Your Job Search Can Be A Hard-Fought Campaign

In a recent edition of The Wall Street Journal, columnist Gerald Seib wrote that the campaign against terrorism is “slow and hard for good reason.” After spending a day providing advice to participants in a job fair in Fort Worth, Texas, I sensed that the nation’s other war — getting America back to work — also will take time and be difficult.

As thousands of the newly unemployed streamed past me, I witnessed firsthand the scope of the current downturn. Unlike the recession of the early 1990s in which companies eliminated primarily middle managers, this economic slump also affects senior leaders. The faces of these 40- and 50-something professionals reflected their concern and even desperation. By day’s end, these individuals realized that conventional job hunting won’t suffice and, therefore, were looking for a method to help them find new positions and, in turn, regain their self-esteem.

My role at the fair, which was organized by American Airlines and the Texas Workforce Commission, was to offer career advice in seminars and one-on-one counseling. My challenge was to show these professionals that necessity — their need to find new jobs — could lead them to rejuvenate, revamp or even recreate their careers. Further, by doing so, they might become more successful and satisfied than before. For this reason, I presented attendees with a job-search approach that fits the times. What follows is my message to them.

You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are. Before you can redirect your career, you’ve got to examine the industries you’ve been in and the companies you’ve worked for. Start by evaluating your performance and analyzing your attitude about your work. From this assessment, you can create a comprehensive and integrated view of your circumstances. With this picture, you can conclude whether you need or want to make a modest or more significant change in your career.

To find your ideal job situation, you must first envision your goal — a job or career that embodies what you’re able to do and what’s important to you. Then you’ll need to validate that the work you desire truly corresponds with your abilities and motivations. Once you’ve confirmed there’s a match, you can give yourself the go-ahead for your reinvention journey. On the other hand, if there isn’t a close correlation, you can abandon this route or reshape your goal. Or you might want to consider bolstering your skills or making a trade-off in your goals, such as money, power, challenge or helping others.

To achieve your goal, you’ll need to develop your resourcefulness, especially in this economy. To do so, listen, observe and tap your intuition so you become fully aware of your surroundings. Stay alert to trends, reading about your marketplace and speaking with people in other jobs, companies and industries. If you’re perceptive, you’ll uncover ideas and approaches that others have employed. Many other managers and executives also are open to experimenting with new notions and techniques. You may be able to attain your career goals by following their leads.

If you have a time limit on your goal, as many professionals facing joblessness do, you’ll need to be practical as well. That is to say that you’ll need to develop and apply a carefully thought-out course of action or game plan. You’ll likely seek to be among the best in your field, so create a strategy that will ensure your success. Your plan should list and describe your approach and the specific actions you’ll take to arrive at your goal.

Flawless execution is critical to achieving career reinventions. While reaching your goals will require that you stay focused, you should understand that problems can undermine your efforts. Be agile and stay alert to trouble. If you detect an obstacle, respond. Be aware that a change in circumstances also can be beneficial, and try to spot opportunities and determine whether and how you’ll react. Throughout your reinvention journey, try to strike an appropriate balance between being focused yet flexible.

Because today’s job market is unusually challenging, you may need to pursue positions with smaller companies or become an independent contractor. Whether you work for yourself or someone else, you can reshape or even transform your career if your approach is realistic.

Three days after the job fair, I received an e-mail from a participant, a self-described “50-plus displaced executive.” He’s decided to parlay his talents in another industry, offer his expertise on a contract basis or pursue both options. While he hasn’t yet found his ideal job or career, he’s begun his campaign to put himself back to work.

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