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How Not to Lose Your AmEx Black Card: Staying a Step Ahead of Outplacement

Whether we are downsized, right sized, fired for cause, or not...unemployment in 2009 is not associated with only mid-level and lower-level jobs. It's an egalitarian phenomenon.

We all know someone who as been laid off, from the corner office to the cubicle. Maybe you're reading this, thinking about yourself or a loved one. Even my Centurion Black Card friends, listen up: "membership may have its privileges," but apparently helping you keep your corner office isn't one of them.

But first, a little history. In the beginning, there was the American Express green card. Remember that? Then it became a status symbol to have the gold. Once that wore off, platinum was the most elite. Then, one day, I heard rumors of a new card American Express was developing: the Centurion card, a/k/a THE BLACK CARD.

Suddenly, having a Black Card was the new status symbol. Like iPhone today. No wait, better -- like having a job today.

Back when they were first issued, the Black Card was made of plastic. I could pull out that card out at restaurants, hotels, anywhere -- and my clients, guests, or dates would always comment on it.

Rumors abounded as to what it took to be granted one of these black cards from American Express. Was it like getting in to Harvard? Do you need to charge $200K a year? $2 million? Who at AmEx got to select the Centurion members? It was a public relations and marketing dream for American Express, because everyone was writing stories about the new card, who had one, and who wanted one.

Since the idea was that Black Card holders were people that charged, shall we simply say, a bit more than average -- AmEx decided to make the cards a little more special. Since the Black Plastic started wearing out, American Express decided they needed to make the cards out of a more durable material: titanium. Yup, titanium -- like the material in my father's hip replacement.

Then last fall, the recession hit. Suddenly, many Black Card holders may not want to be spending as much. In fact, American Express just announced that even they were laying off workers. Were they in the Black Card department, I wondered?

Ironically, you can use that fancy Black Card to charge your resume. Yet the ego of the Black Card membership often gets in the way.

You don't have to agree with me, but I still believe that it takes more than just hard work and the status of a Black Card keep your job during a recession.

When that dreaded "R word" is used, it is a blank check for bosses to fire anyone. You heard it here first: bosses use a recession as an excuse to get rid of the highly paid executives (Black Card holders) who would ordinarily be hard to fire. In other words, a recession climate is used as an excuse to clean house.

In my book Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins), I share 50 trade secrets on how anybody can seduce their boss into helping them save their job. Yes, I said seduce.

And these same techniques can be applied to landing a new separating yourself from the competition. Seduce, like the idea of the Black Card "seduced" you into wanting one.

Keeping a job today is hard enough -- finding a new one is even more difficult. Executive-level jobs are twice as hard to find, often due to the age of the six-figure employee (those years of experience that justify a higher salary). Ironically, these are the very salaries that have either gotten them fired, landed them on thin ice, or are preventing them from landing that new job.

Think of it this way: are you willing to buy a Rolex watch, brand-new BMW, or any expensive item right now, even if you can afford it? You know the Rolex is better quality, just like you probably are as a high-priced executive. But guess what? The company you're interviewing with or working for isn't buying it... just as you aren't when you go shopping.

Come on, be honest: did you just cut back your cleaning person's schedule to only once per week? Maybe even once every other week? Well, the boardroom's no different; everyone's cutting back.

So here are some of my most cutthroat -- but honest -- tips on getting back to work fast. More are in the book.

"Lowball" yourself to get back to work. Take the lower salary -- don't scare away a company with your past "Rolex" wages. Get your foot in the door, and when this economy turns around next year you will be in the driver's seat to renegotiate or find a new job entirely.

Loose lips sink ships. Everyone is looking for a job today, so their ears are everywhere. Every networking group you go to, everyone you talk to -- even the priest in your confessional -- may be applying for the same jobs. You'd be shocked at who else has their eyes on your perfect job. Have you ever seen that show in which the actors steel auditions from one another? It's no different in the executive suite, my friend. Keep it quiet.

Never act desperate. Always look like you deserve a six-figure job. If you've been making six figures, you'd better have a resume template than screams "hire me." Then, don't mess it up by dressing like you're headed for an open casting call for the next Real Housewives (or husbands) series. You're dressing for an interview, not for your 15 minutes of fame.

No "man bags" or "murses." Do I really need to elaborate?

Tell the interviewer how many kids you have. Or something personal. Interviewers really want to know the answers to all those questions they aren't legally allowed to ask you. Don't cross the line into inappropriateness, but mentioning what your wife does for a living or your kids' names should do the trick. The goal is to help the interviewer learn about you beyond what's on your resume.

Hair is important. I can see the e-mails flooding my inbox now! But if you're making six figures and your roots are showing (men and women)... come on. And men, trim the nose hair. Shallow, yes, but important? You're the six-figure person, what do you think? You didn't get this far without knowing that it's not all about performance.

Readers always e-mail me, "Are these the values we want to be teaching our children?" My answer is always the same: right now, I want to you to have healthcare for your kids, feed and clothe them. Then come back to me and we'll worry about values.

So now think back to the American Express discussion at the beginning of this essay. Do you think the status or color of our credit card much matters now? I don't. The rainbow of charge card colors seems frivolous today in light of everyone's job situation. Even more out of touch are the commercials with Beyonce, Ellen DeGeneres, Kate Winslet, and others talking about their AmEx membership and all its privileges.

Write me. Don't you find it odd that these famous celebrities, known to spend millions on shoes, hotels, and cars, all show their cards at the end of the commercial... and it's the original "green" card? Not the Black. Is American Express trying to insult our intelligence, or do you believe Beyonce and her husband, Jay-Z, just have a green card?

Come on, American Express, how about a new service for members: "Out of work? Out of luck? Membership has its privileges. If you've been a cardholder for ten years or more, you qualify for AmEx Outplacement Insurance to help you where your former employer would not!" That's a privilege that Beyonce or Ellen could hardly imagine. Until AmEx begins offering that service, try out some of my bulletproof tips instead.

Stephen Viscusi is the author of Bulletproof Your Job (HarperCollins) and the founder of, a custom resume writing service. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter (@workplaceguru) and friend him on Facebook!

© Stephen Viscusi 2009