Let’s face it – although as humans we are each unique, in the workplace, most of us are dispensable. Keeping up with what is current or relevant is difficult for people in all sectors, industries and roles. Technology changes every day, which leads to changes in demand and/or processes, and ultimately, impacts everyone in the workplace.
Change is tough for most people and tougher for some than others. Finding ways to work through it, and with it, will typically contribute to more fruitful results than choosing to buck the system, when you are faced with something new. Some changes end up being minor enough for you to simply catch on and carry on. In those cases, practicing the new step, different process or new tool will help make it familiar to you and perhaps make your work far easier in the long run.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy.
Resisting change ultimately wastes time and energy. If you have seen the handwriting on the wall, it’s pragmatic to figure out your next move before you are faced with irreconcilable differences. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away and waiting only makes it more difficult to gain the inertia to make the right next move. Use the energy you still have to work on the steps you can take to move yourself in a new and perhaps even better direction.
If what you do as a function is no longer needed, then it is possible that the handwriting has been on the wall in neon letters for a long time. It’s time to take the reins back and determine what you will do about it. If you have planned ahead, then maybe retirement is a sound option. For many of us, retirement has stretched into a hazy notion of life that may occur far into the future. Financial setbacks, health issues and family crises can really change the course of things. If working for pay is still necessary, there are steps you can take that will help limit the anxiety of making a change or moving ahead. Blaming your age isn’t going to change your circumstances. Embrace who you are and what you can do today – let go of what used to be. The following tips can help you get ahead in the process.
Pay attention to what is needed. Read industry periodicals or the news. Stay on top of developments in your field and the skills that are in demand. If your skills aren’t current, training/education may be an option, or it may simply be time to see where else your skills apply. Talk to people who are doing what you think you want to do and test your assumptions.
Adjust your brand. If you’ve been known as the big man on campus but intend to scale down, then scale down your brand altogether. Adjust your image to suit the intended audience. It is not uncommon for people to move into a later-in -life career that is not as powerful as they once were. Staying with the old image can overshoot what it is you want to do. Hearing “you’re overqualified” may soothe your ego, but it isn’t going to help your pocket book if you are not offered the position you have interviewed for. You need to SOUND excited about whatever it is you will be contributing to and you need to LOOK like you are the best in class to do it. Make sure your references, friends and family are able, willing and ready to speak to the “new” brand when people inquire. If you are starting something new and have things to learn, then show how willing, able and ready you are to give it your all.
Adjust your approach. If you are downsizing, then lighten your resume. Soften your speech. Don’t overshoot what you want to do – match it. More does not automatically mean better; it can sound like “too expensive”. If only two years of experience is required, then 20 is overkill. Don’t include dated, irrelevant years. Talk about the things you want to do. If you really don’t want to manage, then don’t dwell on when you used to manage. Focus on the skills that are needed to do the job. Having more of something unrelated doesn’t make up for the lack of the basic skills that are required to do the job. Make sure you can do what they need and that you are ready.
Adjust your brain. Stepping back can mess with your head if you let it. Don’t compare yourself with what you used to do or to others that are in a different place in their lives. Embrace the direction you want to transition into whether it is moving up or moving toward retirement. If you are starting over and still want to rise to the top again, then get excited about it. The process won’t take another 20 years.
Don’t take shortcuts. Throwing resumes at jobsites rarely works for people that are transitioning into new careers or different directions. Job posts typically are written with a “check-the-box” intent. Trying to match specific experience/skills can leave you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Talk to people. Ask questions. Find out what is needed and act sincere about your interest. Working from the inside of the company with known advocates will increase your chances of someone learning just what a great fit you can be – even if all their boxes aren’t checked.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Make the most of your contacts and conversations. Just because the information you are getting isn’t providing you with “the answer”, collect the data and look at in in a new way. Don’t dismiss leads because you think a position is too low on the totem pole. Taking a stand against something that could lead to the right path could turn out to be irreversible later.
Let go and look forward. The past is the past. You are doing you in the here and now. Who can you grow into once you have overcome the challenge at hand? Figure out how conquering an adverse situation now can help you in years to come.
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.
It happens all the time. A candidate has 8–10 years of experience doing something and wants to change into an entirely new role and new field. The requirements to compete for a senior-level role in the new arena are extremely high and impossible to match when there is no specific evidence of performance in the same function. Although the circumstances may seem the same, being capable and being competitive are two entirely different issues. Imagine a pole vault: you wouldn’t walk up to it and expect to be able to leap over it. You would come from behind with a running start and make a leap. Sometimes it is simply necessary to step back to jump over.
Being told you are overqualified may boost your ego, but it does not pay the bills.
One of the pitfalls of stepping back is being perceived as overqualified. If you are thinking about changing directions, then avoid falling into the “overqualified” trap by working on being the “best qualified.” Set yourself up with a strategy that will let you get your foot in the door in a position that provides the opportunity to show them what you can do. Start with a resume that exactly matches the employer’s needs so that it is much more likely to fall into the “yes” pile. Overshooting a role with a highfalutin resume may miss the mark entirely. It often indicates you won’t want to do the job they need to have done.
When your resume with the “exact” fit works and you get their call, stay true to the plan. If they contact you, then they thought you were viable or they wouldn’t have wasted their time. Make sure you address their needs and avoid sabotaging yourself with stories that show much broader scope or higher responsibility. You may have many stories about accomplishments that could be impressive but may be irrelevant. Be careful not to assume that “more is better.” Over talking a role will lead people to believe that you will get “bored.”
Another issue with an entry-level role is that it may have significant administrative functions that you are not familiar with. If these functions are critical to the work needed, then you must be able to perform. To be offered the opportunity to get your foot in the door, you must be able to demonstrate competence. Don’t get trapped in a conversation that leads you into how much you know about everything else in general, when you are not actually capable of doing what is needed. If you are technically challenged, this needs to be addressed long before you show up for an interview. If a role requires adaptability and proficiency with technology, you can’t expect an employer to train you or provide an assistant to do the work.
If you get through the initial screening interview, congratulations! But you are not yet in the clear. As you head into an in-person interview, don’t lose sight of your strategy. The person conducting the screening may have made assumptions. They may have been so excited about what you talked about that they may have missed the “details” about the actual functions of the job. (Interestingly enough, this happens from the other end of the spectrum, too. Under qualified candidates may get through a screening interview, yet, when faced with the tough questions from a hiring manager, are exposed for what they really don’t know. I’ll address that another time.) Make sure you are very clear about what the job entails, be able to show examples of work that indicate you can do it and that you are excited about getting started!
Once you are facing a hiring manager, you may be put through the wringer about whether you are certain you know what you are getting into. They may even test you by saying “I think you are overqualified.” Or “I think you will get bored.” That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t hire you. It also doesn’t mean you have to agree with how bored you would be. It’s a test to see if you are willing to do what they need. If they lead with the “overqualified” statement, then smile and act pleased. Respond with “I’m so glad you think so! I think I am best qualified!” Then tell them why you can do what they need and how your experience can help you be faster in catching on, followed by how excited you are about working with them as you grow in this new direction. If you get all the way through this phase and are rejected with “we really think you will get bored,” then you were probably not personally sold on doing the job before you went in to speak with them.
This strategy can work for people who are simply scaling back or have been laid off and need to begin again in a lesser role. Once you become clear about your strategy and leave your ego at the door, it is possible to step back, to move forward. Although the market is decidedly better than it was a few years ago, there are still people trying to get back on their feet. Desperation is unattractive. Getting really clear internally about why you need a particular role and then expressing to an employer why you will be of value to the company can make the difference between being offered the opportunity or not. You cannot turn down something that has not been offered. Being overqualified may feel good for a minute, but being unemployed and stuck without a paycheck can get old really fast.
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.
If you are like many people, the beginning of a new year is prompting you to make some changes. New year, better economy…time for a new job? If the thought of leaving your current position has crossed your mind, take control of the process and make it a move that counts. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction to apply for a posted position that catches your eye and start the year fresh with a solid plan for making a strategic change that steers you toward your ideal situation rather than yet another dead end.
Randomly applying to a posted position with a company you know nothing about is much like playing the lottery. Certainly it could turn out to be better than your current situation, but the odds are you’ll simply be trading known issues for new ones. The beginning of a new year prompts many people to evaluate their circumstances. They desire more yet stay stuck on why they want to leave rather than focusing on what they want to move forward to. This year, prepare yourself to make a meaningful and sustainable change of your circumstances. Make the most of your time and resources, by developing a plan for moving forward. The following are some key points for getting started.
Clarify your interests. If you focus only on what you don’t want, you still don’t have a target for what you do want. Establishing a concrete list of what you hope to gain from a new position/employer/business endeavor is the first step to heading in a new direction with favorable results. Refrain from using vague words like “better” or “more” and be as specific as you can be. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to measure or weigh one opportunity against another.
Give it a reality check. Do your research. Learn about today’s conditions rather than relying on memories from ten years ago. Learn how work is getting done and, more importantly, why certain skills are in demand. Know what the market will bear and how your skills/experience measure up to competition. If you need additional training/development to be competitive for your “dream job” or to get your foot in the door with your “dream organization,” then integrate that into your plan. The process from Point A to Point B may seem like it takes longer, but you will probably save time by avoiding attempts at throwing your hat into the ring for work you are not competitive for.
Nurture your network. (Ok, so I say that a lot.) The surest way to learn if a new circumstance will be better than what you are in, or will offer you more of what you want, is by knowing someone who is already in it. And, if you are not an exact fit for the roles you desire, you are much more likely to be considered with the help of a valued internal referral than by submitting a blind application. Use the freshness of the new year as an opportunity to reconnect with people you have lost touch with.
Establish timelines and benchmarks. Don’t just say you want to make a change — act on it and commit. New Year’s resolutions are typically out the window by mid-February because of the failure to create a plan, develop new habits or commit to dates. A vision or image of where you want to be is great! The next step is to make it real by establishing timelines and accountability.
Plan your activities. Unless you have a magic process for adding hours to the clock, you have 24 hours a day and seven days a week to work with. It’s important to plan out what has to be done ahead of time (regular work, doctors’ appointments, special events) and work around that schedule to fit in the work required to make a change. Research (by Internet and through conversations) takes time. It won’t happen unless you plan out when you can do it and stick with it. Break big chunks of work into smaller bites and determine exactly when you will complete them. Don’t leave this to chance, or you will be wondering in June how the time flew when you find you are still exactly where you were in January.
Don’t knee jerk. Many people have taken roles that have left them underemployed or bored, just to pay the bills. If that is your situation, then use it to your advantage. If you can do your job in your sleep, then stay put while you take the time to do the research you need to complete to make an educated decision about changing. Chances are no one is watching you, and you can actually carve out time to talk with people and read about companies/roles that are more to your liking. Watching job boards for the next posting and throwing a resume at something isn’t likely to reap a satisfying or sustainable reward if you are hired before you really know anything about the company, department or role.
As you head into the new year, concentrate on what you want and check out whether it really is for you. Making impulsive gestures based on what you don’t want might bring about a change, but researching and putting together a plan for making that change is much more likely to take you where you want to go.