It’s never been a practice of mine to blow smoke up someone’s rear so they can feel better about being unemployed. My approach is a pretty pragmatic one. If you’re not working, aren’t financially independent and have full responsibility for taking care of yourself, then you need to make some money and/or get a job. For most people, their level of urgency is inherently driven by their financial circumstances. If you don’t have a source of income and need one, then waiting for a perfect job doesn’t really make sense. Your circumstances require urgent attention. Another reason to make a case for urgency is that, typically, the longer someone stays unemployed, the longer it takes to get reemployed. Like perishable goods, your value diminishes with time.
The goal here is easy enough to figure out, but a strategy is required, and your plan for reaching your goal needs to be carried out. Wishing for a job, hoping you will get one or only talking about what you want, doesn’t make it happen. Developing a strategy for getting where you want to be will lead to the development of your plan. Although the exact details may not yet be clear, you can start by moving random thoughts from your head into something tangible. First assess your finances and know what you need to earn and when. (Not what you want, mind you, what you need.) Then assess your interests, skills and marketability. If you don’t know how marketable your skills are, you can research this on your own or get help from a career coach or mentor. Next, outline some options and research the validity of each. This research needs to be planned with your end goal in mind. Break your plan into actionable items that can be accomplished each day and enter these tasks into your calendar. Then take action immediately!
Wishing for a job, hoping you will get one or only talking about what you want, doesn’t make it happen.
While you are conducting your research, other options outside of what you have considered may surface. You could receive suggestions about possible roles that have not yet been on your radar. Having a strategy and a plan can show you what generally makes sense. Although urgency is good, recklessness and desperation are not. Taking absolutely anything when it is not connected to where you want to go can lead you away from your long-term goals. If not connected in some way to your long-term goals, the wrong role can cause intense dissatisfaction that ultimately leads to more unemployment. There really needs to be a connection between your need for income, what you do about it and how it relates to your longer-term goals. If something very relevant, doable and immediate presents itself, you need to act right away. For someone who is serious about changing their circumstances, it means making hay while the sun shines (how corny is that?) and jumping on every strong lead as if it is the only one. Why? Because you can’t turn down work or a job that hasn’t been offered! Taking your time to respond may lead to a missed opportunity.
Focusing on how a role could in some way lead to perfect is far more productive than being stuck on the fact that it is not perfect. You may not be ready or marketable for your idea of a “perfect job.” Waiting around until one turns up is wasting time. It’s much easier to move yourself in the right direction once you are off the bench and in the game. (I don’t think I’ve seen any sports teams pull people from the stands and onto the field when it was time to press forward.) That means you need to be up, prepared and on top of each lead before the next 500 people respond. It means you need to turn over every rock and give every possibility your best shot. It is only after you get an offer that you have a choice about what happens next. Once that is accomplished, you can move forward with the rest of your plan.
If you think responding with “urgency” is a few days or weeks after you learn of something, think again. It’s always been a curious thing to me that unemployed people may sleep until noon and take Mondays, Fridays and weekends off when they are down to their last dime. It’s even more curious when they have broadcast their desire for a job to anyone who will listen but end up taking days to respond to an email from someone who has offered helpful information. If this sounds like anything you could be guilty of, please rethink what you need and what you expect. Your demonstration of urgency is far more likely to gain the help of others, and your excitement to respond to an employer’s need may put you ahead of the pack. Waiting until you are done with your long weekend or vacation, or procrastinating while you “think about it,” could make your response no longer relevant.
Finally, if you are simply stuck, get help. Don’t languish in your own confusion. The clock is ticking.
It’s not uncommon for job seekers and salespeople to be waiting for the “perfect” opportunity before they take any action. The problem with waiting for “perfect” is that it may never come. In the meantime, opportunities that might not be as big or “perfect” but in their own right could lead to something pretty darn close are often passed by. Imagine the surfer who sits on their board all day long and never rides a wave. They might be on the lookout for the “perfect” wave, but if they haven’t practiced with some not-so-great waves in advance, they probably risk wiping out the minute a great wave turns up. Or they may be fixed on an image of what the perfect wave should look like and not realize it was coming until it had already passed. I’m not a surfer, and you may not be either, but I think you can imagine my point.
I’ve overheard conversations about work scenarios that quite clearly (to me) were rife with opportunity. For instance, in one case, someone was describing a technology migration in their department that wasn’t going well and didn’t seem to have a solution. The listener was also a technology professional with deep experience in system migrations but was not currently working. At the end of the description of the problem, the listener didn’t ask pertinent questions, such as, “what have you tried?” or “how do you expect to solve that?” Instead, they wrapped the conversation with “if you hear of any job openings, please let me know.”
sometimes people/companies can be faced with a problem they haven’t yet started to solve
If you are thinking “what’s wrong with that?” then I’ll spell it out for you. Very simply, sometimes people/companies can be faced with a problem they haven’t yet started to solve. Everyone might be talking about it, but it may take a while for everyone to agree on exactly what the problem is or what they want to do about it. You may have heard people complain about your office’s coffee service. It may have been going on for months, but no one has considered taking action. A savvy salesperson would hear that clue and ask questions to determine if their company offered the right products/equipment/service plan to solve the problems that were described. At that point, rather than say “let me know if your company decides to look at a new service,” they might say “I’ve heard of that happening. Our company provides x, y, z and we could help with that. Who can you introduce me to who would be in a position to discuss a potential solution to the problems you’ve described?”
So, when someone is describing a problem that you can help fix, it’s a fabulous opportunity to help lead them to a solution. The process for getting to the point where an agreement is made about how the service can be provided and what it may cost may take a while, but being part of that process keeps you in the loop. Taking action early when you hear the first clues can help secure your role in the solution. Waiting until someone decides a position must be created, funded, approved and posted to speak up can leave you as only one of hundreds who apply and are considered many months later.
Another misconception is that you have to wait until a position is posted and then your only contact can be a recruiter or HR. Typically, they will not know nearly as much about a role as someone already working in the department who may have told you something was in the works. If you can get more information from your contact in the early stages of a solution/position development process and an introduction to the decision maker, imagine how much further ahead of the game you will be than if you wait until the position is posted or the request for a proposal hits the streets. That doesn’t mean you can circumvent companies’ hiring or purchasing processes when they are established. Showing interest early can simply help you learn and leverage the inside scoop to ensure you are strongly considered and that you are able to respond to their processes in the most favorable way.
When you hear about opportunities that are undefined or sound like they are less than you want, it’s only a sign that more information is needed. If you assume there will be a better opportunity later or that the grass is greener elsewhere, make sure to test your assumptions. Waiting for the unicorn when a horse and saddle are right in front of you may leave you standing on the side of the road much longer than your bank account is able to bear.
There will never be more than 24 hours in a day. No matter how much we hope, wish or pray, it just can’t happen. The issue with casually brushing something off to do “later,” at an undetermined “better time,” is that it often becomes assurance it won’t get done at all.
For many people, procrastination seems like it is done unconsciously, but it really is a conscious decision or choice not to do something. When you make the decision to wait until later, you may have very good intentions. But unless you know when “later” is, the circumstances around whatever it is you are putting off can change. Delays can make an action more complicated or no longer relevant. Delays can cost you money and help you lose your credibility. If you are planning to follow up on a lead of any kind, waiting until later could turn into a missed opportunity.
For the most part, a delay is usually caused by a situation that could have been addressed differently or sooner.
Procrastination is a pet peeve of mine. It’s because too many times I witness people create considerable stress around a situation that just didn’t have to play out that way. I also witness people miss opportunities to get their foot in the door, have a conversation with the person they were hoping to meet or miss a deadline for applying for a once in a life time role. These delays rarely happen because something else of huge importance stood in the way or a crisis caused them. It’s more frequently because people simply choose to put things off. I’ve heard some really creative excuses, but for the most part, a delay is usually caused by a situation that could have been addressed differently or sooner. Many times the delay in doing something else suddenly becomes an issue and causes a delay in accomplishing what was really important. And so it goes …
As an example, it’s the middle of April as I write this, and I am stunned by how many people waited until this week to do their taxes. The need to do their taxes took time away from their marketing efforts, job search efforts and their ability to concentrate on preparing for upcoming interviews or conversations with key decision makers. (Is this really the first time you’ve ever had to file taxes? Is it a surprise that April 15 comes every year?)
Overall, this kind of procrastination sets someone up for a zero percent chance of winning and ultimately contributes to low self-esteem. It isn’t pleasant to hear someone complain about their unemployment or lack of customers at the same time we see opportunity slipping by because the complainer hasn’t followed up on leads we’ve given them. Letting the ball drop and complaining about the outcome is just not a good look.
The good news for anyone who has a habit of putting things off is that you can change your habit! If whatever you have been doing isn’t working, then try some very simple changes:
Use a calendar. Stop adding things indiscriminately to a “to-do” list that never gets done. Make a commitment for doing something and plug it into your calendar when you are really likely to be able to do it. Then do it!
Get realistic. Keep track of how long regular events, tasks, actions take so you are able to plan for the right amount of time to get them done in the future. Pay attention. How many times must you take the same route and arrive late to figure out that you needed to leave earlier?
Plan further ahead. There is some consistency with most people being aware of their next vacation time and being fully committed to being gone. Yet it’s funny that, when asking about a business or other less “fun” kind of commitment, the response is “I’m not sure what my schedule will be like.” If you can plan your vacation a year ahead, you can surely use the same process to plan for important meetings or completing delinquent projects.
Break big projects into smaller pieces. When you are faced with big projects (like taxes), plan ahead to begin working on them a little at a time. Don’t wait until the “right” time to finish something that requires 4-6 hours. It won’t happen. Planning 30 minutes to an hour, several times over a course of months, is much easier to manage.
Stop whining. We all have 24 hours. That’s it. Can’t have more. Whining only takes up more time. Start looking at solutions for the things that are preventing you from doing all that you want.
There are professionals who match people to jobs or business opportunities and others who connect people with similar interests. Professional associations or academic institutions may match mentors with mentees. All around us are opportunities to link people with people, or people to information. The success of these referrals is typically predicated on how much the referring party knows about each of the others.
Everyone wants to benefit from a referral in some way. Whether it is to gain new information, meet a key influencer, identify a useful service or secure new business, there is always something to be gained through an exchange of information. The risk involved to the referring party is whether the referred person represents them well or leaves a trail of evidence that questions the association.
Referrals can go south pretty quickly when the referred party fails to follow up or isn’t prepared for the requested outcome. The following are tips to help you become the person people are happy to refer.
Be reliable. If you are asking for something from someone, make sure you have demonstrated that you can be counted on to follow through if they deliver. Show up on time for meetings and deliver what you promise, on time. Trust is built slowly with many people, and seeing is believing.
Show an interest in others. Ask questions to learn more about people’s interests. Be an active listener. Make an effort to stay in contact with others. Send reminders and plan time to communicate with people you may not interact with regularly.
Be helpful. Find reasons why you CAN do something and fewer reasons why you can’t. Go the extra mile to arrange a carpool for a group of people, drive someone to their door or make a phone call on someone’s behalf. If you are requesting a referral to someone, make sure you are ready to return the favor in some way.
Be responsive. Follow up quickly when others reach out to you. Make sure you are available to respond quickly when you have reached out to others. Manage your communication devices and use them to stay on top of things. Don’t let your email pile up and then use your full inbox as the reason you haven’t responded to someone sooner.
Prepare. If you are making a request for a referral, research the person you are asking to be referred to or the company you would like to learn more about. Plan questions for people that indicate you have done your homework. If you offer a service, prepare in advance and anticipate new business.
Walk the talk. Soft skills are hard to measure. If you are claiming to be a great communicator, project manager or meeting facilitator, make sure you are visibly illustrating those strengths. Volunteer or take the lead at events that will allow you to show people what you can do and how you do it.
If you are wondering why your phone isn’t ringing with opportunities on the other line, take a look at how much effort you are putting into helping others get what they need. If you can do more for others, it is very likely you will be positioning yourself for others to be comfortable doing something for you. Are you modeling behavior that allows people to confidently refer you?
The news is filled with pleas to the public to be better “prepared” following a terrible event. Disaster. Emergency. Storm. Flood. Earthquake. Recession. Unfortunately, these events occur pretty frequently, so it is reasonable to believe that being prepared means setting ourselves up for the worst to happen. That might seem obvious, but on the flip side, how prepared are you for the best to happen? If the opportunity you have been dreaming about and waiting for were to suddenly materialize, are you prepared to grab that brass ring? What are you doing right now to be ready when opportunity knocks?
Recognizing you want something to be different is the first step. Getting ready to seize an opportunity requires having an awareness of what has to change to allow something different to happen. To ensure your “dreams come true,” it is necessary to connect the dots between your desired goal and the things you can do to get there. Sometimes the gap between where you are and where you want to be might seem insurmountable and that only a miracle can change things. But just as people are able to overcome the odds against surviving a catastrophic event, you can shorten the distance between where you are and where you want to be by changing the things that are in your control. That means changing your own behaviors and habits so that you are ready to respond when opportunity strikes.
One of the single most glaring reasons I see people stay unemployed or remain in less than their desired role is that they “assume” they have time to get around to things or that some sort of miracle is going to take place. I hear a lot of grousing or wishing for a change while observing behavior that contradicts what people say they want. Some people:
Don’t acknowledge info while they are “thinking” of what to say
Assume people will do what they say
Don’t follow up when information has been promised but not received
Aren’t prepared for introductions or interviews
Believe “it won’t happen to me” (layoff, termination, plant move)
Don’t believe “it will happen to me” (opportunity)
If you have previously missed opportunity, then it may be time to enlist some new behaviors. There are some very basic habits anyone can develop to help overcome complacency.
Manage communications. If you have sent a message to the universe, you’ve got to find ways to access your communications to acknowledge the response you receive in a timely way. It may mean checking email in the morning, lunchtime and evening or investing in a smartphone if matters are more urgent. It may mean visiting Starbucks to find a hot spot or going to the library. In today’s market, it’s critical to use technology to stay in touch, or make sure someone else can respond on your behalf if you are out of reach for 12+ hours and awaiting important news.
Respond within 24 hours. Even if you need time to think about the information you have received, it is critical to acknowledge your receipt. Show courtesy by thanking the sender and letting them know when they can hear back from you. Not responding until you have the “best” answer can appear unappreciative or downright rude to someone who has responded to what may have seemed an urgent request.
Manage your expectations and guide other people’s intentions. Most people are sincere when they offer to help. Unfortunately, even the best intentions get forgotten when someone’s focus is elsewhere. When someone offers to do something for you, follow up immediately with a confirmation of what and when. Make sure to provide them with any information they need to facilitate the offer to take action on your behalf. This could include a written introduction, a list of bullet points regarding the information you need or dates of important/relevant events.
Own the communication process. If someone has offered to send you information or make an introduction, set touch-back times to check in and gently remind them of the request. Don’t expect others to manage your needs. People get busy and things slip through the cracks. It is up to you to guide the conversations to ensure your needs are met.
Be careful what you ask for. Expect people to respond to your requests and be ready to follow up.
If you have been communicating a specific request to your network or the universe in general, you must believe it will happen. Keep your resume updated and make sure you are prepared for an interview or introduction to a key contact at any time.
Nurture your network. Make sure you are connecting with people on a regular basis. Ask questions about their circumstances or their interests. Find out what they are working on, worried about or challenged by. If you are able to assist them, by all means do so. If you can’t help, then prepare yourself in case you, too, may find yourself with similar issues.
Stay awake and aware. Pay attention to what is going on with your company. Take note of any indicators of a potential status change. If an important account is on the line, it could change the company’s financial picture. If there have been talks of a merger, be aware of what your value would be if roles are duplicated or the company were to close your location. If there is a drastic change in the market, be aware of how it impacts your business.
Take control of what you can, while you can. Following these suggestions will help you be prepared to make the most of that golden opportunity when it knocks at your door. It isn’t a mystery that opportunities always seem to come more readily to those who are prepared for them.