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How to cope with being fired.

If you think you're irreplaceable on the job, think again. This series concludes with some suggestions on what to do if you find yourself unemployed.

FOR THE PAST YEAR, you and your new boss have had opposing philosophies on how to run the hospital laboratory. A former medical technologist, he has insisted on interfering with every decision you have made.

Now, you've just been fired. Your mind is reeling. You knew it was coming once he began enumerating all the things that had gone wrong during the past year and blaming them all on you. He told you that the laboratory team needed a new coach but not to take it personally.

It would be better for everyone concerned, he continued, if the separation took place immediately. Take 2 hours to clean out your desk and turn in your ID card, and then you'll be escorted off the premises by hospital security.

A scenario like this could befall any of us. Today's volatile job market is a reality in almost every industry. Health care, in particular, is undergoing tremendous change as we move further into the '90s. The cost containment squeeze and dwindling reimbursement rates, along with increasing costs associated with regulations such as the CLIA and OSHA mandates, have put tremendous pressure on clinical laboratories to perform economic miracles, often requiring sizable staff reductions.

* Before leaving. If you ever have the misfortune to receive a pink slip, you have the right to get concrete answers to these questions before the termination meeting ends:

* Does the company provide outplacement services?

* What is the company's policy on the continuation of benefits?

* How should I go about applying for unemployment?

* Does the company provide references to future employers?

* How do I go about obtaining my retirement and 401K benefits?

* Setting new goals. There is little anyone can do to guard against a layoff other than to be prepared. Whether we feel secure in our present position or are worried about being terminated, we should always be looking for ways to improve our resumes and enlarge our networks because, like fire insurance, you never know when you might need to cash in on them.

During a period of unemployment, a positive mental attitude is crucial. You must retain your self-confidence and fight the urge to become bitter. While it is natural to resent your former employer, it is never healthy to dwell on the past.

Being let go may provide the necessary impetus to pursue a new career. If you held a management position, your experience can serve as a building block for related professions. Your knowledge of the lab market, for example, could be valuable to diagnostic companies developing instruments and tests for physicians' office labs. You could even consider entering a new field.

If money is an immediate problem, you might need to bridge the gap with temporary work in a lower-level position. For instance, if you were a supervisor, you might need to work at the bench for a while or do consulting work until the right job comes along. While consulting may not hold you over financially, it can provide valuable contacts for future job opportunities and will help you avoid having to explain major time gaps in your resume.

Another popular option is to trade places temporarily with a spouse who is caring for children at home, if that partner is marketable on a short-term basis. This arrangement can afford you the time to develop new career path strategies, perhaps continuing your education.

* Do your homework. The best source of information about job openings is other people, so take advantage of networks you've established over the years. Every business card you've exchanged can become an important source of new job information. Call close friends and ask them to keep their eyes and ears open. Ask them if you can send them your resume to critique and distribute if and when an opportunity presents itself. Ask if you can use them as references; most will be flattered by your request.

Many of your close contacts may actively help you find work, knowing that you would do the same for them if the situation were reversed. Beyond close friends, consider contacting former coworkers and bosses, school buddies, college professors, religious leaders, politicians, members of professional and social groups, and colleagues whom you met at professional associations. Also, consider contacting sales representatives who called on you regularly at your former job. These vendors may find that they will have a customer for life if you find a job through one of their leads.

Read the classified sections of reputable newspapers faithfully. Many positions you will be targeting can be found in the professional page ads or in the health care job section. Professional journals are another good source of available positions.

Many candidates for health care industry jobs are found through search firms or "headhunters." If you are not having luck on your own, contact one or more of these companies. Keep in mind that the larger, more reputable firms collect their fees from prospective employers, not from new employees.

* Resumes/cover letters. A powerful resume and cover letter are prerequisites to obtaining a job. While they don't guarantee employment, they will help to get you in the door. You might consider having them printed professionally unless you have a personal computer with a quality printer. Some people have a professional letterhead designed, including a personal logo such as a microscope or a test tube.

There are entire sections of bookstores devoted to resume writing and job hunting. We will highlight only a few of the basics here:

* In most cases, your education and work experience should appear near the top of your resume and be targeted toward the particular job you are seeking. You might consider writing several different resumes, each geared toward a specific position. If you are seeking a job in academia, for instance, your resume should accent your teaching and publishing experience.

* Short resumes are generally best, a single page for college graduates and no more than two pages for the seasoned veteran. There are exceptions to this rule, however. If you are pursuing a teaching career in medical technology, for instance, your resume will be evaluated by the pound. It should include publications, published abstracts, and speaking engagements, which could run a few dozen pages.

* Most employers will only skim a resume, so every word should be chosen carefully. Action verbs such as "managed," "directed," "improved," "developed," "led," "planned," "expanded," and "created" work best. Complete sentences aren't necessary. Include impressive accomplishments supported by specifics. For example: "Implemented a hospital-based out-patient laboratory that generated $3.5 million in additional business within 2 years of its creation."

* Never send a generic cover letter; it's an immediate turnoff to many employers. Explain in the letter why you are uniquely qualified for a specific position by highlighting particular achievements or skills that would be useful to this employer. Doing so will require careful research of the institution.

* The last paragraph should indicate your desire for a personal interview and include the phone number(s) where you can be reached during the day and in the evening.

* Interview preparation. While employment interviews are conducted so employers can determine which candidates have the necessary skills and education to perform certain duties, these meetings are also your chance to determine if working for a particular organization interests you.

The interview process will vary depending on the size and structure of the facility. You may take part in a series of progressive interviews, being screened by someone from the human resources department first and then interviewed by the department manager to whom you would report. Candidates being considered for a high-level position are often called back by human resources for a second interview.

Learn as much as possible about the company before your first meeting. Colleagues in, or affiliated with, the company may be able to tip you off to a planned expansion, a new focus for profitability, or an aggressive program the facility is starting to capture more outpatient business. Formulate ideas on how you could enhance a particular program and be prepared to give examples of successes you may have had in similar areas.

Before the Presidential debates last fall, each candidate spent hours practicing how he would respond to specific questions. As a job candidate, you must do the same. Use a video camera to record a practice interview. You'll be surprised at how many unflattering habits can be corrected this way. Have friends or colleagues drill you on some common interview questions: What did you enjoy least about your last job? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you delegate work to others? Why do you wish to work for this hospital? Be prepared for probing questions as well. For instance, you may be asked to discuss a time when you disagreed with a decision made by your boss and how you handled it.

As part of your sales pitch, bring along a portfolio containing copies of published articles, examples of nonconfidential projects you've completed (such as a revised specimen processing system that saved 0.5 FTEs), or a special training program you helped implement.

* First impressions. Despite the motto that one should not judge a book by its cover, people are very much influenced by first impressions, so dress appropriately and get a good night's sleep. Avoid wearing dark glasses, which inhibits good eye contact. Arrive a bit early; there's no excuse for lateness. Don't smoke or chew gum. Offer a firm handshake to those introduced to you. Make an effort to greet secretaries and receptionists, and offer a pleasant smile or a kind word to those frequently ignored such as janitors and other support personnel. These actions display a special depth of character often neglected by power-seeking people.

Listen attentively to everything said to you. You never know when you might be asked to respond. If you are lacking in a specific area (for instance, your background is too specialized), point to other areas of your experience that might compensate. For example, if the company is looking for a person with an M.B.A., and you have only a B.S. in medical technology, point to management courses you have taken or managerial experience you gained on the job, experience that someone with nothing more than a degree may lack. Realize that all your talents may not be evident upon first glance at your resume, so be prepared to provide solid examples of all relevant accomplishments.

Avoid making negative comments about a former boss or employer. Such remarks will immediately send up a red flag to the interviewer that you may have difficulty getting along with others. Many interviewers deliberately probe for these kinds of conflicts. If you were terminated from your last position, say so. Honesty is always the best policy. Finally, project enthusiasm at all times. Vitality is contagious and can help you dispel any negative perceptions.

* Follow up. When the interview has ended, ask if and when you will be contacted again. Don't bring up salary; let the interviewer raise this issue. Ask for the interviewer's business card so you can write a note of thanks, a common courtesy that is frequently overlooked.

If you are turned down for the job, accept the news graciously and follow up with a thank-you note anyway, reaffirming your interest in the company. Don't burn a bridge! You never know when a candidate may not work out or when the company may consider you for a slightly different job. Don't look upon the situation as a rejection. Use it as a learning experience to strengthen your job-seeking skills for the future. You may not believe it now, but persistence and hard work will pay off.

* Turn a negative positive. It is important for a person who has been terminated to pick herself up and get on with life right away. Yes, finding new employment is a full-time job, but with perseverance, a positive attitude, and a bit of imagination, you can turn a negative event into a positive one.

Look upon the situation as a learning experience and try to profit from it. Who knows? This may be your golden opportunity to obtain a better position than you ever dreamed you'd have.

Brown (a member of MLO's Editorial Advisory Board) is director of microbiology, health, and environmental affairs, and Wish is regional director, human resources, at Roche Biomedical Laboratories, Raritan, N.J.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Managing Termination, part 2
Author:Brown, James W.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Previous Article:CLIA '88 penalties and how to avoid them.
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