CareerSherpas: Climbing the Mountain

When you’re on the way, it helps to share the load

Archive for the ‘Planning for the Future’ Category

Lessons Learned From the Job Search

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Peter Fitzgerald has been chronicling his process of navigating from losing his job to a new and brighter tomorrow. To read other posts from the series, see “Job Transition: A CareerSherpas’ Odyssey”.

As with any project, it’s crucial to take the time after the dust settles to consider the lessons learned in the effort. Assessing what worked and what didn’t work, what you would have done differently and what activities hit the nail on the head gives you better starting point for the next time around.

What Worked?

  • Networking: Keeping touch with people I know and doing my best to help them while I was employed meant that I had a great support structure when I needed it. Moving quickly to contact my network and ask for ideas made for leaps and bounds in the progress of searching.
  • Recruiters: Contacting recruiters was, as almost always, a big benefit. By being both selective and as good a candidate partner as I was able to made for very productive working relationships with a handful of good recruiters. This isn’t to say that I didn’t talk to more, but discerning which recruiters were reliable and working hard with them was a good use of my energy. Communicating what I was looking for and setting boundaries around what I needed to make a position work also made for much better opportunities.
  • Feedback: Both getting and receiving feedback made the time go faster. The best experiences I had were with the opportunities and recruiters who were most able to share feedback as it came in. Being able to share what was working and refine the types of roles where I had an interest and get leads on more!
  • Keeping Track: Making (copious) notes about what positions I had applied for, who I’d applied for them through, and what the next step and timeline was helped plan my days. It also helped to be able to see who had relationships and who didn’t since the groups who didn’t have the relationships were offering the same opportunities with the same few companies. (As a side note, the groups without relationships also offered the lowest rates for the same positions.)
What Didn’t Work?
  • Job Sites: Not a single nibble came from a position posted on any job site. Posting my information on two of the big names actually led to more noise from the body shops without actually helping the search. Your mileage may vary, but anecdotally I’m finding a lot of folks with much the same experience.
  • Free Resume Review Services: I’ve now tried three, and in each case was told that the industry standard was something completely different. I actually went through and built resumes following each of the recommendations and asked for commentaries. The result was that my original resume was deemed the most effective, although I’m still planning on cleaning it up. I have to admit that I have not paid to have my resume professionally re-done, but haven’t been instilled with confidence by the people I spoke with.

What Would I Do Differently?

  • Negotiate Before an Exit: Hindsight is 20/20. Even so, knowing that I was going to be kicked to the curb beforehand didn’t provide the motivation I needed to negotiate my way out. Next time I see the writing on the wall, I intend to be more proactive in talking my way through the layoff.
Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and (periodically) attempting to learn the bagpipes.

What is Working on the Search: A Small Vignette

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Peter Fitzgerald is chronicling his process of navigating from losing his job to a new and brighter tomorrow. To read other posts from the series, see “Job Transition: A CareerSherpas’ Odyssey”.

As you can imagine, I’ve been voraciously looking for ideas and guidance to help in the job search. What I’ve been surprised at is how little variation there is in the copious articles, books and videos out there.

Taking my own experience and casting it against the backdrop of all the material I’ve read, this is what has been working and how it compares with common wisdom:

  • “It’s not what you know, it’s who knows you’re looking and interested in your success” – Rather than the adage that “who you know” is the most important, it’s really about connecting with the right person. Knowing someone isn’t enough, you have to actively connect. The thought is summed up nicely by J.T. O’Donnell’s comment that “it’s the physical connecting that gets you hired” in “Is getting a job really about who you know?” by Anthony Balderrama that my wife stumbled across on CNN.com
  • “Polish your interviewing skills” – No matter how good you have been in the past, practice is important. This seems to be a pretty consistent theme in conventional wisdom dissertations.
  • “Every lead is a good lead” – I haven’t found anybody to really agree directly with me on this, but no matter how odd a lead looks there’s always something positive to learn from it or another connection to be made through it. Opportunity usually only knocks once and you never know when something that looks like a blind alley has a golden door at the other end.
  • “Be flexible and be polite” – You’re the one who’s asking for favors. Even if someone’s working to find you a job, it’s your job to make it easier on them. Make yourself available however, wherever and whenever you can to connect on the other person’s schedule.

That simple? Pretty much.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, looking for a new day job, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

Taking An Opportunity to Prove Myself

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years writing about transitions, career planning, reaching for success, and talking people through all of the above to help them reach a positive outcome. Today I’ve been offered a different challenge: Proving I can do the same for myself (again.)

Yesterday I was let go from my day job.

Rather than hiding this fact away and talking around it, I’d like to help whomever I can by making myself a case in point. So I give you the CareerSherpa approach to rebounding strong.

Day Zero

Let’s start with first reactions. On meeting with my late manager and human resources to hear the news, my immediate reaction was simply to hold very still. I doubt this is ever the kind of news one is fully prepared for, but I took in the information given fairly readily. Sure my hands were shaking trying to read the document I was given, but I’m pretty sure everything I heard made sense in context.

Sharing the news was not fun and, as you’d expect, more than a little emotional. As I talked with my wife, I realized that I had a choice in how I wanted to react and what I wanted to do.

Knowing that you can act and that you have decisions that you can make is a very liberating feeling. Immediately you can start to think about what the possibilities actually mean. For me, this meant I could start to formulate a plan.

My wife later commented that I was treating the situation like it was a project to run. In many ways I’m wired to plot out a course once I have an idea of the starting point and the destination. This has proven to be useful in a lot of areas and no less so today. So my first tasks were laid out fairly quickly:

  • Step 1: Regroup and regain composure. Being an emotional wreck right out of the gate isn’t going to help, you need to take the space to recover and calm yourself. I had the advantage of suspecting that something was up some way in advance and had prepared a bit, but it is essential to collect yourself and prepare mentally to look at your options.
  • Step 2: Eat lunch. It was lunchtime, so I found somewhere with Wi-Fi access to eat something. In general though, finding something to eat and drink is a good idea. Even if you’ve managed to recover a dead calm immediately, you have burnt through a lot of energy in your stress response. In any case, you will need more fuel to power up your brain cells and be able to think clearly.
  • Step 3: Broadcast your availability to your network. Social media is your friend here. LinkedIn is the most obvious for professional networking, but you have to think through what your message is going to be there. Facebook offers a different kind of group, but it’s worth sharing the news there as well.
  • Step 4: Create a contact list. Where social media offers an instant blast, you also need to follow up and target your message to certain people. It doesn’t matter who they are, if you know them it is good to have them on the list.
  • Step 5: Prioritize your contact list. Start with any contacts whose job it is to find jobs and people to fill them – recruiters, contracting companies, people who have teams of people like you.
  • Step 6: Contact your top five. Take the first five contacts on your prioritized list (or ten if you’re feeling energetic) and contact them. Use the mode of contact that they will appreciate most, but realize that leaving a message and giving them a chance to respond later may work best. If they like to communicate via email, use email. If they like to talk, call them. Keep each communication short and to the point.
  • Step 7: Check your email. It’s likely that, if you’ve been a good co-worker, friend, or polite acquaintance at your last job, somebody will have noticed. If they’ve noticed, they might also have suggestions or contacts that they’re already offering to you.
  • Step 8: Take everybody up on any offer given! Everyone who makes an offer of help thinks that what they’re suggesting is a good option. You won’t know if any offer is or isn’t good until you check it out and follow through.
  • Step 9: Thank everyone who contacts you. Sounds silly? Not at all. These are people trying to help who have shown an interest in you. (Hint: Remember these people. They’re your real references and they’re the strongest connections you have in your network. It also never hurts to be nice to people.)

How far did I get on Day Zero? Honestly I hopped around a bit, but I managed to accomplish a lot of these steps and I’m feeling pretty good about what I accomplished.

I’d also like to take the opportunity to publicly thank everyone who contacted me to wish me well, offer help, or just to chat. Very few things take the sting out of a loss like a community pulling for you.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, looking for a new day job, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

New Habits for the New Year (Part 2 – Dream a little dream)

Monday, January 26th, 2009

A week ago, the USA saw an event come to pass many believed would not happen in their lifetimes. Perhaps more impressive is the perspective and hope that one individual can bring, whether it be to a nation, a community, a family or even themselves.

When we consider any of the leaders who firmly planted milestones in history, they all have one thing in common: a vision and the commitment to make it happen. Whether these people later became revered or reviled is not important to my thought for today. The important message is that every person who reached out to touch the world, or even to improve their own backyards, started out with a dream, a vision, an end goal that they saw as valuable.

This week, it’s time to set some priorities and some goals  and learn how to manage them! Start out by looking at what you want now and look ahead to what you want in three, five and ten years. If you feel adventurous, reach out and look at how you want to spend your retirement. For some folks that might seem a long way off, others a lot closer than the ten or even five year marks, but it’s important to paint a picture and hear what the story sounds like.

Once you have the picture, it’s time to make it part of your daily life. Make sure your goals are accessible and that you see and read through them regularly, preferably every day. If once a day seems like it’s too much to ask, try asking yourself if you really want to accomplish everything on the list you’ve made. Do you feel passionately that you want everything on the list?

You’ll probably find a lot of things on the list that aren’t as important to you, or that you can’t envision yourself doing. That’s okay, but recognize that fact and move those things onto a separate “maybe someday” type list. The “maybe someday” list can be reviewed less frequently, but what it does is move the really important things into view.

Work to review your list every day, reminding yourself of the dream that’s important to you, and ideas, opportunities and possibilities to achieve those goals become a lot more obvious. Taking those desires off your mind allows it to relax. When the mind relaxes, all kinds of new and wonderful thoughts work their way in, and with the constant reminders of your goals you’ll find that more often than not those thoughts provide new openings for you to achieve those goals.

Take the time this week to build a vision of what you want, where you want to be and why you want it. Then move forward knowing that you can, and will, make a path to your goals.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.

New Habits for the New Year (Part 1 – Maintaining Social Connections)

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Over the last few weeks I intended to give a list of New Year resolutions that we should all consider for our careers but fortunately this post was delayed. The delays have given me a lot of time to think. Forced me to have a lot of time to think might be a better description, but it’s made me rethink my original post quite a lot. The original post was filled with wonderful truisms which might yet see the light of day, yet didn’t provide any more value than a glossy “ten things to remember” list.

Instead, I’m starting off the new year with a series of posts on habits we should be forming to improve our careers and keep them on a steady path. In tough economic times when layoffs are looming and the future seems uncertain, we have an opportune time to make ourselves better employees, better bosses and better people.

So today I’ll explore the first of the habits I believe we should all form for ourselves: Maintaining social connections.

Social connections happen all the time and in any one of a number of venues. You’re having lunch with a co-worker, drinks with college friends or barbequing with family and neighbors. (Well, maybe we’ll be able to do that in a few months!) The point is that no matter what the occasion, these chances to socialize and relax with people we know offer all kinds of opportunities.

Try keeping a list of everyone you make contact with and any information you can gather at all about them. It doesn’t really matter if it’s family or friends or random people you never expect to meet again, the point is to get an idea of people you could keep touch with. Maybe it’s not the kind of thing you do on the spot at a dinner party, but afterwards consider who you met up with and what you talked about. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and if, like me, you can never remember anyone’s name it can be especially difficult in social circles.

Let’s say you’ve managed to gather a list, incomplete as it might be, your next step should be to try to categorize the list. Don’t feel like you have to formally categorize everyone, you’re not trying to rate people or give special preference to anyone or anything. You’re just creating some rough buckets that give you an idea of how well you know the people in the grouping what common interests or topics you share. You might find that an address book, physical or electronic, works well for you or you might just keep a written list. However you do it, your goal is to remember who you’ve talked to and a little bit about each person.

Now, just using that one list, keep track of when you talk, email or touch base somehow with anyone on the list. What you’re likely to find is that some people you talk to frequently, while others you run into occasionally or not at all.

You might be asking why am I suggesting you do all this? What you’re doing is getting an idea of a group of people that you like (or can’t avoid) having contact with regularly and that you want to keep contact with. So your next job is to turn the list around from a group of people that you want to keep in touch with and a group of people you actually do keep in contact with.

Consider making a schedule of people to talk to, or set up regular lunch, drinks or dinner appointments and invite people to them. The most frequent contacts are all going to be people you want to be able to help where you can and enjoy where you can’t.

Whatever you do, recognize that these are people who are important to you, that you like, need or want to spend time with and see all of them as important. These are all people who can share ideas, news, stories and advice with you and can help you enrich your life and with it your career.

Peter Fitzgerald is the founder of CareerSherpas.com and is currently working on his first book, conducting high-level business analysis, connecting individuals with ideas and opportunities, and attempting to learn the bagpipes.