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It is my considered opinion that job-hunting is for dummies and that smart people career-hunt. Job-hunting is tactical, reactive and myopic. Career management is no longer the province of Ivy League alumni or of those born with silver spoon in the mouth; it has become a survival skill akin to basic literacy, good grooming and polished interpersonal skills.
Working as I do with both employers and job-seekers every day, I would compare the approach that most job-hunters use to taking a long journey in your car with no destination in mind. No sane person would ever do this
– you would just panic at the first junction – and yet that is exactly what the majority of people do with their careers.
Unless you have a silver spoon in your mouth, a rich grandmother who dotes on you or the winning ticket to the lottery in your hip pocket; your career is likely to be your sole revenue stream. Career management is the optimal approach to protecting that revenue stream and to maximising it for the future. Here are two reasons to start thinking this way …
Data from the United States show that the upshot of all the mergers and hostile take-overs of recent years is that you can expect to have to change job up to 7 times in your life. HAVE TO. Downsizing, restructuring, re-engineering, rightsizing, rationalisation, streamlining following a merger or acquisition, and so on – all the usual horror stories. The media are full of pieces about this kind of thing and most of us have either experienced it directly or know someone who has been affected. So, I’m not talking about the moves that you make voluntarily to better organisations with better prospects, pay and conditions, I’m talking about seven highly stressful job changes that are forced upon you.
Seven times ploughing through the appointments section of your newspaper with a red crayon in your hand. Seven times rattling every bush in your network to find out when a job is coming up in a company you could just about tolerate working
for. Seven times explaining to your spouse / partner that it has happened … again. Seven times talking to your Bank Manager about deferring mortgage or other payments while you secure new employment …
Irrespective of your profession, education and brilliance at your chosen job; acknowledge and respect the fact that you need to get good at this thing we call Career Management. If you are reasonably proficient as a job-seeker, you will succeed at one out of every four interviews. Rounding up, that means if you face the worst-case scenario of seven enforced changes, you’re going to have to get to, and sit through, around 30 interviews in your career. Get good at this!
Career Management is not an innate talent – you have to learn how. Nor is it a frivolous luxury – it has become a necessity. Nor is it a one-off investment of time, effort and money. You brush your teeth every day so they don’t look, feel and smell unattractive and so that they don’t fall out of your head. Do you think that your career could benefit from a more-than-occasional polish and flossing?
The other key reason to get good at the skills of career management is the Bogeyman. The Bogeyman is the person who is better prepared than you to compete for the job that you so desperately want (or need). The Bogeyman is the person who has wanted this job (not just any old job, but this job) for the past five years. He has been networking, training, educating himself, reading and researching every day.
He doesn’t have friends – he has contacts. He doesn’t have a family – just a circle of influence. He doesn’t have a social life – just more entries in his little black book. His CV would make you weep. His writing style is so tight, you wonder why he isn’t making a living as an advertising copywriter or a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. And why does he do all this? Just so he can beat you hands-down for his dream job. He has what my mother used to refer to as “naughty thoughts” about his dream job. Do you?
Wouldn’t it be lovely to walk into an interview with a high degree of certitude and confidence? To know that there is nothing that they can ask you that you haven’t anticipated and prepared for. Bogeymen have that surety and the result
is that they are out there, raising the bar and setting the standard for all of us. Fortunately, Bogeymen are rare; I hope you never come up against one. More to the point – I hope that, as a result of refining your approach to managing your career and any job-hunts you may need (or want) to undertake, you become the Bogeyman.
PRACTICAL STEPS - PLANNING
First and foremost, make a plan and set yourself some short-term goals (one year / 1000 days) and some long-term goals (7-10 years). People who do this tend to succeed in their working lives. The old chestnut interview question ‘Where do you plan to be in 5 years’ time?’ is based on a series of studies which conclusively demonstrated that planners have a tremendous advantage in their working lives.
So why don’t people make plans? The excuses that most people give are that they (a) don’t have the time to slavishly plan out their working life and (b) most plans are meaningless anyway and therefore there is no point. The REASON why most people don’t make plans for their working lives is fear and this is a mixture of fear of commitment and fear of failure.
We’ve all heard about Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, with the holy grail of self-actualisation at the top. Where are you on the pyramid and where do you want to be? Without a plan, how can you answer that question? So go on, treat yourself.
Make a plan, just a little one on the back of an envelope. Define what you would like to be doing in your personal and professional life ten years from now. Don’t tell anyone about, tear it up and make a new one in a week’s time if you want, but make a plan and start working toward a long term aspiration.
Having a defined goal in mind like this renders decision-making much easier in the short term. If your plan is to be Sales Director of your company (or of a close competitor) then every decision you take on education, training, secondments,
personal development, collaborations, joint ventures, professional memberships, vendor selection and so on, becomes much easier.
Life was much simpler in the caves – you didn’t have to get into this kind of cerebral stuff to survive. But we have come down from the trees, we have shed the animal skins and, short of a global thermo-nuclear war, I don’t see us climbing back
up there any time soon. This kind of thinking is a new survival skill and one that not many people are good at yet. See if you can get ahead of the evolutionary curve in managing your career.
PRACTICAL STEPS - NETWORKING
In a truly meritocratic world, WHAT you know would be paramount. In the real world, WHAT you know is often subordinate to WHO you know. You can be an excellent salesperson with off-the-scale product knowledge and selling skills and a Grade-A product or service to sell, but if your boss or a customer hasn’t learnt that they can trust you yet, you are faced with an uphill struggle. Relationships govern so much of our working lives now that we sometimes fail to pay due attention to
them and to maintaining them.
We are not talking about burning bridges here. Very few people really burn the bridge; in career management terms, they just let it crumble through neglect. Tom Peters frequently opens his management seminars with a provocative question:
‘Does anyone here think that they suffer from too much talent?’ We can all be better, smarter, more informed.
We are all so busy with our daily lives and with trying to keep abreast of developments that may directly affect us that it is very difficult to widen that net to encompass future moves or other spheres of interest. Hence the network. Most
people shy away from networking because they perceive it to be a parasitic relationship. But if knowledge, ideas and favours are being exchanged, then the relationship is symbiotic and this is how it should be. So, check your plan.
Where do you want to be in the medium term? Your network is a very important component in the toolkit to get you there.
§ You should definitely be a member of your Professional Association. If there are Committees / Steering Committees, you should at least occasionally volunteer for them.
§ Does your Association produce a publication? Get hold of back issues and bring yourself up to date. Then read it regularly and subsequently think about contributing to it.
§ If you are sent on training courses, stay in touch with trainers, lecturers and other participants.
Whatever the setting, you have to learn to not be a wallflower. If this all sounds like a hell of a lot of effort, it is. If this all sounds like it’s going to take a lot of your time, it will. An ambitious, middle-ranking Bogeyman will be setting aside time for 3-4 networking meetings (lunch, a drink after work) per month, plus downtime to read and research, plus correspondence and phone time to keep all of his/her lines in the water. So the next step is learning to manage your time to allow for these vital activities.
PRACTICAL STEPS – TAKING CHARGE OF TIME
I think we can all agree that the “Job-for-life” concept is extinct and that job security is largely a thing of the past also. So what is the solution? You could work 70 hours a week – and they might still dump you. I content that you need to generate some balance and to manage your employer’s expectations – right from the start of your working relationship.
Bottom line here: if you’re willing to work 70 hours a week, EU working Time Directive or not, your employer is willing to let you …
If you want to pro-actively manage your career, you are going to need to manage yourself within the constraint of 168 hours per week to do so. I recommend looking at this pictorially. If you have a grid of 7X24 for all of the hours available to you in a week, you will probably be surprised at how much of that time is already accounted for.
§ Block off sleep
§ Block off domestic tasks and chores that you do every week
§ Then list off your commuting time
§ Then your typical working hours
§ Hobbies / Extra Curricular / Studies
§ Family of Friends time
Is there anything left? If there isn’t or if there is only a minuscule amount of free time available to you; something is going to have to give. Time management is a myth. You don’t manage time; time is constant and finite. You manage yourself.
You need to extract ‘value’ from your time bank. If you are going to give yourself an edge in your career by undertaking the kinds of activities we have outlined, you are going to have to make a conscious decision to find the time to do so.
Manage your career. It’s usually quiet in the jobs market in the Summer time, use the time and spend the effort now and improve the choices that you make for later. It’s better than having those choices made for you at a time that may not suit
“Chance favours the prepared mind” (Louis Pasteur)
Rowan Manahan is the author of Where’s My Oasis and MD of Fortify Services, a Dublin-based outplacement and career
management firm. www.fortifyservices.com