We marked the 21st anniversary of 9-11 last Sunday—an event I witnessed from the south-facing windows at an employment program where I worked as a career advisor at the time. There have been a surprising number of national and regional disasters impacting the job market and my clients since then. My clients have taught me lessons during crises that you will benefit from reading about.
Just a few of these lessons include:
- Rely on yourself—don’t count on others,
- Take advantage of disaster resources,
- Recognize opportunities, and
- Have an “if I’m let go tomorrow” strategy.
The ideas below are based on my experience working with clients. This information is anecdotal and not based on statistics. As we are told on TV, “your results may vary.”
Rely on Yourself.
A key lesson I learned while working with clients that lost their jobs as a result of the 9-11 attacks is that you should not rely solely on corporate, government, or non-profit agency promises of help. The assurances jobseekers received after 9-11, Superstorm Sandy, and other crises may have been sincere and well-meaning. Unfortunately, the programs that existed did not always work the way clients expected them to function.
Both the federal government and private sector made funds available for re-employment training after 9-11 in New York. While the quality of training varied depending on the provider, the process worked reasonably well, at least for those that had the patience to deal with what some call “the glacial speed of government,”
Clients that did not follow the process ran into problems. For example, at least one client came to me with a receipt for a training class he already paid for, and did not (or would not) understand why we could not reimburse him. After all, he insisted, some public official had “promised” he could attend any training he wanted and get reimbursed. Public programs do not work that way, even in emergencies.
Certain corporations also told leaders at our employment program that they would offer work for those that lost their jobs after 9-11. It turned out, in some cases, the companies only offered work to “runners,“ or individuals that fled the towers on the morning of September 11, 2001. Their offer did not include workers that lost their jobs in the vicinity of the towers, or that were impacted by the ensuing economic downturn.
Take advantage of disaster resources.
Now, I do not want to suggest that, as a jobseeker, you should not take advantage of public unemployment compensation, employment and training programs after a disaster. The programs can be quite good when you take the time to understand and follow the rules.
For example, some states, and the federal government made unemployment insurance benefits available for an extended period of time after disasters such as the Great Recession and Superstorm Sandy. The rules for collecting these benefits were a nuisance for clients, but not insurmountable. Clients had to prove “three job searches” per week (the exact number may have varied by state), to collect their weekly checks. All I had to do to help was allow clients to add the name and location of my job club or program to the form they submitted.
Jobseekers, in my opinion, often benefit from the accountability requirements in public programs. Every publicly-funded employment program I have participated in as a jobseeker, volunteer, or employee has expected its jobseekers to actively participate. Programs where unemployed clients were required to participate all required their jobseekers to document their job searches. Of course, as in nearly every endeavor, your chance for success improves when you document and quantify your effort.
Accountability was also part of training grant programs I helped clients access. They had to document that jobs existed in the fields they were applying to train in, and that jobs would be available for them. This is the kind of research every jobseeker should do when contemplating new training, so, in my view, this is not an onerous requirement.
A number of jobseekers came to my desk at an employment program after 9-11 and said they wanted to become computer programmers. Frequently, they had no idea what the job entailed and what skills they needed for success. Some learned through their required research that the training was not right for them.
Take advantage of public programs when you lose work because of a disaster. Some of the bureaucratic requirements may actually improve your chances for success.
Disasters can create opportunities. For example, a large insurance company lost much of its team on 9-11. Ironically, one of my clients had been downsized from his job as a “catastrophe analyst” at that company shortly before the towers fell. I asked the client how he would feel about contacting his former employer to see what help they might need to rebuild their team.
Understandably, the client was less-than-eager to pursue this course of action. Nonetheless, when I made a follow-up call months later, I learned he was back at the company. This strategy had worked.
The opportunities you encounter as a result of a disaster will, we hope, be less dramatic or heart-wrenching. But the lesson is clear. Look for opportunities after a crisis.
Have an “if I were let go tomorrow” strategy.
An astounding number of disasters have shaken the job market since 9-11. The only constant in our employment world seems to be change so it makes sense to be prepared. Either have a resume ready to go, or at least continually update the information, such as your business accomplishments, that you will need so you can create a resume quickly. Similarly, maintain a current LinkedIn profile so your business and professional colleagues can connect with you and keep in touch. Also, stay current in your industry and profession, not just on events in your own company, so you will be better prepared to move around, if needed. Dealing with disaster is not pleasant, but you can take steps for a smoother transition to new opportunities.