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.
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.
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.
Sometimes people come to me with unrealistic expectations. It’s not unusual for people to believe a career coach will “get them a job,” just as many people assume a recruiter will “get them a job.” In each case, their expectations are hopeful but unrealistic.
As a career coach, I can help someone develop a strategy for getting a job, assist with creating all the tools required and guide their preparation. I can also help people navigate tough situations in a way that will allow them to keep their job or move in a new direction. And sometimes it really is possible to connect candidates with employers that are in need. But, overall, there is nothing I (or anyone else) can ever do to guarantee that someone will get a job, unless the person is enlisting in the military. As much as I wish it were so, there just isn’t a magic pill I can give someone to solve their employment concerns.
If a career coach can’t make that promise, then a recruiter can, right? No, sorry, not them either. Recruiters are paid by a company to find talent. They might reach out to candidates when they are representing a client company that is in need, but they are not in the business of finding jobs for candidates. In the old days, as a recruiter I marketed great candidates to employers I had close relationships with and was often successful in facilitating an unsolicited match that worked out for everyone.
Things have changed quite a bit, and the exchanges are less personal. When someone’s skills are common or the market they work in is one that everyone else on the planet wants to work in, those ordinary – even highly talented – people aren’t going to be able to rely on a recruiter to “find them a job.” In this market, unless someone has incredibly unique or in-demand skills, a recruiter is not going to give them the time of day unless they have an immediate need or anticipate one coming up. And even then, a recruiter cannot guarantee that the employer will love the candidate or that the candidate will love the role that comes up. Only the candidate can go to the interview and actually influence the interaction that takes place between them and the employer.
the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution
No matter how attractive it might seem to just call someone and ask them to do it for you, there isn’t a special button to push or a pill to take that will remove the need to research what you are getting into and prepare you for your interaction with the employer. Even when it seems like there is an easy way, the easy way is typically a quick or short-term fix and is not necessarily the sustainable or long-term solution. An attractive resume or LinkedIn profile may attract employers, but there is never a guarantee that whoever calls on you has your best interests in mind or that you will be prepared to have an intelligent conversation should they contact you out of the blue. The promise of a “catchy” resume or profile cannot make up for the market/industry/role research that is needed before someone can make a long-lasting good impression or a good decision.
The good news is that there are more jobs now. Many of the people who were underemployed throughout the long recession are moving up and out. That doesn’t mean that the great jobs are easy to find or get. People who have stayed connected with their networks and stayed on top of industry trends are moving into roles they have spent time positioning themselves for. The less desirable roles are left for those who have been waiting to climb on the bandwagon, hoping for a break when the economy turned around.
If you have been sending out hundreds of resumes, posted on ten job boards and are still not working in a role that makes sense for you, then consider taking a different approach. Stop doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Start doing your research and connect with your network to learn about unpublished opportunities. Find out what employers want before they post. Don’t wait for a magic pill.
If you are feeling at a loss because your job search has extended far too long, it’s important to take a hard look at your attitude, your approach and your level of commitment. Regardless of what may be going on in the market, those are really the only elements you have any control over. Recognizing and acknowledging all of your current circumstances and how continued unemployment has already impacted or can impact your lifestyle, credit history, self-esteem and credibility will help you to make better choices about what you can do to move forward.
get real about your circumstances and be willing to consider alternatives to avoid running yourself completely into the ground
All too frequently, anger, disappointment, resentment or depression can build enormous brick walls where doors or windows are needed. Staying cognizant of every aspect of your current circumstances may cause you to reevaluate when you have drawn a line in the sand or refused to compromise. That doesn’t mean you fold your cards and quit, and it doesn’t mean you indiscriminately accept anything that comes your way. It simply means you need to get real about your circumstances and be willing to consider alternatives to avoid running yourself completely into the ground. It’s also important to be transparent with the trusted professional or close friends you request help from. Pretending to be where you once were instead of facing where you are right now might not get you the help you really need. There are gentle and practical ways to share information, which I will address in a bit. For now, I’d like to illustrate what happens when someone in dire straits shares incomplete information.
Imagine what would happen if you took a wrong turn and went miles out of your way. It’s in the dark of night and you have limited life on your phone’s battery. You make a call to a friend for help, describe approximately where you are and let them know you have about an eighth of a tank of gas. They pull up a map, determine that a gas station is approximately two miles away and provide you with directions. They hang up the phone, believing you will be on your way in minutes and that all is good. Just as your phone’s battery dies, you remember that you didn’t tell them you also have a flat tire and no spare.
To put this back into a context related to job search, it’s important to consider ALL the facts about your situation. Some typical questions that need to be addressed are:
- How far in debt are you?
- How much income do you need to cover your bills?
- How soon will your money run out?
- Are there health issues that could prevent you from working in the same capacity you have worked in before?
- Are there new family commitments that would impact your schedule or ability to work the hours you used to work?
If you have spent more than six months going in a direction that hasn’t worked, then there is good reason to be considering new options. If your answers to questions 1 through 3 cause anxiety or fear and you have answered yes to questions either 4 or 5, then you may be overdue for a change in mindset.
Earlier I mentioned the need for transparency. Let me explain why. If your finances are dwindling and you need to work, then positioning yourself to return to work sooner where there is a chance of moving forward makes more sense than holding out for a lottery win. If you can’t return to the capacity, pace or stress level of prior roles, then face the reality of your new circumstances. Develop a new plan and adjust your lifestyle. If there are real reasons you are not competitive (technical skills are weak or you are unfamiliar with processes or programs that are in demand), then it is time to face facts. You can seek out training to develop those skills or identify a new direction that is a better fit. Any way you look at it, alternatives need to be examined. If you continue asking for leads to roles that you cannot perform adequately in or are no longer competitive for, then it is a waste of everyone’s time to pretend.
It’s not necessary to share a bank statement with someone to be transparent. It’s possible to own your status and address your circumstances in a manner that shows anyone you are asking for help from that you are taking charge of your destiny and not resorting to playing the victim card. It can sound like this:
“You know, after having this opportunity to reevaluate my next move, I’ve determined there is a new direction I’d like to move in and am very excited about. I’ve been looking at roles that …” Then describe what it is you like about them, what you want to do and what you are competitive for. This will require research and thoughtful preparation to make sure that what you are describing is accurate and not just wishful thinking. You may need help from a professional. You may feel inclined to tell close friends more, but I would caution you against sharing gory details. Simply stating a desire to change your lifestyle or “move in a new, more productive direction” can suffice.
An active search that involves talking with real people at targeted companies will provide the information you need to help you build the path. An external recruiter who is looking for a candidate to “sell” as an exact match to their client’s need is not likely to be your best hope when changing careers. Conversely, a passive search (answering ads) only pits you against other candidates who may have a track record you can’t compete with.
Although an internal recruiter may have a broader perspective and be willing to discuss a transition when the fit with the company is in place, having an internal advocate is going to help. The key is to make sure you are a fit by doing the research long before you have a conversation with a recruiter. Another hurdle you may face is when a recruiter questions you about your prior salary. You are simply not comparing apples to apples, and your higher priority is “really the fit with the company.” If they insist on talking about your past role and how much you used to make, then whatever approach you used isn’t working and the conversation is not going to move forward. (Note: your resume needs to fit the role you are pursuing. Too much emphasis on being the last queen bee will only prompt questions about it. There are ways to neutralize a resume.) A referral from an internal advocate who will excitedly support your “new direction” and be willing to vouch for your aptitude for the different role can make all the difference in the world.
If you are exhausted and feeling like you are out of gas, I urge you to avoid complaining about what hasn’t worked and consider new options. Look for new ways to get yourself back on the highway and get help if you are stuck.
Having goals (as opposed to “wishes”) is the first step in getting on the right track to where you want to be. Thinking of resolutions for the New Year may be the necessary catalyst behind your goals, but assigning realistic timelines and considering how to achieve measurable results require commitment and a thoughtful strategy.
Some people execute plans very well but are unable to view the broader picture to get a sense of the reasons to change course. Having a clear strategy (and a positive mindset) will be instrumental in helping you achieve your goals, no matter how much your circumstances may change as you move forward. A strategy helps provide the framework that will keep you on the right path. When the tactics you are using stop working, it is easier to change gears if you understand the bigger picture. If you aren’t getting the results you want from your job search or business development efforts, it may be more than your tactics that need to change. Doing the same old thing because that’s what you always have done can lead to your missing the boat when a new opportunity surfaces. It’s important to start with a strategy for achieving your desired goals, then develop an action plan that supports the strategy. Without a strategy to drive your plan and its execution, your efforts could end up being a complete waste of time.
Schedules are great because they provide structure, and structure is helpful for planning purposes, but it can’t always be the driver behind an action plan. It is necessary to stay aware of the goal and adjust your structure when circumstances change. In a bigger sense, without an understanding of the strategy behind an organization’s goals, you are dependent on the person or people who designed the strategy to dictate your action plan. If conditions change and you are left on your own, you’ll need to be clear about why you are doing what you are doing, or your efforts can be wasted, opportunities can be missed, and you can be left out in the cold. Understanding someone else’s strategy, and also having one of your own, allows you to land on your feet when things go off course. If you don’t understand the need for a career strategy, you could end up being slow to change gears when quick action is required.
If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire… think again.
The relationship between strategy and timing is critical. If you think delaying action for an hour or two, or even days, won’t make much difference to the outcome you desire, think again. Consider how planes land and take off. The precision required to enter airspace at exactly the right time to avoid collisions is critical. Imagine what would happen if pilots believed their intentions were more important than their actions. The same applies to someone in job search mode or planning a new business. Understanding the “why” behind your actions is critical to helping you predict potential negative consequences resulting from deviations in timing and will hopefully allow you to work out ways to avoid them. Missing a deadline or taking too long to respond to a request can cause you to completely miss an opportunity, or, at the very least, it can limit your options.
Throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks is a tactic that rarely pays off in the way we imagine. Haphazard spurts of energy may produce results of some kind, but they are seldom sustainable and may end up leading to false hope when the initial response does not lead to anything longer term. An example is shooting out resumes or marketing pieces to random audiences. There may be an initial response of some kind based on curiosity, but the tactic may miss the mark if you are really looking for a sustainable relationship. Likewise, indiscriminately applying for posted jobs or focusing on developing a “cute” media presence with the hope that someone will find you are far less of a sure bet than digging in and doing the necessary research to understand your audience’s needs and wants.
Learning about the skills required to deliver the results your target companies need is much more likely to tell you how realistic your goals are. Being aware of the timing of special events, when budgets are developed and when seasonal fluctuations typically occur will help you to develop a more effective strategy for going after what you want. Timing your actions according to the intelligence you have gathered and committing to specific tasks at specific times will help you move forward. It also will allow you to track your progress and identify why things may or may not have worked out the way you intended. Overall, a well thought out strategy for achieving your goals and an awareness of critical timelines will help guide you when you face difficult decisions or reach a brick wall.
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 the last bus was leaving in two minutes and you were still contemplating where you were going, how long would it take you to make a decision whether to get on that bus? If you did get on the bus, what’s the likelihood you would be on the right bus headed in the right direction? It seems to me that most people would no sooner jump on a bus without a destination in mind than drive with their eyes closed. Why, then, do people engage in a job search without a target or a plan, and without a sense of urgency, expecting the outcome to miraculously meet all of their needs?
There are two issues I typically run across when someone comes to me for help with a stalled or unsuccessful search: They don’t have a plan and they have been relying solely on job postings to determine where they will work. Often they’ve also waited until they are on their last dime to hunt for work, and for them, it is miles beyond the last bus stop. Looking for work without a plan or being lackadaisical about your approach can extend the length of your search unnecessarily. A passive approach and a lack of urgency can lead people off track.
The “any job will do” notion has outlived its time. What you do for work has to be attached to your values and your life goals. Finding satisfying work that meets all of your needs requires a strategy and a plan, along with considerably more information than what may appear in a job posting.
Applying for posted jobs may lead to an interview, but without a solid understanding of the employer’s needs and a plausible story for why you want to work there, the interview is not likely to lead to an offer. Even if the interview does result in an offer of employment, it can just as easily lead to a new misery. Without context for the role and knowledge of the circumstances — e.g., company dynamics, internal politics, unspoken expectations or difficult personalities— the candidate could be walking into a snake pit.
An improved economy does not necessarily mean that everyone can be employed in their dream jobs or that getting a great job is easy. It takes a goal, a plan, a commitment to working the plan and a sense of urgency to come close to finding the “perfect” job. It also takes resiliency to weather the disappointments that can arise and flexibility to adjust your plan when it isn’t working.
An improved economy does not necessarily mean that everyone can be employed in their dream jobs or that getting a great job is easy.
Blaming the economy or job market for your unemployment or passively waiting around for your ideal job to materialize won’t change anything. Changing your approach can make a big difference in the results you get.
Change is inevitable. Change for the better and change for the worse. Either way, a time of change can be a great opportunity for you to make a statement, become more visible or take on a major challenge that ultimately builds your value over the long term. By continuously broadening your skill set and showing a willingness to adjust to the new needs of an organization throughout periods of change or to the needs of a new employer altogether, you may also discover opportunities that hadn’t previously been obvious or available.
Even with improvements in the market, there are still companies experiencing layoffs due to mergers and acquisitions. Nothing is guaranteed. Anyone who has been with an organization for a while or is beginning a new role with a new company runs the risk of being laid off if something unexpected happens. By the same token, if the upswing in the market stimulates job growth with your current employer or a potential new employer, the extra effort you put in now will make you a more attractive candidate for fresh opportunities. Instead of settling into complacency or looking over your shoulder and worrying about layoffs, it might behoove you to take more time to examine ways to increase your value.
If you have been looking around to see where the grass is greener, you may need a compass of sorts to prevent you from assuming a change is better. The following key points can provide a foundation for determining how you might fare in the open market.
Know yourself. If you have been “making do” until the market opened up, it’s possible you have made assumptions about what would be better. It’s important to examine your motivations, your values and your goals to see exactly why your current role is categorized as “making do” versus being on the road to your dream job. Being unhappy is one thing — knowing exactly why takes a little more effort. Don’t assume that more money or a promotion will be the answer to your current problems. Interpersonal conflicts will continue to arise at new companies if you haven’t learned methods for navigating any current issues you may be experiencing. More money may also come with a price. Are you willing to work longer hours? Have a longer commute? Work in an office with a stricter dress code?
Know the market. It’s all too easy to become complacent in an existing role if no one has required or encouraged you to update your skills. Although you may have been taking care of the “status quo” in your own company, the methods and tools you use to perform your current job may be completely different from an expectation in a new company. Don’t assume that because you have a particular title that you will be able to transfer into a role with the same title in a new company. Find out which skills will be needed to be competitive in a higher role. Doing the same thing for years doesn’t automatically equate to competence in someone else’s eyes.
Assess your current situation realistically. Take inventory before you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Have you taken the opportunity to learn all you can in your current role? Take a look around at coworkers and other departments. If you have allies in other areas, investigate whether a change of duties or departments would be an option before you shut the door. It’s easy to believe another company or another boss may be an improvement, but it is much easier to find out more when you are currently working in a company than assuming you will learn the full truth about a new company before you get started.
Add value. If the company is investigating the potential of a merger, will your role be eliminated? Rather than looking outside, it’s possible to build your value internally if you are assuming more responsibilities than just what has been expected to date. Going forward, if there are redundant roles that may need eliminating, the new company (or new version of the company) may see value in retaining the person who has a broader skill set and exhibits greater flexibility. It doesn’t have to turn into a game, set, match with the other side winning only because they have more years invested. Make sure management is aware of your accomplishments and the full set of skills you bring to the party.
Change in any organization’s structure or financial status will pretty much ensure staffing changes. Some people will bail because they are uncomfortable with the change, leaving open seats for others who are ready to embrace it. Positions may be eliminated because there is a tightening of the belt or to reduce overlap. These circumstances can create excellent opportunities for someone who is flexible about what they are working on, is skilled in a variety of areas and is ready and willing to persevere through the change. Taking this track can hasten your advancement and prime you for even greater rewards inside or outside of the company if carefully planned out.