Discussion: December 22, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

In today’s newsletter: Some readers have sad tales to tell of job hunting gone bad. Others have found success after trials and tribulations.

[Update: The newsletter is not normally archived online, but I’ve put today’s edition up to make it easier to share and to encourage more folks to join our  discussion. Click here.]

You know someone who despairs over their failure in the job search. They’re down, they’re out, they feel like they’re in deep, cold water. You’d like to help pull them out. How do you say it?

How to Say It: “Come on. Let’s go have lunch. We’ll talk.”

That’s my very simple idea, and it’s what I do.

If someone has helped pull you out when you felt like your career was spiraling down the drain, how did they do it?

Have you helped someone out? What did you do? If we post enough stories, ideas and suggestions, maybe we’ll start a trend… (Hey, maybe consumer spending isn’t the way out of this economy. Maybe spending time with other people is…)


  1. I am going to say this briefly to keep the focus where it belongs – I have the paradox of the unfortunate benefit of experience over the past couple of years to offer some suggestions. Over the past two years, I lost my Mom to ovarian cancer and my consulting business that I started out so smart and clever in mid-2005 has taken its share of hits as clients respond to the economy. I’ve admittedly had my moments of mourning, grief, confusion, fear, immobilization, and seemingly rock-bottom despair. I really do understand how easy it is to spiral downward. I reached a point earlier this year where I had to make a conscious decision that I wasn’t going to give up.

    I am still rebuilding, I started to stabilize mid-year and thought I was finally turning a corner and I took a couple more hits again, because the clients adjusted to the economy — one I lost (we still stay in touch), the other I kept, but my scope adjusted, and while I am making less, yet again, I am making something! I feel like this stablilization is more real, so light at the end of the tunnel that’s not an oncoming train.

    Staying away from the personal journey and personal philosophy aspect, of which I could write much, I’ll just offer a couple things that worked for me. And, as trite as it sounds, it is important to consciously and constantly focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. And, it’s important to stay in touch with people and even if you feel you are falling all over yourself. And, I agree, it’s important for all of us to be aware and be willing to reach out. Sometimes a seemingly simple conversation can change the direction of a life.

    I started a second business. I have a pet sitting service that I started in early 2007 after I lost a $25k a year communications client to economic projections. A friend of mine made the suggestion to pet sit. This has been the best year yet for the pet sitting, and while it is not yet sustaining, it’s a nice chunk of income. I can balance the needs of both businesses, I am providing a valuable service, meeting new people, using my brain in different ways, and I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I have fun. (I’ve come up with some pretty good ideas for the communications business while walking dogs!) And, I keep my marketing and design skills sharp, since I have to market the pet sitting business.

    I got involved in my community. It’s volunteer, and doesn’t directly put money in the bank, but the intangible benefits are invaluable. I joined my local merchants association — was an officer for 3 years, am in charge of online communications, coordinate one major event, and have been helping to manage our farmers’ market about to start its 5th year – I helped start a program so folks with financial need can benefit from the fresh foods available at the market. I am successfully promoting an entire commerce district. I have indeed gained client business from my affiliation with the merchants association. I’ve learned so much. I am building a strong professional network. I am in a group where we each are facing this economy and where everyone is coming up with ways to keep their businesses going and find advantage in adversity. I stay as busy as I need to be. I feel like my knowledge and abilities are helping others, I can see results (a touchstone reminder that I do know what I’m doing), I keep my skills sharp and learn new things that help me and my clients – I am webmaster of our website, I write the blog content, I’ve gained invaluable experience and knowledge about social media and online advertising, my self-confidence has benefited greatly, and I’ve had the opportunity to make good friends and be a good friend.

    I hope this helps even a little.

  2. I’d recommend http://www.landmarkeducation.com as a starting point.

  3. I’ll try to leave aside some of the points I made in my comment on the previous entry about failure that seems to fit here in some ways. The book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” by Dale Carnegie is an awesome read that while it was originally written back in the 1930s it is amazing how much still applies now many many years later.

    Being a good listener, empathizing with the other person, getting them to laugh, and making subtle suggestions are a few key ideas when people have helped me in my dark moments. When someone can make me feel like I matter and that what I say is important, those are really helpful moments. It can be challenging to find that question or insightful remark. Sometimes it can take a few tries before things click and I come up a bit.

    Linda’s excellent comment about getting out into the community is a good point too. People might want to try to find support groups and encourage others to find them as that can also help sometimes. Meetup.com is one site that has various groups in different geographic areas that may be of some interest. At times I look around and see a lot of different groups where I contribute and try to make the world a better place,e.g. StackOverflow for technical questions or ParenthoodPlace.org for being where I’ve spent years posting various tidbits of my life. Other blogs like “Sources of Insight” or “Gift of Re:Life” can also give me something to help my life and sometimes others by sharing what I know or my experiences. I don’t have any specific job-related stories to share, but I think most of the suggestions would apply to other areas of one’s life.

  4. We all experience challenges in life, or bumps in the road. How we react to these challenges sets the stage for its resolution and the path it follows. Professionally and personally I experienced some severe losses over the past two years, yet through it all I manage to smile, pick myself up and wipe the tears away. I even managed to obtain the respect of one of my mentors for the way I held myself to a high standard through a life changing situation. I feel honoured to be regarded so highly by someone I looked up to for many years. What sets me (because I can only speak for myself) apart from others who have failed, or perhaps taken longer paths to success is my attitude and those little angels in my life. I am not religious – but I believe that people enter and leave our lives for a reason or a season or a lifetime (sound familiar?!). I believe that the reason I am here today, and on another climb up another hill with another grin on my face is because of those angels. The man in the store who was extra kind to me because he knew I needed it; the friend that calls when I’m down because she felt I needed her, the family support and the good fortune I experience all make me want to get up in the morning and try again. Smiling is contagious and I KNOW for certainty that reacting to a negative situation and taking it on as a challenge serves more than ‘woe is me’.
    I have read the comments above and I agree that we’ve all been touched in many, many ways. It’s so important, especially this time of year where depression is high, to take a few minutes and ask someone how they are, and wait for the response (and mean it!)
    I feel lucky to be here and lucky to have gotten back on track and it’s not because of my hard work or dedication but because of those little helping hands I’ve received along the way.

    Back to the column of today. The content and timing could not have been better. I have been a reader for several years Nick and have even had the privilege of having my comments ‘published’ on your site.
    Your insight and frankness is appreciated, as is your compassion today. I’ve had experiences in my life where one phone call or well timed hug has made the difference. I can relate to Greg’s feeling of helplessness, but here I am on the other side. I’m in a job that satisfies me, and it’s going to be a stepping stone to ‘what I was meant to do’ in part due to your sage advice and those mental hugs I receive from time to time from those little angels that find me.

    Thanks again Nick.

    All the best to you and yours.

  5. I’d like to see some men comment here.

  6. Wow! This article is so well written and honest; it really touched me. The only thing I can relate it to is spending time with my terminally ill Mom. When we first found out her cancer is incurable, I really didn’t know what to say and had some worry about spending time and what to say when the situation is so dire for her.
    When I read this article, I realized just spending time, listening and validating a person that is in a bad situation makes a huge difference.
    I am a software developer and make a good wage but have been wanting to give back by doing something like helping people learn computers or related things.
    Your article has really inspired me and I can tell how talented you are in your craft.
    Thanks for caring about others and taking the time to bring awareness to these issues. I am committing to help out more in 2010 and I’m ordering your book as well as I’m really impressed with your sincere and useful comments.
    I really enjoyed reading the other comments too.

  7. Granted my gender is somewhat obscured by the fact that I go by my initials, they do stand for John Brock so I would be one of the men answering this. I was named after my father and grew up being called, “JB,” almost all the time. John Brock King II is quite a mouthful and has a nice ring to it in some cases.

    “How can I help?” is the key along with understanding that there isn’t a simple solution here, notice that there is only one “how” in the title when I think a pair would be better and that this is a case where can is more appropriate than may as this is the question of ability not necessarily permission. While something may work in one case, it may be useless in a dozen others. Some people are in touch with their feelings and others may take a while before they open up. Knowing that one is accepted and loved can be a huge gift that all of us can give yet it seems like we hide this all too often in society.

    I’ve had a couple of times now where I was crying my heart out in front of a bunch of people. While some may think it isn’t very manly, it is nice to know that some people are OK with that and think it is wonderful that I feel comfortable enough to share that with them. I remember 15 years ago now that I had a similar episode that had some terrible results as it was my boss’ boss’ boss who was a VP of the company that was rather distressed at how upset I was.

    I work as a Web Developer so I can relate on the technical material much more usually. Sometimes though, it helps to share a piece of my heart and see what happens.

  8. My eyes are wet after reading Nick’s entry about the woman whose husband disappeared and was found dead by suicide. There are so many people who are anxious and frightened these days, it’s good to find kindness and empathy expressed so well.

    I am an artist and have been thinking a lot lately about the hobos during the Great Depression. There was a certain cat symbol left on gates by begging hobos that translated to “a good woman lives here,” meaning they’d likely find a meal if they knocked on her door. Back then, men offered to do a chore or two in exchange for a meal, and then they’d move on in their search for work.

    Thank you, Nick, for the hope you offer your readers and the kindness you offered the woman who wrote to you.

  9. Hi,

    Just wanted to say I find this one of your better columns. Not only during the holiday season, but every so often we need to do this; i.e., reach out to others.

    Thanks for pointing that out!

    Also, on a slight tangent…. I really think that’s one thing that differentiates the era when my parents grew up versus now – I think there was more of that spirit of reaching out and helping than there is today.

  10. Next month, my brother will be out of work for a year. He became very depressed and started isolating himself. At 33, he very nearly drank himself to death and it was only by sheer luck (he collapsed outside among people) that he was admitted to the hospital with acute pancreatitis.

    Thankfully, he is home now and his friends and family are all trying to help him get back on his feet. The good news is that he is more receptive to professional help now and is motivated to rebuild his life.

    My heart goes out to Helen. If you can, Nick, would you convey to her that she is in the thoughts and prayers of me and, I’m sure, your many other readers?

    Thank you.

  11. I’ve shared this forum with Helen, along with some of your e-mails (ID info omitted except where you requested I pass it along). The e-mail flow on this has been not only heartening – it’s been huge!

    Every time I start worrying about where we’re all heading in our world… I find people thinking and acting like they care, and like they can affect where we all wind up.

    It’s a blessing to know you all and to have the chance to share thoughts, ideas and plans for what to do next. Thank you.

  12. No great success story to share yet (one interview in 18 months!) but I turn to your commentary on the tragic story of Helen.

    I was moved by your humane reaction to her loss and the simple prescription for alleviating the pain or alienation of other job seekers. I am thankfully not in dire emotional or financial straits, but I marvel about how few people really want to know ‘how it’s going’. Maybe they’re afraid of hearing how bad things are or more likely just disinterested.

    People are often disappointing. But you’re not and I believe your advice that people simply look out for others (and bury their fear, in my opinion) could go a long way.

    In a world where you don’t even get a piddling electronic acknowledgment half the time of your efforts to sell your wares, how refreshing to see that there’s a real human being at the author’s desk at your blog.

    You deserve your success. Keep it up.

  13. Nick – a friend forwarded your most recent article to me. Honestly, it’s one of the best written pieces that captures the pain – and hope – in a job search. I facilitate a job networking group at my church…a ministry I founded with 2 others. Why? Because I’ve been there, and know the pain. I also know the hope that is out there from people holding each other up. It occurred to me this past week that, while our group does some serious networking, we also provide that hope to one another. I’m proud to be associated with this ministry. Thanks for writing this…