layoffs

Identity Theft and the Unicorn of Security

We need to believe in magic, myth, and miracles. We need to fantasize and dream to distract us from the drudgery of our day to day lives. To make sense of the meaning of our Groundhog Day existence.

STOP!

This is where I go insane. People confess these things to me and I lose it. Drudgery?! Groundhog Day? That is unacceptable. You don't need distractions you need a new life. Why do we settle? Why do we endure the pain and suffering? Because we are martyrs? Because "this is the best it can be"?

Never fault anyone who wants a job that will last until they die. They just don't exist. :) I just met two young managers who basically told me they want an annuity as a career. You know, where you can literally produce an excel spreadsheet and a linear graph of the "guarantee" of the compensation, benefits and retirement. The unicorn of security.

This late 20ish man and woman were like characters from a Mad Men era of career certainty. Get on the escalator and it will take you to the top. 

Escalator
Courtesy of Start-Up You

I know that global instability, the insecurity of families, the nightmarish experience of serial layoffs and unemployment breed this extreme, illogical, and actually quite dangerous perspective.

Tried to guide these two people, with only little effect. The young woman has been laid off several times consecutively. Three promising jobs were attained since she earned her graduate degree in business. Three name brand firms with sterling reputations (2 of which no longer exist). Three bosses who assured her of a career path. Her confidence was shattered. Her risk averse muscles grew on steroids. She now wants certainty. Yikes! I get it. I really do. Being jilted at the alter three times would make anyone anti-marriage. But would it make you anti-love? Anti-dreams? She has accepted a position as a bureaucrat that offers "security of employment" and a "great pension". "If I just keep my head down and do my job, I'm set for life." But is that a life you want?

Our conversation shifted to her life outside of her job. I strongly advised her to build out this part of her life to "balance" her job with her passions and other skills. This woman has so much to offer and it would be a waste and a shame if she does not invest this part of herself. She and the community would be poorer. My secret unspoken idea was to make sure she built her network and confidence outside of her day job as a hedge against the unthinkable but possible 4th layoff!

The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.  Mandela

The young man with a young family has also endured a triumvirate of bad choices. Four jobs that were not "good fits". Four consecutive times where there was a serious disconnect between both bosses and missions. Four "layoffs". Now all he wants is "security and stability". It was obvious to me that this gentleman was using somebody's else's compass to find his career. When he looked in the mirror he did not see his own image. He did not know himself. The "fit" would never happen until he knew his own size and his preferences. As I preach here ad nauseum, the first networking connection is thyself! I tried to steer the conversation away from his "bad luck" and "poor timing" to the delicate subject at hand. Lucky for me, he arrived at his own doorstep to begin a process and now contemplates a path that reflects his interests and his life. I know this sounds obvious, but I encounter many people who are under the assumed identities of what they think they "should" do, "should" be--everyone has told them what they are good at and what makes sense. They adopt this identity and the consequences in the long run are devastating. They allow others to steal their identities.

So while we all want more security, stability, and certainty in our lives, it will not come from a job with a pension. It will not come from identity theft. 

These great and elusive concepts undermine your confidence in your path. That life is not about security of employment but the security of knowing oneself. Your confidence to build a life outside of your job that is potentially more fulfilling. Your confidence that you will never be defined by your job. Your confidence that you embrace change and are ready for it. It will come from your energy to thrive.

Over time you realize that the source of one comes from its opposite. Security comes from your comfort with insecurity. Stability comes from your understanding of instability. And the only thing you are certain of is uncertainty.

These two people will find their way. It just will not be what they planned.

I am reminded of the power of mentoring: when I give advice it helps the me/the mentor more than the mentees. I am grateful for the chance to help others and to think about my own disjointed path and whether I am being true to myself. I will continue to push myself and others towards their own identities and away from the false gods of stability and security. 

Thanks for reading. John


Endurance Networking: 10 Tips for the Longer Term Job Search

Labor Day is the time to consider and help those without jobs. Regrettably that is a huge percentage of people around us. People we know and people we don't know. More and more frequently I am encountering people from my former lives and people who are in my extended network who have endured an interminable and for some, brutal process of looking for a job. The time and effort to get a job from a layoff, termination, or job transition can be a marathon of frustration and exasperation. The toll this process takes on ones psyche, confidence, and self dignity can not be exaggerated.This is where doing the same thing over and over is insanity. Let's be honest, most people have never been taught or know how to conduct a job search in good times. So looking for work when competition is furious requires a much different mindset and approach.Distance 

Many approach this like a video game. They are under the hypnotic trance that the internet will find them a job. They are seat belted to their home computer and go through the maze of job sites over and over and over, and impulsively lob resumes at them. It has become a game of numbers where quantity matters and you want instant gratification. These same people send out FB and Linked in requests without personalizing the invites. Because amassing more impersonal connections will help you win the game but not a job.

I remember a friend who had developed a condominium project for a specific price point and target market. It was not working, people were not buying. As we know, people look at certain price bands that they can afford and avoid other bands as "too low" and "too high". We sat around and discussed discounting strategies, promotional tactics and other ways to essentially lower the price point and move into a lower band. Then someone suggested that the product was positioned poorly and would have less competition if we RAISED the price and re-positioned. We decided before we discounted we would try to retain the value proposition and move into a different band of buying. The condos sold out quickly and the lesson is one of human myopia on both the buy side and the sell side. We operate in narrow bands of behavior based on what everyone else is doing. And in doing so we have forgotten the most important principle of marketing oneself--differentiation. How do we stand out of the pack, the pile of resumes, and separate ourselves from the sea of candidates?

I see this in the job market today where for some reason we gravitate to the common denominator strategies where the great majority of the candidates are operating and competing. See the same thing in college applications. People follow a formula that others told them, they read on the web, or they got a tip at a workshop--and then become the unattractive average. Surveys always tells us that more than 75% of us are above average! So why would we adopt a job search process that your competitors employ? This behavior is proof of the gravitational pull of conformity and the centripetal force of mediocrity that leads to an insurance policy that your job search may never end.

If it works, it is obsolete. (attributed to Marshall McLuhan)

If we agree this market is different then you have to be, think and act differently.

Economic disruptions like this cause irrational behavior. Job seekers who start to second guess the market where they adjust their resumes and their job search process may or may not work. They can lose their way going down the rabbit hole of confusing self-talk and behavior that can distract them from their strengths. Simply put, straying from who you are and what your competences are is risky. Not saying you should not traverse sectors or make major job shifts.  But if you are a finance, marketing, or human resources professional with years of experience, you have to play those cards. Otherwise you are reduced to a new grad with a liberal arts education---you can do anything! And how does that differentiate you in the pile of resumes?

The following assumes your resume, your basic understanding of your story (including gaps, challenges and transitions), and your goals are fairly well established. So here are 10 tips to keep you on a pace to to survive the long distance job search:

  1. Stay positive. Put any semblance of embarrassment, shame, self consciousness and self doubt in a box and lock it in the attic. These demons keep you in a mode that is less willing to ask for help, less able to show your vulnerability, and less of the authentic you.
  2. Every day is a work day. Your search has to consume the equivalent of a full time position. This is not just playing the job boards, it is the process of getting leads and networking. Energize yourself to go at it every morning.
  3. Think about your "band of behavior". What types of jobs/opportunities are you willing to take? Remain open and pursue opportunities that make sense but you have never considered. How big of a pay cut are you willing to take? Will you relocate? If you are making a sector transition, are you willing to essentially start over? Expand your band with specificity.  In other words, describe all of the attributes of your minimums (we know you want more!) What are your true minimums? 
  4. Stay active. Pursue or maintain volunteer, consulting, pro-bono and/or part time gigs to keep your juices going and to keep a warm place on your resume. Substantive charitable or non-profit volunteer work can be part of your story that fills the time and the gap in your work history.
  5. Continuous education. Take a class to sharpen your skills and find another networking platform.
  6. Apply early and often. Apply for everything that interests you AND where you have a real chance to add value. You need the practice interviewing. When in doubt apply. Focused on your goals, you do need leads and options. Even if you are "over-qualified" give the resume reader pause by considering someone who can do the job easily.
  7. Differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. How will you make your resume, your candidacy stand out? The key is who you know. Who you know and who they know.
  8. Go Face to face. Devote more than half of your search time to meetings or telephone conversations. Get out of your house and talk to people. You have to be able to push yourself and those around you to get out from behind their computers and literally and figuratively "pound the pavement" and "knock on doors". Hopefully you have gone beyond the basic networking and have a good inner circle of supporters. People who know you and you have a trusting relationship with. Have you met with all of them? No you haven't?! Connect and reconnect with your existing network--your relatives, your friends, your former colleagues, and your former bosses.
  9. Get on the insider track  As you expand your connections, you will begin to become aware of positions that are open and not posted. This happens when your focus is also on employers not openings. The biggest mistake is ONLY talking about positions that are posted. Most jobs are like houses in the most coveted neighborhoods, they are not listed, they all start out with private processes that are not made public unless they did not work. The word about a good job is put out to the employer's inner network to talk to the "best" candidates. The only way your name comes up in these searches is if someone you know is aware of it.
  10. Be introduced and referred This is the most powerful networking and the biggest differentiator. Having influential people you know or meet introduce you to prospective employers is enormously helpful. Instant credibility, good brand management, access to information, and an expansion of your network. Clearly, the ability to drop a name on the cover note of your resume when applying/inquiring for a job may be the biggest differentiator. The bigger the name the hotter your resume becomes. That resume has to be separated from the pile, people have to track it and you get a better chance to get to the next level of consideration. Please don't misunderstand me, you don't need referrals from the C Suite, you need to be referred by an insider. That implied endorsement is big, regardless of the level.

Jobs are opening up everyday behind the curtain and posted on Monster. So persistence and vigilance are essential partners for the longer term job search.

Networking is ALWAYS a long term if not a life time process. A process of staying in touch and exploring opportunities. It is a marathon lifestyle where the tortoise beats the hare every time. Meeting people to appreciate who you know and who you are will energize you. To learn of new opportunities and ways to approach old ones. To keep the mind sharp, the blood pumping and keep the finish line in sight.

Thanks for reading. John

 


Repairing and avoiding burned bridges

What goes around comes around and sometimes it is a quick trip. 

That's what I was told by a wiser person early in my career. In other words, you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down. Burning bridges is plain stupid. The world is a small place and your reputation and network are precious. There is this fallacy that you can just plow ahead and push forward because you never go back that way again. And it doesn't matter because the people you've encountered in these developmental, experimental, or early stages of life will not be relevant to your world later. Kinda like your 2nd grade teacher, right?------wrong again. Burning bridges

There's just a very simple practical matter when you burn a bridge you don't have a reference, you have destroyed part of your history, and you have lost a part of your life.

Of course if you are in a toxic environment, work for a felonious employer or witness crimes against humanity, then you leave and you are not sensitive to the state and well-being of the relationship. You may leave in a manner that was not of your choosing or certainly in a way that does not reflect your best side. You have a solid rationale, righteousness, and an explainable reason for your unceremonious and possibly uncivil departure. Some bridges have to be burned.

Most burnt bridges don't involve dramatic fires and lawyers. Usually bridges get burned very slowly--slow enough to see and smell. Embers that smolder and eventually flame up and destroy whatever positive structures were there.

But when you have decided to leave of your own volition, get a better job, or just want out, you have to be professional. Some people don't get this. They think if they give their 2 weeks notice, never consult with their employer, and go on their merry way that the world remains intact and bridges are preserved. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bridges are not edifices on a one-way street that you take for granted and see in your rear view mirror. Bridges are often returned to for references and referrals. They are places and people that you visit to remind you of your progress and solidify your past. They are parts of the mosaic of your reputation and experience.

I was asked recently what you do when you have burned a bridge. The only thing you can do is to repair it, to go back to the scene of the fire and confront the same issues you faced originally.  Its best to repair the potholes in your road before they cause accidents. But what do you do? What can you do? You have to make the call. You have to make the connection you have to go face to face, listen and learn. You have to eat a big hunk of humble pie and apologize for the way YOU handled it. Hopefully there will be some reciprocity here if it is warranted. But if you can repair the burnt bridge so that it is at least neutral, then you have taken the higher road and restored a part of your history, part of you.BridgeConstruction

I have learned that professionalism and dignity are always the right choices. Not well known that I have been hired and fired. I have been laid off and paid off.  In every case it was evident that things were not working. I had a couple of choices. Get ahead of it or wait for the inevitable. I have found that anticipation is more virtuous than being right. Unless you are the boss/owner, then your perspective is secondary by definition. A lack of anticipation, attention and common sense can fossilize a bad relationship/job. Why not get off the burning bridge first. I once told my employer that I thought the relationship was not working and that we should plan my exit. He was stunned and grateful for the honesty. We made amicable plans and he is still a great reference for me! (Even tried to hire me back!)

I mentored this woman who works for a friend of mine. I generously gave her candid advice over years to focus her pursuit of higher responsibility and confidence. She ended up getting her Masters degree paid for by my friend's company. She progressed and she advanced and I took a tiny bit of pride in her growth. I never expected gratitude or anything. When she quit her job and did not give sufficient notice or even talk to my friend or me before she resigned, I was disappointed. I told her she burnt a bridge. She was shocked and also incredibly defensive. She said she had every right to move on and to advance her career. That was not the point. This was not about blind loyalty, this is about the process of engaging your supporters in your advancement. Your supporters are like micro investors who expect you to move up and out, but like to be informed. They don't want to be surprised. My friend was not only surprised but hurt. That bridge is a pile of ashes now. She still thinks its there, but later she may discover its gone when she needs it.

Bottom-line is if you have burnt bridges and regretted relationships you should reach out and fix them. They will never fade away and in fact they can haunt you. They hurt your brand. They might sabotage your future, but most important they diminish you. They reduce your sense of who you are.

The road you have travelled is a reflection of you and your relationships. Bridges and roads need to be maintained and repaired to remain strong and viable. It is never too late to go back to repair, but it it is simpler to avoid damaging any part of your path because you may tread there again.

Thanks for reading. John


The Failure Option--Succeeding through mistakes

Think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Success is going from one failure to the next, with enthusiasm." And wasn't it venerable and victorious Vince Lombardi who said, "Either get fired with enthusiasm or get fired with enthusiasm!

Fear of failure or the perfection complex is one of the greatest obstacles to career and life development. Taking risks that lead to mistakes that lead to innovation, that lead to new opportunities, that lead to new relationships that lead to greater fulfillment and impact. Sorry do not know the stories of success that are not peppered with blunders, embarrassment, and yes, failure. DefiningMoments

Excerpts from Joey Green's the Road to Success is Paved with Failure:

  • Michael Jordan did not make his high school basketball team.'
  • John F. Kenendy lost his bid to be president of his freshman class at Harvard.
  • Thomas Edison was expelled from school and invented the light bulb after 2000 attempts.
  • Marilyn Monroe was fired from her first film contract for being unattractive.
  • Abraham Lincoln lost 9 elections
  • Coca Cola sold 400 bottles its first year.
  • Douglas MacArthur was denied admission to Westpoint, twice.
  • Elvis got a C in high school music and was told he could not sing.

Failure is the challenge to keep on keeping on.

I have endured some pretty crazy interviews for jobs. But my favorite of all time was the one conducted by the iconic Vinod Khosla. The interview which consisted of two questions and 90 minutes of conversation. He started the interview with, "John, how do you define meaning in your life?"  This was like a verbal brick wall for my twin turbine engine interview prep to slam into. Had to down-shift into a gear to answer that question thoughtfully. That prompted an amazing give and take on regrets, family, relationships, what really matters, and what we hope to to accomplish before we die. Whoa! Then he asked his second and final question: "Take me through your resume in reverse chronological order and tell me the biggest failure at each of your jobs. Don't tell me what you learned, just the failure." I literally laughed out loud. Never heard that question put that way. We all know that a resume hides more than it reveals so when someone rips back the curtain like that it either evokes a primal scream or pure joy. It's amazing how big the mistakes I made were. Some haunt me, some give a prurient source of pride, and still others remind me of how I did grow. I regaled Mr. Khosla with horrid decisions, immature ideas, and blind-sightedness. It was obvious he wanted to see my risk tachometer and how far beyond the red-line I would and had gone. Not reckless, ethically edgy stuff, but what was the appetite for change and challenge? This interview reminded me of my fallibility but also how far I had come. Guess my failures impressed him enough to get the job.

Don't confuse this type of interview with the trite and predictable attempts by interviewees to convert their "weaknesses" into strengths. Very few people reveal any self awareness of their own failings in the interviews today. As if they have read the same stupid script from Interviews for Dummies (I hope this book does not exist). The robotic answers to the question, "What are your weaknesses or areas you need to improve upon?"

  1. Theatrical pause, with no specific answer.----Never hire!
  2. "I guess I work too hard and just can't stop working." ---- Really? Popular but meaningless response.
  3. "I am a perfectionist."----So how's that working? :) Stupid!

When the eyes and answers provide no windows to the soul, then I yank the reject cord! The ability to articulate what you are working on and trying to improve as a professional, as a family person, as a human being is relevant. Pretending that none exist by using party manners and memorized answers is a recipe for failure.

Being laid off is a failure. And while all too commonplace and often not the full responsibility of the employee, it represents a mistake. Was it a real surprise? Why did you wait to be laid off? So you did not have a Plan B or C, why not? You knew it was not going to be your last job, so how long did you think it would last? And what was your plan after that? And what has this failure taught you about your next move?Yes, there are victims of black fridays with no notice (that's how I was laid off), but most "lay-offs" are foreseen or suspected.

Failure to prepare is preparing for failure. Coach Wooden.

Last week I met Cheryl Dorsey, president of the Echoing Green Foundation. She was the commencement speaker at Walden University's graduation. Her speech was a riveting auto-biographical sketch of her failures and the need for the next generation to "embrace failure". I was surprised to later learn it was her first commencement speech, but it was perfect. One of her many "failures' was her choice to become an MD. Her parents encouraged her and she graduated with honors from Harvard Medical School and became a successful pediatrician. Her parents beamed with pride over the family's first doctor. But Cheryl soon realized she made a huge mistake. She found out that becoming a doctor was her mom and dad's plan, not hers. Sound familiar? So recognizing her long standing failure, she followed her heart and became a social entrepreneur. Despite the monstrous investment of time and money, it was not too late to push the reset button. And her failure showed her the way. Bunko

We all fail and therefore we all learn. Failure is the greatest teacher. Failure triggers course corrections that lead to change and new perspective. Failure forces you to change your network, maybe even your mentor. Failure can redefine you. In Daniel Pink's wonderful The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, the last career guide you ever need, lesson 5 is Make Excellent Mistakes. Most of us say we take risks, or we venture out of our "comfort zones" but we really don't. Fear erects strong boundaries that can imprison our dreams and our successes.

Here's to your next fantastic failure.

Thanks for reading. John