15 August, 2009

"Career Coach? Maybe All You Need Is A Friend

Every time I post something about employment and careers (see my June 14 and August 4 posts) I get emails from total strangers who need career advice. Wherever I go - even in job interviews - when people find out that, in addition to being a former hiring manager myself I have done a little headhunting, too, they ask me for career advice. Recently I was being interviewed by a young man with 12 years experience in his industry. He asked me for career advice.

"I've been thinking of leaving this industry" he said.

After a brief discussion of his industry I advised him against leaving it.

"You're just coming into your big earnings years in this industry. You're experienced and knowledgeable but you're not expensive yet. Headhunters will be calling. You'll be offered jobs you didn't apply for. If you leave your industry now, you'll be starting all over in an industry where you haven't yet established your value. Headhunters will stop calling. The unsolicited job offers will stop."

Then I did something I rarely do: I told him something personal. "Don't make the mistake I made" I said. "I left my first industry after 12 years of building my professional reputation, establishing my value, speaking at industry events, writing for the industry publications. I went from getting unsolicited job offers to sending resumes and going to interviews. And, as I said in my blog, your first clue you're not going to get the job is you're writing a resume. Your second clue you're not going to get the job is you have to interview. Sending resumes and going to interviews is an inefficient, low percentage way to get a job. Most so-called job openings are filled by an industry insider or friend of the hiring manager before the interviews even begin. Most so-called searches are shams, window-dressing to make it look like a thorough search was conducted. If you stay in this industry you'll be the guy who gets the job without writing a resume or sitting for an interview. "

Most of the unemployed and underemployed people who ask me for advice have one thing in common: they've become detached from either their professional network or from the showcase where their talents were self evidentiary to an audience of peers who knew how to assess what they were seeing. Or both. If, for example, you are a stay-at-home mom who dropped out of office life to raise kids and now you're trying to return to the world of work, you have probably experienced detachment from both your professional network and from the natural showcase for your talents. Chances are, you got busy raising kids and didn't keep up with your former bosses and colleagues. While you were out of the industry, it changed and you weren't around to keep up with technological, regulatory or other changes that occurred in your old business while you were away.

Your old industry may not even exist anymore. Your old network has scattered.

I became detached from my first career's talent showcase and professional network by geography and by time. First, I became geographically detached from a chunk of my professional network by moving to a strange city. Two years later I became detached from the showcase of my self evidentiary skills when I switched industries altogether.

The editors I used to write for, the people who used to call me out of the blue to offer me jobs or speaking engagements are mostly retired or dead.

Most of the underemployed or unemployed people who ask me for career advice have become detached from their professional network or from their skills showcase or both.

"Do I need to hire a career coach or a life coach?" they sometimes ask.

"Only if you have no friends" I say.

If you're unemployed or underemployed, you're about to find out who your friends are. Your friends will usher you into their own professional networks and help this new network understand your transferable skills, the skills that were self evident to your old network.

And there's something else your friends can do for you that, in my opinion, you shouldn't have to pay for: your friends can help you see yourself as others see you.

You know those people who humiliate themselves in front of millions of people every week on TV's "America's Got Talent" and "American Idol"? Nobody loved them enough to tell them they can't sing or dance or tell jokes.

It can work the other way, too. Friends can see skills and abilities in us that we don't see in ourselves and then they can "sell' those skills to people in their network. My trusted old friend, Joe Bird, recently told me something about myself that I can't see and he recommended me for a job I would have never thought of on my own. Even if Joe's recommendation never results in a job offer, his insight into my skills and aptitudes is precious information that I can trust because he has been in a position to assess my skills in a number of contexts for decades.

Have you become detached from your professional network or from the place where your skills were observed by people who could understand and appreciate them? Go to your friends and ask them to provide you with an honest assessment of your skills. Ask them to usher you into their professional networks and help these new people to see your "transferable skills".

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