OK, so the title is a bit cliche’, but so were the others I came up with.
I talk to people all the time, and in particular I come into contact with a lot of folks who are looking for a new opportunity in a field where employment is soft or in decline. Too many of the conversations go like this:
- Me: “Tell me what you might be looking at doing in your next position”.
- Candidate: “Well, I’ve got a lot of experience as a (pick your job name) while working at my last job, and before that I was (pretty much the same thing) at my previous company”.
- Me: “Really. Tell me about some of your talents and strengths”.
- Candidate: “I work well with others, I am really good with (whatever the core skills are for what they’ve been doing for the past 15 or 20 years), and I am a great, loyal employee”.
- Me: “Tell me about some of the skills you’ve added or responsibilities you’ve taken on over the past few years. I’m really interested in how you’ve grown”. (this is a big hint)
- Candidate: (long pause)”I took some classes on (something they’ve never applied) and they sent me to training on (something else they’ve never used)”.
- Me: “Why do you think your job went away, and why would they release somebody like you who has been a good employee?”
- Candidate: “The company had to save money due to tough times, and they let a bunch of us experienced folks go.”
- Me: “Really? What happened to the work that needed to be done?”
Candidate: “The company decided to (cut back on projects, sent work offshore, kept the less expensive people to do the work that needed done, consolidated operations in one location, etc.)”.
- Me: “What did you learn from this?” (hoping for a light bulb moment…)
- Candidate: (spews forth something about cheap offshore labor, poor leadership, bad management, or that they don’t understand how the company will keep its doors open without them)
- Me: “Companies go through changes through all sorts of reasons, and it can be tough. Tell me what you are looking to do in your next position”.
Candidate: “I’d like to get on with a good company doing (pretty much the same thing they’ve been doing the past 15 years…)”.
- Me (trying to lead to an obvious conclusion): “What have you found out there in the market?”
- Candidate: “Not much. There aren’t very many jobs posted, and what there is out there doesn’t pay very well”.
And so on.
As mentioned in my bio and earlier posts, I have been blessed through my life and career. One of these blessings was an early lesson about volatility in employment and managing your career. My father was out of work in the early 1980’s during a recession that hit his industry (civil engineering / construction) fairly hard. He still had six kids living at home, a ton of expenses, and not much in terms of a fallback plan from a financial perspective.
What did he do? He reinvented himself and became successful in a loosely related, but quite different, job than what he had been in. He decided to adjust, adapt, and thrive. Similarly, my experience in the IT consulting / staffing / contingent labor field for the past 18 years has sensitized me to the ups and downs of the economy and how one needs to evolve to survive and prosper.
I see too many people that when faced with a job that has gone away, they refuse to change or adapt themselves, and instead become disenchanted when the world changes and doesn’t accommodate them. It is a shame because so many of these folks have a lot to offer, just maybe not in the way they are used to.
We all have the tendency to define ourselves in terms of the job titles we have held, not in terms of the jobs we have the potential to do. When we look for a job, the first thing we do is look at jobs just like the one we had. However, we have aptitudes, knowledge, and abilities that can be combined and leveraged in all sorts of jobs that are quite different from each other.
For example, I met a person not too long ago who was a senior IT manager / director at a large financial services company. He’s been looking at similar positions, a tough find given the market. As we talked, I asked him about his accomplishments, his hobbies and interests, and what he felt he was really good at and what he got the most satisfaction out of. One of the things he felt he was really good at is bringing people together across a diverse, large enterprise, and getting them to act together to meet objectives and accomplish projects.
I told him working effectively across large organizations is golden and applies to all sorts of organizations and industries. It shows excellent communication skills, ability to work with diverse groups, political sensitivity, etc. These skills can be used at:
- Any geographically distributed company
- Sales / account management / sales support
- Not for profits
- Rapidly growing companies
He had been thinking primarily of senior IT management positions in financial services, but by they end of our discussion started thinking of a much broader field of possibilities.
I encourage people to go through what I call a “personal inventory” to see what they might have to offer. Essentially,
- Create a set of lists with the following headings: “Job Titles”, “Roles”, “Industry & Company Experience”, “Subject Matter Expertise & Business Knowledge”, “Technical & Professional Skills”, “Personal Characteristics & Aptitudes”, “Passions, Interests, and Hobbies”
- Under each heading, list everything you can think of. Go back to your old resumes, your old performance appraisals and project notes. Think about your volunteer, charitable, and church activities. Do this over the period of a couple days as the more you think about things, the more you will recall.
Look at what you’ve put together. I am betting it is way more impressive than what you thought. If nothing else, you just went through a huge exercise in self affirmation! You’ve got way more to offer than simply 15 years at Company X.
Now, start to think about different types of jobs and how you can pull skills, experiences, and aptitudes from your inventory to do some of these jobs. Look at a newspaper or an online job board at jobs you never targeted that you can probably do. I am betting that you will be pleasantly surprised at the possibilities open to you.
While I am certainly not a career coach by any stretch of the imagination, there are some basic things we all need to consider to remain viable from an employment perspective.
The observations I have made include:
- We need to constantly be adding skills, experiences, and talents to our portfolios so that we can proactively move to new jobs, roles, and / or companies as needed.
- Furthermore, we need to be cognizant of these skills, experiences, and talents that we are adding to our portfolios.
- The paradigm of what work and career means has changed. “Go to school, get a job with a good company, work hard and be loyal, and things will work out” is just about gone in many if not most fields of endeavor. The paradigm now is, “Add value in every way you can, and if you aren’t adding value, move on to where you can”.
- If your job responsibilities and skills are essentially the same as they were five years ago, you are at significant risk. Chances are that you are probably compensated at higher level than a replacement person. The added value of your company knowledge only goes so far when the company is looking at dollars and cents.
- I tell my college aged kids that there are only a couple things you need to think about when you pursue a career and a job. First, understand what pays your salary and how what you do contributes to this. Here’s a clue: it isn’t the department budget. Secondly, think about some of the trends that are impacting the industry sector you are in or pursuing, and how these trends will shape the future of your company and job.
Economic times are challenging. The companies and people that prosper are those that understand what is happening and innovate. Pay attention to what’s happening in your company and your industry, and plan, learn, and adapt to ensure your continued viability in the market.