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Getting Laid Off and Bouncing way back and in high sight… :)

Posted on: May 4, 2005

by Perri Capell

Editor’s note: Success Story is a bi-weekly column about a job hunter’s successful search for a new position. If you have a success story to share, contact Perri Capell at frances.capell@dowjones.com or CareerJournal’s discussion board to share your thoughts on this search or others.

Six months and 895 job applications. For human-resources manager Michele Begovich, that’s what it took to find work. Between October and March, job hunting was her only job, and she has the spreadsheet to prove it.

Fear can be an amazing motivator, and the early 2000s had not been kind to Ms. Begovich employment-wise. She was a regional HR manager in Chicago for a copier company for a year when her job ended in late 2004. Before that, Ms. Begovich says her HR manager’s role in the Chicago regional office of a large media company was eliminated due to cost-cutting after just 15 months.

She received a month’s severance and collected unemployment. Age 39 and single, she knew that money would be tight if she didn’t land a new role quickly. But it had taken her nine months of 2003 to find that position, and so, she says, "I was petrified" about a third job search in five years. "I had just had back-to-back layoffs," she says, "and I knew it would be a tough market, so I went at it full force, full time."

Since they were short term, the two positions were an added burden when she talked with employers. They either ruled her out immediately or questioned her work ethic. "They would look at me as though I was a job hopper," she says, "It was like, ‘What’s the matter with this girl? She doesn’t stay anywhere for long.’ "

She began joining HR and job-hunter networking groups, such as HR Illinois and Job Network Illinois (a free Yahoo list serve), and networked incessantly. Members of Chicwit, an online-networking group with mostly women members, gave her emotional and networking support.

She made cold calls to companies, applied for openings on corporate and job-seeker Web sites, contacted recruiters and placement agencies and reviewed postings at the state unemployment office. "There was no source too small for me to talk with about potential job leads," she says.

On a typical day, Ms. Begovich says she might go on three to four interviews or send out resumes by the dozen. She would strike up conversations with strangers in Starbucks, telling them she was job hunting and handing them a business card, which included her name and contact information. She also put her HR experience to work helping other job seekers. Starbucks customers learned from the coffee shop’s employees that an HR pro was there most afternoons who would lend a hand on resumes. Ms. Begovich says helping the customers helped her. "You never know when someone you help might be a future hiring manager and could offer me a job," she says.

When she began her search, few HR openings were available, and Ms. Begovich was reassured by networking contacts that the market would pick up following November’s presidential election. But she was disappointed when no job offers materialized. Then company representatives told her they weren’t hiring due to the upcoming holidays, and things would get better after the New Year.

But Ms. Begovich began to lose hope. To make ends meet, she started applying for temporary jobs and contract HR work. As she accepted filing and other low-level work, she felt her self-worth begin to crumble. "I felt like I couldn’t get arrested," she says. "I had to fight feelings of panic and self doubt."

The worst was the morning she gave a friend a ride to work in Chicago’s Loop business district. She watched office workers on their way to their jobs carrying briefcases and backpacks. "I started sobbing," she says. "The tears rolled down my cheeks, and my friend asked me what was wrong. I said, ‘Why doesn’t anyone want me? Why don’t I have a place to go in the morning?’ I just wanted to make a contribution and feel I was a part of something."

She continued to interview, sometimes three or four times for one job, but never received offers. Then, things suddenly changed. During a single week in February, Ms. Begovich was invited to take HR-manager jobs at four separate companies. Some were well-known companies, including a large national telecommunications firm, a leading U.S. consulting firm and a retail company that sells window treatments. Two of the jobs she had heard of through networking, and two had been posted online on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com.

Ms. Begovich was uncertain which would be best for her, so she asked a group of friends to Sunday brunch and put her options on the table. The group weighed the pros and cons of each offer, and the exercise helped Ms. Begovich make her decision. The next day, she accepted an offer to be a human-resources manager for a Chicago based oral-care products maker called Sunstar Butler. Butler is a division of Sunstar Americas, which is owned by Sunstar Inc., a Japanese company.

She started the new position in March. Her energy and enthusiasm made her particularly attractive, says her manager, HR director Greg Wilt. "Her teammates really enjoy that," he says.

The Butler job wasn’t the highest paying of the four offers, but it was the best fit. The company’s stability, years in business, low turnover and amiable co-workers were an instant lure. "From the moment I came here, they made me feel welcome and as though I belonged and was wanted," says Ms. Begovich.

Her confidence restored, she encourages current job seekers to keep plugging, even when they feel their situation is hopeless. "When you get those regret letters and your phone isn’t ringing, you can never lose sight of the fact that you are hirable," she says. "You have to be your own best friend and remember that it will happen if you believe in yourself."

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