Looking for a Job Under Pressure? Real-Life Stories with Top Advice

Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC
January 23, 2019

When GM announced it was laying off 15 percent of its workforce, I thought of the laid-off workers now looking for a job under pressure. Even without a layoff ramping up the anxiety, the job search carries enough pressure. A job search already tests your resilience with its ups and downs, and tests your nerves with interviews, offer negotiations, networking meetings, and other high-stakes events. A search after an unexpected layoff has additional competitive pressure to land a job while lots of other people are simultaneously looking and financial pressure to find a job before savings and/or severance runs out.

In a recent Forbes post, I share tips on managing the competitive pressure of job search after layoffs flood the market. Today I share two real-life job searches under financial pressure so you can learn from their experiences what to do and what to avoid.

Real-Life Stories But The Names Have Been Changed

Our featured job seekers are John and Jane, the breadwinners of their households. Both had management-level jobs with autonomy over their schedules but busy, stressful days with little to no downtime. Both were earning multiple six figures and had spouses and several children to support. Relocating or taking a pay cut would be too disruptive on the families. Yet, both felt their jobs were in jeopardy: John worked in financial services, and his compensation was more than 50 percent tied to bonus pay which decreased dramatically due to consolidation in his area; Jane worked in media, and her company was continually restructuring in response to falling revenues.

When they came to me for coaching, the general strategy for each was the same:

  • They had to secure their position at work to minimize disruption to their livelihood.
  • They had to simultaneously look at alternatives because their companies and broader industries were not reliable long-term.
  • These two big priorities had to be worked into their already full schedules.
John Gets Bump in Pay and Improved Job Security: What To Copy From His Example
Change your actions to change your results

John’s compensation had been cut by more than half after a bad year for the business, not his individual performance. He recognized how tenuous his position was, so he lobbied to change his role so his work impacted more than his initial business area. This spread out his risk for next year’s bonus if he decided to stay at that company. He also had a candid conversation with his boss about what he needed to do better, taking ownership of his contributions, but also putting his boss on notice that he wanted to get his compensation back up there.

Keep your alternatives open

At the same time, John stepped up his outside job search by getting more involved with a professional association that he enjoyed but had put on the back burner. By taking on a leadership role there, he made himself visible to competitors and also learned more about where else he might work. His early research into the market only confirmed that he really wanted to stay where he was, but until he was able to expand his role, have a heart-to-heart with his boss, and feel more secure at his current company, he continued to stay active with the association and shore up his outside connections.

Be willing to challenge your assumptions

John thought he was fully tapped out and unable to take on additional responsibilities at work and at the association. The only way he could do that would be if his boss signed off on him shifting some of his current responsibilities and if his spouse agreed to take over some of the time he was supposed to be helping out at home. However, both were enthusiastic about what he proposed. His boss wanted John to be successful and recognized that his scope was too narrow now that their business area had changed. His spouse knew John’s career was at a critical inflection point and wanted to step up and support him. He dedicated some early morning hours and a couple of evenings per week to his job search, and it was challenging for several months (they have a LOT of kids), but the end result more than compensated for the crunch time.

John pushed himself, got support, and was willing to work differently to right his career. What are you going to change?

Jane Makes a Move But Does Not Improve Her Situation: How To Avoid Her Fate
Do not work harder at what already isn't working

While John changed his day-to-day at work (consciously getting in front of other business areas than his initial one), Jane doubled down on the role she had. Her specialty was putting out fires, and there were a lot more fires given all the restructuring. While I suggested looking at some of the growth areas in her organization, Jane stuck to her own department and didn’t want to consider a move or even more casually try to develop relationships in other areas.

Do not give up after hearing no

To her credit, Jane did do some external outreach and given her extensive experience got a lot of initial meetings. The people she networked with confirmed that her area was under siege and encouraged her to keep looking. However, since they didn’t have a job lead to share right away, Jane moved on to other contacts and eventually stopped making additional contacts.

Do not assume a new job is going to solve your career problem

Jane did continue to take calls when they came, and a recruiter pitched her a similar role at a competitor. Jane jumped at the chance to improve her job security by leaving her struggling company. However, her industry was struggling, not just her company, and a few months into Jane’s new employment, restructuring started at her new company as well. She lasted through several rounds but ultimately lost her job.

Jane has a strong background and set of skills and can absolutely get back on track by revisiting the growth areas in her industry and following up on her networking. Had she started these activities from the get-go, she would be that much further along in her career, with or without that second, short-lived job. You can't do the same things over and over and expect a better result. What are you going to do differently?

If you are looking for a job under pressure, you may think you don’t have the time to be thorough and thoughtful about your job search. But this is exactly the time when you need to be thorough and thoughtful and make sure you’re building the right foundation and pursuing the right activities. Your job search will be more effective and likely get completed faster if you focus right from the start.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC, a member of the Columbia Career Coaches Network, specializes in career change as a coach, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart® career coaching and CostaRicaFIRE.com, a real estate and early retirement blog. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and Tesla. Ceniza-Levine spent 15 years in strategy consulting, executive search, and HR. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes and wrote for Money.com, Time.com, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books. She teaches professional development and negotiation courses at Columbia. A classically-trained pianist at Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music, Ceniza-Levine stays active in the arts, performing stand-up comedy. Learn more about Ceniza-Levine and other members of the Columbia Career Coaches Network.

This article originally appeared on SixFigureStart.com.