There are so many faulty and widely-held convictions about how to execute a successful career transition that I thought it might be helpful to address a few – and debunk them. What follows are some of the most common:
1) The myth: In order to defuse some of the more painful aspects of all the rejection and difficulties inherent in any search, it’s a great idea to share your feelings freely.
The reality: You don’t want your brand out there to be a negative one. The last thing you need is a general perception that things aren’t going well, or that you’re discouraged, or that things aren’t working out. Think about it. Why would people in your personal or professional network want to refer you to others if they perceive you as somehow damaged or discouraged goods? The perception you want to create is what I like to call “sunshine, light, and success.” It’s all going well, even if it isn’t.
But you do need to vent and troubleshoot during this process. Limit that to one or two close friends, professional associates, or family members. Try hard to keep the venting to a minimum with significant others. It’s tough for them, too, and you would much prefer they be more positive and supportive, rather than experiencing exactly what you are going through. A strong emotional support system is an essential piece of a successful search.
By the way, it’s absolutely permissible to take some time off. While I think that search is a full-time job, breaks are important. (That doesn’t mean take the summer off, or give up during the holiday seasons.) I’ve frequently observed that not taking time off will often make the search less effective and less energetic.
2) The myth: Answer as many job postings as possible; the more resumes out there, the better.
The reality: Sending out large volumes of resumes (even with great cover emails) is usually a waste of time. It’s reactive – or passive – job search. What many people hope is that by sending out large volume responses to postings, or sending out resumes blindly to various human resources departments, there will be market saturation and, by sheer statistical probability, many responses. In other words, they can just sit there and wait for the world to come to them. The phone will ring. Emails will magically appear. It doesn’t usually happen that way, but it’s definitely a great wish.
One of the most negative images I have of a futile job search is someone in transition staring at both their computers and phones – and waiting.
Statistically (since we just mentioned numbers), a significant proportion of jobs are found through relationships, not through sending out resumes or calling search firms.
You need to take responsibility for your own search, in a proactive fashion. That means while you may answer postings, you’re spending most of your time researching your targets, working on your self-branding, and developing relationships that will lead to learning about new possibilities. That’s a full time job, and it’s hard work.
3) The myth: After having built those above-mentioned relationships, you can relax after you meet new people, and wait for the job possibilities and leads to roll in.
The reality: We’re back to that proactive notion again here. One of the most common problems I hear about in transitions is that my clients or students have met many people, but that alone has still not led to job possibilities.
Having one meeting with a valuable contact is not enough.
An effective networking approach, one that is consistently proactive and does indeed lead to finding out about position openings, is one that involves tending those new relationships. That means multiple follow-up contacts – including a thank you/marketing email for positive reinforcement right after a meeting, then perhaps multiple communications afterward, as many as you think reasonable. One of those might be telling the contact that you’ve met successfully with someone they’ve suggested. Or another might be sending a clipping about a relevant topic that was discussed in the meeting. Keep the communications short and unobtrusive.
What we’re talking about here is pure sales technique. A contact won’t remember you from just one meeting, and especially not from just one phone call. (I always encourage, whenever possible, that meetings be in person.) There have to be repeated contacts to create memory and relationship. This is more hard work.
4) The myth: When you think that an offer is about to come, suspend all other job search activities. You don’t want to have to cancel meetings and offend people.
The reality: It’s dangerous to stop a search when an offer, or offers, seem imminent. Momentum is lost. So much can happen with that assumed offer. Funding could disappear, an internal candidate could appear; any number of variables could mess up your offer. So why rely on what you can’t control? Keep things going.
When I said “dangerous,” I meant that when all activity is stopped in anticipation of offer(s), and those don’t work out, it’s very difficult to get activities started again. It’s demoralizing to try to rebuild the search at that low point. Search is hard enough without adding unnecessary detours.
If you do get the offer, and successfully negotiate it, then great; you can always cancel the other meetings you’ve scheduled.
5) The myth: The more people I talk with, the better.
The reality: Volume doesn’t equate to success in job search. High numbers are better than low, but not enough. As mentioned earlier, I’ve heard many job seekers say they’ve met many people, and some may even enjoy the process (that always surprises me, because I’m not one who will talk about what a wonderful experience career transition is). But they wonder why the volume hasn’t resulted in new job leads or at least new, reliable information.
I recommend a system for analyzing the quality of your networking contacts.
Level One contacts are peers, or just those who might be able to help you penetrate an organization, or simply give you industry information that you need to make yourself more of an “insider.” Level One is where most will spend significant time, particularly in the beginning of search – when you’re looking to validate your targets. But if a search continues to be only Level One, this may be a key reason why it’s not working.
Level Two contacts are the right people in the right organizations in your target areas – and could also possibly lead you to decision makers, otherwise known as Level Three. These Level Two contacts are great sources of information about your targets and your potential market.
Decision makers (Level Three) are those who make hiring decisions. They are your eventual targets in search.
If your search is stalled, chances are there are mostly Level One contacts in your network. If you’re making progress, you’re seeing Level Two and Level Three contacts.
In Part II I'll talk about more myths and other factors in successful search.
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