What To Do When Your Job Ends
October 23, 2013
A Continuation Of Shrinking Musical Chairs
There are probably more qualified talent out of work today than at any time I can remember. This editorial is dedicated to helping you deal with one of life's biggest obstacles. You lost your gig. Being fired doesn't mean you're a piece of slime. And it doesn't really matter why. It could be ratings, a format switch, a change of ownership or that oldest of all weak excuses, "We're going in a new direction." Yeah, right! And what direction is that? Country rap? It doesn't matter. Why? Because regardless, you're now among the unemployed. So what do you do? The first thing most people want to do is understand why they were let go.
Understand that despite the excuses they give you for your termination, chances are it has more to do with economics than performance. If you just lost your PD gig and the station fills that open PD slot from within, chances are here is what's up. Often the best air personality is promoted to that position. The company is getting someone to do two jobs for one salary. The problem is that suddenly this person is doing two full-time jobs. They quickly find they don't have enough time to devote to their on-air performance and they're expected not only program or oversee two or more stations, but to also and expertly handle a small staff of sensitive egos. As a result, the station simultaneously loses its best jock and gains an undertrained, overwhelmed PD. The point is that invariably the station is working down to a price rather than up to a standard. A standard they didn't set. A standard set by the market. But you're still out of a gig. So what should you do now that you understand why you were dismissed.
The first thing is to let your radio contacts know you're looking. This makes it far more likely your name will be mentioned when job openings are discussed. Get in touch with those who are familiar with your work, unless you're positive they're hating on you. The more people who know you're out of work, the better. They may not have or know of an opening, but they may know someone who does.
References from competitors can be extremely valuable. Consultants can be a great help, as they deal directly with a number of stations and formats. It's good to maintain a relationship with consultants. Don't underestimate their power. They don't just know about potential job openings; often they help decide who will fill them. Also, some of them remember what it's like to be on the beach. Relating well with consultants can help significantly in the short and long term of your career. Just don't overdo it. Remember, they aren't in business just to find folks gigs.
Timing is crucial where you're looking for work. There's nothing worse than hearing, "I wish I had known you were looking. We just hired someone." Let no opportunity slip by. Put together a greatest hits audio presentation rather than just an aircheck. Sure, it's been edited, but if that's the only way to get the PD's attention, it's worth it. Some PDs, if they hear something they like, will then ask for an aircheck or fly you in to do an on-air audition. While you're on-air, no matter how secure you feel or how long your contract is, update your highlight reel monthly. This will safeguard you in the event of an unexpected termination.
The best way to do this is to save skims of entire shows you're proud of, which accurately reflect your best work. If you send out a show that's much better than your average, you probably won't be able to live up to your own standard if you get the job, but at least you'll get noticed.
After letting you go, some stations will allow you to use their facilities to make a demo. Others will call security if you're within five miles of the building. Do what you must to get that audio presentation together before it's requested, even if it means paying for studio time. You could get a call tomorrow from someone who wants it immediately. Putting together an audition piece under pressure may result in a poor representation of your talents.
Another part of your exit strategy is collecting unemployment. First of all, it's nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it's your money. To us it's a badge of honor to be worn proudly. Anyone who gets paid for doing nothing or while they're waiting for the next gig is simply someone who knows their entitlements. It's very unlikely the unemployment office will be able to find you a radio job and you really don't have to settle for anything else. You never know how long you'll be out of work, so it's best not to put off applying for benefits. Watch your money closely. Spend it only on the essentials.
Try to go on with your life. Being completely absorbed with finding a new gig will eventually drive you and those around you insane. Get a hobby, maybe golf or bowling. Stay in touch with what's going on in radio by talking to friends in the industry, reading the trades, especially All Access.
Some people take temporary jobs to occupy their time. Your radio experience is sure to land you a high-paying position in the exciting world of fast food or used cars. If that doesn't sound interesting to you, look into teaching at a broadcast school, or doing voiceovers or even stand-up comedy if you're an out-of-work morning air personality. Remember a small income is better than no income.
A working spouse is always a big help, if you have one. The period of time between jobs is hard on the whole family, so make the most of it. Your newfound free time can be the perfect opportunity to spend more time with your family. If you have a house, you maybe have to sell it in the event of a move. So use your time off to paint or make necessary repairs and/or improvements. Focus on finding work, but don't make it an obsession, or you'll become more depressed as each unproductive day passes.
The Rejection Game
You can't get discouraged. Patience and persistence are essential. Send out lots of packages and plenty of e-mails, texts and calls. Try to enjoy the job hunt. Try playing what we call "the rejection game." Here's how it works: Target a market, a station and a program director who you'd like to work for. The object of "The Rejection Game" is to see how many consecutive long-distance phone calls you can make without getting any responses. If the PD finally does talk to you, great. If he or she continues to disregard your phone calls, e-mails and texts, at least you have a chance to set a personal record. Extra points if the receptionist groans at the sound of your voice.
More than once, you may come very close to being hired without actually getting the gig. You may feel so confident about your chance of getting that job you relax your efforts to find work elsewhere. Never do that. The job search is exhausting and easy to abandon at the first ray of light, but more often than not, things don't work out right away. Pursue every job lead until that first paycheck is in the bank.
Believe it or not, there are some positives that could develop out of this situation. Losing your gig can be just the thing to get your career back on track. Were you really happy at your last job and more importantly, was it leading you in the direction you want? It's important to ask yourself these questions because if the answer is no, this could be the right time to make drastic changes. Maybe you're tired of trying to play 11 cuts an hour; maybe what you really want to do is Talk, Ssports or Oldies radio. Maybe if you've always done middays, you might want to try nights.
Let's say you're a PD and perhaps you'd rather program a station in a small market rather than do a regular shift in a large market. What better time to alter your course than when you have nothing to lose? There's no sense in breaking your back to get a job you don't even want. Set a short-term goal that will move you closer to your long-term ambition and pursue it until it's been reached. Remember the days of the huge salaries for a programmer to handle just one station with a full-time MD, a research and promotion budget and no air shift may be gone. You need to be prepared for fewer options. So now you have some of the reasons for the terminations and cutbacks. It may not make you feel any better, but it's always good to know that you are not alone. Unemployment has affected every format, every market and every gender.
Learn From Experience
Why did you lose your job? How can you prevent it from happening again? What, during your unemployment, would you do differently next time? What would you be sure to do again? You quickly learn who your friends are when you're out of work. You find out which ones really care about you and which ones are just waiting to catch you bent over. Being unemployed is what you make of it. It can be a miserable, emotional and financial nightmare, or it can be one of life's most valuable and enduring lessons.
Here are some other thoughts you can learn from: If you've been paying attention at all lately, I don't have to tell you we're living in troubled times. Formats have fragmented and Urban radio is being squeezed by a system that is dictated more by cost controls than by performance, loyalty and tenure. There's a reason for that. Many of today's most successful radio stations are owned by public companies. And public companies need to show growth and profit.
Every company today is looking for people with proven skills and track records and even some of them are going to have problems keeping their present jobs or finding new ones. They may be forced to relocate and take less money just to work. How many good people do you know personally who are out of work?
Innovation And Comfort Levels
Somebody asked me recently how Urban radio was going to fare in the midst of all the changes. My answer was and is that in order to survive today's Urban radio, we must build a younger demo base. In order to do that effectively, the format needs innovators. We need innovators with unique abilities. They don't have to re-invent the wheel, just make sure the wheel keeps turning in the right direction.
The good thing is that there are some truly innovative people out there. Those innovative people who are in creative positions like to believe that they deserve to be there -- that they have paid their dues and have the background, training and innate ability to call upon their intellectual wisdom and experience to push just the right, special buttons at the right time to achieve the success and goals that the company has set for them.
But there are hindrances. One of the greatest hindrances to any of us who fall short of our goals or lose our gigs is our level of comfort. When we allow ourselves to become satisfied and comfortable with where we are and what we're doing, we stop striving to achieve. While you're still employed, you need to redefine your comfort level so you can strive to even greater heights.
If you're sitting in a comfortable job, working for a great company, you have every right to feel proud of yourself. When things are going well, we tend to get complacent. But you have only to look around to be reminded that "stable" is a term rarely applied to today's job market.
The landscape can change in an instant. Mergers, sales, downsizing and layoffs happen all the time. It could even be something as simple as your boss gets promoted or booted, and the chemistry isn't right with the new boss. You should always be prepared for a sudden job change or loss.
Review Your Resume Regularly
Not having a current resume ready is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for most people who need to get back into the job marketed unexpectedly. After a job loss, when you have plenty of other things on your mind, that's not the time to try to think creatively about what you've done in the past. It's much easier if you keep a list of your accomplishments as you go along.
You could leave a job on Friday and start the new one on Monday. Just before you make that transition, take time to write down what you did in the last job or project. Write a brief description of the job as it might appear on a resume. Once you're involved in the new job, memory of the old one fades.
To create the best package, you should think beyond job descriptions and accomplishments to transferable skills. If you're applying for an on-air PD position or a position as an air talent, you should make certain that your audio presentation is perfect. There should be nothing that you have to apologize for. Personally, as I mentioned above, I like the "greatest hits" approach. Put four or five of your best breaks, regardless of chronology, in inverted pyramid style together on a disc or mp3. Have someone else listen to it when you have finished, set your ego aside and be prepared to make some changes.
GMs tend to want to hire specialists today. It is no longer impressive to say that as an air talent you can do afternoons, nights, middays and mornings. That's like saying you're a professional football player and you can play any position. If what they're looking for is a morning jock with a proven track record; you can't fake that and you shouldn't try. With the exception of the overnight position (many of which are syndicated or voicetracked today anyway) and weekends, you should put your best foot forward. That means if you've done middays, it's entirely possible you could transition to afternoons. But some stations want to hire a person who has done what they are applying for. As bad as you may want to work, if you are ill-suited for a position, you will soon be back in the unemployment line.
What you want to do is to become a "calculated risk-taker." Some risks are worth taking -- if you're prepared. But you can't always play it safe and win. Sometimes, you have to step out, take some chances and apply some original thoughts to see if they work. If they do, you're way ahead of the game. If they don't, you can always go back to playing it safe for a while.
You should think about your own personal brand that reflects your unique selling proposition. A portfolio is a way to tell your career story and emphasize the best chapters. What should you include? Letters of recommendation, awards, client letters, testimonials, ratings and a list of your references. Be sure that you notify your references and/or get their permission.
The person who never speaks about his/her skills and capabilities never gets the job or the promotion. Don't confuse articulating your skills with bragging. If you're the type of person who finds it difficult to claim your successes, bounce ideas off a trusted friend or colleague who can help you say something better.
A career portfolio is also a useful tool for annual reviews. It will remind you of what fires you put out, what rating success you had, all of which could translate into a raise or a promotion.
You've heard it many times. We all need to be connectors of people through networking or "netweaving," which is introducing your acquaintances to each other, with the expectation that it will benefit them both. Having an active business network also gives you a person to turn to when you need advice about a business project, software issue or management problem. When you have good relationships with people and you aren't asking them for anything, it's like an investment. It makes it easier to ask for help when you need it.
Don't forget you also have to save for the future. Many with really good salaries spend it all every month. Everyone should have at least six months' living expenses saved. If they don't have it liquid, then they should have assets they can access easily or borrow against, if need be. Put a small part of every paycheck into savings. It builds.
If you are fortunate enough to get a salary increase, don't allocate it all. After all, you weren't using it before. You can treat yourself, but save something, too. Having a financial cushion greatly decreases the stress of a sudden job loss and can prevent you from having to take the wrong job simply because you need the money.
If you're lucky, you may not have to leave that current job you've got, but if you do, being proactive about career planning will make it easier to find the next one. Getting and keeping a gig is going to be harder than ever because there are fewer jobs and fewer options. But you've got a much better chance of surviving and even prospering if after landing that next job and getting comfortable, instead of looking for excuses not to take any chances, you start looking at applying some different strategies. Keep an open mind. Always be willing to learn and then apply some of the new things you've learned.
Finally, here's one more thing to keep in mind. People in our industries change jobs and duties frequently, even if they stay with the same company. For that reason, you don't want to become known as a complainer. In 2013 the squeaky wheel doesn't just get the grease or the attention. It gets replaced.