Category Archives: job loss

Can you risk not having a career strategy?

Why strategic personal branding  is vital to career management
At the end of last year ,  I wrote about my experience adapting to a dramatically changing culture  and new methodologies in my own field of executive search and career coaching.    Although the central  theme,   slightly egocentrically,  focused on my own challenges and  frustrations of dealing with the  concept of  high on-line visibility, now a.k.a.  Personal Branding,   there was actually a key, underlying core message . The need for strategic forward thinking and preparation.

What is clear now is that we all need to develop and maintain on an ongoing basis,  a personal brand and career strategy , regardless of our current age or place in our careers.    

Why?  
The recent recession has highlighted  not just unemployment trends, but  shifts in workplace employment and recruitment practises.  Some companies have  been forced by economic circumstances to re – engineer their policies to reduce their salary bills and employment costs, just to stay afloat.   Other organisations have simply used the downturn as an opportunity to introduce workplace  flexibility to  instantly enhance  bottom line results . 

Job loss has slowed down going into 2010, but job creation still lags  behind.  Permanent positions in companies  have been reduced and are unlikely to return to previous levels.  Fringe activities such as outsourcing to low-cost employment areas  and the reduction of  a permanent workforce to what Business Week calls “Perma-temps”  is on the increase and now becoming mainstream . The growth in interim assignments at a senior level  is also rising, attracting not just the early retirees who wanted to do a “spot of  consulting “,   but senior professionals  with  no other source of income.  

 In 2009,  according to the UK Office for National Statistics  there was a 31.5% rise  in unemployment for people over 50 ,  so at this age , there is a one in six chance of being out of work,  compared to Gen X  where  the  unemployment rate increased by  21.6 % .   However, even  if you do have a job  David Autor of MIT , suggests that the chances of  older,  more highly educated professionals  being employed in  lower skill level positions has  also  increased.  At the  other end of the spectrum, Gen Y struggle to get even unpaid internships.  Their unemployment figures have hit 18%   with predictions  that they will not be fully integrated into the workforce until 2014 with all that implies.

This means that competition for permanent positions in strong, stable organisations will  continue to be fierce, long after the recession is officially over.  At all levels.  The need to raise our visibility and generate a personal brand as part of a  planned career strategy will be more important than ever.    

Be strategic
Brian Tracy  suggested ‘ Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self-development) in order to guarantee your future ”  The reality is that most people don’t do that in terms of their career.  They might take golf lessons or learn to paint,  but  the average person probably spends more time planning an annual vacation  and invests more money maintaining  their  cars, than  planning their careers.  So because they are unprepared,   any crisis ( redundancy, firing , lay-offs, promotion disappointments)   produces a flurry of activity,  not  specific or focused , but usually frantic  and urgent.  Deadlines  become short-term, limited to weeks or months, rather than anything longer term.  CVs are dispatched and uploaded, networks contacted, headhunters emailed  and sometimes  in extremis,  even career coaches sought out.  We would never think of taking off  on a  road  trip in  an  un-maintained car ( at least not once out of college),  yet we constantly look for jobs with un- maintained careers and wonder why there are difficulties!  

Avoid brand prostitution
 @TomYHowe:    suggested in response to my post “I think therefore I exist…Wrong , think again”   that on going brand management  could lead to   “Life as sales”     and he is indeed correct ,  if not  applied strategically.  There’s no reason why it should involve on- line soul selling and become brand prostitution. That would come dangerously close to some of the publicity stunts  I mentioned required to market celebrity scent.  

Return on Relationships
Nor does it necessarily mean as  @wpbierman:    amusingly quipped,  becoming ego related:   “I am being followed – therefore I am”.  Behind that funny one-liner there is for me  an excellent thought, that once again comes back to strategy. I am definitely in favour of return on relationships and for me the key message is what   Rory Murray   describes as  ” maximising your reputation in the marketplace through the effective use of your network of contacts for mutual benefit“.   

Measuring success only by the volume of connections/ followers/friends  can be misleading.  Lisa Brathwaite covers this concept beautifully in her post  suggesting that some  of the so-called on line experts can be some of the poorest users, simply because they do not engage.

But for job seekers and headhunters alike there  is a great deal of strength in a weak network.    It is the new, global Rolodex and  why I think it’s important to start developing that visibility and personal brand as wisely,  strategically and as early in your career as possible,  as the competition for permanent jobs hots up . 

Why? To stand out in a crowded market place 

  •  to make sure you appear in on-line searches run by people like me.   That’s how you get noticed
  • To build up a strong on-line presence and reputation. This is what differentiates and extends your reputation  and how you get those calls from people like me.
  • Build up  a strong  network as part of an ongoing career management  plan.

 That’s how you avoid crisis and improve your job search chances.

Thanks to WP Bierman,  Lisa Braithwaite,   Rory Murray    and Tom Howe

 

Job search strategies for the 50 somethings


A vulnerable group
One of the most vulnerable groups in this or any other recession is the 50 somethings. This is not necessarily because they are poor performers, but usually because they are simply more expensive than junior employees. Severing a few senior execs or older employees can make an instant and positive impact on any organisation’s salary bill. Additionally, at this level employees are also costly in terms of perks and benefits, with company cars, phones, lap tops, health and pension plans and longer holidays etc all contributing to reducing a company’s overheads when they cease. So whether you’re pushed or decide to take advantage of voluntary early retirement schemes, there are lots of things to take into consideration.

So what can you do ?

Emotional support:

The higher you are – the further the fall. Losing your job is hard for anyone, but being displaced from near the top of the chronological or professional pyramid can be especially tough. Quite often there are angry thoughts about how many years you’ve put in and perhaps how little time you have left in your career. Deal with the anger, grief and anxiety and any perceptions of failure you might have as effectively and as early as you possible. All of these challenging emotions will impede your ability to move forward.

  • Set up some coping strategies: a structured daily schedule to support yourself through this difficult time. My friend Sarah Robinson   (aka The Maverick Mom) calls this structure “Walking the Grid”  She uses this strategy when ..“ ..I really don’t know what to do next, where I feel like I am grappling in the dark …” It might be walking, gym sessions, talking to close friends and family, networking, job search activities, relaxing, sleeping and eating correctly.I knew one Coachee who didn’t tell his wife he had been laid off until 3 months after the event and every day he left the house as if setting off for the office as usual. In fact he was just sitting in cafés and parks until he came home at the normal time. So if your own efforts don’t work consider seeking professional support or visit your doctor.
  • Take stock: What do you really want to do? List your passions. How so you want to spend the rest of your career – your life? Consider personal development programmes: think about training in another field or updating old skills. An old college friend, Russell Lewis, an ex-lawyer has retrained in dry stone walling techniques and thatching– simply because he wanted to spend his post- retirement career working out of doors. What do you want to do?
  • Update your CV: many older job seekers have not looked for a job or written a CV for a number of years. It is key to update it in line with current job search developments and presentation techniques, as well as to keep abreast of modern technology in this field. This is one age group which I strongly believe benefits from professional career support. You are no longer obliged to state your date of birth, or even the year you graduated on your CV, but most experienced recruiters are savvy enough to work out if you try too much camouflaging . Omitting it will get you past ATS.
  •  Identify your transferable skills: look at the challenges in your life and career and ask how these can be used in other fields or sectors . You have amazing life and career experiences to call upon, so make these your USPs.
  • Update your professional skills: it is really important now to be on top of all the latest developments in your field, profession or sector. You may not be operational in all of them, but being out of touch with current trends dates you.
  • Interim assignments: 50 somethings are quite often attracted to interim assignments, although this is a sphere that is challenging to break into because the Catch 22 applies that previous experience is quite often required. This is an ideal sector for candidates who are nationally or internationally mobile and have had experience of hitting the ground running as project managers during their careers. This is where a focus on transferrable skills is key.
  •  Networking: now is the time to really tap into your network. All those extra miles on the tires means lots more contacts on the Rolodex, which is a huge bonus. Maximise those connections. Make sure you attend all professional and alumni events. Sign up for news letters.
  • Become familiar with social media: make sure you have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and any social media pertinent to your field.  Start a blog. This is not just about raising your visibility, it’s also about being seen to be current! 50 somethings who dismiss social media and modern technology out of hand and do so volubly, are immediately indicating that they are not at least in touch with modern trends. As a minimum you need to understand what it is all about and how it functions. If you reject it, do so from an informed position. It means that you can communicate with the 25 – 45 age group without your eyes glazing over or looking panic stricken. An older employee rich in traditional skills,  but is tuned in  to up to date technology,  is a great combination and brings instant added valued.
  • Assess your image: now is the time to objectively (and tastefully) update your image and make sure your clothes, hair style and general appearance are at least from the 21st century.
  • Look after your health: If you look healthy and fit ( and hopefully are) you will appear energetic.
  • Interviews:there is a strong possibility that everyone in the process might be younger than you. Try not to let this bother you. Don’t assume that because you are older, you know more, or better. Your area of expertise is just in another area. Appearing flexible, current and open will be key factors to emphasise. Try to keep your points of reference relatively recent. Referring to experiences from 30 or 40 years ago, unless it is of specific value, dates you. So forget Flower Power, Glasnost, Thatcher, Mitterrand and Clinton and make sure you have a good general knowledge of recent national and international events plus general cultural developments. If you don’t know what an Ipod is you might be in trouble.
  • Re-location: older employees are sometimes less tied to specific geographic areas because of young families etc. If you are able to extend your job search net wider, so much the better. Being mobile is a great asset.
  • Volunteer: Not-for-Profit organisations are happy to have senior level volunteers. This is always helpful for networking, refreshing old skills or learning new ones.
  • Become an Expert: Offering pro- bono consulting services is another way of raising your visibility and show casing your area of expertise. Write a blog or articles for your local newspaper or your professional newsletter, which also increases you visibility. Set up a web site. You have a lot to offer. There are certain areas where “Village Elder “ experience is invaluable. E-How  offers the opportunity to make money on line by writing and publishing your own content.
  • Anti – social hours: Consider working hours that younger workers with families won’t/can’t work.
  • Is this the time to be self-employed? With your wealth of experience could you start-up your own business or join forces with someone else with complementary skills . You Noodle is a place to discover and support the hottest early-stage companies and university innovation. They develop decision-making technology and tools for the start-up world. Check it out.
  • Be willing to change  tactics :  This demographic struggles with responding to change fast enough. I get mails every day saying I’ve sent out 20 CVs with no response or attended x  interviews with no feedback.  There is a clear message here that what you’re doing is not working and it might have nothing to do with your age.  Review your strategy regularly. See a professional if you need to.  But don’t wait too long. You’re not getting younger!

Some companies actually value expertise and experience. I hope you find them!

Six of the most costly words in life or business can be ” This is what I’ve always done.”

A case for career coaches

  I’ve seen much debate over the last months about the value of career coaches.  Truthfully I’m not usually this backward in coming forward, but I’ve now decided after much thought, to actually enter the fray. I prevaricated simply because as I am one – it seemed rather self serving and I would have preferred to have made a case for  accountants or lawyers than for specialists in my own field.

But as someone who has sought professional input for all sorts of areas of my life , I’ve always been pretty open to outside support for issues and situations that I either felt I wasn’t handling well on my own, or more typically was making a complete mess of!  So over the years  I have collected a whole pile of business cards from counsellors , educational psychologists, special needs teachers, speech therapists, tennis coaches, music teachers, golf pros, graphic designers, decorators, landscape gardeners, doctors of every discipline under the sun. And so the list goes on.

The most valuable lessons I have learned via these activities are:

• it is OK to ask for help

• an open mind is key

 • friends, colleagues and family mean well, but they are not neutrally honest.  Do friends ever tell you your bum looks big? No. Exactly.

• professional help is a framework only and not something to be followed blindly without your own judgement .

• specialists generally can teach something

• I am not best informed  in most areas

• I trust myself to process information and take decisions

The pace of change

My son has learning difficulties, and struggled throughout his whole school life with some parts of the traditional education process. I didn’t try and deal with it myself simply because I didn’t really know what to do. I researched, read, talked to people and consulted specialists. Between us we coached him in building up life long coping strategies. He proudly graduated from university this year. Could family, friends and peers have filled that gap? No – because they didn’t know what to do either. Even mainstream teachers were out of their depth. The developments made dealing with learning difficulties changed at such a rapid pace during his school life that it needed specialist input to guide us and support him in a way that even I as his Mum couldn’t do properly. In fact some of the things that I instinctively thought were right as a parent, were not great ideas at all and could possibly have hindered him.

This is true of the recruitment and job search market – the pace of change is phenomenal.

Take action early

Another very general observation is that indviduals seem to feel about their jobs and careers the way they feel about relationships and raising children. We think we know best and everything will turn out fine on its own unaided. But it doesn’t  usually– that’s why people only seek coaches or counsellors when they are desperate: on the brink of divorce, their kids are in trouble , or they are unemployed.  Why is that?

Most quoted barriers!

A financial issue: For some this is clearly true and is always a tricky one to handle  as a coach. But  Brian Tracy suggests ‘ Invest three percent of your income in yourself (self-development) in order to guarantee your future” Even for financially secure executives that is not happening. With no job being permanent, investing in career planning should become an ongoing strategy from the outset of a career. So build up some reserve to cover this outgoing if you can. Career maintenance should be continuous– like maintaining a house and health.  Perhaps even now, if  at all possible some economies  might be made in other areas and offset against future investment.  Most coaches are sympathetic and may offer introductory sessions,  payments plans and so on.     

For others – not always so sure that it is financial.  It’s about financial priorities.I know many managers who if their tee shot hooked into the rough ten times in a row, they would be signed up with the golf pro quicker than you could say Tiger Woods or ProAm . But 10 CVs disappearing into cyber space they somehow see as being different.

 Hard  to identify a good coach : Many of us own homes, cars or TVs  and have participated in choosing service providers in all areas of our lives. Why all of a sudden this disempowerment? We have to trust our instincts and if we don’t get it right first time, change to another. We don’t buy the first car we see. We check out the dealer, take it for a ride, look under the hood and so on! Selecting a coach is no different . You can verify coaching qualifications, affiliations, ask for “chemistry” session and referrals.  OK… suggest you don’t look under the hood though! Could be a problem.

Coaches take advantage of our situation:  once again I hear the disempowerment  line.  The only person who allows someone to take advangatage of us –  is ourselves.  Besides it’s the same as saying mechanics take advantage of  people with broken down cars.  The provision of this service  has always been on offer –  the need is  just greater at certain times. So do you push your car yourself  from  the roadside  miles from  your home or phone a breakdown service?   Right. Didn’t think so.  Of course  you make the call.    

Coaches can’t guarantee  a job :  No they can’t. No one can. What they can give you are life long tools and strategies that build up core competencies in dealing with change on your own.    They are a neutral sounding board for any ideas,  now matter how off beat. They’ll support you as you  align your professional and personal goals and give you open and construtive feedback  in identifying your transferrable skills,  understanding your success stories and marketing your message.   

What I would like to see  most of all is a cultural shift to normalising career support in the way that relationship  support and life coaching is gaining acceptance even in Europe.  Schools and colleges offer this service but then it stops.    We spend over one third of our day working!  I am always amazed why so many people can be so unstructured and almost cavalier about such a significant activity that takes up so much time  and  importantly energy,  but can cause so much stress and heartache when things go wrong.

One lesson we all must have learned over the past months is that nothing is permenant and we should start to plan for our futures when we can. That  has to be now surely.

Some recruitment myths debunked

In 2009 this post became the first in a trilogy dealing with the recruitment processes and experiences taken from all parts of the spectrum. In 2013 the  story is unchanged.

 Read the sequels:  Job Search: The Blame Game and  Executive Search and Recruitment: Who to Trust   

Today, not only are there fewer job opportunities, but many individuals come away feeling disillusioned, depressed, inadequate and somehow short-changed after their dealings with recruiters. A recent survey conducted by FPC Workplace Web Poll Data between March and July 2009, indicates that having no response at all to resume submissions is actually the greatest challenge to job seeking in this economy ( cited by 42% of the poll) .

In the last months I have talked to many job seekers who complain about poor experiences with recruitment and search companies, and a number have asked for support to explain how to negotiate what at times can actually be a more disheartening process than being out of work.

 At the root of all of these issues seems to be mismatched expectations by potential candidates of the people, the process and the organisations involved in job search. It might be helpful to map out what you can realistically expect from any recruitment or search organisation. What can you do differently to avoid disappointment?

The recruiting process in a business context

  •   Talent Management / Human Capital / HR, whatever you want to call it, can be very much the poor relation in many organisations ( why is a whole other topic). Sometimes the function is not even represented at executive board level. This can weaken the strategic voice within a company.· During the downturn, as a service function, HR professionals have seen their teams cut and many are simply overworked, under supported and beleaguered. They are caught between demanding executive committees and angry, confused employees. You may have read about demonstrations and actions taken against HR professionals as the “company voice” in many parts of the world, which is even called “ Boss Snapping” in France.
  •  Any pressure HR professionals are under to reduce their hiring costs, are then passed onto search and recruitment organisations. Sometimes companies will give the same assignment to multiple recruitment companies who will compete against each other to place candidates. The unsuccessful organisations will have invested resources in good faith in this process and will not receive a fee.
  •  At the same time recruiting companies themselves have been hit by the downturn and have laid off large numbers of staff , so many are also operating on reduced budgets and manpower. Some work on contingency (no placement = no fee) and it is not economically viable to invest time in candidates that are not on target. Additionally they are dealing with huge numbers of unsolicited CVs during this recession with lower staffing levels.
  • W hen there is a drive to reduce costs in whatever sector you are in – this can impact the quality of the final product and service.

Anders Borg, President of Hansar International and current global Chairman of the AESC (Association of Executive Search Consultants) comments: ” A retained executive search firm is in the Leadership consulting business and helps client corporations achieve their strategic goals. Talent acquisition is one of the activities, the goal of which is to give the client company an optimal return on investment. The global spend on recruitment is currently down by a considerable number, even in the retained executive search talent base. With an overall drop between 30-50% , hundreds of consultants are now leaving the profession”.

Who do recruiters work for? Not you!
This is the first job search myth that needs to be dispelled. The recruiter works for the hiring company not you. Hoisting that one simple fact on board will help enormously in managing your expectations of the outcome of any contact.

There are a number of ways career opportunities come to the market but whether the company is a retained executive search company or a recruitment company working on contingency, in all cases the client is the hiring organisation – not you.

How do I find a high calibre recruiter?
There are large numbers of highly qualified, skilled and committed search professionals throughout the world. But clearly, as in any profession there are cowboys and there will always be degrees of excellence, or lack of it with the people you encounter.

The AESC is the professional body overseeing executive search and recruitment organisations and their members adhere to a globally agreed code of professional ethics and conduct. It is best to select organisations that are members of this body, or other similar local or regional groups. Nevertheless still a word of caution from Anders: “Beware though that it is not the firm’s brand name that is the key attraction. It is still the individual consultant that counts”.

In many countries there are no professional barriers to entry which allows anyone with limited or no relevant academic qualifications or even functional experience to set themselves up in this arena and claim to be a recruitment professional. If your consultant was selling real estate 3 months earlier – be cautious. It is perfectly OK to check them out as individuals before finally committing and to shop around until you find someone with the type of experience you are looking for. LinkedIn or the company web site would be a good place to start any verification process.

Anders advises ” As in all professions, some are excellent, a few are abysmal and the rest are somewhere in between. Try to seek out the excellent ones.”

Why won’t recruiters give me career advice?
While many recruitment consultants are also certified coaches (as I am) most are not. They are not your personal coach and their role is not to motivate you or help you map out your career path. Many will be helpful, but others may have little understanding that even throw away phrases can have a very negative impact on anxious job seekers. There is no ill will usually involved in this, they simply don’t know any better and have their own stresses to deal with.

Why do I get no response to my job applications?
The worst experience job seekers claim they have, is no response at all. Uploading your CV and it disappearing into the ether of cyber space and having no idea what, or if anything at all will happen to it is very disheartening. You should understand well that indeed nothing is happening to it. 97% of CVs are not identified by ATS systems.

Why do recruiters never follow through?
Many recruiters are working on contingency – sometimes multiple companies working on the same assignment competing against each other. If they don‘t place a candidate they don’t get paid. Consultants are working to targets and focus on candidates they can be sure of placing. Many will take the time to develop candidate contacts but others do not have time or resources for professional courtesies and admin, so their dealings can be transactional. It is up to you if you decide to work with such organisations – but at least you know now in advance that this is what is going on.

Generally it is better to have a few solid trusted contacts than sending out your resume to every search company on the internet. Focus your time energy on raising your general visibility and connectivity and making your job search strategic.

What can you do?
Don’t let your desire to spread your job search net as wide as possible cloud your judgement about which recruiter to use. Cherry pick. Job search strategies are just that – strategic !When you contact search or recruitment companies Anders suggests “Focus on transferable skills and spell out how they would be of value in different environments. Leadership qualities and change management experience are often the key factors in this context”.

  •  Research the company beforehand. Check if it is a member of the AESC or perhaps a similar regional or local professional body. Very often the names of practise heads are published on the web site. Assess the experience levels of the consultants who are usually listed.
  •   Check if there is an open assignment section and see if anything is appropriate to your skill set.
  • Sign up for alerts
  •  Upload your CV via their web site or by email using strong vocabulary, mirroring techniques (as appropriate) and keywords to make sure your CV comes to the top 3% that get past keyword recognition software. If your CV is regularly disappearing into the job search ether – you need to do something different and change your key words or personal branding presentation
  •  Understand that consultants are unlikely to contact you unless they have a specific opening. It’s a fine line to tread between being tenacious and a nuisance, requiring empathy and marketing skills when you contact these organisations.
  •  Absolutely do not pay any fees – If a recruiter asks for a fee just to receive your CV , they are not a recruiter. By definition, no recruiter should ever charge the candidate. If they have a search, the company pays. Just let that go. That process should not be confused with an outplacement or career coaching where a tangible service is provided and YOU become the client. Very often the company that has made you redundant will pay that fee and you should look into that too.

What to do when you find a recruitment or company to trust :

  •  Develop a relationship with the recruiter: People work with those that they like and trust.
  •  Be correct, courteous and efficient in all your dealings – remember first impressions count
  •  Add value : Source colleagues, friends or even competitors who might be suitable if you are not. Recruiters appreciate and will remember that courtesy.
  •  Develop a reputation as an industry or sector source or technical specialist. If you gain a reputation in this area then the chances are that the recruiter will come back to you.
     
    Coming next! Tips on :
    – Inside recruitment and search companies
    – how to handle recruiters and search professionals when they contact you
 
With Special thanks to Anders Borg: President Hansar International and Chairman of AESC http://www.hansar.com/

 

Facts Talk!

Last week I posted a blog about dealing with negative thinking. Surprisingly, two words prompted more response and questions than any other part of that piece. Facts talk. What did I mean? My response was met with disbelief!
 
Facts get us out of our comfort zones.
 
FEAR
 
 A commonly used acronym for FEAR is: False Expectations Appearing Real. I first saw that phrase in the early 90s, but ironically, I have actually seen it twice in the last week alone in blogs written by Lolly Daskal  and Conrad Palmer. It’s worth repeating.

When we feel any sort of pressure or stress, we all have a tendency to lose sight of things as they really are. This is no “holier than thou ” stuff, so don’t think I’ve got it all sorted . You are reading someone who has begged for air-rescue from a bunny ski slope! Essentially we become fearful (full of fear).

Back in the cave

When we all lived in caves that sensation very conveniently kicked in to make us more alert for any potential “attacks”. To protect ourselves against lions, tigers and bears our bodies are hard- wired to educate us to anticipate risk ( things that may or may not happen). So adrenalin kicks in and we shift into fight or flight mode, activated by the best kind of stress – motivation, energy, whatever you want to call it, the upward part of the curve. Now this good feeling switches to anxiety, when at a basic level we “fear” that we don’t have the resources ( physical or psychological) to cope with perceived threats to our security and well being. We believe rightly or wrongly, that ultimately we might fail. Good stress therefore becomes bad stress (de-motivation). When lions, tigers and bears are involved, one could reasonably be forgiven for preparing for a gory death, a horrific maiming, or perhaps a long hard run for it.

Clearly now in our more evolved state, that is less likely to happen. However, our primal response facilities are still in place. Nobody told our DNA that. These fears are activated by more subtle circumstances: the unknown, rejection, or people discovering who we are, with all our weaknesses and flaws and that we will be deemed unworthy. For most of us, being full of fear is not the greatest sensation ( racing pulse, churning stomach, sweating, high pitched voice) The best way to avoid feeling out of breath, nauseous, sweaty and sounding squeaky, is simply to avoid fear inducing situations. Makes sense right? This means that we withdraw into a nice safe place when we feel fearful. Or we don’t act at all. This means we stay in our nice safe place to prevent feeling fearful. In my case the hotel lounge!

What makes you anxious?

We all have different things that make us anxious ( our weaknesses, actual or perceived ), so it is impossible to make sweeping statements in any generic fashion. But happily that too enables us to escape discovery. Someone might skydive with impunity, but worry about writing a mission statement. An engineer might deal with complex technical problems, but feel nervous about interviews. A graphic designer might make brilliant lay outs, but have no idea how to write a CV. Who would have thought? Exactly! No one. We’re free and clear plus totally undiscovered. But wait…

Guilt

At the same basic level we know that we should be out doing the things that make us breathless, sick and sticky, ( aka guilt). We have bills to pay, expectations to meet and our partners or friends are asking probing questions, so we have strategies in place to convince ourselves and “others” to create smoke screens. A computer is great for “busy-ness” and not doing anything. We tell ourselves that it is simply events or circumstances that are conspiring against us. Today, more than ever we are able to pass on our individual responsibility ( blame) to something amorphous and unaccountable. The recession.

But sometimes “others” don’t buy into what we’re saying , because they have “other” fears and somewhat inconsiderately, they feel perfectly comfortable with the job search process. Then we start making excuses. I could fill a whole page with the reasons I have invented not to ski so I wouldn’t look “less than” or disappoint people who were important to me. Some of them were very creative. So in the words of Peter Williams Unworthiness is the foundation of the comfort zone” .

Facts provide messages

Finally we’re here. This is where facts talk. Facts are a big step. They get fear and guilt out into the open. You can then see that although everything is not perfect (nothing is ever perfect) , but they can be perfectly manageable. Facts provide messages. Messages lead to thought. Written thoughts leads to actions. Actions lead to solutions.

 When looking for a job everyone should keep a job search log/progress sheet whatever you want to call it. Doesn’t matter. You can make one yourself or use an online tool such as Jibberjobber (http://www.jibberjobber.com/) Keep an accurate record of all the positions applied for and each stage of the process with dates: position, company, contact, date CV sent, method ( direct, on-line), response( telephone interview, direct interview etc) feedback. Most people, when asked, have no idea how many jobs they’ve applied for. Most people claim that they spend 6-10 hours a day looking for jobs. I can usually tell by the results, how engaged they are. It’s quite often less than 6 -10 hours. If they need to network and only have 10 LinkedIn connections – I know they’re not putting in the hard yards and so do they. More guilt. Having all that information laid out in factual form enables you to easily track all the detail relating to your job search and time management. Even not having feedback sends you a useable message.

Facts and job search- be brutal

So, if you are sending off CVs (more than 10- 15 depending on level, function, geographic location) with no response at all, what is that telling you? You need to play around with the CV, change something and monitor that result. Change it again if that doesn’t work. If you get no further than a telephone screening – could it be that your telephone interview techniques needs some work? Same if you fall at the interview stage. If you can’t find any jobs to apply for ( and there are still some jobs, they are just not advertised as openly) then perhaps you need to expand your network or online presence. But unless you can see it written down you will convince yourself that you are active on the job market, when really, although you’re in front of your computer, perhaps spending more time reading something of personal interest (sports results, celeb gossip, international affairs) than researching openings. So track your time too – keep a time management log. Be brutally honest. Are you really engaged as much as you say, or just fooling around on Facebook or Twitter? Facts talk.

If you are struggling with any parts of the process over an extended period, please look at seeking support from friends, family, your network or a professional. You are your best asset – it’s an investment in your future. If you don’t act, you won’t fail, but you won’t succeed either.

Remember .. as Audrey Hepburn suggested, the letters in impossible also write I’m possible!

Mind Management: Beat Negative Thinking

Every day I coach incredibly talented, successful people with amazing skill sets, backgrounds and experience. But whether they are entry level, mid career or CEOs with long track records, many struggle to market themselves in the right way. One thing most have in common is without exception, they self -sabotage and block their own progress, not so much with what they do directly – but what they think. These thoughts not only control the outcome of any actions, but equally significantly, can also be at the root of inaction, lack of engagement and follow through. This is particularly hard to track if we develop strategies for seeming to be active (” busy-ness”) when indeed the opposite is going on. There is a lot of truth in the old adage “mind over matter”. Or mind matters!

Mind fabrication
I’m not talking about people losing sleep over being losers or useless. That would be too obvious. These thoughts are much more passive, pernicious,subtle and insidious, so ultimately more damaging. They are small disruptive internal messages that insinuate our sub-conscious thinking and keep re-playing in our heads until we believe them and ultimately act on them. We don’t know why, or sometimes that these notions are even there. My son has a great phrase “drowning in my own thoughts” to describe those negative messages, which pop up when we least want them. Worse still, they provide an invisible, sub- conscious structure for our decision making processes but just as importantly for our lack of decision making.

I had a Skype call with a guy based in London this week who wanted some job search support. No problem. During the conversation he mentioned several times ” being out of work for 2 years” and a need to explain a ” 2 year gap on my CV”. I scanned his CV. I checked and double checked. Nothing. Eventually I asked him when this 2 year gap had started. He replied December 2008. Okay.. we’re now July 2009 – how was that 2 years? That thought was a complete mind fabrication !

Self sabotaging
At some level he had persuaded himself that his mid career decision to take a 12 month MBA course was ” opting out” and therefore a period of unemployment, so he would need to defend his position with recruiters and interviewers. I have no idea where this pressure came from, that is complex and we only talked for 45 minutes. I just saw the outcome. Another approach could be that he had taken a brave risk, left a great job in a top company to strategically develop his career. It required leaving his own country and moving to a foreign one, adapting to a different culture and learning another language. His graduation coincided with the height of the credit crunch. That was the fault of a group of out of control bankers and a global trend in mindless consumerism. Nothing to do with him. Not only should recruiters not see this career enhancement step as a negative, but they should recognise it for what it is – a great series of achievements. (GC I hope you’re reading this!)

Re-frame with questions
So if you feel that anyone doesn’t understand you, start asking them some relevant questions to check they have insight into your situation. In this case they might be monolingual or mono cultural and lived in the same town all their lives. If they can’t see what you’re about – perhaps you need to change the type of recruiter you’re choosing to work with. Negative thinking is at the root of most self sabotaging coping strategies: procrastination and perfectionism to name just two. We all do it because we fear what other people will think of us and ultimately we fear failure. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. No one is unique, everyone goes through this at different times over different issues and even outwardly successful senior people have doubts at times.

Write things down
So how can you tackle that? Simple. Write the thought down. When written down a thought becomes clearer. Let’s pick one and track the subsequent underlying thinking that might be churning beneath the surface and needs to be teased out. This is a very typical negative thought process that I work through with many people on a weekly basis.

Track the message !
ORIGINAL THOUGHTHmmm… I should apply for that job” write that down and then track in writing, your subconscious ,internal negative dialogue which might be something along these lines:

**But.. wait… if I send in my CV, they might call me .. **and I won’t know what to say … **then I’ll make a complete idiot of myself on the phone and maybe in the interview… **then they’ll know how useless I am..** then I won’t get the job .. .**then they might tell everyone….**then everyone will know I’m stupid and laugh at me.. **then I’ll let my whole family down… ** then I won’t get any job anywhere, ever… **then I’ll never work again… then I’ll have no money so I’ll be bankrupt … **then I’ll lose my house .. *then my wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/kids/goldfish will all leave me forever.. **then I’ll be on benefits/welfare or living in a box … **then everyone in the world will hate me…then Hmmm … OK…. I just need to go to the supermarket/pub/shower …I’ll send the CV off after dinner.

Sound vaguely familiar? So how do you deal with this?

Look at the facts
Ok, now write down some opposing thoughts. Look at the facts. Realistically just by sending off your CV, what are the chances of you living in a box, with everyone thinking you’re a fool and everyone completely hating you? Right.. Absolutely ZERO. You indeed be might be mismatched for the opening or your CV is not strong enough, but that is quite different. Why? All those things can be changed. There is quite often underlying wisdom in humour and as the joke goes everyone doesn’t know you. Keep a job search log so you can’t convince yourself into thinking that you’re active when you’re not. Facts talk.

Reality check
The reality will be that the most damaging outcome is nothing. Your CV will not be selected by the ATS and you will sink into job search oblivion. Nothing is not good. So any action or activity from that process, even the messages you don’t want to hear, are learning experiences and not negative ones.

What have you learned from doing nothing? That you you need to act now, otherwise the whole process repeats itself .

Job Search: Action Does Overcome Anxiety

  
I frequently hear clients telling me of their struggles to let people know that they are now unemployed.

Small things like writing an end date on their CV or LinkedIn profile, for what is now their old job, are very challenging. Responding to the inevitable questions in networking events “Who are you with?” or “ What do you do?” leaves them feeling profoundly inadequate and nervous. Adjectives they use to describe themselves are “ stupid” and a “loser” .
 
In the words of Nina Ferrell “No pronouncement about you has value unless you agree with it.” But when those thoughts are internal messages coming from YOU – how do you manage your mind to maintain motivation? Fortunately, your reaction to anything is one of the few things you can control and here are just a few strategies to help put these experiences into context:
 
Reframe the experience: 
 
 Examine the facts
  • How many people are unemployed in your country, region or sector? You are one of many I would imagine, so the odds are stacked against everyone. When unemployment levels are at over 9% today there is no stigma to being without a job.
  • You are “ stupid” or a “loser” – lets look at this. One dictionary definition of stupid is ” marked by a lack of intellectual acuity”. What are your educational levels? What has your career and personal experience been to date? How would you describe anyone else, a neighbour or a colleague, with these levels of achievements, either academic, personal or professional? Where on the spectrum would you put “stupid” ? I imagine – nowhere. You are simply between jobs and in transition. Actors call it “ resting”, an excellent phrase.
  • Look at those same achievements and understand and acknowledge what you are good at. Keep a log of that list and read and update it regularly.

Turn transition into a positive experience

  • Look at your skill sets and identify areas where you could enhance existing skills, or gain new ones: learn a language, do an on-line course, do voluntary work. How you are responding to this “resting” period will be useful later on.
  • Use the time to formulate an action plan and set new achievable goals
  • When you achieve these goals –acknowledge that success, write it down and reward yourself. Remember this is a numbers game and initiative is better than inertia and action and activity overcome anxiety or angst .
  • Keep a log of your job search efforts so you can see in quantifiable terms exactly what you are doing.
  • Monitor your progress. Ask for feedback in case you need to do something differently.
  • Stay flexible and open minded.

Learn from previous experience

Look at the other challenges in your life and how you dealt with them. The skills that you had then and called upon, are basically unchanged ( unless there are health issues, which should be dealt with separately) and therefore still in your “tool box ” So you should be able to carry on using them.

Which challenges impacted you most?

  • How did you deal with them? Can you use those skills again?
  • Did you seek support? If so from whom?dentify and log your negative thoughts and see if they have appeared in your internal dialogue before. If they do, what are they? You will be able to see the ones that reoccur most frequently – check if there’s a pattern, and try to identify the ones that you are most anxious about. Acknowledging the existence of these thoughts is the first step at dealing with them. If you find this difficult, imagine advising a friend or colleague with the similar thoughts. Write down what you would say to him or her.     

  • What did you learn about yourself and others?
  • How did you inform yourself?
  • What made you feel more positive about the future?
  • Have you ever supported anyone else through a similar situation?
  • What did you say to them?

Log your negative messages

  •  Sit down and challenge the negative thoughts that you have identified. You have them written down so examine every thought on that page. Now look at each one rationally. Ask yourself where you would place these thoughts on a “reasonableness scale 1- 10”? What actual evidence is there for and against? If you have a thought ” I am never going to work again… ever” spend some time researching economic trends and re-frame your thought in the light of what experts are saying.

Take care of yourself

Now especially it is really important to look after your physical health and emotional well -being. Eat healthily, exercise and keep an eye on any symptoms of stress.

But if you do struggle with anxiety over a long period, please do consider seeking professional career support, consulting a doctor or a counsellor.

But above all remember “There’s no failure, only feedback. No mistakes, only outcomes” Thomas Hardman