It’s commonly understood that there are many reasons to network with professionals in your field. What is not as widely recognized is the need to network with others outside of your field of interest and the benefits that can be gained. Networking outside of your comfort zone can lead to unexpected learning opportunities that can add to your development as a responsible citizen, employee or emerging leader.
To start thinking more broadly, it is helpful to reaffirm some of the obvious reasons for networking inside of your industry/profession. You may already network within your field to learn about technical innovations, your current marketability and new opportunities for advancement or to identify new areas to build skills and build your visibility to industry leaders. All of these reasons are widely accepted and practiced in many industries. But the downside of associating only with people having the same career interests is that it can close off opportunities to view the landscape from different perspectives.
The problem with having networking tunnel vision or a silo mentality is that the singlemindedness of both approaches tends to make things stay the same. Things might be good, might be bad, but they are very unlikely to change without a fresh viewpoint. Hearing a new perspective can be like choosing to listen to music based on your mood. New or different ideas can be brought together like a melody of notes played on different instruments. Valuing and leveraging differences can ultimately produce something greater than only one person or people with siloed interests can.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you.
Speaking with people outside of your area of interest can lead to personal growth, tolerance and a greater understanding of those around you. Moving out of your comfort zone and associating with the general population can help you see important issues through a variety of lenses. It is easier to understand business decisions when you hear and learn about the experiences of people who work outside of your known arena. Talking to people who are unfamiliar with the commonly used acronyms in your field can force you to speak more clearly and precisely. Practicing the use of a different or broader vocabulary can improve your communication skills. Along the same lines, getting more comfortable with diverse groups or audiences will help your presentation skills.
Just as restaurants have created food fusions to produce fabulous new dining experiences and multicultural neighborhoods can create communities united by new traditions, networking with people with different interests can expand thinking and create new solutions to tough problems. Someone else’s naïve position on a current topic can often offer an unbiased view on some issues. Sometimes that naïveté can actually provide the opportunity to take a second look at what might have become your knee-jerk response. And asking and responding to questions from people unlike you can start entirely new and different dialogues. You just never know.
The more we all can learn to embrace differences and listen to new ideas, the more likely we are to produce truly new and fabulous results. Networking outside of your comfort zone with professionals who may seem to be completely different from you may stretch your brain and bring you unexpected results. Why not try it?
Sometimes people come to me with unrealistic expectations. It’s not unusual for people to believe a career coach will “get them a job,” just as many people assume a recruiter will “get them a job.” In each case, their expectations are hopeful but unrealistic.
As a career coach, I can help someone develop a strategy for getting a job, assist with creating all the tools required and guide their preparation. I can also help people navigate tough situations in a way that will allow them to keep their job or move in a new direction. And sometimes it really is possible to connect candidates with employers that are in need. But, overall, there is nothing I (or anyone else) can ever do to guarantee that someone will get a job, unless the person is enlisting in the military. As much as I wish it were so, there just isn’t a magic pill I can give someone to solve their employment concerns.
If a career coach can’t make that promise, then a recruiter can, right? No, sorry, not them either. Recruiters are paid by a company to find talent. They might reach out to candidates when they are representing a client company that is in need, but they are not in the business of finding jobs for candidates. In the old days, as a recruiter I marketed great candidates to employers I had close relationships with and was often successful in facilitating an unsolicited match that worked out for everyone.
Things have changed quite a bit, and the exchanges are less personal. When someone’s skills are common or the market they work in is one that everyone else on the planet wants to work in, those ordinary – even highly talented – people aren’t going to be able to rely on a recruiter to “find them a job.” In this market, unless someone has incredibly unique or in-demand skills, a recruiter is not going to give them the time of day unless they have an immediate need or anticipate one coming up. And even then, a recruiter cannot guarantee that the employer will love the candidate or that the candidate will love the role that comes up. Only the candidate can go to the interview and actually influence the interaction that takes place between them and the employer.
the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution
No matter how attractive it might seem to just call someone and ask them to do it for you, there isn’t a special button to push or a pill to take that will remove the need to research what you are getting into and prepare you for your interaction with the employer. Even when it seems like there is an easy way, the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution. An attractive resume or LinkedIn profile may attract employers, but there is never a guarantee that whoever calls on you has your best interests in mind or that you will be prepared to have an intelligent conversation should they contact you out of the blue. The promise of a “catchy” resume or profile cannot make up for the market/industry/role research that is needed before someone can make a long-lasting good impression or a good decision.
The good news is that there are more jobs now. Many of the people who were underemployed throughout the long recession are moving up and out. That doesn’t mean that the great jobs are easy to find or get. People who have stayed connected with their networks and stayed on top of industry trends are moving into roles they have spent time positioning themselves for. The less desirable roles are left for those who have been waiting to climb on the bandwagon, hoping for a break when the economy turned around.
If you have been sending out hundreds of resumes, posted on ten job boards and are still not working in a role that makes sense for you, then consider taking a different approach. Stop doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Start doing your research and connect with your network to learn about unpublished opportunities. Find out what employers want before they post. Don’t wait for a magic pill.
The other night, a client asked me if I was in my “Plan A” job. Loosely interpreted, his question meant, is my current work experience the vision of what I really want to do? My answer required thought and a much longer answer than “yes” or “no.”
The first point I want to make is that I don’t have a “job.” I do “work.” My work can be very rewarding and satisfying. I am able to have relatively flexible hours, and I work out of my home, which is ideal for a workaholic who also wants to enjoy life. Omitting commuting time and working around traditional office hours, I am able to get work done during hours that don’t get interrupted by traffic and office politics.
The real beauty, though, is in my entire work scenario. There are many things I am able to do that are not possible through a j-o-b. Probably the most important thing is that if I find the work I am doing or the people I am working with are wearing me down or draining me of energy, I am able to do something else with someone else almost immediately. I can also implement a new process without having to go through layers of bureaucracy. Sometimes the path for acknowledging that something is draining me takes longer than it should, and the solutions are not always immediately clear, but as I go into my 19th year, I can easily say it is getting easier and easier to simply say “no” and move on to anything else that is more enjoyable. I’d like to think that my days of suffering to make a buck are behind me.
it’s never a simple decision to walk away from bad business or complex, toxic relationships
That said, it’s never a simple decision to walk away from bad business or complex, toxic relationships that may have developed. It’s not quite as bad as getting a divorce (I’ve had experience with that, too), but it sometimes can cause many of the same conflicted feelings. Did I do enough? Have I tried everything to make this work? Do I deserve to be treated this way? Do I have unrealistic expectations? Do I have to settle? Owning a business may end up creating different handcuffs than an employment scenario, but it feels like I have more options. In most cases, it is only a segment of business or a person that needs to be left behind, or a new system needs to be developed to make some part of the work easier or more palatable.
There was a time when I was questioning what I was doing. After the first ten years, I was finding I had gotten into a routine I didn’t like. I recognized that something had to change, and unlike the many jobs I had easily quit, that wasn’t the solution. It required my identifying exactly what was at the root of my zapped energy.
Working as a subcontractor for another company had produced a regular paycheck, but it sucked up considerable time in the middle of the week, and it was difficult to schedule other work around it. The work itself was somewhat satisfying, and the actual end users really seemed to appreciate my efforts, but the company I worked for was unappreciative and continued to make more demands without an increase in compensation or any recognition of the added deliverables. Walking away from this extremely draining, time-consuming contract (that paid little) was my first step. I finally let it go and just had to trust that I could continue doing similar work for people who cared. Almost immediately, my business doubled.
At 15 years, I had stopped bouncing out of bed in the morning looking forward to tackling the next thing. As I examined what really drove my decreased enthusiasm (it felt like depression at the time), I found some pretty clear culprits. I hate the ridiculous amount of detail involved with operations. Data entry, marketing, tracking dates and invoicing are some examples of the tasks that involve managing endless minutiae. Other issues, such as constantly having to nag people to remember commitments and working with people who showed little respect or appreciation for my time, really brought me down. Although these points were easy to identify, the process for changing things took a while.
It finally became clear that for me to focus on the fun stuff, I needed help. So my next step was hiring an assistant to take on the truly annoying administrative tasks I face each day so I could invest energy in what I enjoy most. It wasn’t a magic fix, and it took time to learn which things were easy to turn over and which things I might as well do because it took far less time to do them than explain each. Anything with nuances that could change from time to time were better left on my plate. The more static processes or marketing that was separate from my work have been off-loaded. Not everything that supports my work has been turned over, but I have definitely been able to free up enough time to dedicate to the fun stuff. The changes have been gradual. As I see more ways to off-load things, I am also able see a ray of hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. My work energizes me once again.
The message I want to send out to the universe is: if you are doing work you don’t like, figure out why. Finding a new job may not be the answer. Finding new/different work or changing how you do the work you are currently doing could be the change that saves you from a fruitless job search. You may find that you can build on a foundation you have already laid and move forward outside of your current role. The clues to what will make you happy will transcend employers, jobs and venues. Take the time to think bigger and further into the future. And of course, I can help you with that.
If you are feeling at a loss because your job search has extended far too long, it’s important to take a hard look at your attitude, your approach and your level of commitment. Regardless of what may be going on in the market, those are really the only elements you have any control over. Recognizing and acknowledging all of your current circumstances and how continued unemployment has already impacted or can impact your lifestyle, credit history, self-esteem and credibility will help you to make better choices about what you can do to move forward.
get real about your circumstances and be willing to consider alternatives to avoid running yourself completely into the ground
All too frequently, anger, disappointment, resentment or depression can build enormous brick walls where doors or windows are needed. Staying cognizant of every aspect of your current circumstances may cause you to reevaluate when you have drawn a line in the sand or refused to compromise. That doesn’t mean you fold your cards and quit, and it doesn’t mean you indiscriminately accept anything that comes your way. It simply means you need to get real about your circumstances and be willing to consider alternatives to avoid running yourself completely into the ground. It’s also important to be transparent with the trusted professional or close friends you request help from. Pretending to be where you once were instead of facing where you are right now might not get you the help you really need. There are gentle and practical ways to share information, which I will address in a bit. For now, I’d like to illustrate what happens when someone in dire straits shares incomplete information.
Imagine what would happen if you took a wrong turn and went miles out of your way. It’s in the dark of night and you have limited life on your phone’s battery. You make a call to a friend for help, describe approximately where you are and let them know you have about an eighth of a tank of gas. They pull up a map, determine that a gas station is approximately two miles away and provide you with directions. They hang up the phone, believing you will be on your way in minutes and that all is good. Just as your phone’s battery dies, you remember that you didn’t tell them you also have a flat tire and no spare.
To put this back into a context related to job search, it’s important to consider ALL the facts about your situation. Some typical questions that need to be addressed are:
- How far in debt are you?
- How much income do you need to cover your bills?
- How soon will your money run out?
- Are there health issues that could prevent you from working in the same capacity you have worked in before?
- Are there new family commitments that would impact your schedule or ability to work the hours you used to work?
If you have spent more than six months going in a direction that hasn’t worked, then there is good reason to be considering new options. If your answers to questions 1 through 3 cause anxiety or fear and you have answered yes to questions either 4 or 5, then you may be overdue for a change in mindset.
Earlier I mentioned the need for transparency. Let me explain why. If your finances are dwindling and you need to work, then positioning yourself to return to work sooner where there is a chance of moving forward makes more sense than holding out for a lottery win. If you can’t return to the capacity, pace or stress level of prior roles, then face the reality of your new circumstances. Develop a new plan and adjust your lifestyle. If there are real reasons you are not competitive (technical skills are weak or you are unfamiliar with processes or programs that are in demand), then it is time to face facts. You can seek out training to develop those skills or identify a new direction that is a better fit. Any way you look at it, alternatives need to be examined. If you continue asking for leads to roles that you cannot perform adequately in or are no longer competitive for, then it is a waste of everyone’s time to pretend.
It’s not necessary to share a bank statement with someone to be transparent. It’s possible to own your status and address your circumstances in a manner that shows anyone you are asking for help from that you are taking charge of your destiny and not resorting to playing the victim card. It can sound like this:
“You know, after having this opportunity to reevaluate my next move, I’ve determined there is a new direction I’d like to move in and am very excited about. I’ve been looking at roles that …” Then describe what it is you like about them, what you want to do and what you are competitive for. This will require research and thoughtful preparation to make sure that what you are describing is accurate and not just wishful thinking. You may need help from a professional. You may feel inclined to tell close friends more, but I would caution you against sharing gory details. Simply stating a desire to change your lifestyle or “move in a new, more productive direction” can suffice.
An active search that involves talking with real people at targeted companies will provide the information you need to help you build the path. An external recruiter who is looking for a candidate to “sell” as an exact match to their client’s need is not likely to be your best hope when changing careers. Conversely, a passive search (answering ads) only pits you against other candidates who may have a track record you can’t compete with.
Although an internal recruiter may have a broader perspective and be willing to discuss a transition when the fit with the company is in place, having an internal advocate is going to help. The key is to make sure you are a fit by doing the research long before you have a conversation with a recruiter. Another hurdle you may face is when a recruiter questions you about your prior salary. You are simply not comparing apples to apples, and your higher priority is “really the fit with the company.” If they insist on talking about your past role and how much you used to make, then whatever approach you used isn’t working and the conversation is not going to move forward. (Note: your resume needs to fit the role you are pursuing. Too much emphasis on being the last queen bee will only prompt questions about it. There are ways to neutralize a resume.) A referral from an internal advocate who will excitedly support your “new direction” and be willing to vouch for your aptitude for the different role can make all the difference in the world.
If you are exhausted and feeling like you are out of gas, I urge you to avoid complaining about what hasn’t worked and consider new options. Look for new ways to get yourself back on the highway and get help if you are stuck.
Having goals (as opposed to “wishes”) is the first step in getting on the right track to where you want to be. Thinking of resolutions for the New Year may be the necessary catalyst behind your goals, but assigning realistic timelines and considering how to achieve measurable results require commitment and a thoughtful strategy.
Some people execute plans very well but are unable to view the broader picture to get a sense of the reasons to change course. Having a clear strategy (and a positive mindset) will be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals, no matter how much your circumstances may change as you move forward. A strategy helps provide the framework that will keep you on the right path. When the tactics you are using stop working, it is easier to change gears if you understand the bigger picture. If you aren’t getting the results you want from your job search or business development efforts, it may be more than your tactics that need to change. Doing the same old thing because that’s what you always have done can lead to your missing the boat when a new opportunity surfaces. It’s important to start with a strategy for achieving your desired goals, then develop an action plan that supports the strategy. Without a strategy to drive your plan and its execution, your efforts could end up being a complete waste of time.
Schedules are great because they provide structure, and structure is helpful for planning purposes, but it can’t always be the driver behind an action plan. It is necessary to stay aware of the goal and adjust your structure when circumstances change. In a bigger sense, without an understanding of the strategy behind an organization’s goals, you are dependent on the person or people who designed the strategy to dictate your action plan. If conditions change and you are left on your own, you’ll need to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing, or your efforts can be wasted, opportunities can be missed, and you can be left out in the cold. Understanding someone else’s strategy, and also having one of your own, allows you to land on your feet when things go off course. If you don’t understand the need for a career strategy, you could end up being slow to change gears when quick action is required.
If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire… think again.
The relationship between strategy and timing is critical. If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire, think again. Consider how planes land and take off. The precision required to enter airspace at exactly the right time to avoid collisions is critical. Imagine what would happen if pilots believed their intentions were more important than their actions. The same applies to someone in job search mode or planning a new business. Understanding the “why” behind your actions is critical to helping you predict potential negative consequences resulting from deviations in timing and will hopefully allow you to work out ways to avoid them. Missing a deadline or taking too long to respond to a request can cause you to completely miss an opportunity, or, at the very least, it can limit your options.
Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks is a tactic that rarely pays off in the way we imagine. Haphazard spurts of energy may produce results of some kind, but they are seldom sustainable and may end up leading to false hope when the initial response does not lead to anything longer term. An example is shooting out resumes or marketing pieces to random audiences. There may be an initial response of some kind based on curiosity, but the tactic may miss the mark if you are really looking for a sustainable relationship. Likewise, indiscriminately applying for posted jobs or focusing on developing a “cute” media presence with the hope that someone will find you are far less of a sure bet than digging in and doing the necessary research to understand your audience’s needs and wants.
Learning about the skills required to deliver the results your target companies need is much more likely to tell you how realistic your goals are. Being aware of the timing of special events, when budgets are developed and when seasonal fluctuations typically occur will help you to develop a more effective strategy for going after what you want. Timing your actions according to the intelligence you have gathered and committing to specific tasks at specific times will help you move forward. It also will allow you to track your progress and identify why things may or may not have worked out the way you intended. Overall, a well thought out strategy for achieving your goals and an awareness of critical timelines will help guide you when you face difficult decisions or reach a brick wall.
The fearlessness expressed by a very young person with limited life experience can be viewed as innocence. It’s very different from an adult’s fearlessness or refusal to face reality if their viewpoint is based on arrogance. When an adult refuses to look around them and consider taking action based on market conditions, their ability to compete and their unmet commitments, it is probably safe to say that arrogance is driving them to make bad choices. Big egos and dreams of what used to be can dim the prospects of even the brightest stars.
Big egos and dreams of what used to be can dim the prospects of even the brightest stars.
It’s still a surprise to me when people who have been unemployed for months – maybe years – are still so concerned about titles that they’ll pass over opportunities to get back on their feet. Even when spending their last nickel, there is hesitancy to proceed with a lifeline (job) because of the consideration given to a title and a salary that are less than what they were accustomed to, no matter how long ago that might have been. OK, I understand that pride sometimes keeps people from doing work they consider as “beneath” them, but when their financial situation is grave, shouldn’t just plain common sense tell you that having a paycheck and saving your home or maintaining your family’s health insurance should be a priority? It’s times like this that a 5th grader’s unclouded perspective might simply lead us to “It’s a job and you need money. Why wouldn’t you go for it?” An answer lies somewhere in between.
Waiting for a high-powered role with a huge income to miraculously appear after years of unemployment may cause repercussions that cannot be remedied. Some people have spent years hiding behind the title of “consultant,” pretending they are still performing work at the level they were 10 years ago. This approach can end up backfiring if you are unable to provide examples of the projects you have been working on. Credibility can be lost and bridges burned that otherwise could have led to some work that could possibly mitigate the financial issues.
Easing back into work in a lesser position after an extended absence allows you to get accustomed to the rigors of a schedule and shake the rust off. As an example, recently, when a client was preparing for an interview for a lower-level role than he had been accustomed to, he told me he hadn’t ever interviewed for something “beneath” him. Given the need to have structure, manageable work and an income, I suggested reframing the situation by viewing this as an opportunity to interview for something that required less than 100% of what he had to offer. Giving less (even with less pay) can fulfill some basic needs, like having a steady income and working regular hours close to home. If the job requires only 50% of your brain and 75% of your time, you can maximize your energy and time to focus on something more interesting outside of the job. And, if the role is the gateway to something bigger down the road, there’s no need to shoot yourself in the foot by overspeaking the role or referencing it as something that is “beneath” you.
Being the exact fit for the needs of the role allows you to get back on the horse because a door has been opened. If there is opportunity to grow, then you’ve positioned yourself to prove just how much you can contribute and set yourself up for a reason to negotiate more money later. Too much too soon can miss the mark because there may not be a budget for more now and they have not been able to experience your value.
Someone’s somewhat skewed view of their current circumstances doesn’t deter me from working with them to help them move forward. It’s my job to help them view things differently, develop a strategy and create a plan to achieve their goals. Any employer will want to see evidence of what a candidate has been doing. Without it, a candidate is probably not going to land back in the driver’s seat in a role similar to what they left 10 years earlier. I’m not saying it could never happen, but from my 20 years of experience, for most people who take an extended hiatus without working on projects related to what they used to do (paid or as a volunteer), it’s highly unlikely they’ll be considered for the same role/level that they left behind years before.
The real prize role may not happen immediately, but we can certainly develop a plan for getting back on top within a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes it is hard to see beyond our own self-image. The role that feels like an insult to our ego may just be the right opportunity to begin getting back on track.
When one of my clients strays from the plan we have set forth, the fallout might be a frantic email asking what they should do because a situation has started to go south. It’s my job to help them dig their way out of whatever they got themselves into. It won’t work to tell them to “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.”
I need to be there with a safety net, a remedy, and sometimes a crystal ball. In addition to assisting with a recovery strategy, I may be required to talk them off the ledge once their predicament becomes clear and they realize the damage done may be irreversible. You could call me the Reluctant Therapist.
Too many times unchecked assumptions lead the way to disaster. A candidate assumes they can easily pick up a required skill that seems to have been overlooked during the screening process. Once hired, they may find themselves completely underwater and on their way to the unemployment line again. The frantic email I receive from them is because they have been called on the carpet and issued an ultimatum. They may have taken their eyes off the ball and allowed their performance to slip while on the job. Or, if they have not yet gotten an offer, they may have had the rug pulled out from under them by the employer saying, “We think you are overqualified,” when they deviated from the script and ended up overspeaking the needs of the position.
There is a reason to begin with a strategy for getting, keeping, and/or leaving a job altogether.
The common thread in these circumstances is that a strategy could have been developed for getting where they wanted to go, but somehow they lost sight of the longer-term plan. There is a reason to begin with a strategy for getting, keeping, and/or leaving a job altogether. One step in the right direction doesn’t negate the need to carry on with the rest of the plan.
The stress encountered throughout an extended pursuit of employment is expected to disappear when the offer letter arrives, so people often let out a huge sigh of relief and let their guard down. They start behaving “as they always have,” without adapting to the market changes that have occurred or the new technologies that have been introduced. The stress they felt before the job can resurface 60 days later, when it is clear they are unable to meet the job requirements or they are bored out of their scull and haven’t attended to the side projects that would have kept them on track. Situations like these require my assistance to help pull things back on track. Hand-holding and coddling won’t help when action is required. A trip to the therapist will help them over time, but when urgent action is required, I am the first responder and end up writing the employment Rᵪ.
Naturally, it is harder to turn around a sinking ship than it is to make sure it is seaworthy to begin with. It’s important to get help with the development strategy and support in carrying it out if you are unsure how to go about it. There are some basic–dare I say?–common sense approaches to getting and keeping a new job that can help prevent some of the angst of not “fitting.”
Know more about the company, the department, your supervisor, and the job before you apply. If you are unclear about how to go about that, please read more about researching, networking, and conducting a targeted search in my other blog posts.
Be clear about what you are most competitive for. When you see a posted job and think, “That’s easy to learn. I could do that!”, what really needs to be considered is: Does this company need you, do they need to spend time training you, or are they likely to find someone who already knows how to do what they need? If there are others who are more competitive, then you need to ask yourself, “Am I interested enough in this kind of work to learn it on my own? How long will it take to learn? Is it worth the investment?” If you don’t think it is worth the investment on your own, why do you think an employer would be willing to support your training?
Know what you need to get out of the job you accept. This may not be a long-term fix. In fact, it may be something you fell into because your car payments were behind. Whatever the reason is for your accepting a position, you need to be clear about what you can learn and what you will take away, before you start.
Have an exit strategy. Know where you are headed and set a time line for accomplishing it. If this is a temporary scenario, then be clear about what is next and how that will happen. Don’t drop the ball and slide into complacency.
I’m here to help assess options, help design a strategy, and help develop a plan. It’s up to you to carry it through. Of course, when you run into trouble, contact me and I’ll deliver an Rᵪ. It just won’t be a magic pill.
Recently I read a “success story” written by someone who was very proud of their networking efforts to get a new job. They had simply sent their resume to a handful of recruiters and waited to see what came back. In a matter of weeks, an interview was arranged and they accepted a contract position. The problem is that they had not learned much about the company in advance of the interview and only knew what the company’s website stated. Essentially, although the company was well known, they were offered a position with a company whose internal processes, politics and culture were all areas they knew little about. I am not so sure this really fixed their problem.
It’s been my experience that if someone is already working and wanting to jump ship, contacting external/agency recruiters and relying on them to “fix the problem” is limiting and not typically a long-term solution to someone’s employment dilemma. You may be offered a different role, but there is no guarantee that the fit will be any better than the one you are leaving behind.
Contacting recruiters as your only job-search effort is a passive approach and, in my estimation, can’t really be considered networking. Recruiters will tell you what they need to tell you, not what you need them to tell you. In contrast, if asked the right questions early on, your network will share inside information and provide a real-world view of what is needed to succeed in a role or in the company overall. Researching organizations through your extended network takes time and is not a project that should be relied on only when you are at the end of your rope with your current employer.
Networking — staying in touch with people —and showing interest in them by asking questions about their circumstances takes time and consistency. Through the process, you are able to learn much, much more than you will by a biased third party who stands to make money off of your new employment. Insiders can advise you about a potential opening before an external recruiter gets involved. The insider’s referral of you, at no cost to the employer, results in the company saving money and will more likely produce a relationship that works. Why? A simple answer: Someone who has worked for a company knows what works and what doesn’t. They are also not likely to recommend someone who will make them look bad.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not bashing recruiters. Recruiters are extremely useful to employers when they have carefully screened and matched candidates with the right roles. They do a great job for employers. But that’s just it. They get paid by the employer, so their loyalty is with them, not with you. On the flip side, although an insider can answer the questions for you that a recruiter can’t (or won’t), a referral without credibility is meaningless. Your insider needs to know what you know and what you do, and how well you do it. So, essentially, the insider is taking the place of the recruiter, and with that comes some responsibility. It’s important that you really do fit and that you represent your contact well.
If you want a better job and a better workplace, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in research to make sure what sounds good really is good for you.
If you want a better job and a better workplace, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in research to make sure what sounds good really is good for you. Don’t wait until you are on your last nerve. Think long and hard about what you need and your investment in that outcome. Is it enough to consider any job offer a success? In this case, the “success story” I referenced, it is still too early to tell. Based on what I have learned about the company from several internal sources, I have doubts about whether this person will actually be able to adapt to the company’s high standards and performance expectations. I hope I am wrong.
It’s pretty understandable that people often go into a panic when they lose their job. The tough part is helping them remobilize and develop a plan for what happens next, instead of taking wild potshots at job postings in their quest to become reemployed. Many times a candidate gets so focused on “getting a job” that they start to believe they will magically find and secure a job in one stroke. (Imagine a hunter with a spear facing a charging bear.) The problem with that kind of approach is that, in this case, the hunter is typically blinded by fear and their thinking is full of unrealistic expectations. In this “get-a-job-or-die” mode, they lose all ability to see the steps involved with what is actually a fairly complex process.
The very nature of this tunnel vision impacts their hearing and ability to reason. Excellent (but perhaps not obvious) opportunities may be missed because the candidate is so focused on finding a j-o-b that they forget to listen for clues that could allow them to negotiate w-o-r-k for a price. The linear thinking process that follows a path leading only to posted jobs and submitting resumes, then waiting to be called for an interview where they will miraculously be getting an offer, is out of step with the way most great jobs are uncovered and captured by ordinary people (i.e., people without unique or hugely in-demand skills). Anyone can play the odds by responding to job ads, but it is not likely going to be a “lucky” hit that makes the difference in the outcome. The really cool jobs, in cool companies, working with cool people, are uncovered through conversations with people in the know, inside those same cool companies.
the process for uncovering clues about work is not linear
Keep in mind, the process for uncovering clues about work is not linear, and although information can be patched together through research, there is not an absolute, surefire or solo way to gather data that can unearth clues to base your action plan on. It requires an ability to look at the big picture and fully understand an employer’s circumstances and needs. You have to be willing to hunt for clues about how you can contribute in a way that may not have been completely identified yet or posted. Or, if there is a posted opening, you need insight about the people you would be working with and familiarity with the work to be able to appear as an exact fit when you are brought in to interview.
Clues come from Web research, conversations and the news. There are multiple viewpoints to consider, add up and make new assumptions about. The linear thinker will run into walls if unable to skip steps or take a bigger view of what they may hear or read. Of course, a non-linear thinker may be able to imagine a viable big picture, but they can run the risk of getting lost because they may choose to skip the steps required to create a compelling case for being part of that big picture. You can’t assume your “friends” will automatically open doors for you without a clear understanding of where you fit and why.
A successful search requires the ability to create a strategy with a bigger picture in mind, while also attending to the detail required to carry out the plan for breaking in. (Now picture a jewel thief. The jewels are pretty, but it will take a lot of time and effort to figure out how to get past security and back out with the prize.) Job seekers often get caught in quicksand because they are hell-bent on following a process that doesn’t work and are unwilling to try different approaches or change their immediate goals. Becoming gainfully employed may take a variety of approaches or even completely different paths than what you had expected to take. The key is in keeping your eyes and ears open and paying attention to the realities around you. Be willing to take half steps or leaps that take you completely out of your comfort zone, if necessary. You can end up in a new place only if you do something that is different from what you have done before.
Beyond that, be willing to be awkward or even fail at the new approaches. Don’t give up because things don’t work the first time you try a different approach. It may have taken you 10–30 years to learn what you have always done, so we can guarantee you won’t learn or be comfortable with new approaches in just one shot. Don’t get pulled backwards by an apparent failure or rejection, and don’t default to your old process. Pick yourself up, ask for help to get back on track and get back in the saddle.
If you are thinking this is a dumb question, you may want to think again. Unless you are aware of the circumstances that led to your layoff or termination and are also very clear about your current market value, you’ll be unable to craft a strategy for moving forward. Although statistics may show there are more jobs available this year, what you actually do and how you do it will play a significant part in determining whether you will be selected for one of the more attractive jobs that are currently available. It takes more than an alluring resume or a newly acquired certification to compete in prime markets.
The first step in developing your strategy for becoming re-employed is to understand your former and potential employers’ perspectives.
Being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses and working on the areas that have created challenges in the past will help you prepare for the pursuit of your next role or next project. No matter what you know how to do, a new employer (or customer) will still expect you to share examples of how you have applied your knowledge and will want to see evidence of the results you produced.
If you are ready to get to the root of the issues you may be avoiding and start to take a turn in a better direction, the following steps will help you get a handle on your search for work.
Set clear goals. Without a clear vision of what you want, it is impossible to develop a path for getting there. It also makes it very tough to know when/how to adjust, change gears or reprioritize. That doesn’t mean an employer needs to know that you plan on starting your own business; you simply need to deliver what they need while you are gaining the specific experience needed to be successful in running your own operation. When you are clear about what is required on both counts (your employer’s goals and your personal and professional goals), you have a much higher probability of delivering. You will also have more reason to stay in touch with what is actually going on around you. If you are spending too much time daydreaming about what you wish you could be doing, you’ll miss the opportunity to pick up necessary skills and run the risk of dropping the ball. Any way you look at it, dropping the ball has consequences. If you fall off track from what your employer wants, you can lose your job. If you lose your job and don’t have a clear idea of where you were headed when it happened, it will be extremely difficult to develop and present a convincing case to the next employer.
Evaluate past performance and influencers. Sure, every day is a new day. But pretending there has been no past is pretty naïve. You may have heard the old customer service adage that states: “you need to make 10 deposits into the “good deed” account to make up for a customer’s one bad experience.” This is true for employers as well. Unless you spend the time figuring out how to make up for a callous statement, missed deadline, lost account or publishing error, the memory of a mistake will be harbored indefinitely. It shouldn’t be a surprise when headcounts are dropping and you end up on the list if you have not made amends and then some. If you have adversary relationships with people and haven’t fixed things, their opinions can be louder than your transgression was. Know and own your actions that may influence your job/career security. Be prepared to face the consequences of a lapse in judgment or a mistake and be equally prepared to describe what you learned from it. Be willing to move forward with the understanding that you may have to make allowances for a scenario that negatively impacted your brand.
Find out what the companies/customers really need. Relying on what an HR department describes in a job posting or what your job description states is dangerous. Relying on superficial statements and not digging into the core of a company’s business purpose for your role or, for that matter, ignoring what a customer really needs can lead to less than desirable outcomes. The research you do into what had been needed in the past and what is thought to be needed now can be applied to what is really needed. Taking anything entirely at face value can lead to discrepancies. Ferreting out more precisely what a role entails puts you in a much stronger position to deliver value and makes you less likely to be caught off guard when any outside influences create the need for a sudden change. Use your network to help you stay aware of how valuable you are in your own company and how competitive you are in the marketplace.
Prepare examples of your results. Don’t be caught with your pants down when it is time for a performance evaluation or budget reviews. Be prepared to be specific about your accomplishments with a supervisor or potential customers. Either way, being prepared to describe your VALUE may be the points that save you from being thrown to the curb. Even though you may not be actively looking for something new, preparing statements that illustrate examples of your cleverness and ability to produce desired results, using the STAR process (Situation, Tasks/Actions and Results), will also prepare you for your next interview or discussion with a new boss if there is a change in management or the company is sold. Overall, the important message here is to know why things are happening to you and around you so that you can do the best job of picking yourself up by the bootstraps and moving on.