Cross-posted from The Green Suits:
They've got talent. They've got smarts. They also have $400 left in the checking account. Out of work for months--they despair that their best days have passed. Sound like anyone you know? (Sound like everyone you know?)
None of us planned for the worst. Remember? Our parents taught us not to worry; like broken records they repeated: if we work hard we will find unlimited success in life and career.
Sure they told us to plan for rainy days, but few of us listened. And now...IT'S POURING!
Here in the U.S., after nearly four years of economic turmoil--that's right...FOUR YEARS THIS DECEMBER--a large portion of our workforce remains unemployed, or underemployed. Demoralized, they are at wit's end.
In some industries--particularly service industries like marketing and communications--as many as one out of four professionals are in the tank. As they get more seasoned they compete with younger, less-experienced executives, for the limited number of assignments which become available. A disproportionate number of the affected careerists are men. And--they would be last to admit it--the guys are less emotionally resourceful than their female counterparts. Much less.
As an executive recruiter, I find myself offering executives of all stripes as much life counsel as I do career-development strategy. This downturn (what an unfortunately inadequate word that is) has upended careers, depleted savings, and ended marriages. It's amazing so many of us keep going. But, we should keep going, that is. We need to stop worrying and love our careers.
There are some things you need to do--or not do--to help achieve ongoing career success. Here, offered randomly, are ten key suggestions:
- Keep your mind sharp and your familiarities current. At the breakfast table, start mornings with a crossword puzzle or Sudoku--they work like calisthenics for the brain. Then, catch up on industry news via the better business websites out there. When you do interview, your responses to interview questions will be faster, sharper, and more spot-on.
- Limit your time on Facebook to evenings or weekends, because Facebook can consume many hours of otherwise productive job-seeking time. (Sorry Zuck, it had to be said. Facebook is a major time-suck, especially for unemployed and underemployed people.) Instead, do focus your limited energies on building, maintaining, and engaging your LinkedIn contacts.
- Develop your unique value proposition. What is it that makes you...you? More importantly, what is it that makes you...valuable to your next employer? Honestly evaluate your array of skills and talents and work on a brief one or two sentence (micro elevator pitch) that explains your unique value to future employers or helpful network contacts. While you are at it, update your LinkedIn profile and your résumé to reflect that newly polished unique value proposition.
- Seek unvarnished feedback. Unfortunately, it is human nature to avoid criticism. So when constructive criticism is required, we don't seek it out. And when we don't seek it out, we tend to repeat the same interview mistakes over and over, again. Act against that natural hesitation and ask someone you trust--who happens to be a hiring manager--to interview you and honestly critique your interview performance. Be open to any and all feedback provided, especially how your trusted someone views your responses and verbal and non-verbal cues. It may be painful at first, but receiving, accepting, and embracing their unvarnished feedback may be one of your most critical steps to success. Added suggestion: open a Skype account and ask your friends on Skype to tell you what they see on their screens. As more interviews go virtual, you will need to rely on an effective tele-screen presence. So, please be well prepared for virtual interviews.
- Start walking. It's great to be focused on the job hunt. But there comes a time when you will need to pull away from the screen and keyboard to clear your head and get your heart pumping. At least three times a week, set aside thirty to forty-five minutes for a good brisk walk around the neighborhood. Walking is one of the most-effective stress relievers and calorie-burners--it's free and it is easy to maintain a good walk schedule. (Are you in an office or apartment building? Climb the stairs!)
- Drink plenty of water. Why? Because most of us are dehydrated. Lack of proper fluid balance slows us down, makes us appear flushed or unhealthy, and is actually bad for our bodies. End your daily caffeine intake by 10:00 AM--and when you do go for that cup of Joe...limit yourself to just two cups a day.
- Smile and the world will smile back at you. (It's true!) So make sure that you smile when you are on the phone with prospective employers--you'll actually sound happier and more contented than if you don't. And always smile when meeting people face-to-face.
- LYAO (laugh your you-know-what off) every day. You've probably had days when nothing seems to have gone right. By day's end you find yourself exhausted, irritable, and easily thrown to fits of anger. That's when, your five-year old daughter enters your work space--pink tutu on her head--and in her most serious dramatic voice announces to you, "I AM COTTON CANDY. DEAL WITH IT!" (She pivots, and leaves your space.) Unless you have a heart of stone, you will burst out laughing and forget all of the bad luck that had defined your day. Everyday needs laughter. Find ways to get it: play back a favorite movie comedy--mine is Young Frankenstein, read something humorous like a Calvin Trillin essay, and heartily LYAO!
- BE ITALIAN. (What?) It's true. If you have ever taken vacation in Italy, you noticed that life in the boot is totally chaotic. Lots of official rules and no one following them. But, Italiani are some of the most joyous people on the planet. They love the company of others--people they've known all their lives and people they've just met. They relish life's simplest pleasures like a gorgeous piece of fruit freshly picked off the tree or a Mediterranean sunset. Being in the moment matters most to them. From this (on-the-brink) Euro-zone country which changes governments more than most people change job assignments, we discover that we need not succumb to our fears, but rather, embrace them. So take time to smell the roses. And while you are at it, plant a few rose bushes in the front yard!
- Remain concerned but do stop worrying. Sure, you must use your time well and be mindful of your bank account--that's critical. But don't let your concern cross over into health-debilitating worry. Hiring managers don't hire worried people. And please turn off the cable news programming; those talking heads forecasting doom and gloom are making you nuts. Turn it off, please!!!
And to The Green Suits--those careerists focused on green business, sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and other verdant market spaces--we say keep gathering key industry contacts and information, developing your skill, and gaining experience however you can. And please boost your efforts with Tailoring the Green Suit: Empowering Yourself for an Executive Career in the New Green Economy, available in e-book and paperback editions at Amazon.com.
Well, there you have it. Above all else do stay hopeful, because our best days lie ahead!
DAN SMOLEN is Founder and Managing Director of the executive recruitment firm, The Green Suits, LLC. He is also author of Tailoring the Green Suit: Empowering Yourself for an Executive Career in the New Green Economy. He lives and works in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.