Editor’s Note: John is taking some time off this month from writing his weekly blog and hosting the podcast. In his absence, we are reposting some of his more popular offerings. This blog originally ran on July 29, 2015.
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At 32, after eight mostly successful years as a special projects manager for a major health system, Sally was out of a job. That there were 150 colleagues in the corporate office facing the same fate did not make this day easier.
They called it a strategic realignment. When she left her office for the last time on a Friday afternoon, after saying her good byes to friends, especially her assistant, she took a white banker’s box filled with the last of her personal possessions and left her office that had become a home away from home. As she walked to her car, she experienced a swirl of emotions — fear, confidence, a deep sadness and then, surprisingly, a bubbling sense of confidence. She knew she had the skills to manage this transition just like any of her other successful projects.
She had already met with her outplacement coach a couple of times. Her resume was being “overhauled” and she had picked up some important ideas regrading expansion of her network of professional contacts and social media tactics. She realized that while the outplacement company helped her with the tools of the job search, they gave her no overall strategy. It would be up to her to construct that part of the process in order to identify a new employer before her eight months of severance ran out.
Here is an overview of Sally’s strategy and her schedule:
Sally took time to decompress. She had begun to appreciate that there is a sadness that comes with losing a job that you loved, leaving behind colleagues whose company you enjoyed. She wanted a chance to grieve for this loss and to prepare herself mentally for the hard work at hand. She had dinner with friends, started a book she had wanted to read and at the end of the week, she left the city and flew to her parents beach house for some solitude and serious reflection.
There was a nagging question she felt must be answered — did she want the same job in another city, or was this the time to take her skills and experience and apply them in a new business setting? Sally also knew she had to be disciplined, she had to have a strategy. She was not instinctively a gregarious, backslapping personality, so she realized she would have to focus her energies on making meaningful, productive connections.
With a sense of direction in mind, she used the second week to construct her job search strategy. She began by inventorying her experience and the skills she had developed. She assembled a list of accomplishments that supported her success. She began work drafting her value proposition — formerly known as the elevator speech — that emphasized her accomplishments.
By mid-week, with those harder than expected tasks behind her — this process took more self regulated thinking and more self reflection than she initially imagined — Sally began to identify potential employers. Her criteria included reputation of the organization and its senior leaders, an alignment of values, geography, and the opportunity to use her skills for meaningful work.
She ended the second week, working through the weekend, by conducting research on each organization, settling on an initial list of 15 companies she felt would be a good fit based on her criteria. Sally knew that she would probably have to add more to the list, but this was a start and she would be sensitive to other opportunities as her search progressed.
She conducted an inventory of her existing contacts to see if any of those individuals had connections, directly or with someone else, tied to one of her target organizations. While there were some positive hits, Sally realized that she would have to quickly expand her network to realize her objective. She began looking for contacts that could help her with introductions to her targeted list. She had heard the term “connecting the dots” which made sense, but Sally was amazed at how hard she worked on this aspect of her plan.
She decided to use customized messages to current and potential contacts and was transparent about her intentions. She hated LinkedIn’s suggested email invitations and felt that a brief personalized note would generate a better response. She was working hard and did not want to waste time by cutting corners. She also spent time polishing her value proposition, making sure that potential employers would not see her only as a project manager. She reviewed and tweaked the generic resume that the outplacement consultant provided. It was a good start, but Sally knew full well that this resume would have to be adjusted for each job she sought to ensure she was effectively connecting with the needs of each targeted company.
Although Sally felt a sense of urgency, she took weekends to have dinners with friends, to go to movies or museums, and to read. She knew it was important to maintain ties with her support group and to take time to recharge her mental and spiritual batteries. She worked out early each morning so on the weekends she rested physically.
After week three, with most of the developmental work done, Sally moved into a regular routine just as if she had a regular job — she worked out, read the overnight news on her iPad and dressed. This work, she believed, was important stuff and she did not think wearing a bathrobe and slippers reflected her serious commitment. It was symbolic, but to her, it made a difference. Sally wanted to maintain her professional edge throughout the process.
She was in her home office at 8:30 AM each day. Sally looked over various healthcare websites searching for clues — actionable information that could be used to expand her contacts or enhance her intelligence of her targeted companies. She checked the job postings of those companies and then reached out to new contacts in an effort to expand her sphere of market knowledge. On some days she would meet local contacts for coffee or lunch. Occasionally she would have lunch with a friend, but her days were focused on networking.
In the afternoons she continued her research and networking. She even establish contacts with vendors, including search firms and other consultants, that she identified as having connections with her targeted organizations. By the 15th week, she had expanded her list of targeted companies to more than 30 companies after conducting more research. In periodic calls to contacts close to or inside her targeted companies, she listened for hints of opportunity.
LinkedIn, various healthcare news briefing sites and the web pages of her targeted organizations served as key tools for her research and networking. She established Google Alerts for industry-specific news regarding her targeted organizations and their markets. She constantly doubled back with her contacts every two or three weeks by email, sometimes by telephone, depending on the status of the relationship. She made a point to find interesting and useful information to share that would add value to each message or conversation. She paid attention to their birthdays and work anniversaries.
For some of her strongest supporter-contacts, Sally also connected with them on Facebook and Instagram. “I sent a lot of Paperless Post cards during my search,” she said, “and I know I will have to keep that up even after I find a job. I have come to fully appreciate that contacts are so valuable and you must nurture and safeguard those relationships. You cannot turn this off and on like water. This is an important investment in your career.”
On the 28th week of her search, Sally, who had three job possibilities in the pipeline, made a site visit to one of her targets. Two more, not originally on her list, had expressed a strong interest. Each represented an advancement in compensation and a larger scope of responsibility.
“I heard a speaker at ACHE once say that hope was not an effective job strategy. There were never truer words spoken,” Sally said. She was also lucky in the sense that although she was in a committed relationship, she did not yet have the family ties that limit so many executives, geographically speaking.
“I also realized that if you do not have a plan and if you do not execute that plan with discipline and commitment, you will fall short of your goal. I did not want to settle for just a job. I wanted to find a workplace with people I liked and respected where I could make a meaningful contribution and be effective in their culture.”
All the hard work, all the planning, paid off.