There came a point in my career when my company went bankrupt, the economy was in the dumps, and my network of friends and acquaintances was getting me nowhere. Like all job hunters, I had good days and bad days. On good days, I brewed coffee for that caffeinated, I-can-overcome-anything feeling. On bad days, I never got out of bed.

Finally, after a string of bad days, I called the phone number in a small ad I had come across in a bunch of business publications. The number was for WSA Resumes.

I told my contact at WSA that I needed a job. I told him I attribute my career success in part to the fact that I have always been able to write a very effective resume, but I have hit a wall.

WSA sold me the executive pack, which was $1000 for someone to rewrite my resume in three days. (They have less expensive packages, but I was in a moment of panic.) I talked to someone for a couple of hours, and she rewrote the resume in a way that smacks of a piece of direct mail: headlines, bullets, italics, and bold lines. The resume did not look like one I had ever seen. My friends said it looked cheesy. They said, “Don't send it.”

But I started to trust the writers at WSA because they noticed patterns and accomplishments in my career that I had not noticed. They phrased achievements in ways that I would not have thought of. They were able to frame my work life in a way that could open new fields to me. But most of all, I wanted to take a risk. I realized that I was getting nowhere and I needed to try something new and this was the only new thing I could think of.

To my surprise, my executive package came with a cover letter. It began, “If you can use my skills on your management team then I'd like to talk to you.” I cringed. I told WSA the letter is not my style.

There are actually a few more things I told WSA. You know how when you're spending a lot of money you get uppity? That's how I was. I argued about file formatting, I argued about hyphens and semi-colons. I'm sure I argued about more, I just can't remember.

Finally, I ran out of things to argue about, and, armed with my new resume, I started my job search again. I found no openings.

So I called WSA, and I was hoping they would not remember me — the person who argued about everything — but they remembered. “Yes, we can help,” my contact said.

They send out resumes cold. Which is, of course, in keeping with their direct mail perspective. So I signed up. It costs $1.50 a resume. My contact recommended sending out 8000 resumes. I wanted 500. He said direct mail is an odds game. I picked 500 companies. Then I changed my mind. Then I picked a new 500. Then I asked for some more lists. I was nervous. The cost worried me, but I took to heart the saying, you have to spend money to make money.

Finally WSA printed all 500 cover letters, stuffed envelopes, and slapped on address labels. Everything was ready to go. Then I sent an email to WSA with the subject head: EMERGENCY. I told them that I have a lot of direct mail experience and they should send the letter out on Tuesday, not Friday.

WSA dumped me. They tore up my letters and my check. They said I should find someone else to help me. So I took WSA's cover letter and the resume they wrote for me, and I spent a week finding email addresses for CEOs and I sent my resume myself – cold – to 500 CEOs. And guess what? I got fifteen responses and two job offers.

So I recommend that you hire a company like WSA. You will get a standout resume, and you will see yourself differently, so you will summarize your career differently, and you have a new chance at landing a job. And this is the other thing: unless your network is coming up roses for you, job hunting is, really, an exercise in direct mail. Once I admitted that I was not above a direct mail campaign for myself, things started happening.

I think WSA hates me, but luckily, I am not proud, so check out their web site:

(Update: WSA no longer exists. But the woman who oversaw my resume overhaul is Elaine Basham, and she’s still in the resume business today. Send her an email:

Each month my husband selects a concert for us to go to. I used to pick, but I would select music I knew, like Beethoven or Mozart, and my husband, the over-educated music student, would scoff at my pedestrian tastes. Now I am at his mercy, and I endure the type of music that requires a specially tuned piano, or a specially trained ear.

So I was thrilled to hear we were going to a Bach concert. Finally, a composer I had heard of. What I didn't realize was that it was a lecture. I grumbled, “Who goes to a Bach lecture without getting course credit?”

I brought a magazine to the lecture, but after five minutes, I put the magazine away. The guy who gave the lecture, Robert Kapilow, was amazing. I learned as much about public speaking that night as I did about Bach. Here are some things Kapilow did that we should all do when we speak:

Know your audience
He said, “I will use Bach as a basis for introducing the fugal procedure.” (This meant nothing to me.) He said, “How many people have listened to the Art of the Fugue.” (Everyone raised their hand.) He said, “How many people have studied it?” (My husband a couple of others raised their hands.) Kapilow pitched himself toward the majority. (Thank god.)

Pick a good support team
The Brentano quartet played. For those of you who have never heard of them, they are very good. Not your standard quartet. Surely playing a lecture is a more maddening gig than playing a wedding, and tickets were cheap so the musicians couldn't be getting paid a lot. Kapilow must have worked hard to get these musicians to play, but it was worth his effort — everything he described was more interesting with the Brentano Quartet as exhibit A

Perfect your body movement
Even though the topic was dry, Kapilaw moved around the stage like it was a Las Vegas show. When he described the “radiant glorious major version” he reached his arms out. When he said, “Then we go back in minor and it's dark” his arms tucked up close to his side. He made arcane music look exciting through his gestures, and his excitement was catching.

Be conscious of audience limitations
By the fourth fugue, he said, “Listen for the bing-bing or the down-up. If you're a really good listener you can listen for all four things, and we'll discuss after this lecture if that is humanly possible.”

Then, at one point he decided we needed a confidence boost. He said, “Stretofugue is very similar to Row, row, row your boat.”

By the end of the lecture I loved Bach. I even loved the stretofugue. And really, what is the job of a public speaker but to get you to love his topic? Many people give themselves permission to be sub-par speakers because of an unwilling audience, or an untenable topic. But Kapilow proves to me that anyone can captivate an audience if they have the right skills.

For those of you who have an opportunity to speak to a group, remember to aim as high as Kapilow. For those of you who want an opportunity to see Kapilow in action, look for his “What Makes it Great” series.

Next up: Bach managing the brand of Bach. Did you know that the subject of Bach's last fugue are the notes B, A, C, H?

You can keep your career on track by going to the gym; The same attributes that drive someone to succeed at the gym are the attributes that drive someone to succeed at the office. In fact, going to the gym will even help you develop personal tools for coping with unemployment. Here are some places to start:

People who work out at the gym regularly earn more money than couch potatoes. One reason this is true is that the gym is training ground for ladder climbing in corporate America. The skills required to get oneself to the gym on a regular basis are the same skills required to impress upper management on a regular basis. In fact, going to the gym will even help you develop personal tools for coping with unemployment.

You can keep your career on track by going to the gym. The same attributes that drive someone to succeed at the gym are the attributes that drive someone to succeed at the office. In fact, going to the gym will even help you develop personal tools for coping with unemployment. Here are some examples to inspire your gym dedication:

The hardest part about starting a workout regimen is getting yourself to the health club. It's always easier to go home after work and eat pizza in front of the TV. Even the unemployed, with seemingly endless days, find a way to make it difficult to make time for the gym.

By the same token, if you can't get your work done at the office, you'll never be able to move up the chain of command. And the same nagging voice that says, “I'll never find energy for the health club” nags at work, “I'll never write the report as well as my boss wants me to.” Self-discipline is what forces you to overcome the negative voices and take action.

Setting goals
If you go to the gym without a plan, you'll accomplish nothing and then stop going. People who workout regularly set goals. Some people aim to lose weight, some people train for a marathon. Whatever your goal is, it will keep you focused so that each day you go to the gym you know exactly what you're there to do.

You need goals for your career, too. If your goal is to become a managing director, then you can map out the steps you need to get there, and you have focus for each of your days. Whereas gym goals may look like number of laps or amount of weight, work goals will look like projects finished or skills learned.

Bouncing back
Everyone skips a day at the gym sometimes. Even Andre took time off tennis training to see Steffi give birth to their son. The important thing is not to get discouraged. People who workout regularly think of themselves as people who workout even when they are ditching the gym and eating ice cream.

The career-equivalent is losing a job. People who get laid off can still see themselves as successful, innovative employees. Maintaining this vision of yourself will make you much more effective in your job hunt. You can practice seeing yourself as a person who bounces back by forcing yourself to go to the gym even when you had ten beers the night before.

Doing something that's fun
If swimming doesn't rock your world, don't bother trying to convince yourself to do it three times a week. Find something you like — it'll make for much easier motivation when the pizza beckons. The more fun you have in your chosen activity, the more likely you will be to keep a regular workout schedule. In fact, if you really love what you're doing, you might workout more passionately than you ever expected.

The same goes for your chosen career. Pick something you love, and you'll do it with passion. You know that complete energy drain you feel when its time to go to an aerobics class but you hate aerobics? That's the same energy drain you feel when your alarm goes off and you hate your work. Find a career you love and you're likely to love the money that follows.

So get yourself to the gym today. For those of you lucky enough to have a job in this economy, you probably won't see a huge raise after two weeks of the Stairmaster, but you will notice, over the course of months, that people treat you differently when you run your life differently. For those of you who are unemployed, the gym will make your days feel more productive; When people say, “How's your career going?” you can say, “I'm taking steps to improve my earning power.”

Good decision-makers are good information-gatherers, but in the end, they trust their gut.

When a few people were infected with SARS from skinning frogs alive or working among chicken carcasses, China might have contained the problem. Instead, China made a very bad decision to cover up the disease.

In hindsight, it's easy to say which problems are insane to try to cover up, and SARS turned out to be one of them. But don't be so smug that you cannot learn from China's mistake. After all, each of us struggles regularly with the choice to either ignore a problem or fix it.

In the face of a big problem, coming clean is usually the easiest thing to do. Covering up often requires a lie, and then another lie, and then, before you know it, you are talking about an alternate reality that even you cannot keep track of.

But day after day we have to decide if a problem is really big or just a minor blemish in an imperfect world. For example, software publishers always launch software with technical problems. Microsoft would have no products if they insisted on shipping problem-free software. The issue for a product manager is to decide if she's launching her product with problems so big that they will undermine sales.

In these instances, you must gather as much information as possible in a reasonable amount of time. But know that in the end, you will have to go with your gut.

The World Health Organization would have told China to quarantine. But China chose not to involve the WHO until it was too late. Microsoft engineers surely declared the company's server software too rife with security flaws to bring to market. But the product managers went with the product anyway, and frankly, Microsoft has made a mint off this server software. When weighing risk, Microsoft and China both, in the end, have to go with their instinct. But Microsoft does a more honest job of gathering facts to inform its decision.

For your own decision-making process, remember that people who feel powerful do not hide from the information that is available. When you take a calculated risk in the face of a significant problem, act like you are a powerful person — Gather as much information as possible and then trust your instinct.

Brian Arbetter, an employment lawyer at Baker & McKenzie, reports that clients started calling him as soon as the US media started reporting on SARS. This is because Arbetter's clients are big and rich (after all, Baker & McKenzie is expensive) and they feel powerful. Arbetter's clients feel like they have the ability to solve any problem that they can understand, so they call their lawyer to gather information.

Companies that dealt with SARS quickly and decisively are models for your own decision-making. Arbetter says many companies asked employees just back from Asia to stay home from work for ten days. At least one international company held a board meeting without members who live in Asia.

People who worry that a problem will crush them are more likely to hide from a problem and hope it goes away. So even if you don't really feel powerful, act like you do, and power might just come to you. Face problems head on. If you can't afford Arbetter, call a friend. Get advice, and then take action.

One more decision-making lesson from SARS: Be careful when you act selfishly. Sure, business is a game, and everyone is competing for market share. But you can't compete if no one shows up to play; we are all dependent on each other. Microsoft, for example, made a lot of money on server software, but Microsoft caused worldwide wrath when email exchange was brought to near halt due to lack of security on Micosoft's part. Both this example and the rapid spread of SARS remind us that we depend on each other to act ethically — to keep the interests of the community in mind.

That's a lot to balance when making a decision. Now you know why most of us start off our decision-making careers as copy machine technicians: Should the page be darker or lighter? Is it faster to hand-feed or automate? Think of these annoying entry-level questions are a warm-up for the SARS moment in your career. And then vow to make it a moment when you use your power to support community interests.