How to Take Charge of Your Career Future

by | March 10, 2009

As a career coach, I work with many people who lose jobs through no fault of their own. As their employers restructured, they simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Here are some of the lessons to be learned from those who have made successful career transitions:

Embrace change. The only "constant" nowadays in the work world is change. As organizations continue streamlining and relying on technology, more positions will be eliminated and people will change jobs and careers more frequently.

Whatever your job was yesterday, it's changed today. As Alice says in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," "I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I must have changed several times since then." No job remains the same. Practice work habits that demonstrate you're "change hardy." If you hear someone say, "I wish I could go back to the way things were," run the other way because they aren't going to be around long.

Know what you do well. When I coach clients for job interviews, I ask them to tell me their five best "core" skills or competencies. Many people will say things like "I'm dedicated, hard working, comfortable working with management and have a good sense of humor."

That's fine, but if I were an employer, I need to know what they can do for me specifically. How are they different from other candidates? Surprisingly, few people can articulate the skills, experience and attributes that make them unique or give them a competitive edge. Before you write a risumi or practice for interviews, assess what you do well. Ask yourself how you're different and how you can add value for an employer. In essence, why should you be hired?

Stay sharp and marketable. Evaluate your skills continuously. Even after you land another job, stay current with changing skill requirements. In her mid-50s, my wife went back to school and is presently pursuing a Ph.D. She recognized that she wanted to learn more, and for her, obtaining a Ph.D. was a way to do that.

Returning to school may not be for you, but when you stop learning, you stop adding value. By continually learning you demonstrate to an employer that you're an asset.

Listen to audiocassettes while in the car, train or airplane. Read books, local newspapers and specialized magazines to remain current and learn about the competition. Also, join professional associations and attend monthly meetings, seminars and annual conferences.

Perhaps Henry Ford said it best: "Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young."

Recognize networking's power. About two-thirds of executives who receive outplacement assistance find new jobs through networking. I find it amazing how many unemployed people don't know or are unwilling to recognize the significance of networking. In its simplest form, networking is exchanging information. At its best, it's finding advocates who will recommend you to people who may have or want to create a position for you.

Networking should be something you do frequently, not just when you're looking for a job. Always keep your phone list of friends, acquaintances and business associates up-to-date and call them occasionally, even if just to say "hello." That way, if you're unemployed and call someone on your list, you won't feel embarrassed that you haven't spoken to them for 15 years.

Have a plan to get to your goal. Some people read want-ads and start sending out risumis immediately after their job loss. There's nothing wrong with responding to ads. You may find work that way. But it's only one tactic. An effective campaign includes many job-hunting methods. Unemployed executives who plan and then follow through on their job-search activities are ultimately the most successful.

Networking should be at the top of your list of tactics; it's an especially good way to stay active, visible and positive during your transition. Also include targeted marketing to specific companies. Mass mailings, although not very cost effective, are a way to reach a large audience. Selectively attending job fairs can help you learn about opportunities.

If possible, seek out temporary-employment assignments. Nearly one-third of professional temps are hired into full-time jobs. Interim work keeps your abilities current. You also can learn new skills and make money while seeking full-time work.

Check out Internet sites for available positions, but when putting your risumi online, use discretion, since you don't want your employment information disseminated without your knowledge. The Internet also is a good place to research companies that are growing or restructuring, since they may have openings.

Achieve balance. Being terminated devastates some people and not others. Men seem to define themselves by their employment and job titles and are more shattered by the news than women, who tend to have more balance in their lives and aren't as consumed with work.

Making time for family, friends and enriching activities is restorative and improves mental, physical and spiritual health. Start exercising, walking, reading more, going to movies, starting new hobbies, practicing better nutrition or volunteering to help others. When you achieve balance in your life, you won't be as traumatized by a job loss because you'll be doing what really matters to you.

Move on. Losing a job can generate a myriad of emotions. The sooner you acknowledge and deal with your feelings, the better able you'll be to move forward with your job search. It's OK and perhaps necessary to grieve. If you become "stuck" in grief or anger, consider getting help so you can move on. The goal is to free yourself up emotionally so that you can become fully invested in securing your next position.

Think like you're self-employed. In the current environment, "we're all self-employed really," as one information-technology professional says. Self-employed individuals take responsibility for their careers. They typically embrace a "can do" attitude and see the big picture.

What vision do you have for your future? Be proactive about your career. Evaluate decisions you make today in terms of your overall career goals. As companies continue to cut costs, be prepared to pay for your retirement, health-care benefits and professional development. Don't be afraid to take risks. "Be bold. If you're going to make an error, make a doozey, and don't be afraid to hit the ball," Billie Jean King once said.

Regard looking for work as a full-time job. It's tempting to take time off during a career transition. After all, you're not working, right? Wrong. While the perfect formula for re-employment is unknown, there's little doubt that it takes hard work, commitment, concentration, energy and time. Stay focused by setting daily and weekly goals, such as making a specific number of phone calls, sending out risumis, networking, researching, and practicing for job interviews.

Reward yourself for reaching such accomplishments as scheduling five networking appointments in a week. Play tennis or golf, paint a room or go on a spontaneous picnic -- but only after you've achieved your goal. That way you'll feel better about taking the break.

Celebrate your successes. Find time for laughter and humor. Remember, you have skills, experiences and talents that employers need. Know that security is mostly an illusion. "It does not exist in nature&Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure, or nothing," Helen Keller once said. She accomplished many impressive goals despite adversities that would stop most people. Good luck on your journey!

-- Mr. Creveling is a coach and co-founder of Career Resources Management, a career-management and organization-development consulting firm in Philadelphia. He can be reached at crminc@erols.com.

Filed Under: Job Search


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