Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This Is Getting To Be A Drag

Ever since I can remember, there has been a “factoid” making its way around the career management world about how long someone should plan their job search will take. What I can’t recall and never remember seeing is the source from which this “factoid” came.

In any event if you are in a job search, you have probably heard it too. It goes something like: You should plan your search to take about 1 month for every $10,000 you seek in salary.

I haven’t the slightest idea nor have I ever seen statistics that indicate whether this rule of thumb is right, wrong or anything in between, and I have been roaming around the career management space in general since (dare I say it?) 1961 and with ExecuNet since 1988.

That said, in talking with ExecuNet members, this is a subject that comes up with great frequency. Certainly not surprising, as most executives tend to be more type A’s than B’s and as such focus on objectives to be reached within a specific timeframe and get pretty impatient if and when it doesn’t look like that's happening.

In addition, as leaders, they are used to being in control (more or less), and if things are not going the way they want them to and fast enough, they can make the needed changes.

In truth, I believe the foregoing is one of the major reason why we all find the search process so frustrating.

There is only so much of it we really can control, and a great deal of it that we can’t. When you are “action oriented” and you feel you are in a situation when you can’t “make things happen,” to say it is frustrating doesn’t do it justice.

Also, how much time a job search is going to take is also one of those questions where I am not sure that an actuary could really give anyone a meaningful answer. There are so many variables involved, such as geography, age, function, industry segment, compensation needs, and the economy just to name a few, and given what we're all dealing with at the moment, "economy" deserves a capital "E"?

Armed with the foregoing, hopefully you can understand why it is when someone asks me to guesstimate a timeline that I try to say this is one of those things where “the answer is, there is no answer.” But of course, most people think that this is just a cop-out on my part and ask for a number anyway.

At that point and using my own personal experience as a starting point, I am likely to say something along the lines of, “Well, I can tell you that whatever length of time you think it will take, you are probably underestimating it significantly.

It is kind of like when your wife says she is going to do some redecorating and she estimates the cost at X; as a seasoned pro you immediately make a mental note that it is much more likely to be at least 2X+.

While we can all try to smile at our spouse’s budget estimates, translating that to a job search isn’t so funny. It is, however, very important in this sense:

Part of trying to manage your way through a process as frustrating as a job search is to set realistic expectations. Without them, people tend to set goals that reality will make it very hard to attain, and when they are not attained, they feel it is somehow a sign that there is something seriously lacking in themselves when, of course, that is not the case at all. Easy to say but much harder to internalize and believe.

I talk with members almost daily whose searches have been going for several months and in many cases more than a year, and aside from looking for ideas on handling the frustration, they also want some ideas on what they can do to try and re-energize the quest.

There is a lot that could be said on this subject too and even more that’s been written, but for whatever it’s worth, here are a couple of thoughts for those who might be in this situation:

• Keep in mind that this is essentially a sales process, and as such, do what companies do if a product they have introduced to the market is not producing the results they expected – repackage it. As a candidate, that could mean a résumé makeover, tuning up your phone and/or in-person interviewing skills, making sure you are doing really thorough research in terms of target companies, and certainly working harder to expand your personal and professional networks.

• Make sure that because things have gone much longer than you wanted them to that you don’t fall into the trap of locking yourself in your home office and spending your days “clicking and praying.” It is counterproductive both strategically and emotionally.

• Get out, about and involved, both online and especially offline. Relationships can start online, but trust, which is the tipping point in personal referrals, comes much more often from face-to-face relationships built over time. If you are not already actively involved in at least one professional organization and one civic organization, do so. Keeping yourself intellectually “tuned in” is really important in terms of both attitude and energy, both of which are critical in terms of how others react to you, not to metion how you feel about yourself!

• Since most people get jobs as the result of a linkage process (i.e. networking), everything you can do to give yourself the opportunity to create those links is very much worth the time and effort. If you are a member of ExecuNet, you have long heard us talk and write about effective networking being built on a foundation and attitude of “giving, not getting.” Approaching both people and/or events with the idea that you’re there as a resource to others does a lot to get your focus on the right stuff.

• If you are someone who has trouble doing some or all of this revamping yourself, you might consider getting an executive coach to help. It is certainly nothing to be ashamed of and from an accountability and structure perspective can be very helpful in getting things back on track. At ExecuNet, members frequently ask our help in finding such a resource, and we are happy to refer them.

And don’t ever forget what every salesperson will tell you: every “no” is simply one step closer to “yes.”


Sathi Vanigasooriar said...

Congratulations on your ½ century!
Your career is older than me, therefore, now, I have to respect you a bit more 
I am not looking for a job, but in the process of taking a product to market.
Boy oh, boy, you are 100% correct when it comes to setting expectations and repackaging.
Indeed, it is an interesting learning curve.
Excellent insights, you always deliver.
It applies to product management.
Thank you.

The M.A.D. Hatter Architect said...

Dave: many of the points you've made in this article are valid but in my experience (my design, sales and marketinng career kicked off back in 1980) the old hypothesis of "searching for a job is equal to about 1 month for every $10,000 you seek in salary" is too dated this new economy. For this hypothesis to be truly affective once again, there needs to be a surplus of respectable job opportunities available for both white collar and blue collar job-seekers, just like it was back when it was a "buyer's market." Now that the tables have turned and it is a "seller's market," the playing field has been upturned and the available job opportunities are stacked against the job seeker. When 20 job-seekers apply to the one job opportunity that is open (a 20:1 ratio), it is no wonder that most job searches today last longer than one year. I personally have been rebranding and repackaging myself for new job opportunities since mid-2009 and it is only recently that I have finally landed at a company that can provide me with enough incentive to improve my self-worth again and help rebuild my financial house. I just pray that the foundation to this new job opportunity is not a 'house of cards."

Dave Opton said...

M.A.D Hatter: I certainly agree with the comments, and that includes the 10K/mo. stat in this economy and I probably should have clarified that.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.