Can You Help This Man Straighten Out His Life?

A recent issue of People magazine on the growing world of the unemployed in the United States (something we’ve been talking about in ETR) profiled Larry Schenone. “Eighteen months after losing his job as an engineering manager for a St. Louis defense contractor,” the magazine says, “Schenone has recovered from the shock. But he still can’t find his way back to the career that had been on a steady assent for 23 years.

Once commanding more than $100,000 annually, the father of three now works up to 30 hours a week at Sears — making $4.50 an hour plus commission to hawk tool sets and paint. Even with his wife Kay’s salary as a preschool teacher, their combined incomes won’t cover the mortgage on their Wildwood, MO home and other regular expenses. “With a negative cash flow of about $500 a week, the Schenones are depleting their savings — including money earmarked for their children’s college educations.

‘The worst-case scenario would be to have to move,’ Schenone says. “He has tried to attack job hunting with the same vigor he put into his management position, where he routinely worked 11-hour days. Schenone has sent some 200 resumes and endured 16 interviews, in person and on the telephone. ‘It’s easy to get depressed,’ says Schenone, ‘You’ve got to figure out a way to deal with it.’ He’s formed a support group for out-of-work engineers. “Helping others,” he says, “makes you feel better about yourself.” “The truth is,” the article says, “he’s never felt worse.

The loss of his salary has meant drastic changes in a once comfortable suburban lifestyle. Gone are the $300 birthday parties, the vacations, the summer camps for the kids. ‘I know a lot of people who lost their job but who found a new job quickly,’ he says. ‘And I find myself thinking, ‘When is it my turn?'” So, what are your thoughts? What is Larry doing right? What is he doing wrong?

Here’s what I think. Larry should be commended for finding some way to bring in money, even if it is with a poorly paid job in a hardware store. And the idea of the support group is a good one too — so long as it doesn’t turn into a bitch fest. But sending out 200 resumes and “enduring”16 interviews is hardly an impressive attempt at getting a good job — especially for someone with executive experience in management and, presumably, building profits.

Let’s start with the most common mistake out-of-work people make: goofing away their time. Since he was laid off 18 months ago, how many hours can we assume Larry has devoted to finding a better job? The article applauds him for those resumes and interviews, but how much time could they have taken? Let’s say 20 hours to compose and send out the resumes and a half-day (four hours) for each of the 16 interviews. That’s 84 hours.

Let’s assume further that he also spends 15 minutes every day — even on weekends — looking through want ads and another hour and a half a week talking to his support group. (That’s really not productive time, but we’ll count it — just to be generous.) How much does all that come to? Answer: Less than 250 hours total — or slightly more than three hours a week. Now consider this. When Larry was employed, he worked 11 hours a day — or 55 hours a week (if we assume he never worked on weekends).

Had he continued to work the same number of hours searching for a better job — and one might very well argue that he should work even harder — he would have spent at least an additional 3,900 hours. Do you think he could have done better if he put another 3,900 hours into his job search? I do. And that’s just the number of hours worked. A more important question I have for Larry is “Why did you think sending out resumes and going to interviews was enough?”

Since I’ve talked on this subject a number of times, I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that there are many, many much more effective ways to land a job — even in times of economic duress — than sending out resumes. In fact, I can say this: Larry’s method is almost guaranteed to fail. What else can we suggest to Larry?

No. 1 on my list: Lose the expensive and largely sentimental attachment to your present locale. Yes, I know the kids really want to keep the same friends, but change for them, as for you, should spell opportunity. Expand your job search nationwide — and if you do land a job somewhere else (and your wife can relocate too), rejoice. The whole family will be stronger for it.

Second: Sell that mansion. (ETR readers don’t have the benefit of seeing the photo I saw in the magazine, but take my word for it: The Shenones are living large.) Why would you spend the savings you’ve put away for your kids’ college education simply to stay in the house you are living in now?

Face this important fact: You do not have the financial clout you once had. You were probably spending too much money on housing even before (since you apparently didn’t have enough non-college savings to fund this 18-month shortfall). Now is the perfect time to move into something more sensible. A less-expensive house means a less-expensive lifestyle. Very soon after you’ve made the move, you’ll feel a lot better about things.

Third: Consider a new way of making money. You might be able to put your engineering expertise to work as a consultant. Consider what end of engineering you are especially good at and then promote yourself to businesses as a less-expensive way to get that kind of work done. (If you like this idea, you might want to check out the American Consultants League

Fourth: Consider abandoning engineering altogether for a different, perhaps more lucrative, way of making money. Times might stay bad for a very long time — five, 10, or even 15 years. (Don’t scoff. It happened in Japan.)

If you don’t think consulting is the route for you, consider some of the other money-making career choices we promote in ETR, including: copywriting graphic design resume writing travel writing investment real estate running your own direct-mail business

Fifth: Create a second income. You have a lot of free time on your hands. You need to explain to your family that although you’ve enjoyed the extra time with them, it’s time to get back to your main responsibility — providing the principle income. You should split the extra time between a serious job search and finding extra income somewhere else. The main criterion for the second income: It has to involve selling — but not the kind of low-end selling you’re doing now.

You have to find something pricey to sell. Someone once told me that it’s no more difficult to sell a plane than it is a pair of shoes. The only difference is the commission. If that’s true — and I think it largely is — you need to understand that. If Larry does even half of what I’ve suggested here, he will be back on top within a year. If he does it all, he’ll be better, richer, and stronger than ever.