“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you will fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.”
– Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker
I am an advocate of career planning, beginning with a personal vision statement and including career journaling as well as periodic progress and satisfaction reviews.
Having a plan minimizes the chances of making wrong choices or losing focus.
When I rose through the ranks, from crime writer and investigative reporter, to running the largest private EMS company in Texas and later founding an executive search and outplacement consultancy, having a career plan was not that critical. My career blossomed in the analog age. I was still filing my stories for The Houston Post on a Western Union teletype from the police station, or using an IBM Selectric typewriter. There were not even fax machines or cell phones. To communicate with the City Desk we used the old-fashioned dial telephone or two-way radios when we were in our cars. My point is this: communication and connectivity required time.
When I founded my search firm in 1994, the pace of business moved faster than my newspaper days, but compared to today, a snails pace would be an apt description. The Internet was extremely limited. Personal computers offered basic support: word processing, spreadsheets and other new odds and ends, but nothing like we know today. We had small cell phones but they were far from “smart”; reading emails was confined primarily to a desktop computer in the office or at home.
Today, clearly all of that has changed. Business now moves at the speed of light. This includes how businesses process information and what we expect from our employees.
Many of the executive jobs from the analog era have been eliminated or they are radically different. As the inevitability of the global economy takes hold, more and more executive jobs are being eliminated through market disruptions, especially in industries like retail, telecomm, consumer financial services, media, publishing, and healthcare. The other inevitability is also affecting our personal career paths: increasing competition for the best jobs.
In my age of career advancement, it was easy to be lucky. Today, luck is absolutely the last thing you will want to depend on when it comes to your career. You must have a plan and you must execute flawlessly, from continuous skills and knowledge improvements to executing your deliverables in each job you hold and successfully evaluating career advancement opportunities.
You can have a good education and good experience in terms of where you have worked but if your record of accomplishment is not consistently good, you will face increasing consequences as you attempt to move up the ladder. Companies want and hire candidates of value — those individuals who have a high likelihood of meeting their performance needs.
As the digital age evolves, as technology disrupts how businesses operate, executives who fail to plan are, in the words of the cliche, planning to fail.
Here are my takeaways on career planning:
© 2017 John Gregory Self
In today’s podcast we will build on a recent theme of my blog posts: career management and career transition.
In part one, we will explore outplacement services — what it is, how does it work, who pays for it, why it is so important for executives who have been laid off or terminated, and how to request this important benefit.
In Part 2, I will share a story about a Chief Operating Officer who, in the summer of 2015, learned that his health system no longer required his services.
I am in the career management business — both as an executive search consultant and as a career coach. I have always assumed that executives understood what outplacement or transition coaching is, how the program works, who pays the tab for the service and why it is such an important benefit for executives who find themselves back in the job market.
The surprising reality is how many executives don’t understand what it is or why it is important.
So before we revisit the story of the Chief Operating Officer that I wrote about in 2015 , let’s talk about outplacement or transition coaching — what it is, what it is not, who pays and why an executive should insist that it be included in their severance package. I believe it is worth fighting for.
First, what is it? Outplacement is a program designed to assist a departing executive be prepared to re-enter the job market and to expedite the time it takes to find their next better position. It is all about helping an executive confirm, or redefine, their career value brand which is the foundation of why someone would want to hire them. It begins with understanding their value, continues with the development of a resume, and incorporates insights on developing a personal career brand, as well as the power of social media, messaging for key issues, preparing for interviews, prepping the references and finally, closing the deal.
Now, what outplacement is not. Outplacement is NOT a process where consultants find the out-of-work executive a new job. The only person who can find the new job is that executive. Outplacement consultants help the executive prepare and provide support for their future search, it is not a placement service. The executive must put in the time and effort.
Who pays? Typically the former employer funds the service. The cost to the organization is anywhere between $1,500 to $15,000 or more, depending on the size of the business and the departing executive’s salary. Companies are willing to pay more for the outplacement of their top executives. The larger systems typically have “national” contracts with the brand-name companies like Challenger Day & Christmas, Drake Beam Morin and others. Then there are a host of boutique firms that are industry specific as is the case with healthcare. We are one of those firms along with Wiederhold & Associates and others. Some of these firms charge the candidate directly, and they advertise services beginning at $850 which is a bare bones approach, probably not much more than a resume review service.
Some firms offer memberships to their premium networking group which is another way to sell services and supposedly enhance the value of the experience.
We advise executives to avoid the temptation to pay a firm a $25,000 to $50,000 fee with the promise that they can find you a job because they have a deep pool of corporate connections or that they know about openings that no one else knows about. As my Grandmother Jackson was fond of saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
In our case, we focus on providing our executive clients a portfolio of skills that will allow one to take control of his or her career so that they will never need outplacement services again.
Why do I need outplacement? In my extensive experience in executive search and career coaching, I can tell you that some of the brightest CEOs I have ever met all typically have one weakness: they are not experts in finding a job.
Most lack the experience because, for the most part, they have been very successful and have limited exposure to the fun and games of being a candidate in an executive search.
Even for those executives who have made three, four or five transitions, they, too, can benefit from outplacement because today’s job market is changing so dramatically and so quickly. Over the last three years we have seen extraordinary changes in terms of what the clients want to see from their candidates, and over the last year, we have seen some well-known executives not be selected for senior leadership searches because they did not see, or respond effectively to, these significant changes in the job market.
The meeting with his boss was a shocker.
What the 55-year-old Chief Operating Officer thought was a routine weekly update meeting with the Chief Executive Officer would be his last with the company.
He was informed “the organization wanted to go in another leadership direction.” The System was facing new regulatory, reimbursement and competitive pressures. They were making money but the CEO knew they would have to do much better to survive. Year over year, earnings were flat. Expenses, productivity and satisfaction scores had not changed that much.
They would provide a severance package including benefits, a year’s salary and outplacement assistance. They would also provide a supportive and official reference from the Vice President of Human Resources.
This executive should not have been surprised. His boss had been talking more and more about how everyone needed to step up their performance, that the organization could not tolerate just “best effort.”
They needed people who understood the new realities of healthcare delivery.
That aside, as he left the building with his white banker’s boxes filled with personal belongings, he thought that all would be OK. After all, he had a year’s salary, benefits, plus four months of accrued vacation time. Following a break for some down time for rest and relaxation, our deposed executive believed that he would quickly land a job with a bigger system making more money and move on with the last 10 years of his career.
He initially turned down the transition coaching package, requesting additional cash instead. The Vice President of HR strongly discouraged him but he was confident that spending money on a transition coach would be just a waste of money.
Possibly, but there are no guarantees, especially for executives moving into the final phase of their careers. Fortunately he gave in and agreed to see the outplacement counselor.
For our departing COO, 12 months to find a new position sounded like a long time, and, for the moment, that helped make his visibly shaken spouse take the news a little better. That and his repeated assurances that he had this. He knew what to do.
Let’s dig in to get additional context on his situation, and what contributed to his career transition challenges:
In his first outplacement meeting our now unemployed executive became increasingly frustrated with the advice he was provided. To say there was major league pushback would be an understatement. At one point, in a flash of anger, he barked, “I have been managing my career for more than 25 years and doing a pretty good job of it. I am not going to change now.”
That statement was the career suicide equivalent of a pulmonary patient with diabetes arrogantly ignoring his physician’s pleas to stop smoking or he would be dead within two years, all the while puffing on a cigarette and eating a box of chocolates.
In the case of our unprepared executive, the chances of landing an equivalent job in another city within the year were poor. Of course there is always luck, but research is fairly conclusive on the subject: luck is a very ineffective career management strategy.
In this case the candidate’s career management “to do” list was not going to provide much time for his wife’s long list of projects she wanted done around the house or her desire for that trip to Europe they had always talked about. Her husband was years behind the job search curve. Those priorities would have to be postponed.
The outplacement counselor asked me to speak to her client in hopes that a career coach who was also an executive recruiter could help him realize that the job search market had undergone a radical change. Here is the plan of attack I suggested.
In the end, between his outplacement counselor and I, we encouraged, nudged and shoved the executive into spending the time he needed to invest in his career to get back into the game.
So, how did it work out?
What our former COO did not know at the time he left his former company, is that it would take him almost 20 months to land a new position. He accepted an offer from a smaller organization outside his targeted geographic zone. To win the offer, he had to compete against more than 50 other “very qualified” candidates, he was told.
The salary, incentives and benefits package were all about the same, not the big bump that he was hoping for, but at least he was able to stop draining his retirement plan to cover his living expenses.
The last time we spoke he confessed that he was very happy, that he believed he was profiting from his experiences with his former employer. He and his wife settled into the community and were enjoying making new friends and benefitting from many leisure time opportunities.
Just as he was about to hang up, he said this: “I know I was a little bit of jerk when I began to realize all of my serious deficits in career management. I can tell you this, I will never make those mistakes again. I devote time every week to focusing on my brand and developing my professional network.”
I think this is going to work out for a long time but in healthcare today, you can never tell.
© 2017 John Gregory Self
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
The person who uttered that wise phrase was not a grizzled newspaper editor, but he should have been. Instead, he chose a different career path — the rambunctious and romantic field of theoretical physics – and authored what is said to be the most famous equation in history: E= mc2. He won the Nobel Prize in 1921.
No, Albert Einstein was NOT a newspaper editor but he did seem to understand that in many cases, when it comes to explanations, less is more and that overexploiting an issue or event can confuse or bore the reader. I doubt Professor Einstein knew Johnny Boudreaux, an assistant city editor for The Houston Post when I served time there as a crime writer from 1973 to 1976. Johnny was a good and conscientious editor but he sometimes lacked Einstein’s finesse when it came to fussing about a story I had written. Brevity and clarity were part of his editing soul.
“Self, I am going to buy a case of Kaopectate for your typewriter. We don’t have room tonight for War and Peace.” When I would argue that the previous four or five paragraphs, that he had marked through with his editing pencil, provided important context, it was never a good idea to be in his throwing range. He might just decide to emphasize his point and vent his displeasure.
So where does this lead me today? I learned very quickly that Dr. Einstein and Editor Boudreaux were spot-on. Less is more. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, less actually enhances clarity and understanding. The same applies to developing your resume. Candidates who customize and focus the document on the needs of the prospective employer dramatically improve their chances for success.
So here is today’s job search interview tip: Show up and be prepared, which means that when you are asked a question about your successes, do not act like this is the first time you have ever heard that question. Rambling sentences, like rambling paragraphs, suggest a lack of preparation, and candidates who show up for the interview poorly prepared and offer up meandering answers are losing important opportunities to score critical points necessary to advance.
There are two take aways that I think are particularly important for candidates to remember:
As three-time America’s cup winner Jimmy Spithill said, “Rarely have I seen a situation where doing less than the other guy is a good strategy.”
© 2017 John Gregory Self