Out of the Firing Line (part 1)

In my last post I shared some of the events that led to my collection of ‘between roles’ situations.  Whilst I could have done without most of these events at the time, all of them taught me a great deal, caused me to re-focus upon my career direction and led to better things.  In this post I’d like to share with you some of the things that worked for me with some general advice.

Firstly and with no apologies, but being from am older generation, I have to say that debt is your enemy.  Certainly, we all have to take on a mortgage (I have never known someone to save up the entire price of a house) but I am not a fan of credit (unless in business when you have to fund a major investment). Having been schooled in cash flow management from my earliest days in business, it didn’t take long to realise that all credit does over the medium to long term is to eat up money in interest that could have been used to purchase more goods or services.  If you feel at risk of unemployment, then put priority into bringing down your debt before all else.  If you are newly unemployed, then go into crisis mode for spending and work out a plan with your creditors (it’s better and easier than waiting until every penny has gone).  Don’t feel embarrassed about being miserly, it is sensible and if it gives you extra months then it’s less stress.

If you have already been let go, treat the subsequent process as a full time job.  Keep office hours and don’t turn into a slob. If you have a home office, that’s great but if not stake your claim to a part of the house, call it your own and tell everyone else you’re at work and not to be interrupted. I worked extremely hard and methodically at each process of finding the next career move but I was also flexible.  If the sun was shining in the morning, I would take myself off cycling for 3 or 4 hours; building stamina and providing pure thinking time.  I’d then work through until 8 or 9.00 p.m.

Networking is vital as many roles (at all levels) are filled before they are advertised.  However, use the process intelligently; ‘give us a job’ is not the right approach.  Analyse your contacts, plan what each might offer in terms of reaching someone who can move the process on, the advice they can give and seeking information on target companies and industries (the more specific questions you can ask the better).  “If you hear of anything…” is the most stupid waste of breath and if you ever hear yourself saying this, give yourself a stern reprimand.  My experience is that used in this way everyone I contacted gave me time and the advice I that I received was of great help.

Carry out a persona SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats analysis), yes.  But then carefully work out what exactly it is telling you.  Do you really have unique strengths in terms of qualifications or experience?  Are you critically weak in some areas? What are market trends doing?  Are these likely to work for or against you?  Are there opportunities you can exploit and are there risks that are highly likely to occur?  Above all, don’t kid yourself and be brutally honest in your appraisal.  Focus then on the opportunities that build on your strengths, do all you can to avoid certain risks and minimise threats to your career.

 One of the hardest decisions is knowing when to build on an in-depth knowledge of an industry to target jobs in that sector versus using generic functional and personal skills and experience to move industries.  For some people moving industries at the same or higher level will not be possible; for others it may be your best decision.  I’ve moved industries many times and (I believe) it’s been a key factor in my success.  The incumbents in an industry can become myopic and vulnerable to groupthink but an outsider can bring fresh insights and new strategies (not always the easiest sell though). Be realistic though; moving from the private sector to the public or vice versa is not the easiest move to achieve nor is it likely to be the easiest to live with such vastly different cultures.  However, some skills (often technical) are more transferable than others.

 Another hard decision (and potential risk) lies in deciding whether to make yourself dispensable in your current role. This might sound like a crazy thing to say but consider; make yourself indispensable and you may weather a short term storm in a bad economic period but risk making yourself unpromotable.  Make yourself dispensable and you have proved you can move on and up but at the risk of being vulnerable in tough times.  However, I’d always rather be in the latter category and be able to prove to a potential new employer what I had achieved and how I was more than ever ready for the next big challenge.

Have a reputable psychometric assessment carried out; this is something I really recommend.  Questionnaires are available for free on the internet but I would not waste your time on these.  Instead find a practitioner of a well respected, reliable and accurate instrument such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ32).  The real value will come from receiving feedback and the coaching process that should follow.  We all think that we know ourselves well but I have rarely, if ever, met someone who didn’t learn from the feedback I provided to them.  The experience will also give you a far better insight into recognising others’ behavioural type, and critically, the characteristics that a particular role is calling for and how you might fit into the target company culture.

 However big the temptation to sell yourself into a role that really doesn’t play to your strengths, don’t do it; it will only end in tears.  We all have personalities that favour certain behavioural traits and these tend to make us more likely to be more successful in some roles than others.  We can modify certain behaviours but trying to do a 180º on a key aspect is really asking for trouble. A corollary to this is to avoid the temptation to believe all you hear from a prospective employer.  The recruitment process is really like dating; both parties may agree on the next step but the one after can be a very different and difficult affair.  A company is only as good as your boss, so research a prospect boss very carefully.  With LinkedIn this is easier than ever.

Research any prospective employer, do it thoroughly and understand what you have found out is really telling you.  I cannot stress enough how important this simple concept is.  Companies House can provide full sets of accounts for a small fee and a recommend taking a look at the last 3 ~ 4 years to gain a picture of what the key trends are.   Doing the same for key competitors will provide an additional source of information and equip you with more knowledge for an interview.  Google searches are so easy it’s almost not worth mentioning but they cn reveal a great deal.  The number of times I have been faced with short listed candidates (even for board level appointments) who have not carried out even the most rudimentary investigation on the business is incredible.  You can’t hope to understand everything about a business from the outside and it may make you very foolish if you jump to conclusions at an interview. Good research will enable you to raise the right questions and show you have done your homework.  There have been occasions when I have deliberately let a well prepared candidate take the lead at an initial interview, impressed by their depth of knowledge and perceptive questioning.

In the third section (following shortly) I shall look in more detail at some of the more creative approaches to the job hunt that I have found can work in getting that all important initial meeting.  Meanwhile, good luck and I’ll be back soon.

Image courtesy of careerguidetips.com

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2 responses to “Out of the Firing Line (part 1)

  1. I had not heard of SWOT analysis before, but I found there is lots of information about it on the web which is quite useful. Thank you telling us about it.

    I totally agree with you about the debt thing. My husband and I both worried we could lose our jobs, and made the decision to get our house paid off. When I eventually did lose my job, we had not a penny of debt and I was able to start a small service business from home with very little expense.

  2. I am glad you found SWOT to be useful, Lynne. The peace of mind that comes from a debt free existence is wonderful but getting the house paid off is a truly difficult task that not many folk are prepared to countenance. By the time I managed it the energy bills were far exceeding the mortgage costs though!

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