If you have cultivated the belief that only the “lucky” people get the best jobs, please consider how much power you have given up and the amount of time you have wasted by believing that getting a good job is out of your control. I’m not disputing the fact that it may be more of a case of who you know than what you know, but believing that all you need is that “big break” is missing the mark. Even the best opportunities can result in a big goose egg if the people pursuing them take their relationships for granted or assume that an introduction is all that is needed.
Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not substitute for your being able to articulate your value…
There is considerable work to be done, even when you do know the right people. It is still critical to make sure you show up as the most qualified, likely to fit with the team, excited and invested candidate an organization considers, regardless of how you get there. Your connections may facilitate your leapfrogging over other candidates, but all of their praise will not compensate for your being unable to articulate your value or live up to the hype that came before your meeting with the hiring team.
It is striking to me how many people still believe that all they need is “to get an interview,” with little thought of their need for preparation. The mindset that all a person needs is a fancy resume to get in front of someone and the rest of the interview process will be a wrap, sadly, still exists. To my frustration, I regularly receive after-hours emails with this request: “I have an interview tomorrow morning. Can you send me some tips?” This out-of-touch belief that getting in front of a hiring manager and ad-libbing your way through the interview process will work is as outdated as dial phones and decidedly less effective.
Maybe this analogy would help: You have always dreamed of travelling by car across country to visit historical sites. It’s the first of July and you’ve suddenly been granted three weeks of paid time off beginning the following week. Would you wait until after you start your 6,000-mile road trip to check your tires and oil, water and antifreeze levels? Would you leave without a map or a plan of what you want to see?
This may sound foolish, but not more so than accepting a referral to the hiring manager for your targeted position at your organization of choice without having prepared for the impending conversation. Regardless of how many praises were sung on your behalf, you will still be required to relate your knowledge of the organization and its mission, illustrate your value using examples of your relatable experience and explain why you left your last job or why you are changing industries/roles/directions, if that is the case. Conversations about all of these points require thoughtful preparation and are unlikely to be handled successfully if you’ve waited until the night before to think about them.
It could be your dream job, which you exactly match, leveraged by a referral from your best friend who is the brother/sister/cousin of the hiring manager — and all of this could become moot in minutes if you show up ill prepared. In addition to blowing the opportunity, you run the risk of harming the reputation of the person who referred you and burning a bridge with someone who may be very important to you. If you are wondering who would do that, I’m here to tell you that I see it every week and can only shake my head in disbelief. To avoid experiencing a less than favorable outcome, make sure you do the most you can to research, prepare and practice in advance of asking for a referral of any kind. Make sure you are ready to shine and are representing your contact well. Showing up as the “perfect fit” for the opportunity in question is a win-win for everyone.
We probably all begin a new year with good intentions. Many people make resolutions to lose weight, improve their eating habits or get a new job, to name a few. If these sound like familiar promises you’ve made and ultimately fell short on, then it’s probably a good idea to evaluate what happened. Now is a good time to review your past year and figure out where things went sideways.
First, look back and take stock of what you did accomplish that you are proud of and happy about. What contributed to your success? Can you replicate your approach? How much of what went right can be applied to what didn’t?
On the flip side, did you fall short of accomplishing what you had hoped to accomplish? Were there events that impacted your performance or your well-being? How well did you handle them? What could you do differently if faced with similar challenges?
Start this next year with more than your good intentions.
You might be wistfully remembering how well you did in January and February, but by March, you were already starting to slip. Even with the best intentions, the resolutions you made in December were probably in your head and not recorded in your calendar. In other words, without an action plan and commitments for completing specific tasks by specific dates, you were pretty much doomed from the get-go. Now is the time to take the bull by the horns and pull a plan together to start this next year with more than your good intentions.
If there is something that has continued to show up on your “to do” list, then stop talking about it and get out your calendar. Make a commitment for getting it done, come hell or high water. Even if life events sway you, there’s a very simple strategy for not losing track of what you want to get done. Having clearly defined goals, and planned dates for accomplishing specific tasks and objectives, you will be forced to reconsider taking off for happy hour or adding some other inconsequential task into an already full day. If something happens that requires your immediate attention and you fail to complete the scheduled task, then you can simply reschedule it instead of leaving it on a revolving “to do” list or forgetting about it altogether. What we’re really talking about is accountability.
Going forward, plan around already-known events and block time in your calendar. Anything you plan can be changed to a new time if there is a true emergency that arises. Unplanned actions remain happenstance and are far less likely to get accomplished. Also include time to evaluate your progress each week. If you have trouble staying on track, find an accountability buddy who will hold your feet to the fire. Do what it takes to own your actions and remain accountable for your results (or lack thereof). Track your accomplishments and challenges to help you improve your productivity as you move forward. Most importantly, make this process a habit that you don’t deviate from. Make the new year your best year so far.
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.
Many people dread their annual performance reviews. The anxiety created by worrying about what will happen is an unnecessary distraction brought on by procrastination. If you have been working for more than a few years, you’ve probably had a few performance evaluations. Why wait to see what happens?
The following strategy can help you take the bite out of any unexpected news evolving out of a performance conversation or add a welcomed lift by highlighting accomplishments that may have been overlooked.
Establish clear goals before the beginning of each New Year or fiscal year. Know what you want to accomplish early on, so you can make the time to accomplish your personal and professional goals. If you aren’t sure what you want or where you are going, then you set yourself up for failure. It’s too easy to be buried by unfinished work requests and unable to reach your personal goals because you have no time left. Get focused and plan ahead.
Don’t wait until the day or week before your performance review to prepare.
Prepare early. Don’t wait until the day or week before your performance review to prepare. Be aware of your goals from the beginning of the review period. Know what is expected of you and stay aware of where you stand. Don’t know what is expected of you? Then ask!
Keep a journal or a log. Record what’s on your mind each day. Document your wins. Stay aware of your challenges. Be specific. Make sure this is not information stored on a company computer. It needs to stay within your possession. You just never know when a layoff occurs and you find yourself being escorted out.
Update your resume and Linked In profile. Don’t rely on your supervisor to record your successes. It’s considerably easier to document accomplishments as they happen then wait until you’ve been riffed, terminated or considered for a promotion. It’s much easier to have the data ready then try to think about what should be on your resume when you start job hunting. Take the time to track your accomplishments as you go. Updating your Linked In profile as things happen will make it a far less suspicious act than saving it and updating it only because you are ready to find a new job.
Be aware of your shortcomings. Know what behaviors/skills are is not up to snuff and be prepared to discuss your plan for addressing them. The fallout from mistakes can be considerably reduced if you take a proactive approach. Waiting until you’ve been caught to explain a mistake may take more time to fix it and could fuel a more adverse reaction from your supervisor than is warranted.
Confirm the date of the review as early as possible. There’s no need to wait until your supervisor brings it up. If you know annual reviews are required by the end of the year, bring up scheduling closer to Thanksgiving. Look ahead for reasonable times in December to accomplish your review so it isn’t a rushed affair. If your review is March every year, then start talking about it towards the end of January. It continues to amaze me when my clients tell me their supervisor scheduled their performance evaluation with less than a week’s notice, when it is has been an ongoing annual event for a number of years.
Be prepared to negotiate. If compensation is considered in conjunction with your performance review, make sure you are making a reasonable request. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. If the company is having challenges, then it might be easier to ask and receive extra time off in lieu of higher compensation. Stay focused on what the company needs so you can base your requests on things that are MOST likely to be agreed to.
The key is to assume ownership of this sometimes very painful event. Work it to your advantage. With clearly defined goals of your own, and front end planning, you will be much more able to accomplish the goals your supervisor sets for you. You can look forward to ending the performance period on a high note by taking the bull by the horns early on.
If you’ve been unclear about what effective networking looks like, it might be time to assess your expectations and your approach. Random networking produces random results. Imagine what networking with the right people in the right way can do for you. Figuring out what “right” means requires thought and preparation. Approaching networking with a strategy for getting what you need and allowing yourself time for preparation will ensure you get better results from your efforts. Having a strategy behind your actions will also help you stay focused when opportunities seem unclear.
Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network.
Start with a goal in mind. Without a goal or focus, it’s very likely you will miss relevant, pertinent or valuable information when communicating with people in your network. Your goal will help you determine what you need to learn or gain from others. (If you think you have nothing to learn, then there’s a problem brewing before you begin.) If you only vaguely or generally know there are things you need to learn, then it’s important to take the time to get more specific and make a list of what you need.
Review your needs and compare them to your expectations. What do you need? Who is likely to be able to help? How will you meet/communicate with those people? Are you working with assumptions or are you clear about which people are realistically going to be able to help you with what you need? How soon do you need information or actions?
Prepare what you will say/ask. Many people believe that attending events with lots of people will automatically produce some sort of imagined outcome. You may think if you just attend enough events, you will miraculously run into someone who will immediately see/hear your value (through a spontaneous conversation) and offer you a job or refer droves of customers to you. That’s assuming, of course, that the people you run into are mind readers or care enough about you and not what is already foremost on their minds. Your strategy needs to take into account who you would be most likely to run into at any given event. It also needs to consider what might be of interest to them at that event. Once you have considered your audience, then you can prepare a short statement that allows you to introduce yourself (not a 5-minute dissertation) and enough questions to help steer the conversation in the right direction.
Be prepared to follow up. People often make lots of promises in the excitement or heat of the moment when meeting new people. They may be sincere about wanting to help, but their own issues may move those thoughts to the back of their minds, and all action stops. If someone has promised to provide you with information, then it is your responsibility to let them know you will follow up with them. Agree on what the action is and the date you will check back. A ‘thank you’ email that confirms what they offered and the check back date you discussed should be sent within one day. Waiting weeks for someone to come through wastes time and puts you in an awkward position. Agreeing to what has been promised and also managing the process makes it easy for the person to follow through.
Manage your time well. I don’t know anyone who likes having their time wasted. Thinking ahead and determining who to ask, what you need and when you need it is all part of strategy. Asking people for immediate help (when it is not an emergency) because you just got around to it isn’t likely to produce positive results. Plan ahead to get what you need, and allow ample time to account for miscommunications or introductions to third parties. Don’t expect others to turn themselves inside out to help you. Make it easy for them by providing enough information and time to allow them to do what they need to do. Waiting until the last minute (e.g., the day before an interview or the response to an RFP is due) is likely to lead to a lot of running around with no results. In the same vein, planning ahead to know who you want to speak with or what you want to learn while staying aware of time constraints for in-person events will help you get more out of your investment. Attending an event with no prior thought and no plan can still end up being a fun experience but perhaps not as productive as you need it to be.
Stay in touch. Being connected to people through a social or professional network is only as useful as you make it. It’s important to plan times to communicate with others and stay aware of their circumstances. Reaching out to others only when you need something is really bad form. Everyone is busy, and we all can feel like there isn’t enough time. Make the time to nurture your network and you are much more likely to get what you need when you need it.
Building a solid and useful network requires thought, time and effort. Contrary to what many people think, networking can be more than “the luck of the draw” or “happenstance.” You have plenty of ways to control how your network grows and what it can produce if you are willing to develop a strategy for accomplishing what you want.
Looking down instead of ahead can cause you to end up with your head hitting a brick wall or getting sideswiped by a car you didn’t see coming. The same devastation can happen with your career if you don’t know where you are going and don’t have a plan. If your plan is nothing more than to continue doing what you are doing and expect everything else around you to remain the same, then ever-changing business needs may leave you in a ditch.
For some people, not having goals can feel like freedom. For others, it can create considerable confusion and waste energy. It’s common to assume that once you have landed a job, all you have to do is show up every day to live happily ever after. Those days are long behind us. The promise of the gold watch and stars for attendance are as obsolete as dial telephones. One way to take control over where you end up is by being clear about what you want, making your own decisions about where you want to be, researching to find out how that can happen and being very, very clear about what you can do to make sure you get there.
Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it.
Today’s work environment is less predictable than in the past, more susceptible to quick changes and less likely to present a clear path for moving forward. Economic needs change, business/organizational needs change and all the players involved can change in minutes. Unless you have a clear vision of the things that matter most to you, it’s easy to get distracted, become disillusioned and feel dejected when your circumstances change. Take the reins back by knowing what is important and being aware of what it takes to get it. Changes may cause you to alter your path, learn new skills or even jump ship, but your goals will continue to be the beacon that guides you in the right direction, even if the context changes.
Freedom can be experienced by knowing what you want and being so aware of what is going around you that you can make changes on your own before decisions are made about what will happen to you. Recklessly bouncing around between whatever presents itself next, without a clear notion of what is important to you, can lead to decisions that derail your career or work against your values. In the short term, some opportunities may seem exciting or pay well, but after digging further and learning more about the organization, industry or path you are superficially drawn to, you may learn that things are much different beneath the surface than what you were aware of. Differences in opinions or values at the highest level of the organization can end up shifting the culture completely. Financial issues can disrupt the course of business in a flash.
Sometimes sexy jobs can end just as quickly as they were developed if there isn’t a clear path to what they need to produce to be sustainable. As an example, being paid lots of money may be attractive until you learn that budgets were mismanaged and you are now out of a job entirely because drastic cutbacks are the only way to rectify the errors. As you look at all the elements of a work scenario to determine what is critical to your well-being, you may find that money is not really the most important element. It may prompt you to think before leaping ahead to “what looks too good to be true” and take a second look at options that might not be as glamorous but may offer a higher percentage of the criteria that matters to you overall.
Having clearly defined goals is powerful. Having fundamental goals that represent who you want to be in this world and what you want to get out of your life helps keep you on track. Helplessness turns into hopefulness. The clearer you are about what matters to you, the better you will be able to ask questions to learn if potential situations are right for you. Gaining the right information long before you are pressed to make a critical decision allows you to make powerful choices. Having a direction, hope and a plan can be the fuel you need to change your own reality. Take back control of your life and set some goals.
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.
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.
Even though times are tough, asking for a job because you are desperate is not a good look. Employers need convincing evidence for investing time and money in you. This requires knowledge of the company and considerable preparation before you speak with them. The old days of winging your way through an interview are long gone. But first, you need to know why you want the job you are pursuing and how it fits into your life plan.
You may be unemployed and in dire need of an income, but that’s not compelling enough for the employer to choose you. The first step is to articulate your value to the employer in a way that allows them to believe they are making a good decision in hiring you. It doesn’t necessarily mean you divulge your long-term goals. It simply means you need to be clear about your value to them (now) and why this role and their company is a perfect fit. (Again, that is, right NOW!)
This isn’t to say you have to accept the job and expect to stay forever. But not just ANY job will do. If you do have something else in mind, it is critical to gain internal clarity about how you can get there from here. Thinking through this scenario requires some long-term planning and also some flexibility to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Waiting around until your dream job appears is probably what led you to the desperate state you are in right now. It’s not necessary to know every detail going in, any more than it is necessary to throw out your dream. It is critical for you to understand how and why the job you are interviewing for plays into the scheme of things.
If you are clear about the connection between your short-term goals and your long-term goals, you can begin to prepare answers to typically asked interview questions that do not overshoot the position at hand. It’s been my observation that all too many times a candidate “oversells” themselves by responding to interview questions as if the context of the immediate role is the same as the one they think they want down the road or the higher-level one they have just left. If your answers sound “too big” or suggest that you really see yourself in a different role or different place, you won’t be considered further for the role in front of you. A typical response from the employer is “we are selecting someone else because we think you will get bored in this role” or “we think you are overqualified.” Now, if they received your resume and summoned you for an interview, they weren’t opposed to considering you then, so it stands to reason that something you said in the interview changed their mind.
The key is in understanding and embracing why you might need to begin at a lower level to move in the direction of your goals. The more you own your plan, the more convincing you will be to the employer. When you state how much you want to work for them and want to serve in this role, it will be true — at that moment. An employer can’t guarantee a lifetime job or even long-term employment, so why should you? You can offer them the benefit of work well done and two weeks’ notice when it is time to leave. The reality is that they’ll get at least a year out of you, which may be more than the person who really doesn’t have a plan and ends up chasing a higher dollar without thinking two months into a job.
Another misstep provoked by someone being unclear about their goals is accepting a role just because of the money. It isn’t unusual for someone to grab the first paying gig that comes along, without much more thought than getting their bills paid. The problem with that thinking is that as soon as you get to work and get settled into a routine, you may realize you absolutely hate the work or that it has nothing to do with where you want to end up. Without planning ahead to see how a particular experience connects with what you would want to do, you could end up abruptly quitting or being terminated and be further away from what you want to do than you were before you started.
Taking a passive approach and waiting until opportunities “show up” can lead you off track or just plain leave you empty handed altogether. Overall, it behooves you to take a good hard look at what you want and what is most important in your life, and then craft a plan to get there.