because it's just not going to be effective."
Brown-Volkman said there are easy ways to discover if you’ve fallen into this trap and are just going through the motions of a job search:
- You spend time on the Internet looking for jobs but actually spend more time reading the news and trade publications than researching the companies you'd like to work for.
- You’re calling contacts or potential employers but aren’t being clear about why you're calling them.
- You attend networking meetings but don’t actually invest time talking with anyone.
"Basically you're putzing around," explained Brown-Volkman.
This behavior can easily morph into an endless series of non-productive days and can be a sign of emotional depression that shouldn’t go unchecked. It could also indicate that you need a boost from a career coach.
It’s important to find the right professional to work with as psychologists and career consultants obviously have unique skills. If through repeated job search rejection, you're experiencing flat moods, disturbed sleep, poor concentration, and a change in eating patterns, you could be depressed, said Luban.
For people who are otherwise healthy and want to inject their career search with some fresh ideas, career coaches can provide a good sounding board without the psychological aspect. Feedback from a disinterested third party can give you the extra confirmation you need to validate approaches or decisions. CTO Darcy contacted Brown-Volkman, for instance, to reaffirm her decision to continue volunteering amid her job search, among other things.
A career coach can also put the present job search into a healthy perspective.
"An IT executive is going to be working 30, 40, or 50 years, and this is a small bump in the road," said Brown-Volkman. "They have a lot of successes behind them and just because they're unemployed for a year doesn't mean this isn't going to end."