Job Search Stalled? Time to Be Creative

Counselor says unemployed IT pros must break with linear thought.

As a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and a practicing counselor at San Franciscos Career and Personal Development Institute, Robert Chope has seen firsthand the emotional fallout experienced by hoards of Silicon Valley IT workers who lost their jobs when the dot-coms became, in his words, "dot-compost."

In his book, "Dancing Naked: Breaking Through the Emotional Limits That Keep You From the Job You Want," Chope provides out-of-work professionals with advice on how to deal with the emotional turmoil and think creatively to successfully move their careers to the next stage. IT Careers Managing Editor Lisa Vaas recently spoke with Chope.

eWeek: What types of emotional turmoil are you seeing in your career counseling clients?

Chope: Having worked with hundreds [of IT professionals in the Silicon Valley region], we find a terrible disenchantment with whats happened. After all, these folks are very well-trained. Now theyve all been laid off, and nobody wants their services.

Theres a series of negative emotional reactions they have to the experience. They feel overwhelmed or helpless or hopeless. A more serious reaction is they engage in comparative labeling and feel theyre not worth much. They compare themselves to people who are still working, and they think, "How could I have been so stupid as to have joined this company [thats failed]?" In the high-flying days of the dot-com industry, people were being recruited heavily. They were being given enormous benefits. They jumped at opportunities without doing due diligence on the companies. Everything seemed like it was going to be a boom. Now, they think their decision making wasnt so good.

eWeek: Are IT people angry about all this change?

Chope: Now, mostly, people are frightened. These are folks who were picked up pretty easily just a few years ago. Now, they find out, they send out information to 500 places and get one or two responses.

Second, theyre frustrated over the fact that they really planned for this. They have good degrees from good schools and thought this thing would really work. It makes them concerned that all the education they went through is not going to be worth what they thought it would be worth.

eWeek: In the book, you talk about divergent vs. convergent thinking—divergent thinking being what wed also call thinking outside of the box. You say that IT people must engage in divergent thinking to navigate the search for a new job in these emotionally and economically turbulent times. Could you give any examples of IT people whove used divergent thinking to create a new career?

Chope: I worked with a person who developed a consulting business to help people launch new businesses. He was a Web designer at a pretty successful firm. He was one of the owners. The firm got bought up. He was part of that. He became a consultant to the company that bought it. Then that company went down.

Now, hes launched a business as an expert in what went wrong in dot-com businesses. Hes selling himself to companies and venture capital firms that want someone who went through this to evaluate what went wrong, from accounting to lack of imagination to procedures to [whatever].

[In this manner,] we try to get folks to be more imaginative and use the business savvy theyve developed, even from a dot-com failure.

eWeek: You would think of programmers, for one, as having more linear thought patterns than that. Is that true, and if it is, is it hampering many out-of-work IT people from rethinking their careers?

Chope: Maybe 18 months ago, when they werent sure the dot-coms would become dot-bombs. But people are now finding they need to become more creative. Eighteen months ago, they didnt have to be.

eWeek: What other emotional or psychological traits do IT professionals have that would tend to trip up their job searches?

Chope: They get very specific with what it is they want to do. They need to be much more imaginative. When you cubbyhole yourself, [your narrowly defined objective] might not have the relevancy in todays market as a few years ago. Whats important for IT folks to do is to continue reading [business] magazines and continue taking classes and upgrading skills. If not, theyll be a generation behind if things ever heat up again. The industry continues to move forward at breakneck speed.

I had a client the other day who was out [of the IT work force] for a year. He had the money and resources not to do anything for that year. In one year, the world changed, and [he said,] "I dont understand what people are talking about."