A Lifeline for Those Jobless and Adrift


By Thomas D. Sullivan Face it, you may lose your job someday. No matter how hard you've worked, you could find your nose forcibly removed from the grindstone. If that happens, you'll need some sensible advice. One good place to look is Michael Laskoff's Landing on the Right Side of Your Ass (Three Rivers Press).

Landing offers a comprehensive and readable guide for dealing with job loss and looking for a new position, covering everything from your departure (including suggestions about when it's better to resign than be fired) to reemployment. He offers detailed directions for résumé-writing, marketing yourself, networking, interviewing, and negotiating job offers. But what sets this book apart from other advice or self-help books is the accumulated wisdom and honesty that comes from Laskoff's own suffering.

The author, a Harvard Business School graduate, is intimately familiar with the pain of the pink slip, which gives his advice an authority that's candid, even funny sometimes, without being preachy. Laskoff, who writes BusinessWeek Online's "Hiring Line" column, has been canned repeatedly -- "one firing...two contract nonrenewals, and three layoffs." He says of one self-esteem crisis: "I cracked like a piñata under the assault of five-year-olds with big sticks." But each time he collected himself and found a better, more suitable job.

RECESS PERIOD. He wisely counsels that you should give in only briefly to the inevitable sadness, anger, and fear that come with being fired. Stoicism won't work, he says. You'll break and be a bigger mess later. Better you should speak openly about it with a trusted friend. "Find someone who cares, let it all hang out," he advises. "You'll heal faster."

Laskoff urges people who have been fired to take some time -- at least a day or two -- immediately after getting the bad news to rest up and aggressively pursue legal, economically sound ways of having a jolly time. His personal preferences run to scotch and Krispy Kreme doughnuts (presumably not together). Doing things you enjoy will help pull you back toward sanity -- and then you can get rational about the job search.

One point Laskoff makes repeatedly is how important it is for job-searchers to understand how others see them. It's not a parlor game, but a way of making you aware of the effect you have on others. Did your former boss dislike you because you were difficult to work with? Do your friends avoid you because of incessant whining over your downsizing? When you're in a job interview with a potential peer, are you seen as a likely ally or a threat?

Knowing the answers to those questions can make it possible for you to change behaviors and improve your prospects. Or, if you can't change, to know what kinds of jobs and work situations don't suit you.

THE BEST POLICY. Laskoff is also keenly aware of our capacity to delude ourselves, so he urges job-searchers to find a few reliable professional contacts -- an "inner circle" of people who can offer intelligent advice about networking -- to meet with regularly.

"My inner circle provides me with critical education, advice, and contacts," Laskoff writes. "But what really makes these people so valuable is that I can be totally honest with them, at least with regard to my job search. If I'm sounding sensible, it will be confirmed. If I say something stupid, I'll be called to task but not penalized."

Landing has many more useful hints, especially in Chapter Six, "What the Personal Ads Can Teach You About Your Résumé". For example, "Be clear about what you want, and from whom; communicate what you've got to offer; be alluring but realistic; be short, sweet, and to the point."

TIME TO RESIGN. Laskoff also forces readers to be honest with themselves. He urges those who have been fired to consider that they might be just a bit deserving of their fate. If that's the case, he argues it's not necessarily a big deal because, "everything will be well and good as long as you get smarter along the way." That means focusing on getting jobs that suit you and avoiding those that don't -- ASAP.

He describes a stint he had in banking as a "nightmare," thanks to his aggressive lack of interest in the work. He eventually came to his senses and resigned. "I've made all kinds of mistakes since, but I've never repeated the ones that made me miserable in that position," he says. That kind of honesty helps set Landing apart from other books on the subject.

Between his various departures from jobs, Laskoff worked at McKinsey, Bertelsmann Online, BMG Entertainment, and CompUSA. In addition to his BusinessWeek Online column, he has created an informative and amusing Web site, www.askyourass.com, which offers some of the sharp advice he provides to questions from job-seekers in his newsletters, and the short film, Reemployment Musical Spectacular Spectacular, featuring Kristen Plumley's show-stopping performance as a downsized staffer who becomes the model of a modern corporate employee.

"GET CONTROL." Laskoff's book and Web site are much funnier than most job-seeking resources, making it more likely that you'll take in -- and remember -- the useful advice and insight he offers. One can quibble with parts of his approach: For example, he recommends that you send a résumé with e-mail requesting an informational interview. Many job experts think a short summary of your professional achievements and jobs you've held in the past will work better.

These are minor complaints, however. Laskoff clearly knows his topic. When you've been fired, what you need to do is "get control of yourself, do some planning, search methodically, and get on with the rest of your life." When you do that, "you'll land well, by which I mean emerge with a better professional life and perhaps a personal one as well." The right side, indeed. Sullivan is a New York freelancer who writes about design, architecture, and other topics


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