Executives, don’t hit the job search wall.
There is no doubt about it, looking for a job plays havoc with self-confidence. And if you are forced to look for a new job because you have been laid off or worse, fired, the grief and anger can sabotage your job search efforts. Executives visit a different playing field from those more junior and the time it takes to land a good job can be as much as six months even for the most qualified. Most advice is geared to folks without your senior status. It just doesn’t work. So, reengage, reenergize and don’t hit the wall.
As a senior executive you are use to being in charge, very busy and accomplishing. You have a mission, a charter, a goal and all kinds of known good resources to help you cross the finish line. You have done this before and know what to do. You can predict the outcome. You are use to daily recognition, important things to do and deadlines with consequences.
None of this is true during a job search. In fact, you can get more negative feedback than positive and may have precious little stamina to ward off the blows to your self-esteem. Telephone calls don’t get returned, some emails result in a terse “I will keep you in mind” and disappointing face-to-face encounters with no perceived results wear you down.
Yet, your strong confidence and positive attitude are essential for reaching your goal. How do you maintain your dignity when each day requires behaviors out of your normal routine? How do you keep asking people for introductions, referrals and advice when you are usually on the doing end, not the asking? It is hard work keeping your self-esteem in tact. It requires daily maintenance and it is an absolute requirement.
Here’s Help when you hit the wall for your executive job search:
Stop complaining. Hearing your own pessimistic words reinforces a negative attitude. You get too much sympathy and not enough course correction when you complain. It is useless. Focus on going forward and each positive step. And keep away from people who are complaining. They bring you down and offer no constructive assistance. If you can’t escape the complainers, discover the problem they perceive and help them see your solution. If someone asks how are you doing, always respond with a positive, “Just great.” Tell them a few of the steps you are taking and mention a recent success. “Just received a referral to VC Inc. from Cynthia. I plan to follow up with a phone call and email in the morning.”
Examine what you can learn from any negative responses. Was the message too long? Did you call at the wrong time? Was your request simple? Did you offer something in return? Did you call the right person? Was the email too long? Was the email well written? Did you use a referral? Did you ask for more than one thing? Was the email received? Did you have a call to action? Was your contact information correct? Did you follow up your email with a fax or copy in a letter? An honest personal assessment without excuses can make a huge difference in what you change.
Be good to yourself. Being out of work does not merit punishment. Remind yourself daily, that you are special, important and of value. Don’t postpone good things for later. This is later. Take that bubble bath, read an extra chapter in that novel, indulge in a cup of tea and cookies. Buy a new magazine with a glossy cover. Take the time to read it. Call a friend. Let others spoil you. Ask for a foot massage. Have a loved one wash your hair. Take kids to the zoo. Play a computer game. What ever you use to reward yourself in good times, reward yourself with now.
Suit up every day. Well, not necessarily a suit, but dress nicely. No sweats, bare feet and jeans. Go to work in your work clothes, even if work is at your home computer and telephone. It makes you take yourself and the process more seriously. It reminds others in your household that you are working, not just lounging around and available to pay attention to them.
Create a plan and work to your plan. If you were launching a new product, you would create a business plan. Consider yourself a product to be launched. You need a marketing plan, a time line, milestones, interdependencies, resources, risk analysis and all the other elements in a strong business plan. Do not trivialize the importance of this document. It is the metric by which you will gauge your progress. Carlos, as an example, included in his plan a goal of meeting with ten CEOs in three months. He knew what he had to do each week to meet that goal. He felt good after two months because he had met with six CEOs and he was working to plan. He could measure his accomplishments and give himself positive feedback.
Make lists. Create a short list of doable objectives for each day. Before you retire at night, make sure your list of 5 top priorities is ready for the next day. Check things off your list as you accomplish them. This simple task gives you the feedback that you are accomplishing what you set out to do in a timely manner. You must make the list reasonable. Making five phone calls asking for introductions is fine. Getting five introductions is perhaps a bit ambitious. And don’t make the list so long that you cannot possibly check all the items off. If the items are that important, put them on tomorrow’s list. Make certain there are enough hours in the day to do what you set out to do. I am always amazed how crowded a schedule becomes for an out of work executive. Getting Suzie to the dentist and Ralph to soccer have replaced those board meetings.
Establish your priorities. If getting Suzie to the dentist is more important than having a clear schedule to meet for an unlimited time, declare that at the outset. Don’t apologize or feel guilty. If participating in meetings until they are finished is important to you and you can’t get Ralph to soccer, fess up. Make certain everyone knows your agenda then stick to it. Make these non negotiable. Don’t argue with yourself over priorities.
Walk the dog. Get out to exercise in some way every day. Endorphins are nature’s antidepressant. Fresh air is the antidote for stagnation. Make exercise a part of your job search routine. You will find you sleep better. It is one more thing you have under your control. Enjoy your canine and their joyous exuberance when you play with them.
Call a friend. When you hit a brick wall, call a friend to brag about your accomplishments in detail. Talk about other things. Have a real conversation about something other than your search. Tell each other jokes. Ask about their kids, dogs and recent trip. Tell them about yours.
Create a support system. Meet with others doing a similar search to compare notes, offer support. Swap stories, books and tips. Make jokes from your disappointments.
Focus on unexpected support. Support will come from many directions, including your referrals. You will be surprised who offers help, who doesn’t. One of the most disappointing parts of Art’s job search was the lack of response from people he had helped, spent time with and encouraged. He didn’t understand it and it hurt him. He was unable to enjoy the boon of new friends and the assist from strangers. Don’t take lack of response personally. Some people are built differently and helping others not part of their DNA. For others, their reason to be.
Create a tracking system. The feedback you get from maintaining a daily record will inspire you. Note who links to whom, milestones, and action items. Let it remind you to send a hand written thank you to Jane for referring you to Bob who introduced you to Sam who interviewed you for the very spot you want.
Give yourself a break. Take a short vacation from your search. Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. Take a day or half day off to go for a hike or golf with a friend. Do something just for you and don’t allow job search topics for the day. Officially declare down time and enjoy it.
Get your house in order. Wash your car, clean a closet, pay your bills or organize your portfolio. Get your house in order so you can focus and not be distracted. Claudia gave herself two weeks to paint her home office, clean the house, get the car repaired and organize the pantry so she could settle in to her new job as a job search expert. Do it once, plan for it and it doesn’t become an excuse not to focus on your job search.
Get control over the things you can control. Phil used an interlude between jobs to clean up his diet and lose weight. He was so invigorated by his success, not to mention the ten lbs he lost, that his self-confidence made him glow. He has kept the weight off and his confidence remains high. Alex complained his wife of 32 years wasn’t talking to him. I reminded him that this was a problem he could solve and that he really needed her support to keep going. This put things in perspective. He solved the problems and was liberated to keep trudging on the path to getting a job. Lana finally had her gums worked on and Bob got new glasses. Jane finally finished her taxes.
OK, now you are ready to get back on track. Plan each day, allow for coffee and meetings and remind yourself, your credentials didn’t change when you became unemployed. It is time to isolate the things most beneficial to a new employer and start communicating.