The Smart Thing to Do

The Smart Thing to Do

It was the lead story in the Life section of Monday’s USA Today. Apparently, a growing number of those in transition are turning to game shows to turn their fortunes around. They’re lining up to compete on the likes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, Deal or No Deal and even Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?. What’s driving them? The lure of quick cash and maybe even a little notoriety.

Now, I’m very respectful of anything anyone does to help make ends meet during a tough patch in their career. However, in this regard, I have to ask “What are they thinking?”. The key to weathering a period of unemployment is not to do something, but to do the smart thing, and competing on game shows falls far short of that bar.

Here’s what I mean. To get on a game show, you first have to audition. To audition successfully, you have to do some studying (especially if you want to outthink a 5th grader). Then, if you’re selected, you want to win, so you have to prepare even more. Once your time on the show has arrived, you have to travel to wherever it’s taped, wait around for the filming to begin, and then hopefully do well enough to get invited back. Which means that you have to start your preparation all over again and, if you’re lucky, again and again. In short, you’ve invested a heck of a lot of time and effort in making your game show appearance.

What’s the upside? A little near term cash—the USA Today article was breathless about people winning $25-50,000—which is nothing to sneeze at, to be sure, but also not much of a durable solution to unemployment. Basically, it’s a one time infusion of cash that begins to shrink the minute it arrive with some IRS person in tow to collect their share of your winnings.

What’s a smarter course of action? Invest the same time and effort you spent on your 15 minutes of fame in actions that will pay a much larger dividend over a much longer period of time. I suggest that you do three things:
First. figure out why you are unemployed. One of the people profiled in the USA Today piece had been laid off four times in the last year. Was that just a run of bad luck or was there something else amiss closer to home? Was he, for example, a below average contributor or unable to get along with his coworkers? Performing such a candid situational assessment can be a real eye opener both in helping you avoid lousy employers in the future and in making sure you aren’t viewed as a lousy employee.
Second, determine where and how you can strengthen your credentials. The idea is to see yourself as a work-in-progress. Whether you have an MBA, a PhD or twenty-five years of experience in your field, there is always something you can learn in today’s ever evolving world of work. Your talent has no limit except what you set for it, so identify what new skills or insights you can acquire that would enable you to make a more valuable contribution to your employer.
Finally, act on that self-awareness. In the old days, we used to describe looking for a new job as a full time job. For better or worse, that’s no longer true. Today, being in transition is two full time jobs: You work as both a job seeker and as a self-improver. You must embark on an education program or take a training course to upgrade your skills even as you send out your resume and network with others to find gainful employment.

Unlike competing on a game show, this alternative strategy is an investment with an enduring return. It establishes you as a person with two rare qualities that are highly valued by today’s employers. It says that you are someone who takes personal responsibility for the state of your professional expertise and that you actually act on that commitment. In today’s world of work, that kind of profile is worth far more than 25,000, 50,000 or even a million dollars.

Thanks for reading,
Peter