How to Recover From a Career Setback

June 9, 2010 at 2:49 am 1 comment

If you just do the math, you’ll realize that in today’s job market one needs a tough skin. Every four years, hiring experts estimate, we’ll be changing jobs — that means those just starting out in their 20s will have a dozen jobs or more throughout their career, and in as many as half of those positions they could be leaving involuntarily.

And in journalism, which has lost a stunning 10,000-plus newsroom jobs over the past few years, the chances that you will be laid off, bought out or find that your company has changed hands have increased significantly in just the past two years. Who among us hasn’t been told to pack up, or just narrowly dodged that bullet? And even if you’ve remained in your position, chances are that your duties have changed, in some cases so much so that you barely recognize the job you used to have.

My intent here isn’t to send us all for the headache medicine or to the liquor cabinet, but to lay out the reality — career setbacks used to be related primarily to performance issues or personality conflicts with a supervisor or colleagues. Today, companies and industries are finding employees to be a “cost center,” and when that cost center becomes too expensive — and those employees outlive their usefulness for the service being rendered — out they go. So today’s professional workers will find that their career path is much more like a roller coaster ride than the straight-up ladder that previous generations came to expect. You start at the bottom and move up, then perhaps down again, then over, then maybe up, and down, and so on.

Hiring experts say that given this turbulence, employees need to develop strategies for dealing with the career setbacks that are certain to come in today’s world of work, no matter how well they have performed their jobs. These tips include:

*Don’t expect too much after a setback. Though after a layoff, buyout, demotion or other career defeat, most people land a new job or find freelance or contract work, often their heart isn’t in it, at least not initially. A disruption like a layoff — especially if it is from a job and workplace to which you were dedicated — can mess with your optimism and spirit for a while. So go easy on yourself. Just like with any major life change you can’t expect to feel like “your old self” right away. If you’re taking a new job grudgingly, try not to let it show, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that you’re going to recover right away. Do the best you can, but don’t set your expectations for the job or yourself unrealistically high as this wouldn’t be a good time for further disappointment. And remember, you don’t need to stay in a job forever — it can be a transition to something else. Raise your expectations gradually as you move past the setback.

*Stay visible and market your skills. This is no time to hide, even though you may well feel like it. Instead, inventory your skills, set your goals and then aim to put those skills to good use. Even if you’re not a writer with a national magazine anymore, or a network news producer, for instance, you’re still a writer with a depth of knowledge in your subject area or a producer who knows how to put a multifaceted show on the air. Think in terms of your abilities and talents, not just what you “used to be.” And then market yourself. This is a time to network more than ever. And people will take their cues from you. If you’re positive and open to new possibilities, others are much more likely to send contacts your way. If you’re not around, people will presume your career is in the dumps, and it will be harder for you to land when you’re ready. This is a good time to build new skills, too — if the career path you’re on has hit a dead end, you can’t do anything better than to get on a different path.

*Be honest with those close to you in your career — especially your mentor(s) and references. First, let them know the nature of the career setback and ask for advice in handling it. Let them know specifically how they can help you so you can move past this. If they don’t know what has happened it is going to be much more difficult for them to be your advocate with employers. Yet, as always, play to your audience. Some will want to hear the details but others will have a low tolerance for problems, and will just want to know where you’d like them to send your resume. And never list someone as a reference without informing them about your status; a reference surprised to hear that you are job hunting is not going to be a particularly effective reference for you.

*A reminder that those interested in public affairs and policy jobs should head to, where I partner with political blogger Taegan Goddard to provide job-hunting and career advice geared toward those in the political realm. (And there’s job leads, of course!) Please check it out at:

Political Job Hunt

Also, there’s a new online group that has formed in support of this site — please join in the discussion:

Follow Us on LinkedIn

If you’re interested in political jobs, you should join our new group on LinkedIn.

And for Facebookies, please check out the dcworks group — I’d love to get some discussions about job hunting and the world of work for journalists there.


*Now, for today’s leads:

*The Veterans Administration in D.C. has several openings for public affairs specialists:


VA offers generous paid time off and a variety of predictable and flexible scheduling opportunities. For more information on the Department of Veterans Affairs, go to

*With a hat tip to (for these next several listings), Vital Voices Global Partnership in D.C. is looking for a vice president of communications:

Vice President, Communications
Vital Voices Global Partnership

*AOL near Washington Dulles Airport in Dulles, Va., has an opening for a technical writer:

Technical Writer

*The Nature Conservancy in Arlington is looking for a senior media relations manager:

Senior Media Relations Manager
The Nature Conservancy

*And courtesy of (for these next several listings), NPR in D.C. has an opening for a books producer for

Company: National Public Radio
Books Producer, (0810311001RFEA)
Washington, District of Columbia
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: Not Specified
Ad Expires:
July 9, 2010
Job ID: 1174304


NPR is looking for a creative editor, producer and writer with daily news and online experience, an arts journalism background and a passion for publishing to be a key player in building up the Books section on This is a full-time union position in Washington, DC, with a very competitive salary and excellent benefits.

TO APPLY: In addition to submitting a resume, please attach a cover letter describing your qualifications and including URLs to three writing samples and online projects.

NPR.ORG is NPR on the Web. It is a multimedia broadcast operation that serves news, music and entertainment to a rapidly growing audience of 12 million users monthly.

Please apply directly at:

*AARP in D.C. has two openings for Web channel editors:

Company: AARP
Channel Editor
Washington , District of Columbia
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: More than $100,000
Ad Expires:
July 7, 2010
Job ID: 1173729

AARP is the nation’s largest non-profit membership organization with over 40 million members strong and leading a revolution in the way people view and live life after 50. At AARP, we are involved with the daily lives of more Americans in more ways than you can imagine. If you’re ready, here’s your chance to take action and make an impact in Washington, D.C.

AARP is seeking two experienced and skilled consumer-facing journalists to lead online content channels for, our award-winning website. Reporting directly to the online executive producer in our Washington DC office, the successful candidates will be top-notch editorial thinkers and producers, able to conceive and create great content (practical, inspirational, and aspirational) for people striving to live their best lives after age 50.

Qualified candidates must have significant editorial and management (people management as well as project management) experience in news (preferably daily) and/or features, including several years in a web environment; must play extremely well with others (up, down, and sideways) in a complex organization that is not a pure publishing/content play; and must be utterly unflappable. Specialized knowledge of two of the following content areas, especially through a 50+ prism, is a huge plus: entertainment, food, technology and travel.

Qualified candidates are invited to apply by sending a resume to AARP is an Equal Opportunity Employer that values workplace diversity

*MacNeil Lehrer Productions in Arlington has an opening for a digital reporter/producer:

Company: MacNeil Lehrer Productions
Digital Reporter Producer
Arlington, Virginia
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: $30,000 to $35,000
Ad Expires:
July 13, 2010
Job ID: 1175099

Digital Reporter Producer: Making Sense With Paul Solman

The Digital Reporter Producer, Making Sense, is responsible for the Web presence of reports by the PBS NewsHour business and economics correspondent, Paul Solman. The producer will be responsible for the strategy, production and updating of the Making Sense Web site, including the generation of Web-only reports, forums, interactives, blogs and video projects that pair with Solman’s explanatory-style reporting on the economy.

The optimal candidate will have 3-5 years experience reporting and/or editing business and economic news, ideally for the Web, and have experience in multimedia production, including Final Cut Pro and Photoshop. The candidate will also have experience using social media tools and other digital platforms to promote content and draw an ever-growing audience to the PBS NewsHour Web site.

The Digital Producer, Making Sense will report to the Managing Editor, Digital News. The position is funded through December 2011 by a grant from the Sloan Foundation and is located in the multi-platform newsroom at the PBS NewsHour studios in Arlington, Va.

Please send a cover letter and resume to Maureen Hoch at if you would like to be considered for the position. No phone calls please. Starting Salary: $34,300.00

*And to wrap up today’s leads, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in Alexandria has openings for two budget and fiscal analysis reporters, who can work remotely:

Company: Franklin Center for Government and Public
Budget and Fiscal Analysis Reporter
Alexandria, Virginia
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: Not Specified
Ad Expires:
July 12, 2010
Job ID: 1174772

Budget and Fiscal Analysis Reporters Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity May 2010

Do you know what a CAFR is? Can you explain why a VRDO means higher taxes and cuts in services? Does the prospect grinding away in the financial services machine for decades when you could be making a difference in this world get you down?

If you answered “YES” the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity ( want you as an investigative reporter to focus on the fiscal catastrophe that is facing state and local government in America.

The issues are so complex even the public officials who got us into this mess don’t understand them. Traditional journalists cannot grasp the magnitude. We have a duty to dig inform them and taxpayers before it is too late. We’re running out of time.

The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity seeks two Budget and Fiscal Analysis Reporters who can be based anywhere in the U.S. and will work remotely.

Interested candidates should submit a résumé and a cover letter detailing salary requirements and his/her philosophical interest in the mission of Franklin to

Happy hunting!



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When to Tap That Connection Time to find out who your “friends” really are

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