The Pink Slip Path to Prosperity: Managing a Career Transition

It’s hard to imagine what an unplanned career transition can have on your life at the moment it happens. In this unpredictable and evolving economy, many folks are finding profound change is presenting unprecedented opportunities as well as allowing them to follow their dreams.

Getting laid off, albeit financially challenging, was the best thing that ever could have happened to me.

In February of 2009, I was laid off as part of an 8% reduction in force from a promising and high paying sales role in the enterprise software industry at NetApp. While the economy was taking a turn for the worse, I wasn’t really that surprised given my short tenure with the company. To this day, I feel blessed for the opportunity to leave. Not only did I fulfill my lifetime dream of getting paid to speak, but I also transitioned into social media and online marketing, a space experiencing tremendous growth. Furthermore, through blogging, speaking and leading the Social Media Club of Dallas, I was able to position myself as an authority on social media. In fact, I’ve been featured in local newspapers, news stations and in a few national publications.

This experience also provided an opportunity to try my hand at self-employment as a consultant. I secured my first consulting gig posting “Hey I’m a free agent, who wants me” to LinkedIn, proving the power of social media. Coaching and delivering services to business in social media and online marketing has been very rewarding and it’s something I’ll continue to do weather paid or not. An employee at ReachLocal saw me speak at an American Marketing Association event and then asked me to consider a role there. It offered an opportunity to improve my online marketing skills and help launch a new product. I’ve been at ReachLocal just over a year now leading their content marketing and social media efforts as Director of Marketing.

To top it all off, my career reinvention was recently featured in a Fortune article. Who knew I could land in Fortune for making a career transition. Many people have asked how I did it. The remainder of this post will outline a few strategies and tips to help others in transition or considering it.

8 Steps to Manage a Career Transition

1) Define what you want: Depending on your financial situation, it’s important to take some time off to rediscover what your career goals and objectives are. What did you want to do with your life when you finished college? Did you want to make the world a better place by helping people? While our professional desires change over time, for me, I’ve always wanted to be a professional speaker. One key realization I made during this transition is my passion for social media, which provided the perfect platform to speak to people. Not only was I able to secure speaking gigs, but also it became clear that I really like to educate and coach others.

2) Get Exercising: The reality is you can’t spend all day on the web searching for and applying for jobs. During my career transition in 2009, I did my first Triathlon and 100 Mile bike ride. Not that consulting gave me much more freedom in my schedule, but I realized how important it was for me to feel good about myself. In 2009, I lost over 25 pounds. The confidence made a real difference in front of clients and when speaking to an audience at events.

3) Update your resume and LinkedIn Profile: Your resume is your marketing brochure and should quickly tell a hiring manager how you align to current needs in their organization. You should target your resume to each job you are applying to. However, LinkedIn offers a much greater opportunity to showcase your experience, skills, interests and thought leadership so get your profile to 100%. The reality is recruiters source from LinkedIn so make sure your profile is optimized for the key search terms you are interested in and is at 100% completion. Then connect to everyone you know. Join 50 groups, 25 of the largest and 25 in your industry to increase your chances you can connect to someone when needed.

4) Leverage Social Networking: Let’s face it. Using social media to find a job, connect with others, and demonstrate thought leadership is a powerful way to build your personal brand. In fact, your resume is no longer a piece of paper — it’s the Google search results of your name. You need to be on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google Plus in order to connect with folks who are hiring. Especially in marketing and technology industries. Many recruiters are heavily engaging on these platforms to connect with target candidates and referring employers.

5) Master face-to-face networking: With 9% unemployment simply applying online for available jobs is a feudal effort. The way to get the inside track to an available position at one of your target companies is to connect with someone who works there. Make an effort by attending the top industry and professional networking events in your local market. While many of these organizations have websites, LinkedIn Events and Meetup.com is another way to learn about events in your area. Take the time to schedule coffee meetings and lunches with professionals who can help introduce you to hiring managers. Those one on one meetings will make the difference between a casual connection and relationship.

6) Read up on your industry and profession: One effective way to stay up to speed is to read the top blogs and periodicals in your industry and profession. As a technology and social media marketer I not only read several of the top blogs in the AdAge 150, but I also read the top technology blogs including Mashable. Another great resource for top blogs by topic is Alltop.com. Even better, reading 10 books in your industry and can make a real difference.

7) Volunteer: It’s important to get back in an environment where you are working with other people and out of the house. Spending all day in your pajamas or boxers can really be a drain psychologically. I immediately volunteered for Meals on Wheels and stepped up to lead a career group at my church. Giving back has always made me feel good about myself but more importantly helped me realize, as bad as I may have it, others do have it worse. The time volunteering provides great opportunities to demonstrate and hone your skills to benefit others as well as present the chance to network with others.

8) Start a Blog: In the age of social media, you need to develop an opinion and a voice in your industry. Leadership isn’t about explicit management of others; it’s about having a strong opinion and fighting for it by influencing others through a cohesive argument. By staying informed in your industry and sharing your thoughts and ideas you can demonstrate domain expertise and analytic skills. With simple tools like Posterous and WordPress, you can be ready to blog in less than 24 hours. I encourage you to read CopyBlogger and ProBlogger for ideas on blogging and how to get started. When I first started my blog it took me thirty days to hit publish. I worried about the grammar and Fleishman-Kincaid reading level of my first post. However I realized that, as Voltaire said, “perfect is the enemy of the good”. Now I focus more on having a solid idea and do my best to proofread.

I encourage you to get started on your journey and I wish you all the best of luck in your next adventure. But take action — the smallest action is far greater than the biggest intention. If you have other ideas about managing a career transition or building your personal brand I welcome your comments.

About the Author

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Mike Merrill writes about social media, technology and personal branding. He is Director of Marketing for ReachLocal, an online marketing services company for small businesses. He speaks regularly about online marketing and is President of Social Media Club of Dallas. Mike previously worked for Dell, NetApp, Intel and two venture-backed startups and pursued his MBA at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

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