Recently, a few friends of mine were ‘furloughed’ from high level positions in their companies. I had watched each of them grow over the years, successfully overcoming obstacles to become respected corporate leaders in their respective areas of expertise.
Just as I would have expected, each of them mourned their losses for no more than a few days, concentrating on their resumes for the next unknown chapter of their careers . Honestly, I don’t know where they get their strength. Perhaps they acquired it through the many times that they bounced back from rejection and ‘failure,’ to achieve new levels within their companies, or in other organizations. Now, even these amazing leaders and respected contributors were victims of this pandemic, and, perhaps the shortsightedness of their companies’ senior management. I’ve seen this kind of thing happen too many times.
Certainly, this pandemic situation is so far off the charts that none of us will know its full effect on many careers for a long time. As I thought about my friends and the difficult challenges ahead, I began to wonder how some people rise to the occasion and others just cave into circumstances, many with a victim’s excuses. I thought back in my own life about those people I greatly admire, especially because of the way they dealt with defeats, setbacks, and rejections. What did they do to deal with the situation, and, looking back, what did they learn? My wife told me just how difficult this horrible situation had to be for everyone’s career. “It’s going to be so excruciatingly hard to find jobs now.” Absolutely, this is true, especially now. You know what though, without minimizing the difficulties we face? It’s always hard to get a job, especially a good one, in any economy. That’s been my experience. But, of course, I haven’t experienced this.
“It Is What It Is”
When I was 48 years old, I was faced with this same situation (without a pandemic, thank goodness). I had to face the reality of my circumstances, and it was damn difficult. The phrase: “It is what is is” grounded me in that reality. I had no choice but to move forward. I had a family with two kids in school, one in a prep school and the other in law school. Once I recovered a bit from my ‘loss,’ two simple thoughts kept penetrating my brain: what can I do, and who do I know? This became the basis for a simple career strategy. As I roughed out those ideas my next thoughts were: what do I do uniquely, what are my top strengths and what is my temperament? In other words, what do I feel comfortable doing? Most important, what had I done to move out of my comfort zone?
Study and Plan
Once I sliced and diced these areas down to a fine point, I began to look at the positive comments people said about me, especially my reviews. My thought here was if these people thought I was that good, maybe others would think so as well. Honestly, I was so down on myself I needed to look at those reviews for my own sanity! Most important, what were some concrete examples that demonstrated my accomplishments based on these other parameters? I had to understand and explain in measurable terms what I was contributing. The word contribution is key because it also considers who you are. And don’t think who you are doesn’t matter. It does. My goal was to define my own unique platform, my ‘brand’ as people sometimes say these days. I read five books cover to cover, at least five times, and in this order: A Strategy for Daily Living by Ari Kiev, MD, Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim, Leading Out Loud by Terry Pearce, The Brand Bubble by John Gerzema and Career Anchors by Edgar Schein. I still refer to these books when I mentor people.
Reframe the word: ‘No’
Once I put all these elements together, I braced myself for ‘no.’ In one sense I was fortunate. My career was in sales and marketing. Regardless of your career expertise, an in-depth understanding of consultative sales should be as much a part of your mentality as your belt is to your pants. I came to understand through the discipline of sales that it really was all about the numbers. I wish there were a more eloquent and idealistic kind of answer but I found that if I knocked on enough doors, putting as many ‘no’s’ behind me, the closer I would get to the career I wanted. And if it wasn’t that career, then it would have to be another one. Desperation can be a heck of a motivator
Initiate, “Consult” and Keep Moving
I remember reading a career book when I was just out of college in the early 70’s called Moving Up. The concept was quite simple. It was based on delayed gratification and independent initiative. Instead of hoping someone would choose me, I would choose them. It works like this. Study the companies or organizations you think you might like as though you are going to be a consultant to that company in your area of expertise. Find the specific department you want to work for in the companies you prefer, whether they are hiring or not. Study the careers of the people, especially the leaders in the departments you are targeting, specifically the person who can hire you. Try to know as much about that person as you can. How do you ‘study their careers? Sometimes you can find that information on the internet. If you can’t find any information, just call, and ask them. You can use LinkedIn among others as a tool. This idea has gained credence over the years as informational interviewing. You may say: “Everyone knows about that technique. “Tell me something I don’t know.” Honestly, that’s a great excuse. Sure, if you pursue this idea like it’s a manipulative technique it certainly won’t work because you will be disingenuous. Look, people are people and they pretty much act and react as, well…people.
See, if you ask a person a question…chances are you will get some kind of answer. The idea here is that you need to know the people in detail as much as possible. Most significantly: what are the key issues and problems facing this person and his/her department in the organization? See if you can create a solution based on your own expertise. If nothing else, you might ask them a question they hadn’t considered. Create value! Don’t doubt your own unique viewpoint. Many times, people get myopic and a fresh set of eyes can yield important perspectives. I have found over the years that pursing a conversation as though you were a professional consultant places you in a unique and valuable position. Most important, it can differentiate you from others. I have found the books by Dr. Alan Weiss to be invaluable. Try Getting Started in Consulting or The Consulting Bible. He is a wicked bright man with a very no-nonsense approach. I’ve read at least five of his books, some of them as many as three times. They were invaluable for me in my career in Alliance Development at Disney. Aren’t you really creating a kind of alliance when you work for any organization? You might even ask them to let you think about “what keeps them up at night” and write a short brief of suggestions based on an overview of their problems. Obviously, during this conversation, if not before, you want to make sure this person has seen your resume or a bio. Before you leave simply ask this person for advice on how you might move forward in your career, not necessarily with their company. See, if you give them something of value like suggestions about their problems, they might give you guidance on your career. This can be difficult to do. You must be strong enough to assume you are not necessarily going to work for them. In fact, assume you’re not. But, then again, if you take that stance, it takes some of the pressure off of you, and, most important, off of them. Then it becomes a more relaxing conversation. They might refer you to another company that is looking for someone with your qualifications. Ask them. They may, in fact, consider you, which is your primary goal. I can guarantee that you will see many more people if you take this approach. And the more people you see, the higher your chances of getting a position. Remember? It’s the numbers.
Stay in the Arena
If nothing else, you are taking action to move your career forward. The more you are ‘in the arena,’ if nothing else, you will be in motion. In the end, you will feel better about yourself because you are taking some action. Let me state unequivocally that none of this is easy. In fact, in this environment, I don’t even know if it will work.
But I can guarantee if you don’t try, it definitely won’t.