It’s often easy to blame the economy as the biggest obstacle to making a successful career move. I won’t make light of the last two years in the job market. It has indeed been a harsh reality as layoffs left many unprepared. Lost businesses, lost jobs, lost homes, lost savings… The personal stories shared by alumni and colleagues in my coaching practice are often very challenging, sad and even tragic. But as we move forward into a more hopeful future, I wanted to bring to light some of the most common barriers professionals face when making a successful career change--and it’s not the economy.
1. Your story is unclear. You aren’t really sure what you are looking for--or fear has you hedging your bets and using phrases such as “I’m open” and “I’ll take anything. If you don’t “get” you, others won’t “get” you. I’m not talking about an elevator speech. Do you have a meaningful, compelling, understandable, professional story? Does your story have a theme or common thread, or are you just regurgitating your past? A compelling professional story helps people more easily understand where you’ve been and more importantly understand how your experiences tie to your future. Your professional story is the single most important foundational element in making a powerful change.
Sidebar: Read Harvard Business Review article, "What’s Your Story" by Herminia Ibarra.
2. Your heart and timeline aren’t aligned. Trying to make a big career shift as part of a job loss crisis is like trying to build your dream house while you are in the midst of a tornado. Timing and resources matter. Do what you need to do to stabilize your situation, and then have the courage and tenacity to plan and go after what you really need and want in your career and life. From new certifications that allow you to change industries, volunteer assignments, internships that build new skills and relationships, you can build the critical bridges needed to make an ideal career move--it just may take some time to put the pieces in place. Know your timing and plan your search strategy accordingly.
3. You heard the siren song of the internet. So many jobs online, yet you have gotten zero response. Less than 4 percent of jobs come via a cold Internet response. When a client is failing to get a response, I can sense immediately if he sat at home in his fuzzy bunny slippers feeling like a loser – when in fact, nobody ever saw his resume. The reality is, even perfect resumes don’t get responses. If you have any eclectic component in your story, your odds drop exponentially. Understand, too, that recruiting and HR staffs lost critical resources because of the economic downturn. The volume of people submitting resumes online is overwhelming, and the quality of many of those resumes is poor, given the ease of online applications. The Internet is a powerful resource, but it can create the addictive illusion that you are being highly productive in your search. This is true, too, of social media tools (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook). Ensure that the Internet is a balanced tool in your search strategy, not the only channel for your search.
4. Hate to network! Networking is a critical career survival skill. With 60-80 percent of jobs coming directly from networking, it is the single most influential channel for finding and securing a new job. You can do it! You can even learn to do it in line with your own unique personal style and energy, but learn to do it and become accomplished at it. You are only as powerful as the power of your relationships.
5. Approach is “me”-centric or job focused, rather than relationship-centric. Building a strong network takes steadiness, patience, and graciousness to others. Your sense of urgency to find a job and a contact’s sense of urgency to meet you are not the same. You must have a relationship before you can ask for an endorsement. Build good relationships and people will help you connect to opportunities.
6. Inconsistent or poor follow-up. You have a list of contacts. It may be a list of alumni in your field, referrals from your LinkedIn group, or people with whom your best friends or family have connected you. However, one email or one call does not equal effective outreach--nor does it mean disinterest on the part of the person you are attempting to reach. Understand that time is a premium. Many professionals are tasked with doing multiple jobs (a consequence of those layoffs). Email boxes are bulging. Yet, goodwill and the impulse to help are powerful. Sales statistics show it takes five to eight calls to make a sale--the same principles apply to your job search. Be professionally persistent in connecting with others.
7. Not a good time to talk to a company because they aren’t hiring. A hiring freeze doesn’t necessarily mean no one is hiring at all. Business is continuing--there’s just less of it. Recently, a recruiter at a major financial institution told me that, while they had laid off hundreds, she had open job requisitions for 142 professionals. Companies always hire for mission-critical roles (technology, revenue drivers, key operating driver roles, etc.). If you wait until hiring ramps up to talk to a company, you fall behind in a very competitive race. Significantly, the job you want may not be open today but it could be open two weeks from now. Get on an organization’s radar, so you are on the short-list of A-level candidates when they are ready to hire.
8. You are angry, desperate, scared, ashamed (fill in the emotion). Roller coaster emotions are absolutely normal during change or job loss, but they are a problem when they are a barrier to your success. If you are not in emotional power--a place of emotional readiness where you have control (or can credibly act in control)--get a coach or counselor, join a support group, go to your church, synagogue, or spiritual place of choice. If you don’t get control over your emotions during your search, they will sabotage you. Hiring managers hire skills and confidence. Your head MUST be in the game.
9. Job search and networking consistently seem to hit a dead end. There’s a fine line between healthy persistence and ineffective outreach. Do you recognize the signs of positive traction? Are people helping you easily connect to new people? Successful outreach should create a natural forward momentum. If your conversations are reaching dead-ends frequently, you may need to revisit your story or approach. Recently I worked with a professional who was gifted at calling and setting up meetings with people, but hundreds of calls and meetings never led to one tangible opportunity. With some post-mortem follow-ups, we identified that her approach was more like that of a telemarketer--lots of calls, but statistically low return. Her approach needed an overhaul so that she was connecting with people in a meaningful way and building a rapport and trust that would yield new contacts and opportunities. If the majority of people you meet with aren’t enthusiastically helping you move forward in your search in some way, revisit your story and approach.
10. Failing to execute a well-paced search that meets your timeline. Depending on time and resources, your activities should be planned in line with your needs and goals. If you need to be hired quickly, you have to plan and mobilize all resources as quickly as possible. Keep in mind that it naturally takes 2-4 weeks to get on someone’s calendar. One New York professional set a goal to meet 20 people a week for six weeks, optimizing every channel of relationship--prior work colleagues, alumni chapters of two schools, industry groups, family, friends, and even neighbors. If you have six months, you are connecting with 5-6 people a week. If you are employed and thinking about a move, you are socializing your move to a few people a week. Of course, “meetings” and “connecting” mean networking. Time the pace of your job search to your needs and goals.
11. Failing to have a life while you are searching. A high-impact search ensures you have the energy and positivity to execute well. Again, this is about getting your head in the game. Find support and activities to keep you from obsessing about your job search 24/7. Feeling productive and valued during the search is important to your psyche. Get involved with a nonprofit or a cause you love. Take on volunteer work, take a class, or both. Not only will you be building skills, but you’ll be building valuable new relationships (networking!) and when people ask “What are you doing now?” you can authentically communicate all the positive things you are doing while you are searching. Most importantly, when you interview or find tangible opportunities, you will present as a confident, relaxed, more powerful and positive professional--all critical attributes for achieving your career goals. Fill your life with positive and productive activities and you will feel less vulnerable in your search.
I often say “Do what you need to do to survive, but never take your eye off what you need to thrive.” Getting our careers on our own terms requires clarity in knowing our terms and then tenacity in staying vigilant to achieve them. Use your allies and resources here at Emory and within your community and you can move forward in the most optimal way. But don’t let the perception of a poor economy derail you from your goals. Execute a well-paced search and eliminate the real obstacles, and you’ll more forward with greater impact--and be back to work more quickly.
The EAA’s Executive Career Coach Jodie Charlop 82Ox 85C, founder and chief coaching officer for Potential Matters, specializes in working with individuals and organizations that want to achieve higher levels of personal and professional results in their business, careers, or lives.