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Career Coach: May Day!

Is your career healthy? Pamela Kleibrink Thompson advises you how to prepare against disaster in these uncertain times.

pam.gif Pamela Kleibrink Thompson

Is your career in distress? Is the company you're working for foundering? Is your parachute packed or are you staying aboard hoping not to crash? Here are some survival tips for a healthy career, whether you are working for a thriving company or one that is struggling to keep aloft.

Stay Informed Know your company's business. Who are the company's major clients and major competitors? Does your company have plenty of clients or is it relying on just a few accounts to keep going? Is your company getting its share of business, or are the jobs going to the competition?

When I worked for an educational film company our main client was the government of Saudi Arabia. When that contract dried up so did cash flow. The management was arrogant and never thought that their client would go elsewhere for their business. Too bad they didn't market their services to others while they had their large government client. Within a short time, most of the staff were laid off.

Does your company have a long range business plan? What is it doing to keep customers satisfied? Are they actively developing new clients and markets? Without income the company will not stay aloft.

Know your industry. Know who is being awarded the jobs. What companies are busy? Who is hiring recruiters? Tip: If they hire a recruiter, they will be doing a lot of hiring in the near future.

Tips to Prevent Disaster Prepare your parachute before you need to bail. Be prepared before disaster strikes. This is what you need in your emergency kit:

1) A financial cushion. Savings will help you weather a severe storm. Figure out how much you spend in 6 months on the necessities -- rent, car, food, etc. and save enough to survive for 6 months without work.

2) Assess yourself. Examine your skill set. Make a list of all the skills you've learned and the things you've accomplished. This list will be useful in composing your resume. If you have trouble making your list and thinking positively about yourself, get some friends to help you. Take stock of your attributes. What do you like doing at work? What do you like doing outside of work? Evaluate what you want to do. Have you always dreamed about developing your own show, building a Website, or writing a children's book "when you have the time"? When you are focussed on what you want to do you can determine what you need to know, as well as who can help you.

If you are lacking in skills, take some courses. Whether it's learning a new software, finishing a degree, working on life drawing or learning about management, the classes you take can help you expand your network. Even if you don't hear of any jobs, you will be improving your skills and that will make you more attractive and interesting to new employers.

3) Marketing Materials Your cover letter, resume, portfolio, demo reel and breakdown list are your marketing materials. Keep them up to date. Make sure your portfolio and demo reel contain your best and most recent work. Always put your best work up front on your reel and include your demo reel breakdown list. The breakdown list describes what is on your reel -- what you did for each shot. Customize your resume and portfolio to target the job you want. You may want to customize your portfolio for each company you target. Remember to include your name, phone number and email address on everything.

4) Contacts Participate in online discussion groups, attend conferences, industry related meetings including software user groups and network. Keep your ears open for opportunities. Call friends you haven't seen in ages because you have been so swamped with work. Invite them to get out of the office and take them to lunch. You can check out their company and see if it's the kind of environment you would like. Ask your friends if they have any leads and be willing to share information with them as well. If you meet with anyone, be sure to send thank you notes.

5) Research Do some research to find the employers that offer the kind of work you want to do. Target employers that offer that kind of work. This research will help you prepare for interviews.

Visit Websites like Animation World Network ( regularly and read trades like Animation Magazine. Visit company Websites. If you don't own a computer you may gain access to the Web through local libraries and colleges. Libraries also often subscribe to many trade publications like Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Most jobs aren't advertised but news articles offer clues for work. Look at announcements about new company launches, people changing jobs, or special projects.

Take Time Off If you are laid off don't be ashamed of losing your job. Chuck Jones, Glen Keane and Steve Jobs were all out on the street once. Just regroup and take it as an opportunity to move up. Sometimes getting laid off gives you a chance to move up or into a new area. Think about applying in a category the last company never wanted to promote you to.

Give yourself a chance to grieve over losing your job, if you need to. But don't let your self-esteem suffer. Being laid off or fired is not a crime. It doesn't mean you are bad or your work was bad, just that the company doesn't need your skills at this time.

You may feel cast adrift on a desert island, but you are not marooned. Attitude makes all the difference so take time to realize that you may have just landed in paradise. Your new situation may be just the break you need. Don't panic and start looking for work immediately or you may end up in a job that just pays the bills, but doesn't meet your other goals or advance your career.

You need to be refreshed to start looking for a job so take a two week vacation and get away from your normal stomping grounds. Getting away will give you a different perspective. The place you go doesn't have to be an island, exotic or expensive, just a change of scene.

During your vacation, your assignment is to daydream. Make a list of what you liked about your last job and what you didn't like. What do you want on your next job? What kind of company do you want to work for? To be happy in life you have to like your work.

Time for Take Off If you have your emergency kit prepared, when disaster strikes you will be ready with your marketing tools (an up to date resume, portfolio, demo reel and shot list). You know what you want to do because you have done the self-assessment and the research, so now is the time to relaunch your career. Make lots of calls. Keep conversations brief (a minute or two tops) and to the point. Find out if they are hiring in your category and who to address a package to. Spend at least two hours a day making contacts/calls and get those packages in the mail. Follow up in 3 to 6 weeks. It takes work to find work. These tips will help you get through the down times and back in the action at a job you want. Your career will take off again.

Having held every job in the entertainment industry and weathered many layoffs, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is uniquely qualified as a career coach, independent recruiter and management consultant. She frequently speaks about careers at colleges and universities.