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The meeting with his boss was a shock. What a 55-year-old Chief Operating Officer thought was a routine weekly update meeting would be his last with the company.  He was informed “the organization wanted to go in another direction.”  He was being terminated.  They would provide a severance package including benefits, a year’s salary and outplacement assistance.

career management mistakesHe should not have been surprised.  His boss, the Chief Executive Officer, had been talking more and more about how everyone needed to step up their performance game, that the company 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 box of personal belongings, he felt that all would be OK.  After all, he had a year.  Following a break for some down time, he would land a job and move on with the last 10 years of his career.

Possibly, but there are no guarantees, even for top performers moving into the final phase of their careers.  Twelve months sounds like a long time, and it will probably make his spouse take the news a little better, but truth be told it probably will take this executive longer than 12 months to find a job.

Consider this:

  • His resume was not current.  The last time he even looked at the document was seven years ago when he landed his current job.
  • He has never invested any time in networking.  When asked how many good contacts he had who he might be able to network for a new position, he listed 10, a devastatingly small number by today’s standards.
  • He had no contacts in the executive recruitment industry.  He never took their calls.  Why should he, he had a good job that paid well.  His plan was to retire with his now former organization.
  • He did not have a profile on LinkedIn and he had no clue how to build one.  That was just a social platform for kids, right?
  • When the outplacement counselor did a career intelligence assessment, she concluded this guy was probably 10 years behind the times, a serious deficit.

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 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 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 not a very effective 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.

The outplacement counselor asked me to speak to his client, that maybe a recruiter could help him realize that the job search market had undergone a radical change.  Here is the plan of attack I suggested.

  1. It was too late to build relationships with recruiters.  Building a relationship with recruiters who can produce real value in this type of situation takes years of give and take — taking recruiter calls and helping with their searches by referring candidates or alerting them to possible new business.  Not taking calls from any recruiter was a bad choice.
  2. He needed to master LinkedIn.  Now!  No arguments.  This is where internal recruiters, those search consultants who actually handle the majority of assignments at the management and executive levels, live.  Being a well kept secret on LinkedIn is another very bad mistake, especially if there is a sense of urgency to finding a new job as quickly as possible.
  3. He needed to be actively building a LinkedIn network by targeting potential employers — those organizations he would like to work for — and then connecting with people who work there, and contacts who know people who work there.
  4. Establish a brand as a competent thought leader on LinkedIn by posting interesting, relevant and appropriate content as well as commenting on key regulatory or reform measures.  By appropriate I mean no snarky political broadsides.  What you think is a mainstream view is, more than likely, not shared by all potential employers.
  5. Establish a routine for his new full-time business: finding a job.  Monday through Friday, get up, dress and go to the “office”, probably in his home.  And then:
    • Read health news briefings and select some excellent content to post.  Check to be sure someone has not beaten you to the punch by posting it first. You are not going to be unique if you are the third person who has posted the same article.
    • Look for new contacts to help you connect with your targeted companies.
    • Follow up with those executives and recruiters who received an introductory email with your resume from your outplacement counselor.  When they say they do not have a job, ask for other names in their networks they think would enjoy connecting with you.  Do not be rude, but push a bit to get new potential contacts.  Remember, you have been derelict in this important part of the career management process.  You have a lot of ground to make up.

At JohnGSelf + Partners, we work for healthcare clients but we take time to help people navigate the rapidly changing career transition market.