Many times we rely on intentions that don’t get us anywhere. There is something in many of us that makes us think we can skip goal setting and just get straight to execution when we want to accomplish something big. Too often our intentions are greater than our actions. Our ideas stay in our head or become the focus of some heavy conversations, but not much more happens. Three years later we may find ourselves still thinking or talking about the same ideas without any evidence of an attempt to make them tangible.
Sometimes it might be fear holding us back, or sometimes just plain laziness. Whatever the reason for not sitting down and plotting out our actions, the result is the same: nothing happens. I’m not sure that analyzing the cause takes us much closer to taking action, but analyzing the results should.
A common response to many tough projects is to try to save time by diving in the middle of it without thinking through steps or timelines. This may produce more than not taking any action at all, but it can also lead to wasted time and disappointment. Have you ever received a package of “easy-to-assemble” furniture? Did you start off by putting pieces together, only to find out that they don’t fit right? Did you then go back and read the instructions, only to learn you had put the pieces together backwards? Imagine how much easier it would have been and how much time would have been saved if you had just followed the directions.
A really big goal can be overwhelming. So much so, you may end up doing absolutely nothing. If you take your big goal and establish a very realistic time frame for accomplishing it, the first burden is now off your shoulders. The next step is to determine exactly what each action step is, from start to finish. This part of the process may seem tedious, but it is really the most critical. By listing each and every thing that has to be done, the reality of each step is visible and also much more doable. You can plan timelines much more accurately and track your progress to make sure your target dates for hitting key milestones are closer to reality.
A really big goal can be overwhelming
Goal setting is not really a complicated process. Making a change of any type includes a specific goal, and the process is roughly the same: take stock of where you are and compare that to your goal, assess your own behaviors, influencers and resources, determine where you want to be and set a goal. Then write the recipe (action steps) for getting there.
Let’s use weight loss as an example because the concept is simpler for many people to grasp than trying to imagine an as-of-yet undefined goal to make a career change. Needing to lose 50 pounds can be completely overwhelming when you focus on the total loss required. Losing one pound a week is a much easier objective to see and imagine, and a plan to accomplish that is much more doable. The process required to accomplish the weekly one-pound weight loss is far more sustainable than trying to imagine which new diet you can rely on to lose 50 pounds quickly. The following simple example illustrates how much easier things can be when they are thought out in advance and when simple step-by-step actions are defined.
- Record and examine your current status. Evaluating exactly what you are doing and where you are is a fundamental point for getting started. On one hand, tracking exactly what you eat each day for two weeks will tell you what you are currently doing. On the other, you will need to record your current physical activities each week (or lack thereof). It’s important to analyze your habits and record the actual number of calories you take in and the number of calories you burn to show you what you are currently doing to sustain your current weight.
- Evaluate potential changes. On your own or with a doctor or nutritionist, you can examine what can change; e.g., trading a handful of potato chips for a couple of carrot sticks to decrease calories. At the same time, on your own or with a personal trainer, you can examine your activities and determine what you can add to increase your calories burned. Making minor changes and plotting out exactly what you expect to do as an activity each week is much more likely to make the process doable and successful. Making small changes over a period of time helps you build new habits.
- Develop your plan. Outline what foods you will start incorporating into your diet. Schedule your activities. Set yourself up to succeed by making sure your activities are added to your calendar so you can be aware of how they fit with your work schedule and family time.
- Get started. The time to begin is when you can see exactly what you need to do, one day at a time. Record your results and recognize when your choices work and don’t work.
Instead of delaying your weight loss because it seems overwhelming or setting an unrealistic goal of achieving a 50-pound weight loss in three weeks, get started with a plan that allows you to sustain small changes that you develop into habits. Instead of eating only alfalfa sprouts and water and working out every day for four hours to lose 50 pounds in three weeks, you will have designed an actionable plan with a more realistic timeline that will allow you to lose 50 pounds over the course of a year. The change will be gradual and much easier than committing to something extreme. Your weight is much more likely to remain where you want it.
Whether you want to change your health or your career, enlisting the help of a professional is going to make the process smoother, and you will have support when your plan seems too hard to carry out. In order to make a career change, the same process has to be followed: record and examine your status, evaluate potential changes, develop a plan for making a desired change and get started. Looking at job postings expecting to find the perfect job to save you from your current plight is no different than expecting to find a magic pill to lose 50 pounds.
Everyone has dreams. Have you wished for an increase in pay or a better workplace? Dreamed of travelling to foreign lands? Aching to buy a house or build a treehouse? Without thoughtful consideration about what it will take, it’s unlikely that your dreams will come true, short of stumbling across a genie in a magic bottle … a pretty unlikely scenario.
It’s probably safe to say that people who establish goals and action plans for achieving their dreams are far more likely to realize them than those who don’t. So why then do so many people believe that all they really need is a lucky break? With some effort and longer-term planning, there is more within your own power to help you get where you want to go than you may think. SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and trackable) goals can provide the structure you need to move forward.
Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?”
Give your dream an examination. Ask yourself: “what’s stopping me?” Consider every detail of what it would take from inception through to realization. Using a treehouse as an example, think of exactly what it would take from start to finish.
Be specific about each and every aspect. If you haven’t picked the tree, then include what the tree needs to look like and where it needs to be located. Imagine what it will look like as you climb in it and what you will do in it. Find photos that will help you visualize exactly what you want to see. Getting clarity about what you want before you take action is critical.
List every single detail that is required, such as researching ideas, locating materials, drawing construction plans and the actual construction itself. When you have included every single step in your list, it’s time to create a schedule for completing each phase. Then pull out the calendar and put your money where your mouth is. Commit to the days and times you will complete each and every task. Unless you are clear about when and how each task will get done, you are only dreaming that things will happen as you hope they will.
You may be wondering how building a treehouse relates to capturing a better job or starting a business. It’s pretty simple. Although the outcome may be different, the process is the same. From your first thought or idea to your end result, each step can be listed and planned out, with benchmarks set for completing each.
Your desired outcomes are more likely to be achieved if you establish goals and set timelines for achieving them. Identifying the kind of work or work environments that make you happy, determining what is financially possible and developing a strategy for obtaining what you want are all key components in changing career paths.
If you need help visualizing a specific outcome, seeing the broader picture beyond your current circumstances or understanding the market, then it may be time for you to call in a professional to help you. Just as an architect or designer can help with your dream house, a career coach can help you visualize a new role and develop a career plan. If you have previously made random runs at new positions and not gotten the results you want, it should be getting clearer. Throwing spaghetti at the wall rarely works.
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.
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.
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.
It happens all the time. A candidate has 8–10 years of experience doing something and wants to change into an entirely new role and new field. The requirements to compete for a senior-level role in the new arena are extremely high and impossible to match when there is no specific evidence of performance in the same function. Although the circumstances may seem the same, being capable and being competitive are two entirely different issues. Imagine a pole vault: you wouldn’t walk up to it and expect to be able to leap over it. You would come from behind with a running start and make a leap. Sometimes it is simply necessary to step back to jump over.
Being told you are overqualified may boost your ego, but it does not pay the bills.
One of the pitfalls of stepping back is being perceived as overqualified. If you are thinking about changing directions, then avoid falling into the “overqualified” trap by working on being the “best qualified.” Set yourself up with a strategy that will let you get your foot in the door in a position that provides the opportunity to show them what you can do. Start with a resume that exactly matches the employer’s needs so that it is much more likely to fall into the “yes” pile. Overshooting a role with a highfalutin resume may miss the mark entirely. It often indicates you won’t want to do the job they need to have done.
When your resume with the “exact” fit works and you get their call, stay true to the plan. If they contact you, then they thought you were viable or they wouldn’t have wasted their time. Make sure you address their needs and avoid sabotaging yourself with stories that show much broader scope or higher responsibility. You may have many stories about accomplishments that could be impressive but may be irrelevant. Be careful not to assume that “more is better.” Over talking a role will lead people to believe that you will get “bored.”
Another issue with an entry-level role is that it may have significant administrative functions that you are not familiar with. If these functions are critical to the work needed, then you must be able to perform. To be offered the opportunity to get your foot in the door, you must be able to demonstrate competence. Don’t get trapped in a conversation that leads you into how much you know about everything else in general, when you are not actually capable of doing what is needed. If you are technically challenged, this needs to be addressed long before you show up for an interview. If a role requires adaptability and proficiency with technology, you can’t expect an employer to train you or provide an assistant to do the work.
If you get through the initial screening interview, congratulations! But you are not yet in the clear. As you head into an in-person interview, don’t lose sight of your strategy. The person conducting the screening may have made assumptions. They may have been so excited about what you talked about that they may have missed the “details” about the actual functions of the job. (Interestingly enough, this happens from the other end of the spectrum, too. Under qualified candidates may get through a screening interview, yet, when faced with the tough questions from a hiring manager, are exposed for what they really don’t know. I’ll address that another time.) Make sure you are very clear about what the job entails, be able to show examples of work that indicate you can do it and that you are excited about getting started!
Once you are facing a hiring manager, you may be put through the wringer about whether you are certain you know what you are getting into. They may even test you by saying “I think you are overqualified.” Or “I think you will get bored.” That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t hire you. It also doesn’t mean you have to agree with how bored you would be. It’s a test to see if you are willing to do what they need. If they lead with the “overqualified” statement, then smile and act pleased. Respond with “I’m so glad you think so! I think I am best qualified!” Then tell them why you can do what they need and how your experience can help you be faster in catching on, followed by how excited you are about working with them as you grow in this new direction. If you get all the way through this phase and are rejected with “we really think you will get bored,” then you were probably not personally sold on doing the job before you went in to speak with them.
This strategy can work for people who are simply scaling back or have been laid off and need to begin again in a lesser role. Once you become clear about your strategy and leave your ego at the door, it is possible to step back, to move forward. Although the market is decidedly better than it was a few years ago, there are still people trying to get back on their feet. Desperation is unattractive. Getting really clear internally about why you need a particular role and then expressing to an employer why you will be of value to the company can make the difference between being offered the opportunity or not. You cannot turn down something that has not been offered. Being overqualified may feel good for a minute, but being unemployed and stuck without a paycheck can get old really fast.
Titles don’t necessarily reflect the same level of responsibility, nor do they mean the same thing across industries. The context of the positions you have held does/should make a difference to someone who is determining if you are a fit or not. More experience in one area doesn’t necessarily make up for a shortcoming in another. The following considerations need to be taken into account when filling a role, from the candidate’s perspective pursuing it as well as the employer’s perspective in setting realistic expectations for the new employee.
Large vs. small. Size does matter. In a large organization, a candidate’s level of responsibility is often greater than someone with the same or even higher-level title in a smaller organization. The evidence can be recognized by the number of reports they had and the size of budget they managed. As an example, a “manager” of a department of 50 could easily have more advanced skills/deeper experience than a “director” with only two reports and a smaller budget.
Multiple hats vs. specialized. The context of a candidate’s role in regard to the breadth of the responsibilities covered and how many people are impacted can also make a difference. In a small organization, a person could easily cover many areas that in a larger organization are covered by separate people or departments. As an example, in human resources, a “manager” in a small company may handle general issues related to benefits and compensation, some recruiting and some training, but the functions of managing benefits programs, payroll, recruiting or training materials development may be functions that are actually outsourced. In a large company, a manager of human resources may have separate staff for recruiting, benefits and payroll, and training could be handled by an entirely separate department.
Broad vs. deep. As I previously described, the actual functional areas a person covers can vary dramatically in many sectors. In accounting and finance, the role of “finance manager” can mean very different things. A small company may have a “controller” who handles everything from A/R, A/P and journal entries to payroll and taxes. In a large company, a “finance manager” could be someone who analyzes a very specific area of business to determine how to reduce costs or streamline operations. The skills of a “controller” in a small company, does not necessarily trump the skills or expertise of a “finance manager” in a larger company.
Senior vs. junior (years or skill level?). It’s interesting to see how the word “senior” added to a title reflects different years/levels of experience in different industries. There are some marketing roles that include “senior” and indicate the role requires 3 to 4 years of experience, where in many other sectors, 3 to 4 years of experience would be considered junior. Senior-level project managers can reflect anywhere from 5 to 15 years of experience, depending on their subject matter or project deliverables. In science, using “senior” may reflect 20+ years of experience for someone with an undergraduate degree, yet someone with a PhD and 8 years of experience may qualify for a “director-” level role (higher than senior scientist) that the “senior” with 20 years of experience will not be competitive for.
The examples I have described were intended to serve as a means of comparison and not absolutes. The point is to illustrate why titles do not necessarily reflect value to any given audience or employer. It is critical for candidates and employers to ask sound questions of each other. From the candidate’s perspective, being successful in a new role can pivot on whether you fully comprehend what is really expected of you. Asking enough questions in advance to learn what the employer’s expectations are will help set you up for success. From the employer’s perspective, it is critical to ask questions that require a candidate to articulate experiences that truly illustrate they can produce what you need. Understanding the context of what you’re getting or what is needed is critical to the success of the relationship.
There are still many people under the impression that because the economy is picking up, it is easy to get a job. The qualifier, of course, is whether any job will do. If you are expecting to get your dream job, then it may be time to face some harsh realities about how that is most likely to happen.
The first step in capturing your dream job is becoming clear about what that means. If you have not already articulated your short-, mid- and long-term goals, then do yourself a favor. Back up and start again. Keep your eyes on the prize (your long-term goal) and develop a sound plan for reaching it. The effort will help keep you from going off into a ditch along the way.
Once you have a target, the rest of the process can be addressed logically or scientifically. Creating a plan for reaching your goal is critical to ensuring you learn what you need to know to make the right decisions. Haphazard, scattered or random efforts typically miss the mark. They can cause you to waste a lot of time, and you could end up feeling more disappointed than productive. It’s important to research carefully and check out all of your assumptions. All of this takes time and will require planning.
Enlisting the following steps will help you make the most of your time, ensure you focus your efforts and keep you on track.
Develop a process. Get out of the “lotto” mentality. Avoid random, casual attacks. They can be draining and unproductive. Create a system for approaching your job search or transition the same way you might manage a work project.
Set objectives and timelines. Be clear about what you need to accomplish and exactly when you will do it. A “to-do” list is more likely to get done when it is inserted into your calendar and you are committed to doing the tasks on it.
Use a system for staying organized. Piles of paper or an inbox full of email won’t help you get clear about next steps. Develop a system you will follow consistently to save and store information related to your search.
Get real about your competitive position. Stop fooling yourself. Don’t let your ego get the better of you. If you are one of several hundred people applying for a role, be clear about any key skills that are absolute deal breakers. Anything preventing you from hitting the ground running when you start a new role needs to be carefully examined. It’s understandable that you would need to learn the ropes, but if you need to be trained on a foundational skill to execute the job, think again about sending in an application and competing with people who have already mastered the necessary components. The clearer you are about what you are able to do and how your skills and experience are perceived, the less time you will spend beating your head against a brick wall.
Apply yourself. Commit to what it takes. If you are unemployed, work at least eight hours a day and be willing to work evenings and weekends if that is what it takes to follow up on an opportunity. You will get results directly related to the effort you invest. If you are already working full time, schedule time each day to work on your plan for moving forward.
Develop thick skin. Rejection is just part of the process. Be prepared to be turned down. Be willing to examine your approach and make a plan for figuring out how you can improve.
Get help. Finding work in today’s market should not be an assumed skill. There is very little taught in school about how you can prepare for all the changes the market will go through or how to plan for them. This is a minute-by-minute game, and those of us who are in it every day are better able to help you navigate the uncertainty of it all.
Like a railroad track, the route to your dream job can be full of curves, uphill climbs, downhill plunges and unforeseeable obstacles. But learning and following time-tested ways to engineer your course will enormously increase your odds of reaching your destination.
People who have been working continuously through this most recent recession have been impacted by it in some way, even if it is not obvious. Many of us have experienced earlier recessions (although they weren’t always officially called that) and learned firsthand how to make ends meet during tough times. If not directly, some of you may have parents or grandparents who have described how they weathered tough times in their lives. Through personal experience or through someone else’s, we can see there is no magic pill. There are skills that can be learned to survive adversity or financial downturn. Using planning, perseverance, willpower and grit, we have found a way to succeed.
The economy is improving and the employment market is following, as is customary following a recession. Having an optimistic attitude about the future is helpful and must go hand in hand with an understanding that the employment market will recover far more slowly as businesses get their bearings. As you are considering making a change in your work or workplace, consider what you actually have control over, and put your mind to accomplishing it.
A handful of small projects can build a portfolio of successes that set you up for bigger and better projects.
To begin with, taking stock of what your real position is will help you get grounded. For example, if your expenses exceed your income, then there is a practical reason to consider the consequences of your actions. Consciously deciding NOT to spend money on anything unnecessary allows you to have more options than when you are tied to overhead you can’t afford. Going forward, creating an action plan with accountability features built in will keep you focused on what you are actually doing and what you could be doing. No mention of a magic pill in this recipe.
As you establish goals and set your sights on an improved circumstance, it is important to remember that nothing is perfect. Even the best laid plans can be set askew when changes in the economy occur or when you face stiff competition. The point to be made is that once you develop a plan and make yourself accountable for completing it, you must still be aware of when it is necessary to change course.
The improved economy makes things brighter but doesn’t provide a sure shot at anything. Many of the people who remained employed (perhaps underemployed) over the past five years are now in a position to move forward. Those entering the market expecting to make a leap into their “dream jobs” may be unpleasantly surprised by how steep the competition is. That’s not a reason to give up but more of a reason to persevere. It’s time to get in the game and position yourself. This may require deeper planning and some grit to work your way into the position you desire.
Looking forward, map out a path that is most likely to lead to success. Start with small steps. Set objectives that are connected to your long-term goals; e.g, identify roles that you are most competitive for now that are attached to your long-term goals. Or, if you are a consultant/business owner, identify business targets that may be small but easily attainable. A handful of small projects can build a portfolio of successes that set you up for bigger and better projects.
Whatever your challenges, build a track record of smaller successes that will give you confidence when facing the really tough challenges. Getting your arms wrapped around manageable challenges helps you establish habits that will support you in any endeavor. And weathering a small mistake can be a learning experience that doesn’t crush you. It can teach you what to do next time and provide you with ammunition for persevering. Practice behaviors that move you forward. Develop the willpower to avoid the old, negative habits that used to drag you down.
Willpower is a skill that can be learned. Grit and perseverance can also be learned. You can do it!