A friend of mine who worked in advertising was laid off recently and now he's looking for work. It's the first time he's been out of work since college and it shows. He's clueless. "He's trying to make light of a difficult situation," my girlfriend says, and I understand that. I also understand he's in a creative industry, where humour and wordplay are at a premium. But he's been writing all these jokey, long-winded, way-too-familiar letters to people asking for work. It's obvious he's got way too much time on his hands. Is there any way I can steer him toward a more businesslike approach without seeming to be kicking him when he's down?
Well, you're asking the right person.
I'm the king of getting canned. The moment I show up to a new job, with a fresh-pressed shirt and a look of fake confidence plastered on my mug, an invisible hand reaches out, overturns an invisible hourglass, and the sands of my time begin to run out.
But along the way I've picked up a few pointers on how to handle the fallout.
Best advice I've ever heard, I think, and most pertinent to your question, came to me when I got laid off from a TV news-writing gig.
This job was no aristocratic hobby. I needed the cheddar. My wife, Pam, was on year-long maternity leave with no less than our third child. We were living paycheque to paycheque, up to our hairlines in debt.
So when the tap came, I lost it a bit. "Me? No! Ah, come on. You've got to be kidding." The whole newsroom staring over at me.
Shivers of schadenfreude scampered up and down their spinal columns.
But in a way it was almost all worth it because when one of the senior producers, a man in his 50s, heard news of my doom he told me a nerve-racking story that's stuck with me and guided my footsteps, professionally, ever since.
He was once a radio guy. Bit of a hotshot, to hear him tell it. But he was laid off and was out of work for a while. Things got so desperate at one point that to keep the rain and snow off his family's heads he was buying bales of hay from farmers and selling them for a (slight) profit to trainers at the race track, using his only remaining asset, his pickup truck.
One day he called up an old radio buddy to see if he knew of any work. They chatted for a while, but then the buddy interrupted him: "Say … are you in your bathrobe right now?"
He admitted he was.
"I can tell," the friend said. "I can tell from your voice."
Which is why, the producer said, wrapping up his story, I had to start looking for work right away and not wait (I'd told him I would start looking as soon as my current job was over): "Because people can tell when you're in your bathrobe, both literally and metaphorically."
(His advice panned out for me: I started working the phones that day, and perhaps because people could hear the bustle of a newsroom rather than the rustle of terrycloth in the background had three job offers and could stroll out of there with my head held high when my time came to walk the plank.)
Your friend sounds like he's still in the "denial" stage of job loss thinking that if he pretends it's just a blip, other people might treat it the same.
But losing your job is not a blip. It's real, it's serious, it's a kick in the teeth, and everyone knows it.
Your friend needs to move on to the "acceptance" phase and yes, you should help him.
When you lose your job, you have to approach the world with a strange combination of humility and confidence. You have to believe that what you have to offer is valid, valuable and worthwhile. But you also have to admit you need help.
And you have to freaking hustle. Inside the workplace and out, you best believe the world belongs to the "hustlas."
Your friend needs to shrug off his spiritual bathrobe of flippancy, step into the harsh light of reality and start to do the hustle.
Talk to him. Empathize with him. Explain to him he needs to look for work with sincerity, and persistence, and as much self-belief as he can muster.
Encourage your friend to be congenial on the phone and in e-mails, but also brief, businesslike and to the point because a) it makes him seem busier; and b) it respects the fact the person on the other end of the communication is probably quite busy, too (especially with layoffs, everyone is probably doing the job of three people).
Finally, convince yourself, then him, these tough times won't last forever. Hey, the Bank of Canada has predicted 3.8-per-cent growth no recession in 2010.
I, for one, have decided to cling to this factoid like a branch above a raging river of doom. The Bank of Canada knows all! Why would it lie? All we have to do is hang on, hang in there, one more year, people.
And believe that, pulling together, we can all make it through.
David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
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