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Learning to cope or what a career coach discovered in Detroit

Monday was another crushing day for Metro Detroit. Advertising agency BBDO announced it was shuttering its Troy and Windsor offices, putting some 485 people out of work. The closure comes as the agency's largest client, Chrysler, decided to spread its advertising budget among a number of firms. (The agency, which could close as early as January, has hope it will find new work before then.)

It's the end to a long and painful march toward extinction. According to Ad Age:

Back in 2000, when BBDO emerged the big winner in Chrysler's agency consolidation, the account was estimated to be worth $2.4 billion, and the agency's Detroit office -- exclusively devoted to serving the Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler brands -- numbered some 2,000 staffers. In 2009, amidst squeezed fees and contracted scope of work, the Chrysler account today is worth less than half that in billings, and staff at BBDO Detroit has dwindled to less than 500.

Where do these people go next? Most likely, they will end up unemployed for months if not a year or more. Some will end up at ad agencies out of state. Others might find new careers within Michigan – emphasis on might.

Because November is National Career Development Month, I had asked Michael Cushman to give the Detroit blog some ideas on how to approach the job hunt. It seems like the right time to share his words.

Cushman served as a career coach on the Empowerment Tour, which traveled across the United States this summer offering free career coaching. During his stay in Detroit, Cushman and the other coaches met with more than 100 people looking for help with their careers. Cushman changed the names, but the stories are true. Here are a few people they counseled and some lessons to share.


I met a proud, loyal man with eyes clouded by tears. Daniel, 50, worked his life, for one firm, as an auto-claims adjuster. He shows me three binders. One contains all his rejection letters. Another has his resume, cover letters, references, and awards. The third is full of work samples. No doubt about it, Daniel meticulously dedicated his life to his profession and applies his thoroughness to his job search.

Daniel's situation is classic: a well paid, highly experienced older worker, only able to find openings at greatly reduced pay. He's taken his layoff personally. He can't help himself, but in interviews, he shows everyone his binders to “prove” that his unemployment isn't his fault and to demonstrate his superior knowledge and experience. All the while, his bitterness seeps out.

Since Daniel's identity is tied to his profession, his best approach is making a lateral move, to property and casualty, for example. He will likely take a pay cut, but it will be a new position and he will not have to be an underpaid expert.

Every year, 15 percent of jobs come and go, because companies, industries and professions come and go. If technology makes it possible for someone with little experience to perform nearly as well as someone with 30 years experience, companies are going to go with the technology and younger, less expensive employees.

Job markets are going through convulsions, while innovation relentlessly accelerates. Layoffs happen by the millions. It's not about you, personally. No one is judging. Bitterness is emotional Ebola. And nothing you think or say will bring back your old world.

People tend to overestimate their inability to cope. The truth is that challenges bring out our hidden capabilities. Most people should send the old career to the attic, or throw a wake, bury the past, and move on. Career transitions are opportunities to jump into something new that excites you and taps into your natural talents.

Sure, it's scary. Like a child at the end of the diving board, feel the fear and do it anyway. Besides, what's the alternative? Crawling up into a ball? For many, now is the time to give yourself permission to reinvent your life. Who knows, you might realize that you have been living in a fur-lined rut for years. If the old life is gone, make a new one. Leap off the board with passion! Surprise yourself.

Consider Bernice. She is unemployed with many years invested into processing insurance claims. She's burnt out. Currently, she publishes a church newsletter, enjoys it and wants to learn more. Money is tight and she doesn't have all the time in the world. Now what?

Basically, she can create a portfolio of her design work. If it's good, people will contract her services. To explore fields and opportunities, I recommend networking sites, such as There are 370 meetup groups within 25 miles of Detroit that meet for free or near free. Joining is a great way to find local people with the same interests as you and to explore possible careers.

Then there is Melika, who is 16 years old and going to be a marine biologist. How do I know anything about being a marine biologist? On an 18 hour flight from L.A. to Beijing, I sat next to and talked with a marine biologist. Going back 25 years, I ran the beaches in San Diego and watched March Madness for several years with an office neighbor and shark expert, Marty Snyderman, who has written several books on California marine life.

Have you considered how many fascinating people you rode the elevator with, sat next to on a plane or in church and never met, because you never said “hi”? If the answer is, “too many” then turn off the iPod and make curiosity about people a habit. You will be surprised to find that everyone you meet connects to someone else in your life, and in some way, every stranger's story enriches you.

Finally, there's Rachel, a sophomore, pre-med, who wants a long-term, part-time, customer service job to help pay for school. Her foot wiggles, fingers fidget, sweat beads above her upper lip and she chokes her vocal cords. After only a couple of minutes of working together, Rachel's stress melts away and a broad, warm, confident smile brightens her face.

If you feel uncomfortable and stressed in job interviews, do this: straighten your spine, hold your head high and play it big when you are talking about what you know and do best. Remember, you are the expert when it comes to talking about your opinions, talents, and experiences.

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  • 1

    A very interesting look on how to reinvent your self for the market palce. The only failing would be for those that don't have any knowledge of what to do, or even the basic skill to get there.

    Networking will only get you so far in the job market and experience will far out way networking in my opinion. For most people reinventing themselves is far easier said then done. It is very hard to pick up in a market that you don't really know to well and for most people a lateral move is the only option, bar going back to school and getting an education in something else. Both of wich could take time and money that some one may not have either of.

  • 2

    (From the Author).

    Good points Robert.

    Besides snapping fingers and blinking, everything is easier said than done, right? We all know that finding a job is work, and millions will take 6 months or more. A million will be unemployed more than 18 months. As you said, reinventing yourself is tough too.

    You are right, experience beats out networking. Here's another truth: only recent and relevant experience matters. Twenty years experience at the same job is really one year of experience, repeated 19 times. So the threshold for "experienced" is lower than most people think.

    Also, the experience person sits behind a computer all day submitting resumes and filling out online applications. Before he realizes it, he is unemployed for six months and the "experienced" edge is lost.

    The inexperience person goes out and volunteers. Yes, volunteers!!!!!! Yes, for free. She volunteers at companies and at non-profits. Before she realizes it, she has six months of relevant, up-to-date experience to put on her resume. She looks employed!

    When you volunteer, you are a person of action. You become highly visible and well known. Further, volunteering keeps the blues away, and it makes the world a better place.

    Nothing is easy, and everything is possible. When you don't have experience, the solution is to jump into volunteering to get the experience.

    Once you land your first job in the new profession, then you can go to school part-time, if a degree is essential for advancement.

    Yes, reinvention is challenging, what's not?

    (I hope the above helps those who needed a little more guidance.)

    Warmly, Michael

  • 3

    [...] it, Rich Keenan describes how her husband lost his job this week when advertising agency BBDO decided to close its doors. (The agency lost its Chrysler contract and may shutter its Troy office for good by [...]

  • 4

    [...] Learning to cope or what a career coach discovered in Detroit [...]

  • 5

    [...] heard from Michael; now it's Ayn's [...]

  • 6

    [...] November 10, 2009 TIME Magazine, Detroit Blog—Learning to cope or what a career coach discovered in Detroit [...]

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