Why am I Still Unemployed?

I often hear this question.  Realistically, I see two kinds of people.  Those who we wonder why they would ever remain unemployed and those we know why they’re unemployed.  Here are some of the top reasons that you might be remaining unemployed.

First, let’s look at some of the reasons that people become unemployed.

1).  Simple lay-off. Sometimes people are just laid off – even ones that are highly valued by the organization.  This often happens if the company merges, is acquired, or goes out of business.  There is often not a choice process at all.  The best people may get the axe.  This is something you cannot do anything about.  If you were a top employee, and highly valued, it is likely that someone else will highly value you, as well, if you get in front of them.

Your job now is to get out there.  Build your network.  Join a group that has a ready-made network, like we do.  Become well known and well networked, and you should be working in no time.

2).  You were selected for lay-off. But sometimes, a lay-off is just a nice way of firing you.  You may not have done anything egregious enough for getting fired, but you weren’t one of the people selected to stay, either.  Some of the following reasons might apply to you.

3).  You got complacent. You might have been too complacent in your job.  You might have not had the energy or the drive you once had that got you to the position you held.

4).  You got incompetent. Maybe you were making mistakes on the job.  You might not have been paying attention like you should have to the details and intracasies of your job.  Pay better attention and don’t make so many mistakes at your next job.

5).  You looked and acted old. There still is age discrimination in most corporations.  But you could have well contributed to that.  If you are able, dye your hair to look a little younger (but don’t make it completely dyed….keep a little of the gray.  There are products on the market that help you do this.)  Work out in the gym.  Even if you’re overweight, like I am, working out a few times a week will make you look younger because it tones the skin and muscles.  You aren’t going to look like Aaahnold, but you will look better.

6).  You are a smoker.  Stop smoking. I have heard top executives tell me that they won’t hire someone who smokes.  Smoking makes you look much older, and interferes with your productivity.  Stop it.

7).  You are a large person. I, of all people, know how hard it is to lose weight.  Do whatever you can to lose weight.  Size discrimination is rampant in our society.  It is wrong and sick.  But it exists.

You might not ever get to be, like those anorexic models on TV, a size two, but even dropping 10% of body weight will make you look better and more energetic, even if you aren’t.

8).  You are a special needs executive. There are some of our clients who need their hands held, and can’t seem to get even simple concepts.  We call them our “special needs CEOs.”

We truly wonder how some folks ever made it up the corporate ladder, because we aren’t sure that they know how to tie their shoelaces (this is, perhaps, why they wear loafers?).  They’ve become so dependent on delegating and assistants that they cannot do much for themselves.  Shoot, I’d lay them off, too!

9).  You are an a**hole. There seems to be a value in some parts of corporate America that the executives need to be jerks.  While most of the top level executives I’ve worked with are the nicest people in the world (and have become good friends as we’ve worked together), a very few are just plain jerks.  Evaluate yourself, or have an objective person evaluate you.  Your behavior might be demanding, entitled, childish, or tyrannical.  If this is so, you deserved to be laid off or fired.  Change your behavior and learn to be a human being.

10).  You are behind the times. I know one executive who scoffs at LinkedIn and other social networking venues.  We’ve offered to teach him time and again, and he just doesn’t buy this “new stuff.”

He’s lucky that he’s in a position of working for himself, because if he were in a corporation, he’d be out, out, out.  If you don’t like “newfangled contraptions” like computers, or can’t work on-line…you deserve to be put out to pasture.  Get over it and learn the new stuff!

11). You wouldn’t play politics! This is the top, number one reason that executives get laid off!  Yet every executive I work with says they hate playing politics.  Oh well.  It is a necessary part of the corporate world.  Don’t want to play politics?  Go live on a desert island.

Here are some ways to get re-employed.

1).  Modify your behavior. If your behavior was what got you fired or laid off, modify it.  The best advice I can give you?  Hire a coach now! People are notoriously bad at modifying their own behavior.  That is why I have trusted business advisors, a personal trainer, and other coaches that help me to be my best.

Your personality may impose some limitations.  Your physical state may impose others.  Work with what you have to be the best you that you can be.

Don’t be a cheap so and so about the coach, either.  Hire the best coach you can find, and pay their fee with a smile.  If they’re truly skilled, they will return that investment to you many-fold.

2).  Learn to play politics well. Again, hire a coach now! You need to learn to play politics and play it well if you want to get ahead in the corporate world.  That is the game of corporations and, if you want to be in corporations, you are going to need to play.  The question is not whether you should play politics or not, but, rather, how well you play.

Corporate politics is a strategic game of chess.  Play it well and get ahead.  Play it poorly and get laid off or fired again.

I spend a great deal of my time in executive coaching teaching people the political game and how it is played.  Why?  It is probably the most important skill an executive can have.

3).  Network well. You should have been networking all the time you were employed, but you didn’t, did you?  Well, now you’re going to have to.  And if you want a job anytime soon, you’re going to have to have a large network and work it well.

Buy one.  Find someplace that (like us) has a very large, ready-made network, with a person or people who are willing to introduce you to members of the network and help you get employed.  Don’t be cheap on this, either.  Look into the background of anyone who claims to have a large network and see what it is.  Those who have been in business for 10 years or longer are the best people to look to for a network.  These take time to build, and a “newbie” isn’t going to have the network.

Build your own network, as well.  Although you won’t be able to, by yourself, build a large enough network to get employed rapidly, you should start on building your network now.  Get very active on LinkedIn.  Go to networking events.  Build on the ready-made network.  Get introduced to others through friends and colleagues.

Then keep networking when you’re employed! If you don’t know how to network, hire a coach.  This is another one of those essential skills that you must have and do exceptionally well in today’s world.

4).  Interview well. Once you get an interview don’t blow it! Remember, they’ll never tell you why you didn’t get the offer.  And, no, you’re not a good interviewer, no matter what you think.  And no, you didn’t “come in second.”  Besides, even if you were second, that doesn’t give you a job.  Again hire a coach! Get good at interviewing.

And this is not a perfunctory thing where you go through a couple of mock interviews and get critiqued.  Our interview training with our top clients takes between 20 and 100 hours, depending on how rapidly they learn, in addition to them watching 2 DVD discs on interviewing and being interviewed by their peers.  Interview training is one of the most important (and grueling) things I do as a transition coach.  That is for a reason.  It is vital to getting a job.  Duh.

5).  Turn networking meetings into interviews. Networking is useless unless it is turned into something eventually.  You aren’t just networking to meet people.  You are networking to get something, as well as give something.

Most networkers don’t go for the jugular.  Instead, they try to be “polite” and “nice.”  This doesn’t get you jobs.  See Nicole’s article on asking for things boldly.  Turn those networking meetings into jobs!

6).  Keep your commitments. If you say you’re going to meet with someone, meet with them.  You never know what a meeting will produce.  I try to meet with everyone who wants to meet with me.  If I can do this, as busy as I am, so can you.

And don’t balk at meeting with someone who is just starting out.  I’ve, over the years, met with hundreds of young people and given them advice and help.  Many of them, as they grew in their careers, gave back to me.  Besides, you have a moral obligation to help young people just starting out.  It is part of what you owe the community for allowing you to attain the position you’ve attained.

7).  Chill on your résumé. You have a one in 500 chance of getting hired based on your résumé, so chill about it.  Too many executives spend too much time on their damned résumés, and not enough networking and doing the things that will get them employed.

Don’t send a  résumé unless there is no other way to get to the hiring authority.  And, for heaven’s sake, don’t respond to those job postings on job boards unless there is no other way to get to the company.  You’re competing with a cast of thousands.

8).  Avoid HR like the plague. HR is your worst enemy!  Get to the person who can actually say “yes” to you.  See my previous article to see why you want to bypass HR. (Human Resources: An Execs Worst Enemy)

9).  Don’t take a vacation! It is just plain stupid to be out of town, taking a vacation, or playing with your kids or grandkids instead of looking for a job.  Looking for a job is a full time job.  Take it seriously!

10).  Help others.  Even though you are unemployed, you can still help others. Introduce people in your network to others who can help them.  Give a hand whenever you are able.  Pay it forward.  Don’t get so focused on your own need that you forget we are all part of a community, and have an obligation to give to one another.

Free Class for Job Seekers at Every Level, June 28

(Business/Professional, Technical, Management, and Executives)

For those in the CO front range who are still frustrated about your continued unemployment, please come to our class on June 28th, Why Am I Still Unemployed? You will learn more tips and tricks for obtaining employment rapidly, and this will be a great opportunity to network with other job seekers, who actually know where the jobs are.

Visit  http://stillunemployed-ce.eventbrite.com to register.

10 Responses to Why am I Still Unemployed?
  1. Manivannan
    June 12, 2010 | 9:14 am

    Excellent list, John.

    But the Mafia works in other ways too. The Management may just not like someone for arbitrary reasons not stated in the appraisal or feedback and make it tough for him/ her, for any number of other reasons ; Even when he is extremely competent and at the top of his game and doing better than the peer group. Sometimes, the Management doesn’t like your face or the color of your skin or maybe a decision maker has unstated biases and prejudices.

    The main reason is that many people in Senior Management just aren’t trained to evaluate performance and potential objectively. It’s not about what is in the organization’s interest. It’s all about the decision maker’s biases.

    Every society has biases and I’m sure some of these are common across societies. In India, dark skinned people are traditionally not allowed to do the thinking jobs and jobs that involve decision making. I’m not sure it’s very different in the US, though there are signs of progress.

    • heckersdev1
      June 12, 2010 | 8:56 am

      Thank you for your comment. While it is true that prejudice exists (too much prejudice), I think that this is rarely a reason for lay off or termination…..at least not without other things coming into play. Here, it is dangerous to single out a person of color for layoff or termination.

      Now, where discrimination DOES come in is with age. Older workers are much more likely to be laid off. They are more expensive, the health insurance on them costs more, and young guns are usually running the show. Age discrimination is one safe discrimination in America.

      Another one is size discrimination. Larger workers are often the target of layoffs. They're seen as "lazy" (Although they may well be the hardest workers there.)

      In America, Muslims, of course, are the target of much discrimination. And GLBT individuals are also heavily targeted simply for the "crime" of being sexually different.

      All of these are just as wrong as targeting, say, a Black man or woman, but they go on all the time in American corporations. Perhaps someday we will have a truly just society, but that day, alas, is not today.

  2. manivannan s
    June 12, 2010 | 9:30 am

    This is rarely considered when evaluating Management: The Management does not comprise of Gods and is not infallible. People in Senior Management have limitations same as the other folks, but just different kinds of limitations and incomptetencies. Otherwise disasters like the BP oil spill wouldn't happen.

    Also, Mental laziness is not an alien characteristic in the upper echelons. Even if you exclude overt racial and other prejudices, their influence on complex biases and perceptions of people at any level of Management cannot be ignored.

    There are other kinds of situations that can make things tough for you in a job, such as your being a witness to an error or fraud or an egregious management decision that affects the business adversely.You just can't be correct when the Management/ the Polit Bureau is wrong!

  3. manivannans
    June 13, 2010 | 6:55 am

    John, I agree with your comment in the main.

    Overt racial discrimination may be less common in the organized sectors in Western countries, where you have explicit non- discrimination policies and a culture that is progressively more inclusive. In the UK, I noticed that the discouragement of overt* racism fosters greater respect between groups over time.

    The same cannot be said in many developing countries that have all manners of discrimination, some of which are sanctioned by religion and tradition. In India, where I live, an Upper Caste Hindu Senior Manager would face serious contradictions between the liberal people norms of a Multinational and the dictums of his religion**.

    * though I may not choose benign words for the other insidious variant, covert racism.
    ** to be fair, I must admit, a few of them do manage to overcome the prejudices learnt at home in the early years.

  4. elizabethsuarez
    June 13, 2010 | 8:54 pm

    You shared excellent tips. I would suggest adding "Become an effective Persuader" to your list. This doesn't mean get what you want without considering others. All the opposite. You take the time to establish the relationship and trust need. This can be done via the deployment of Liking Principle, where you mirrow the other person's behavior (ie. they are crossing their arms when they speak to you; do the same; they tilt their head to the left; tilt it to the right). Basically you become the image of the other person. Follow that with the Reciprocity Principle; where you provide a favor to the person without them asking. For instance really listen to what they are seeking for in terms of information, etc and do some homework and provide them what they were looking for. Now you have the opportunity to ask for your own favor. As humans we want to reciprocate. Good luck!

  5. John Heckers
    June 14, 2010 | 3:04 am

    Thanks Elizabeth. Of course I always remember my late father's favorite saying: "No good deed goes unpunished!"

  6. Debbie C
    June 15, 2010 | 7:02 pm

    You presented some great points. I appreciated your direct, straight forward style. I would love to attend your class on June 28th but I live in Atlanta. Any thoughts to webcasting?

    I am a mid level Finance manager who was "laid off" ( you have given me some food for thought regarding that ). I am hardworking, capable, intelligent, yet still unemployed (10 weeks). I know it is a tight economy but I also know there are jobs out there. I too have focussed energy on my resume and I have accumulated some good contacts. Why am I still unemployed? I honestly think it is because no one knows I am looking.

    Thanks for the message


  7. moravecglobal
    August 22, 2010 | 2:49 am

    Lessons learned from being loyal. Business and the public sector are into a phase of creative disassembly where reinvention and adjustments are constant. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are being shed by United Technologies, GE, Chevron, Sam’s Club, Wells Fargo Bank, HP, Starbucks etc. and the state, counties and cities. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers. Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
    Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised job security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employeer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee employment and lifetime careers, even if they want to.

    • moravecglobal
      August 22, 2010 | 2:51 am

      Organizations that paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
      Jettisoned employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
      What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
      The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor. Employee loyalty to UC Berkeley senior management is dead.

  8. Cyril Tam
    October 25, 2010 | 11:52 pm

    I think the main cause for the apparent growing sense of anger, hopelessness and despair among those that are managing this issue is that the long term unemployed don’t seem to be a unified voting force. In fact, We are comprised of a whole mixture of the complete working class. This recession didn’t simply effect blue collar or white collar workers. Both Republicans and Democrats have both been hit hard. It pretty much equally effected us all.

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