Q: "For the past six years, I've been the senior staff person on a very busy help desk. In January, my company offered a sweetened severance package to reduce its headcount. I took it and said goodbye. Now my friends are asking me what I plan to do next. Right now I don't want to think beyond taking a vacation and tackling some projects around the house. What should I tell them?" –Katherine, Concord, New Hampshire
A: Consider using a short-term answer first, then following up with a long-term plan. For a couple of months you can say, "This is the first time I've had the opportunity to genuinely reflect on what I want in my career. I've decided to relax, regroup and think about where to go from here. I'm in the process of putting together my two-minute commercial. When it's ready, I'd like your feedback on it." With this response you can hold off the troops, reassure them you are concerned about your current and future well-being and offer the chance for input when you are ready for it.
Of course, this will only work if you are truly contemplating a description of your next position. To develop a great two-minute commercial, you'll need to identify what you do well and enjoy, the job titles requiring these activities and the environment that best supports your desired contribution. Below is an example of a good two-minute commercial.
"During my career I've been involved in various aspects of customer service from scheduling clients' appointments to handling unhappy customers over the phone and in person. Most recently I was the team leader on a phone-in help desk.
"After lots of thought, I've decided that, while I enjoy helping people and know a great deal about providing good customer service, I also want the responsibility and challenge management has to offer. Consequently, I am looking for a supervisory role in customer service where I will have some interaction with customers along with the opportunity to train and mentor employees.
"I'm looking forward to working for a start-up company or one with a very fast-paced environment where I can share my knowledge with willing learners. It's also important that higher management appreciate and reward hard work, innovation and flexibility."
Asking your friends to critique your two-minute commercial will help them feel they are making an important contribution to your job search success. Just be sure to have your job description ready for prime time when your networking moves beyond your buddies.