Feature Story

Tory Johnson

Founder and CEO of Women for Hire

At just 22, Tory Johnson was fired from her dream job as a publicist at NBC News. What followed is an all too familiar story—days of denial, Häagen-Dazs, and daytime TV. Tory’s pity party turned into a misery marathon until she decided to own up to her new reality and move forward. After writing a cathartic “Dear Andy” letter to the boss who arrogantly sent her packing, Tory made a cognitive shift—vowing to get going on the next chapter of her life, learning valuable lessons along the way.

After a few intermediate jobs, Tory founded Women For Hire, a leading provider of comprehensive career services for women, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this fall. She also became Good Morning America’s workplace contributor. In her role as career guru and mentor, Tory helps people all over the country land a first job, get back to work after time off, or find the career that feeds the wallet and the soul.

With the country’s unemployment rate inching closer to 10 percent; the number of long-term unemployed at its highest level in more than 25 years; and the ranks of the underemployed (forced to take a part-time job when they’d prefer full-time work) swelling, Tory is in the trenches—busier than ever before helping Americans go from helpless to hired.

Q: When you tried to go from fired to hired after losing your job at NBC News, what obstacles did you face?

Tory: When I was fired from NBC News from a job I loved and a place I considered heaven on earth, I was stunned. I thought my world had come to an end. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I stayed in my apartment for weeks and weeks. Ultimately I had to accept that the job was over, but my life and career could continue just fine. I had come out of hiding, pick up the phone and reach out to all of my contacts. I had to hold my head and realize that the skills and successes were still mine—and nobody could take those away.

Q: If I get laid off today, what’s the first thing I should do?

Tory: Two things simultaneously: Indulge in a pity party–give yourself a moment to let your emotions run wild. You’ll no doubt feel scared, frustrated, angry, and maybe a tinge of relief. Acknowledge those concerns, but don’t allow them to consume you. After all, you’ve got a lot of work to do. Focus on your finances. If you’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, it’s time for a reality check. What are your monthly obligations and which ones can you lower? How much money do you have in reserve? File promptly for unemployment, with an emphasis on accuracy and honesty so your claim isn’t delayed or denied.

Q: What are 3 mistakes you see jobseekers making most often?

Tory:

Trotting out the “nobody’s hiring” excuse. By assuming “there are no jobs out there,” you’re looking for an easy excuse—a crutch—to throw in the towel and give up on your search. When I appeared on Larry King Live earlier this year, a caller phoned in to ask how he could possibly find a job when 90 percent of the local employers in his area weren’t hiring. My answer is always the same: Focus on the other 10 percent. You don’t need 100 percent of the employers to be in hiring mode. You only need one to say yes.

Talking mainly about your needs. It’s not about what you want, dummy. It’s about what they want. No employer will hire you because of what you want—such as an “opportunity for growth in a progressive company.” Forget that nonsense and recognize that you’ll only be hired based on what the company wants. Figure out what they want and position yourself as an ideal match. (Ultimately you have to want the same things for yourself, but as a jobseeker, sell yourself based on their needs first, not your own.)

Spraying and praying. Only a fraction of online time should be spent on the giant job boards because they lead to a false sense of accomplishment. You submit hundreds of resumes and you feel pretty good about yourself. You assume someone out there will respond to at least one, if not more, of your submissions. All logical assumptions—and all wrong. Job searching in a recession is more about quality than quantity. If you’re not following up and proactively reaching out directly to decision makers, your chances of being discovered in that big black hole are slim.

Q: Where do jobseekers say they’re spending most of their time online?

Tory: Sadly, the sites they turn to most often are the giant job boards. That’s fine for finding job leads and getting a sense of who’s hiring and what’s out there. But it’s hardly enough. I steer them to social networking sites. Anyone looking for a job should be on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. It’s not good enough to simply have an account and amass a slew of contacts, friends and followers: you’ve got to work those connections to make them work for you. Embrace the 60/40 rule: 60% of your jobsearch time should be spent offline, with just 40% spent online using job boards, social networking sites, blogs and industry sites.

Q: Give us a few quick tips that are easy to apply:

Tory:

Enhance your digital identity. When we want to find out about someone or something, we google it. If nothing comes up, it must not exist. Don’t be absent in cyberspace. When a prospective employer or contact googles you, make sure something comes up—ideally information that enhances your professionalism and touts your credentials. Online social networks—Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn—can help you do just that. Create a free digital resume at VisualCV.com. Start a blog. Post comments on influential industry blogs to tout your knowledge.

No typos, duh. Three out of four (76%) executives surveyed by staffing firm Accountemps said just one or two typos in a resume would remove applicants from consideration for a job. Ask 3 people to proof a hard copy—don’t rely on spell check. Read it backwards too.

Don’t blame your age. Resist the urge to blame the one thing you can’t control—age. Even though workers age 45+ are disproportionately represented in the long-term unemployed, it’s not impossible to get hired. You’ll no doubt encounter “over-qualified,” which is often code for “too old,” but keep plugging away.

Spend 3 to 4 hours a day devoted to your search. If you’re not working on it daily, it’ll take longer to get hired. If you’ve been struggling for months without success, wipe the slate clean and start over.

Mind your credit. Poor credit, which is more and more likely for some people in a recession with prolonged unemployment, can prevent you from getting hired. Don’t bury your head to mounting debt and unpaid bills. Be proactive about addressing this if it’s an issue for you.

Ask for feedback. If you’re going on interviews but never hearing back, ask for candid comments on why you weren’t selected. Don’t get confrontational; just make it clear that you’d greatly appreciate the benefit of feedback to help you going forward.