Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Government Wants YOU to Be Happy

Feeling gloomy about the economy? Never fear, the government is here! Yes, the government, which wants to fix every cog in our sputtering economic system, is here to help you deal with the stress and anxiety of your situation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has put together an online guide called "Getting Through Tough Economic Times" to help people identify and deal with health risks associated with financial anxiety. The site is almost as fun to visit as the California EDD (EDD has an edge thanks to the reassuring portrait of Arnold). In case you were wondering about the signs of concern, here's SAMHSA's list of warning signs that you or your loved one is going through tough times:

* Persistent Sadness/Crying
* Excessive Anxiety
* Lack of Sleep/Constant Fatigue
* Excessive Irritability/Anger
* Increased drinking
* Illicit drug use, including misuse of medications
* Difficulty paying attention or staying focused
* Apathy - not caring about things that are usually important to you
* Not being able to function as well at work, school or home

Then the site provides some quick tips on how to cope. These are entertaining:

* Trying to keep things in perspective - recognize the good aspects of life and retain hope for the future.
* Strengthening connections with family and friends who can provide important emotional support.
* Engaging in activities such as physical exercise, sports or hobbies that can relieve stress and anxiety.
* Developing new employment skills that can provide a practical and highly effective means of coping and directly address financial difficulties.

Honestly, I think this is a good service. It recognizes that times are tough, and makes an effort to help people deal with an overwhelming sense of anxiety gripping the nation. I've written a couple entries on the things you should doand should not do during unemployment. Taking a step back, I believe the engine for our recovery is partially political, partially financial, and mostly psychological. For the majority of us watching and waiting for things to turn around, the psychological element is so important to manage.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Layoffs at Google

UPDATE 1:05PM: Here's the blog post about the cuts, penned by SVP Omid Kordestani.

Changes to our sales and marketing organizations

3/26/2009 12:20:00 PM
Google has grown very quickly in a very short period of time. When companies grow that quickly it's almost impossible to get everything right—and we certainly didn't. In some areas we've created overlapping organizations which not only duplicate effort but also complicate the decision-making process. That makes our teams less effective and efficient than they should be. In addition, we over-invested in some areas in preparation for the growth trends we were experiencing at the time.

So today we have informed Googlers that we plan to reduce the number of roles within our sales and marketing organizations by just under 200 globally. Making changes of this kind is never easy—and we recognize that the recession makes the timing even more difficult for the Googlers concerned. We did look at a number of different options but ultimately concluded that we had to restructure our organizations in order to improve our effectiveness and efficiency as a business. We will give each person time to try and find another position at Google, as well as outplacement support, and provide severance packages for those who leave the company. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone affected for all they have contributed to Google.

Posted by Omid Kordestani, Senior VP, Global Sales and Business Development

UPDATE 12:15PM: I just heard the layoffs are not huge and will affect primarily the online sales organization, which comprises Adwords and Adsense.

Here's something gloomy. I just got word from a source that Google is going through workforce reductions numbering in the hundreds. Not sure how many will be affected, but these changes will affect full-time staff. My source says some positions have been eliminated while others are being "reassigned," meaning they will have 60 days to find a new position within the company. If they can't find anything, they will lose their jobs.

Google has gone through a few rounds of cuts recently. Earlier this year Google cut 100 recruiters and trimmed down its radio advertising team. Late last year cut 10,000 contractors. It seems no company is recession proof.

Managing Time, Wasting Time

This is a great article from the Simple Dollar blog that contains helpful tips about time management. The world we live in is full of "productivity" applications that can easily turn into productivity destroyers. The immediacy and volume of emails, instant messages and Facebook posts can turn a good, productive vibe into a two-hour diversion with nothing to show in return. Check out some of the great tips in this blog post. It's a fun read.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

John Stewart vs. Rick Santelli

A few weeks ago I wrote an entry about CNBC personality Rick Santelli's rant against the government's plan to bail out homeowners (he called them "losers"). There have been a number of responses to Santelli's rant, such as the thoughtful piece by the New York Times's David Brooks.

Leave it to The Daily Show to take it to the next level. Note to self... if I ever become rich and famous I'll never dis David Letterman or John Stewart. Enjoy.

Hi Mom, All Is Well at Laid Off Camp (Part 1)

Unemployment is like summer vacation. The first day of liberation feels like you've broken out of prison. But in a couple of weeks you find yourself in a trance from too much sleep, too much TV and feelings of guilt for not doing more with so much free time. That's why the idea of camp for the growing number of pink slipped professionals is such a brilliant idea. Pry people away from the TV and throw them in an urban playground to run around with adults in a similar situation.

On Tuesday, I attended Laid Off Camp, a hastily organized, ultra-casual, all-day event in San Francisco. Laid off Camp was started by Chris Hutchens, a former consultant and banker who was laid off in December, as a way to bring people together to share survival tips, network, and maybe find the right business partner to start a company. Modeled after Bar Camp, attendees sign up to present on any topic of choice, such as networking techniques, budgeting, health care, freelancing, creating your own start-up, time management, and personal branding. Most of the sessions were informal and centered on discussions. Some were given by sponsors and were blatant attempts to acquire new customers.

While I was staring at the schedule (a hand-drawn grid with session titles written on sticky notes), I bumped into my friend Jackie Gu, who was laid off the previous week. In the spirit of spontaneous collaboration, Jackie and I decided to join forces to divide and conquer the event. She wrote about her impressions and insights on her new blog, called Unemployment Muses. Here are the top 5 things Jackie learned from Laid Off Camp (I'm still working on my list, so stay tuned):

Jackie Gu's Laid Off Camp Musings:

1. Whatever you're struggling with, know that you are not alone.
There were hundreds of jobless people just like me at Laid Off Camp and as I mingled among them, I realized we all feel the same desperation, face the same struggles, and deal with the same interferences such as self criticism, doubt, and self-defeating behaviors that prevented us from doing our best in the job search process. And as long as we are aware of what these interferences are and are forgiving toward ourselves, we can conquer the mountain by moving forward with each small step.

2. Networking is not about "What can you do for me?" but "What can I do for you?"
The most useful workshop I went to was held by network guru Edith Yeung. She told us to be specific in who we'd like to meet when networking, asking ourselves the "what do I want" question first before someone else does and we're at a loss for words. Most importantly, it's necessary to ask your contact how you can help them instead of asking them for help right away. Always be willing to be able to provide a service or value to your network leads, and be real and genuine. That's the kind of impression you want to leave your contact and being helpful goes a long way!

3. Clean up your online reputation & delete the junk from your profiles.
This may be an obvious one, but how many of us still have public Facebook profiles with borderline indecent photos from last night posted and visible for all to see? Perhaps you're not even aware what your Google search results are, but it's time to look, and do a mass clean up. You betcha recruiters and hiring managers Google you to see who they are dealing with. An old friend of mine went to an interview and the hiring manager already knew his blog handle and content and even asked him about my own blog handle as I was a frequent commenter. Scary right? Whatever you put out there is public so let's make sure each of your profiles reflect the professional image you want to portray. A good tip is to make each profile content (Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Livejournal, etc.) consistent and update with the same photo of you.

4. Utilize the power of communication.
Each of us are individuals with unique needs, interests and hobbies. So why not communicate who we are during our job search too? Start a blog or Website about your passions, hobbies, and be a topic expert. Start commenting in forums and discussions. Twitter industry and career relevant news that turn heads. In the same token, if you have nothing of value to communicate, it's better to be silent than to status update everyone on what you had for breakfast. Okay, so I need to work on that last one too. Just remember, the Internet is very public and once you click submit, it's out there so what do you want 'em to read that's associated with your name?

5. Don't get discouraged.
Focus on the journey not the destination. Okay this really isn't a sarcastic remark, yes, we will all get discouraged along the way, but overall, we need to have faith that being unemployed is only temporary. It too will pass just like most things in life, so let's try to "enjoy" it as much as we can. Schedule naps, fun activities, and workouts during the day to break up the job search tasks. Go to network events and join a support group. Take a class you always wanted. Go out on a limb and dare to do something a little different because you can, now is the time to try something else and be adventurous. A job will eventually come and then you wish you made the best with your time off - so go make the best of it now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Give Giving a Try

Last week I did something I've been telling myself to do for a long time. I spent an afternoon at a community center giving food to needy residents in Daly City, CA. It wasn't too labor intensive despite my empty stomach. And in this time of gloom, there's nothing more human than handing food to a family trying to make ends meet.

Volunteering hasn't come easy for me because I find many excuses not to do it. I'm too busy meeting contacts, rushing to prepare for interviews, or wasting time playing video games against my roommate (so lame). A couple weeks ago I decided it was time to stop talking and start doing. I contacted Second Harvest, a Bay Area non-profit that works with local community centers to distribute food to families in need. I found an opportunity and signed up to become a volunteer. Then I bit my tongue and resisted all temptations to bump it off my schedule.

The volunteer gig was located at Lawson Hall in Daly City, a small community center nestled next to the Cow Palace and Candlestick Park. San Mateo County supports centers like Lawson Hall to offer food assistance to residents working low-wage jobs and families affected by unemployment. Once a month, people who qualify for assistance can receive an allotment of food consisting of fruit, veggies, frozen meat, milk, pasta, rice and bread. Residents who volunteer at the center get first dibs at the food, and can take home any leftovers, which seems like a good deal.

When I arrived, an organizer named Jeff assigned me to a stations where I unloaded small cartons of milk and arranged them on a table. That's where I met a volunteer named Ada. She recently got laid off as an office worker with the county's park and recreation department. Losing her job was tough. Being away from her co-workers and the residents she served was tougher.

"I loved, loved, loved, loved that job," she admitted to me.

When we opened our doors at 4:30 I expected a mad rush to the tables and a quick destruction of my milk carton layout. Instead, families filed into the center with boxes and bags to collect their goods. At each station, volunteers handed a set allotment of food. Another volunteer at my station named Maria devised an efficient system where she grabbed the items at my station and loaded peoples' boxes and bags for them. By the time they got to me I just flashed a smile, murmured "los huevos," and handed them a dozen eggs. They got a kick out of hearing a few phrases of Spanish from the Asian guy, but would answer me in perfect English.

Many families that showed up were Asian, most from mainland China. A community organizer at the event named Jacki told me about that the growing number of Asians moving into Daly City has exposed a need for more volunteers with Asian language skills. I figure that might be a calling for me to get more involved.

By the time the last family trickled through the center, I thought of one word to describe the event—gratitude. As a newcomer and an observer, I could tell from the actions of the volunteers and the expressions of the families that gratitude flowed in both directions. The volunteers seemed grateful to give to their community, and the families received their gifts with open hearts. It's a concept that's so elemental to what it means to be a human, and something that affirms why we're here. So if you're sitting at home worried about your future or burdened by the pressures of the present, consider an act of gratitude. It's in your nature.