Finding Oprah, emotional intelligence and my next planning position

by Jon Cecil, AICP, Meridian, Idaho

I’m not typically in the habit of reading my spouse’s choice of magazines but the January issue of Oprah caught my attention. After casually flipping through the pages, I found myself drawn to a piece by Ms. Winfrey about her struggle with leaving a very successful television show and starting over.

Ms. Winfrey’s story resonated with me. I was laid off in October 2012 from my position as the planning manager of a redevelopment agency where I had been employed for the past six-and-a-half years. This is my first experience with a layoff.

There’s no question that being laid off for the first time in my professional career was a significant blow to my pride and ego. I was neither ready nor prepared to be labeled as an unemployed planner. Nevertheless, for better or worse, life’s circumstances have provided me with the opportunity to really figure out who I am, where I want to go, and what I want to do with my career. As the tired cliché goes when the chips are down, life is saying that you need to create a new strategy for improvement.

I’m not alone in trying to find employment given the current state of the economy. In the November 2012 issue, Planning magazine reported 700,000 public sector jobs have been lost since the start of the Great Recession beginning in August 2008. Those impersonal statistics represent many of our compatriots within the planning profession.

I accessed the services of a local career transition and career management firm. Their staff helped me put together a marketing plan that addressed questions about what I wanted to do, what I needed to do and where I needed to start. They helped me to update my out-of-date resume. Perhaps more importantly, the career transition and management firm provided me with a process (I am a planner after all and we’re all about process, right) and a roadmap that goes by the acronym, AIM, or Assess the Opportunity, Implement Search, and Manage Transition. The AIM process gives me an approach to think about my next steps in my career. I refuse to let “my circumstances” define who I am or what I am.

Thinking about my situation led me to Jan Salisbury, a Human Resource Management consultant. Ms. Salisbury believes that the ability to utilize what she calls emotional intelligence is a means to monitor one’s own and others feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. According to Salisbury, emotional intelligence in the workplace requires:

  • A level of self-awareness that includes self-confidence, possessing a realistic self assessment, and maintaining a self-deprecating sense of humor
  • A positive attitude and self control
  • Empathy and being able to relate to others
  • Motivation and social skills

The bottom-line is that those who can manage their own emotions appropriately have an advantage in life and at work. I believe that is an advantage that all of us can use to lead happier lives and more productive careers.

Four job seeking strategies

To address my own circumstances, I have employed four major components to my career strategy that may be useful to job seekers:

  • Tapping into resources: I have taken advantage of the resources available from the local Department of Labor. The staffers, or workforce consultants as they are now called, have been genuinely helpful with job search assistance, resume preparation, and offering access to a professional networking group (PNG) with others who have experienced similar circumstances. Through this group I have met attorneys, accountants, real estate and IT professionals, among others. You’ll quickly discover that you are not alone and that there are many other professionals who are in the same boat. Frankly, I have learned something new from each PNG meetings, including gaining access to inspirational and motivational speakers.
  • Networking, networking, networking: Much like the adage used by the real estate industry “location, location, location” the byword to finding a job now is “networking, networking, networking.” Needless to say my career search is very different from the one I used more than three decades ago after I graduated from college. Now 70-80 percent of all jobs come from networking, according to conventional wisdom. Thus your personal and professional network is where you will land your next job opportunity from the hidden job market. I’ve found that people want to help me get a job; they are willing to be an advocate; and can validate my strengths and competencies to a potential job lead that helps me get noticed.
  • Using new technology: Electronic tools such as LinkedIn and job search engines are critical gateways I have used in my job search. I use these tools on a daily basis to access job opportunities through such the American Planning Association, Planetizen, my local planning chapter, and other public sector job sites to find personal connections with people on the inside of the hidden job market that can lead to a new position.
  • Giving back: Being unemployed can be like being on an emotional roller coaster ride and that’s to be expected given the circumstances. You’ll quickly discover, like I did, that you have a lot of spare time on your hands that needs to be used constructively. A job search should become a full-time endeavor. Toward that end consider the following strategies: maximize time by using your network to gain informational interviews with friends, colleagues and references; volunteer at a local nonprofit agency or organization so they can benefit from your skills and talents and you can find a creative outlet; and, consider taking a personal development course to enhance your skill set to get that next level of certification you’ve always wanted.

Little did I know that I shared something in common with a pop culture icon like Oprah. By circumstance I have been provided with an opportunity to think through my next career move. I agree with Ms. Winfrey that I can take this circumstance and learn from it. Thus I can parlay my skills, gifts and talents to become the master of my own destiny.

Jon Cecil, AICP lives in Meridian, Idaho. He serves on the Board of Directors for Western Planning Resources, Inc., as well as serving on The Western Planner Editorial Board.
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