Lost in transition

For many, beginning a career transition or a job search may seem like a daunting task. Beyond the emotional impact, you may have questions such as: What do I want to do? What do I need to do? Where do I start?

~ Milestones Workshop Resource Guide, Lee Hecht Harrison

I’ve quit my job. Voluntarily, quite amicably, with hugs and kisses—but a breakup is still a breakup. Current status: “in-betweener.” Working on two well-paying freelance projects, both interesting, and vetting more as they come along. But at the sendoff, at every turn, I’ve been asked by well-meaning colleagues, friends, and family: “Where are you going?” And I’ve been obliged to say, “I’m not really sure.” In one of the many career-oriented conversations I’ve recently had, a friend asked me, “Aren’t we too old for this kind of thing?” Apparently not.

I haven’t started seriously looking for a new job. This is why, three days after Freedom Friday, I eagerly join a career transition workshop set up by a pal in behalf of talent mobility company Lee Hecht Harrison (LHH) Philippines. It couldn’t hurt, right? At the very least, it should help narrow down what I want and what I need to do to achieve it. As far as some folks are concerned, I’m crazy—I left a decent-paying job with some influence (I could assign hard-working, talented folks paid gigs!) at an industry-leading company where I’m buddies with my talentado workmates. Never mind my reasons off and on the record, I’m due for a sanity check, yes?

LHH gets hired by large companies with a conscience and a big heart to help the workers they’ve laid off (or about to lay off) proactively move on, rather than drowning in a storm surge of hostility or falling down the rabbit hole of depression. (Ahem.) They’re the guys you go to if several of your workforce are rendered redundant because of a merger, or your top executives have to step down because of an acquisition—no one’s fault, but the new boss wants his own people in place. Or it could be the company’s downsizing, and the mother ship is recalling the alien troops. Whatever the scenario, LHH are the guys who get cried on, raged at, threatened with bodily harm, (eventually) listened to, and thanked after the shit hits the fan. As it’s bound to do, given our rapidly-changing world.

“I’ve been kind of conservative,” I confess to the five bloggers and two counselors at the career transitioning workshop. As a personal introduction, I’d just been asked to list my three previous job titles: editor, reporter, and supplement writer. (Unmentioned, hey, it didn’t make the cut-off: educator.) In contrast, my companions are champion career shifters: a medical representative turned NGO worker and, later, consultant; an agriculturalist turned writer; an IT guy turned BPO worker and entrepreneur slash writer; a nurse who ran through a gamut of positions that made our heads spin; a self-confessed suma (sumasampung taon sa kolehiyo) who has since become a digital advertiser and website administrator; and our host, my friend, who left HRAD to become a radio jockey, a writer, and a PR & Events whiz.

Photo by Nana Nadal // Sir Binky tells us he himself was laid off and rose from the ashes, so to speak, by forming his own company.

“It’s part of life planning. Career is life. You should be able to move forward. Your personal situation changes; you have to move forward in a way that is aligned with your personal goals,” he says.

LHH Phils managing director Vicente “Binky” Kilayko is tickled pink at our rowdy motley crew: We’ve all experienced the loss of a job (whether by our own hand or via pink slip); we’ve all felt a little confused, uncertain, even disheartened; and we all know that our latest occupation isn’t our last, so we’re invested in the topic. Operations director Jo Ann Asetre can barely contain the outpouring of questions. We go overtime by an hour. Though the 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. intensive workshop hardly scratches the surface of the actual career transitioning program (either individual or group), which can last anywhere from one month to a year, even “unlimited” or until you’re past the hurdle and have settled into your new job.

What did I learn in all that time? That I ought to be less emotional and more systematic. I’d never really understood before that notion of “weighing your options.” Literally, it means drawing up an informed career decision-making matrix: list your ideal job criteria, assign a numerical “weight” depending on how important each criterion is, list your options, assess your options against your criteria (criteria weight multiplied by the option’s grade), and make your choice based on the final tally of scores. Company A, for example, could score well in terms of compensation and benefits, but low on family time and flexible schedule. Company B could score well on everything but location. You need to figure out what you value and what you’re willing to let go, and that will determine what you’re prepared to negotiate for and which job you ultimately accept. Or maybe you’d rather be self-employed. That’s also an option to weigh in.

How do you envision your life? If you had a pie-chart, what would be the biggest slice? Your career? Your family? Your relationships? Visualize it, assign hours devoted to each category per week, and check if that’s how you really want your life to be segregated. What are your core values? If you had to prioritize seven values that you’ve always valued, and rank them accordingly, what would be their concrete manifestations? “I’ve had these values in all of my jobs—except for that one in the one job, maybe—so how come?” I ask. My friend tells me it’s better to be aware, otherwise I wouldn’t know what I’d been missing. (If you’re reading this, you should know it reminds me of our girl Taylor: “I don’t know if you know who you are until you lose who you are.”)

Another nifty trick is an exercise where you’re given a pack of cards to rank your skills by competence, and by whether you actually like exercising each skill. Depending on your ranking, a highly competent skill set could become either a source of motivated satisfaction, or your descent into burnout. What we were taught, in principle (because we didn’t have time to practice), is that all these insights can be applied to assess whether a certain job fits you, and to develop a communications strategy, including what to write in your CV or LinkedIn profile, or how to answer certain interview questions.

Photo by Nana Nadal // You'll notice that I am entirely too delighted at shuffling my skill cards. The group had different personalities (except for my seatmate and I, we were both ENFP!), but we all had a good laugh, and it helped that Ms. Jo Ann kept the tone light.

Photo by Nana Nadal // It helped that everyone had a sense of humor, and Ms. Jo Ann kept the tone light. We actually had fun!

Unsurprisingly, my highly-motivated skills include writing, editing, proofreading, reading for information, synthesizing, observing, perceiving intuitively, analyzing, designing, and tending animals (hurrah!). Dealing with feelings, and counseling, are competencies that I’m not too keen on, so they’re in the burnout zone. And so it goes. (If you know a veterinarian who needs a writer-for-hire, I’m your girl! Or I should start looking for a new cat to park himself on my Lenovo just as I’m about to write…wait, stop, my cat-lady friends will pounce on this statement. Fur will fly!)

More cards, and I learn, again, that I am categorized an ENFP personality. Recommended jobs: teaching, all writing fields, and the creative arts. (So I am on the right career track!) Counseling, too. And pretty much everything that exercises communication, including public relations and advertising, political writing, screenplay writing—and if I’ve got some acting skills somewhere, I’ll be a prime candidate for sales. (Good thing I’m too transparent. Although, in my dreams, I could probably audition to be leading lady to Tom Cruise in A Few Good Salesmen. Or not.)

Levity aside, the consensus was that a third-party like LHH would be an ideal helpmate for in-betweeners. (Actually, I suggested a reality TV show where an LHH trainer could put folks through their paces, which I think is more interesting than weight loss scenarios and kids trapped in a house doing nothing, but the non-disclosure agreement scotched that idea.) Only two of the participants had experienced firsthand a restructuring in their previous jobs—but none of us had been fortunate enough to work in a company that included personal career coaching as part of the severance package. Not that I blame companies: enrolling someone in the program is equivalent to a full month’s salary. As a form of CSR, it’s a real commitment. Would that it were mandated by law, like it is in Spain.

Photo courtesy of LHH // If you really need some time alone, or a work space to get into the groove, the LHH offices has private cubicles you may use.

Photo courtesy of LHH // If you really need some time alone, or a work space to get into the groove, the LHH office has private cubicles you may use.

It would be nice though, yes? We’ve brought home the paperwork, and will be going through the steps at our discretion, but there’s a wistfulness in the “what if.” What if we didn’t have to be alone in this? What if there’s a support group? What if we had a personal career coach egging us on? The good news is, our brazen bunch also received an open invitation to take part in one of the group workshops, anywhere from interview skills training, to personal investment management, to resiliency-building so you’re able to manage stress in your life. Free of charge. Perks of being in media. (They have yet to open this to the general public, as they cater solely to erstwhile employees of their clients. And alumni, such as a candidate from way back in 2011, who is currently at loose ends and needs additional advice.)

Am I any closer to figuring out the magic formula to a “fitter, happier, more productive, comfortable…getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries” work life? That remains to be seen. (I’m still on page 4 of my module.)

I hope so.

Lee Hecht Harrison Philippines is located on the 12th Floor, Pacific Star Building, Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenue, Makati City. For inquiries, call (02) 811-6884.

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