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Rebuilding Your Career after a Disaster

By Marty Nemko

At some point, many of us will want or need to make a new career start. Of course, many victims of Hurricane Katrina will. Here’s my advice on how to rebuild your career after a disaster.

I’ll focus on people affected by Hurricane Katrina but much of the counsel is applicable to smaller-scale disasters, for example, that you lost a loved one or were fired.

Get started now. Wallowing makes it worse. Despite what shrinks say, most of my clients have found that the faster you act, the less likely you are to descend into depression and inaction.

Another reason to move forward quickly is that unfortunately, the half-life of people’s sympathy is short. Remember the Asian tsunami? For a few days, donors were generous, but they quickly turned to the disaster du jour. Strike while the iron is hot.

This is an opportunity for something bigger and better. Aim for something more exciting than your previous job. That will help motivate you to do the hard work necessary to rebuild.

You have reason for optimism because the unemployment rate is low and because it’s easier to land a job when the reason you’re looking is a natural disaster. No need to say you didn’t like your boss or were fired.

Not sure what you want to be? A deceptively simple yet effective approach is to use the free career-finding tools on For more offbeat careers, scan the profiles of 500+ careers in my book, Cool Careers for Dummies.

Still can’t figure out a specific career goal? No problem. Just identify a core ability or two that you’d like to use in your next career, and where you’d like to use it, for example, one of my clients wants to use his ability to manage people and stay calm under pressure, ideally working for a non-profit.

When in doubt, consider careers in which jobs are likely to remain plentiful.

· I’m not convinced that the decision will be made to rebuild the areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The cost may be deemed too enormous, and it may be decided to simply assist the individuals and businesses in relocating. Therefore, I believe it’s too early to support the widely held prediction that Katrina will create an enormous need for engineers, architects, and construction contractors. There, of course, will be some need for those professionals to accommodate individuals and businesses moving to other cities.

· Families affected by Katrina will disproportionately relocate permanently to nearby large cities and their suburbs: Memphis, Houston, Dallas, and Miami. as well as to smaller cities such as St. Petersburg and Jacksonville. One of these people’s first priorities will be to enroll their children in school. Therefore, I predict jobs as teachers and counselors in those cities will be available. For the same reason, I believe that jobs as real estate leasing and buying agents, and in building construction and related fields such as telephone and TV cable installers will be strong in those cities.

· In hurricane-prone areas, home and business owners will be motivated to make their homes and businesses hurricane-ready. Contractors specializing in that sort of work should find themselves with plenty of customers.

· There is and will continue to be an enormous need for trucks and boats to move hurricane-ruined property to dump sites and recycling centers. If I wanted to start a business to address the needs created by Hurricane Katrina, I’d consider that one of the safer bets.

· Government jobs of all sorts. In my view, the poor response of the government to Katrina (and previous ones such as Hurricane Hugo) provides yet more evidence that the private sector does a better job of providing services. I’d bet that if Wal-Mart were in charge of providing disaster relief, food and water would have gotten to the victims far faster and for far fewer of our tax dollars. Nevertheless, I predict that government employment, which was growing before Katrina, will do so even more now, especially in Homeland Security, FEMA, etc. No doubt, the government will now prioritize hurricane-preparing every vulnerable region, just as after the shoe bomber, the government mandated that before boarding a plane, everyone take off their shoes. has a listing of 19,000 currently open federal jobs. It also has an online tool to help match your interests and skills with the available jobs.

In the Katrina-affected region, jobs will be less plentiful in state and local governments because tax revenues will rapidly dissipate. Why? Because many businesses and individuals will have left and many of those that remain will have less income on which to pay taxes.

· Tourism business that would have gone to New Orleans will now be spread across the rest of the US, creating jobs in hotel management.

Consider moving to a locale in which jobs are plentiful.

Florida created 250,000 new jobs in the last year. Warren May, spokesman for the state-run Agency for Workforce Innovation says, “Professional and business services such as banking and insurance have been leading the jobs growth. And health care services are right up there because of Florida’s large senior population, and there has been a remarkable turnaround in manufacturing.” Florida’s unemployment rate: 4.4 percent.

And Florida doesn’t even have the nation’s lowest rate. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these do: Wyoming (2.9%), Hawaii (3.0%), Virginia (3.0%), North Dakota (3.3%) and South Dakota (3.7%).

Jobs are moving from the major cities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cities reporting the most job growth in the past year: Yuma, AZ (+10.8 percent), St. George, Utah (+9.6%), Las Vegas/Paradise NV (+7.4%), Coeur d’Alene, ID (+6.9%), Blacksburg-Christiansberg-Radford VA (+6.4%) and Mt.Vernon-Anacortes, WA (+5.8%). Among large cities, the worst performer was Detroit (-1.1%.)

Use connections to find new work. Most jobs are filled not through the want ads but through personal connections. So, phone everyone in your extended personal and professional network, even people you haven’t spoken with in years, and say something like, “Hi, this is Joe Blow. We haven’t spoken in years so you might wonder why I’m calling. I lost my job as the result of Hurricane Katrina and am looking for work, ideally (insert the type of work you want—for example, “that would use my skill as a trainer, ideally in a small company.”) Might you know someone I should talk with?”

Invoke faith in God and/or yourself and your others. If you are a person of faith, this is a good time to invoke it. If not, have faith in yourself and your fellow man. Corny as it sounds, success is largely a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and asking for help when you need it.

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