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Lessons Learned from a Long Searched

 
One executive offers success strategies gleaned from a 13-month job hunt

By Gerald L Belfiglio

I've just completed a 13-month job search. You may wonder why it took me so long, since I have the right credentials for my profession, including an advanced degree, past leadership positions and a great track record of increasing responsibilities and significant accomplishments. Yet, according to outplacement industry surveys, the average search length at my salary level (mid-$80K) and age (46) is about nine months. But average is just that - average. For every short search, there's one longer than average, and I had a long one.

I followed every word of advice I could find and tried every trick: one-page resumes; two-page resumes; cover letters with enclosed resumes; cover letters alone; market letters highlighting each company's requirements and my qualifications customized resumes, etc. The rules kept changing, but nobody would tell me the game being played that day, let alone what the rules were.

In the end, a combination of luck, lots of networking (personal chemistry was critical), a key referral from a friend and my willingness to relocate to the other side of the state ended my search. Even considering the considerable strain on my ego, finances, spouse, and family, Eve learned a lot about "the job-search game" and human nature.

I was told early on that such tips as "prepare yourself mentally and financially for an eight-to 12 month search", and "work every lead and every opportunity at the same time", would be crucial to my having a successful search. With this advice in hand, it still took me months to develop a working strategy. What I want to share is what worked (and what didn't) during my prolonged job hunt. Hopefully, these ideas will help you survive a challenging, emotional transition.

Success Strategies

If possible, begin actively looking for a new job at least six months before you're let go. Many of us can read our environment well enough to make this happen, especially if we don't ignore the obvious.

Build a contingency fund of at least six months net income to provide some flexibility during your search. Without a reserve the potential loss of a home, car or lifestyle may force you into a less-than-optimal employment decision. Also, prepare and stick to a strict budget as soon as you learn of your separation. If you can reduce expenses early, you'll have more options later.

Realize that losing your job is emotionally tough. The pain will last for quite some time, but it's okay to talk to everyone you can about your feelings and what happened. Take solace in the fact that eventually, you'll begin to heal.

Negotiate while you can for a better severance package, including outplacement counseling, a longer salary continuance and the use of a portable PC or office. All of these benefits are possible if you negotiate professionally, not emotionally.

Buy high-quality stationery with matching envelopes as quickly as possible. Without these supplies, your resumes and letters will be viewed as unprofessional.

Be aware that, unfortunately, being out of work places a "red mark" on your candidacy for many positions. This stigma usually can be removed with proper preparation and explanation, but it might preclude your candidacy for some positions.

Keep your spouse And family involved in your daily progress (or lack thereof). The stress on them could be much greater than on you due to their lack of control over your search activities. Also, communicate aggressively with friends and past acquaintances for leads and support.

Work every angle in every industry simultaneously for all possible opportunities. Your search can be likened to having lots of pots on a hot stove, with you waiting for one or more to come to a boil.

Stay Away From...

If you're still employed, don't fall prey to a false sense of security. The economic need at most companies to reduce costs has never been greater, which means that no job - including the CEO's - is safe. To be sure, you should remain loyal, but don't delude yourself into believing that in tough times, your loyalty will keep you on the payroll.

After a layoff, try to avoid the "I'll sue" syndrome. Although litigation may be possible due to a breach of contract or discrimination, most separations aren't actionable. Forget the fair, just, "human" argument. It's generally a loser and will extend your period of grieving, as well as your search.

Don't let the emotions of being involuntarily separated color your phone calls, correspondence or personal communications with your network and prospective employers. They often know when a candidate's self-confidence is suffering. Never let self-doubt enter your search. You had value prior to being released, and you'll be contributing again soon.

Don't ever purge your old Rolodex or business card directory. Instead, turn these sources into networking contacts that you can ask for help through out your search. Keep track of your contacts, phone calls, deadlines, etc., using appropriate software, such as ACT or Key Network Tracker. You should ultimately talk to hundreds of people as you search and follow up. Keeping track of each lead and who provided it, as well as generating mass mailing lists, is almost impossible without computer technology.

Don't forget to reassess your strengths and weaknesses. It may help to identify what got you on the "short list" with your former employer. A personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, will identify your interpersonal style, cultures in which you prosper and strengths you can bring to a new organization.

Expect to see the worst in human relations. Those experiences will range from inaccurate or nonexistent feedback to "non-reasons" for your separation, to headhunters and prospective employers who don't return phone calls (ever) or miss decision deadlines by weeks or months.

What Works Best?

Answer all appropriate ads, but don't expect to land a job via this medium. Ads represent less than 20% of all available jobs, yet receive the attention of 80% of all job seekers. The competition here is fierce. If possible, broaden your horizons regarding the cities or industries where you'd work. Your flexibility will make for an easier, quicker search.

Don't overestimate the value of executive search firms. Generally less than 10% of all white-collar positions are filled by headhunters, and they're deluged with unsolicited resumes. Although some recruiters may be extremely supportive during your search don't misinterpret who pays their bills (the - employer).

Never use an age-old resume. The rules have changed, and accomplishments that show what you can offer a new employer must be highlighted. Your resume should be a one-minute infomercial on who you are, what you've accomplished and how you can benefit an employer.

Don't cancel your subscription to industry magazines or general business newspapers. It's important to show prospective employers that you're in touch with your profession, find daily business news, even during a long search. Also, don t stop participating in professional association activities. The contacts you make through these groups could provide you with the lead you need to a perfect position.

Prepare for each interview by researching the company, its locations, its products and the executives you'll be meeting. Since the interview is a buy-sell opportunity, you should also have a variety of questions ready to ask each interviewer. While you're there, try to meet with current or past subordinates of your prospective boss to determine your compatibility with that person's style.

Don't slow down after a "good" interview or assume that hiring managers know the characteristics, skills and personality of the candidate they want or need. In &et, don't assume all interviews veal result At someone - bag hired. Some are mere formalities to justify prior decisions to leave the positions open.

Winding Down

When weighing an offer, never settle for a position that shows signs of becoming a future disaster. Be conscious of your fit with the company and your boss. This includes reviewing carefully the required skills (both stated and hidden), as well as your ability to be effective within the culture and when communicating with senior management.

Once you're successful, remember those who helped you in your time of need. Send everyone a note describing your success and offering your assistance in the future. Remember the inhumanity of the process, and never say no or delay help to others who cart use your guidance.

If you ever have to fire employees, don't do to them what was done to you. During their separations, treat them as you wish you'd been treated. Only then will terminated employees receive the respect they deserve.

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