What Veep can teach us about the job search

With Season 6 of HBO’s Veep  starting, we wondered what might be in store for ex-president Selina Meyer, as played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as she gets ready for her second act.

Selina’s struggles are familiar to anyone who’s looked for a job or thought about a career transition. When the season starts, Selina is looking for what she wants to do next, and she’s as baffled and befuddled as the rest of us. She tries throwing her weight around with her former title, but that doesn’t work; she tries thinking smaller as she rebuilds a career and a life, but that falls short too.

I asked Rebecca Kiki Weingarten, my sister AKA Coach Kiki, an executive coach and founder of Tradecraft Coaching in NYC, who specializes in career shifts and transitions, for tips on what the former Madame President can expect next and how she might react and any lessons for the rest of us. 

Give yourself time to accept the changes

Selina tries to jump into her next act fast in Season 6 in order to save face, and the speed makes for a teeth-gritting time for her. She’s still angry at her political enemies and can’t let that go, even promising to destroy one rival so thoroughly “that the Kennedy Center will honor me for it.”

This kind of stress and frustration is natural if you haven’t worked through the lessons you can learn about yourself from your last job. Coach Kiki says you should give yourself time to grieve the loss when you lose a job or opportunity. It take some thought and work to mourn a dream that now won’t become a reality.

“Don’t minimize your feelings, and reactions, to it. Acknowledge them, articulate them, see what went wrong, and what went right, and your place in all of that.”

Focus on your best skills after a failure

After the mourning process, “focus on the successes, highlights, and transferable skills you’ve gained, & earned, in your former position,” she says. 

Selina attempts to do this by taking her political skills and becoming a philanthropic ambassador of peace. “You’re like Princess Diana,” a staffer praises as she tours a foreign country, “Walking between all these land mines.” (She drops back and lets him go first.)

But what if you messed up in a big way that has really hit your confidence and you’re afraid to even move? Don’t focus on the failure, but instead think about the courage it took to get you there. Coach Kiki says “If you’ve failed in a spectacular fashion, you’ve attempted something spectacular — congratulations on attempting something most people don’t/would never attempt.”

And while you’re at it: “Own it. Celebrate the work that went into it, the guts, the will, the resolve, the skills, talents, & expertise that allowed you to take it on,” Coach Kiki says.

Think about how your skills would work in a different role 

Try to find the things that made you so good at your last gig and find a way to bring them along to your next career incarnation.

Coach Kiki suggests you “look at your transferable skills, strengths, talents, expertise, and also what you might need to add to your skillset in order to move on in a new role.”

And in case you’re wondering how to stop everything to do that; don’t. “These will overlap — you don’t “finish” one phase and move into the next,” she says.

Avoid social media meltdown

Unlike Hilary Clinton or Selina Meyer, most of us can manage our past failures somewhat privately. It’s not about creating an appearance of perfection or a kind of armor, but instead about making room for ourselves to move on. 

Coach Kiki says you should put your best face forward. If you were part of a layoff, don’t be tempted to lash out at the company publicly or even read bitter postmortems about it; both will put you behind in your job search. 

“Stay away from negative thoughts/feelings of former colleagues, and stay away from social media and anything negative you might say or read there. The hard, honest truth is that you have to show strength, dignity, and a positive face since people are watching to see your reaction. Sometimes a negative reaction is all people need to say ‘see? I knew they weren’t cut out for it.’

Create a trusted circle of people to talk to

A job search, particularly after a layoff, can feel isolating. It’s important to have an outlet to discuss what you’re going through. Find family members or friends who understand. Coach Kiki advises sharing the negative thoughts, feelings and reaction with those you trust.

“Your private reactions are yours, for you and your trusted circle and keep that circle as small as possible.”

Always plan for the ‘next thing’ now

The period of job searching can be a hopeful one instead of one of despair if you see it as a time of personal improvement.

What is your perfect job or life? Do you want more work-life balance, more responsibility, a bigger title? Whatever it is, start thinking about it even before your job search. Start making the connections and picking up the skills you need to get there.

If you’re in the middle of a job search, don’t get bogged down in waiting for responses to resumés, which can be dispiriting. Instead, think forward about what you could be doing to become an even more attractive candidate. Could you join a networking group, learn an interesting skill like coding, do some consulting, or even, if you’re financially able, travel to see how your industry works elsewhere?

Coach Kiki says “I encourage clients to plan for the ‘next thing’ while they’re in their current positions/careers and that’s what I work with them to do. Some leave a career one day, and can begin the new career immediately, since they’ve laid the groundwork. It’s an empowering thing to be able to do. I encourage my 20something clients to do this while they’re first starting out on their career paths. We work on the different industries, areas, interests, skills, and talents they have that they can explore as they move forward.”

The best part: if you are using your time now to become better, then you don’t have to stop everything later when you get a new job. “If you’ve been preparing for a transition during your current career, then you don’t necessarily need more transition time,” Coach Kiki says.

Fix what’s broken

Sometimes a career transition isn’t about preparing yourself for what’s next, but repairing what came before. That requires us to ask deep questions about our career choices so we can learn from them. 

In the trailer for Season 6, Selina says in a TV interview, “this past year has been fun—really fun. The loss hurt, but I did take this opportunity to reacquaint myself with an old friend of mine…by the name of Selina Meyer.”

You can hear her teeth grinding as she says it; it’s clear Selina is forcing herself to think positively. She still has work to do to fix what’s broken in her approach.

“Often, we have to undo the damage of the wrong choice—which may have taken years in a bad position, and have caused them lots of career agita & anguish,” Coach Kiki says.

Sometimes this can mean rethinking everything you know about yourself.

Coach Kiki offers questions like “What the what was I doing in that career to begin with? Looking at things like societal, familial, or personal pressure that caused you to go into it in the first place.”

So what motivates you? Do you want prestige? Do you tend to make job choices centered around money? Do you want a strong work culture more than anything else? Once you really know what you’re looking for, you can go for it more easily.

Your work changes you, so choose a job that fits now

Sometimes people just outgrow previous career choices. We tend to follow prescribed paths because it’s safer. The job or career you had 10 years ago or even 2 years ago may not fit you now. 

“This is my next act,” Selina announces in the new season as an admirer holds a flapping chicken near her. “Spreading democracy around the globe like Patient Zero.”

Coach Kiki says, “people change. Experience changes you, your work changes you. Something that you may have been very well suited for when you started out, might not be a good fit anymore. A career/work that was once exciting or satisfying, just isn’t. Generations before used to stick it out until “retirement” which may have come after 20 or so years of working. That doesn’t apply anymore.”

Choose an appropriate encore

How can you figure out what’s next for you? Sometimes trying to recreate past magic won’t work, either because you’ve changed or your industry has. 

We frequently find ourselves at a loss without our corporate identity, however. Who are we without our business cards, without a company affiliation? We don’t always know.

Coach Kiki says in Selina’s case that “unless she’s ready to retire, she’s got to do some serious soul searching, and figuring out who she is without that position, without the power that goes with it, without the response she’ll get because of the position.”

“I was the first female President,” Selina Meyers shouts at a staffer in the new season, “And I will not work for less than 87 cents on the dollar!”

Selina’s comment is a spoof on unequal pay, of course, but it’s also an attempt to hold her previous standing by relying on her former title — a power play which isn’t working, judging by the frustrated way she announces it.

Even if we’re not former Presidents, we can often be startled by how our relationships change when our job does.

“This happens in many high-power jobs as well,” Coach Kiki says. “Clients who are used to a certain amount of respect, authority, obsequiousness from others due to their position are stunned when they don’t get that after they’re no longer in the position. That goes for C-level executives, business owners, people in the art world and on and on.”  

Interestingly enough, Deadline Hollywood reported that at a SXSW panel for Veep, the Louis-Dreyfus was asked if she’d ever go back to a network show. She responded that she couldn’t “fathom going back” and wasn’t “thinking about the next gig at all.”

Guess Selina’s not the only one who needs to figure out her next steps.