The buzz and the bloom around 2018 are wearing off, and everyone I'm talking to in and around my coaching practice is asking me how to be pro-active at the start the new year - and I think that taking some smart networking steps is the answer.
In the book business, as I found out last year, January is the time for fitness books and diet books. But if you're not getting back to the gym, or throwing out all the pizzas in your freezer, where do you start your career plan? Sure, internal moves are great, psyching yourself up for the leap into the unknown, but they're still just preparation: reframing, meditation, confidence-building, journaling, etc.
But I think by the time January rolls around, you've done plenty of thinking, and plenty of prep.,The first external move I would make is to get some networking steps in process. And here are the three top tips:
One of the toughest challenges we face when we get downsized from a longstanding job (10 or more years) is the loss of identity and purpose that goes along with being cut off from the company, the people, the routine, and the rituals – not to mention the salary.
If you’re like most people in this situation, you try to be brave about this, and tell people you’re recovering just fine and moving on, but we both know the truth: you’re far from fine. You’re likely dreaming about the workplace you no longer frequent, along with the people – even the projects you were working on. You drift off during the day into idle speculation about what’s going on back there. I confess that I still occasionally dream about my last big job – a great company I was at for nearly ten years. But it’s been almost ten years since I left! So these experiences can make quite an indelible impression on our psyches.
Even if you were not downsized and retired voluntarily, unless your company offered some sort of phased retirement program,which allowed you to reduce your hours at the company while you explored and began transitioning to your second-act career, you’ll likely experience a sense of loss and the gnawing feeling of emptiness because you’re no longer hanging out in familiar surroundings.
So what can you do to clean out the cobwebs in your head from the job you no longer have, and start clearing a way towards your next job – or the new business you’re going to start?
Here are three recommendations based on my having to frequently recover from losing my job during my own career in a very volatile industry.
Create a New Routine. If you miss the ritual of showing up at work at the beginning of your day, create a new routine with a new place to go. This could be as simple as the coffee shop where you go to check email and read the morning paper. For my recently job-less coaching clients, I often recommend that they take on a volunteer project – perhaps with a local non-profit, or mentoring to a small business incubator, trade association, or college. One of the things you probably miss most is the contact with people. Having this new routine, and getting out of the house, will take your mind away from that place you’re no longer going to, and help open you up to new ideas and new relationships.
Cut Ties to Your Former Colleagues. This may seem cruel, but you’re now an outsider. Even your closest (former) co-workers may consider you radioactive. So as tempting as it might be to connect with them, until you get settled and start your next job, it is best to keep your distance. You may feel that maintaining these ties will soften the transition out of the company, but it is really going to prevent you from healing. The good news is that you have now become a member of the “alumni association,” and reaching out to other departed colleagues is a great way to start networking your way to your next gig. You share history and company culture, so there’s a short-hand and a sense of common ground. You may find these people extremely open and welcoming to you, since they understand exactly how you’re feeling, and share all of the same reference points.
Reframe Your Exit. This may also be challenging, but you have to stop thinking that you’ve lost a job, and start thinking that you’ve gained a host of new opportunities that this transition affords you. I’m not talking about being blustery and defensive and proclaiming things like “I didn’t like that job anyway,” or “I grew out of that job a long time ago!” It’s OK to acknowledge that this is a difficult period, but you can also begin taking steps to look at this event in a new light.
Start by listing the Pros and Cons of the job you just left. Keep that list with you for a few days and continue editing it. Think about how you were successful, but also about how you were held back, frustrated, and even undermined. You’ll probably find that as much as you enjoyed many aspects of the job, there were other things that really upset you, depressed you, or demoralized you. This process will help build your objectivity. Understanding what worked and didn’t work about your old job is going to help you make a more informed decision about applying to (and accepting) your next job.
Your goal is to clear your head and to disconnect your mindset from the past, so that you can entertain new possibilities for the future. As long as you indulge in the old mindset, and continue to identify with the old job and the old company (including its people and its culture), you’re preventing yourself from creating a more fulfilled future. A little practice and a little belief in yourself will go a long way towards building that bridge to the next chapter in your career.
Finding a new job entails searching, but it also demands reflection. Process your ideas, intentions, anxieties and aspirations through keeping a daily journal.
Journals are a staple of transformational work. If you have used journals to help you lose weight, to track a business project, or simply to document a particular period in your life, you know the power of the regular practice of just sitting down to write. It is an exquisitely safe and personal process that can also be a powerful tool in helping you get a new job.
Strategy #15 – Keep a Reinvention Journal
Your Reinvention Journal will serve as a collection vessel to help your mind begin releasing the valuable inspiration that has been locked up inside you for years. Think of it as your connection to a well of information and insight that already knows what your new job is going to be and is carefully guiding you there. Rather than a space to detail specific ideas or analyze issues of logistics or strategy, it is an opportunity for your imagination to run wild. Later, you’ll take the valuable ideas that pop up and use other tools to turn them into concrete plans, agendas, schedules, and programs.
Starting your Reinvention Journal is easy. First, pick out a notebook you find pleasing to look at, one that you will feel drawn to write in every day. If you’re feeling a bit intimidated by the idea of keeping a journal, look for one in a format that feels comfortable and won’t overwhelm you—perhaps one with 6×9-inch or 5×8-inch pages and with wide spacing.
Write two pages per day, in longhand, with a pen. (You may find that as you get into the process you want to write longer entries, but to get started, two pages is plenty.) Write at the same time every day; make it a ritual. It doesn’t matter whether you write in the morning, afternoon, or evening. You can write before you go to bed, when you wake up, after you work out at the gym, before or after lunch. What matters is consistency. If you don’t choose and maintain a specific time window to write in, you will tend to fall off track and will start missing days.
Even though this is your Reinvention Journal, you may find yourself, particularly at the beginning, actually writing about everything but your new job. Just start off with whatever is most present for you at that moment. If you’re just waking up, you could write about a dream you had or about your feelings about your schedule for the upcoming day. If you’re writing at night or the end of the day, you can write about what happened that day, including wins, losses, ongoing challenges, insights, and so on. You can describe your mood and write about your relationships.
Most journal writers find it hard to write at times. Sometimes the flow isn’t there. Sometimes you’re in a resistant frame of mind and feeling fed up or shut down. Many of my journal entries over the years have started out with me writing about being angry about having committed to writing the journal in the first place. That’s okay. Just write about whatever is coming up in your mind, even if all you can do is repeat it. “I hate writing in this stupid journal” is a perfectly great way to begin an entry. Get your frustration off your chest.
You can even write about the fact that you have nothing to write about. You can write “ham and eggs” over and over, or vent at the journal for being there, complain that you have nothing to say, or curse me for assigning you this dumb journal-writing project.
It’s all good. The purpose of this exercise is to begin to access the dormant areas of your mind that have grown used to living in the dark. As you continue to journal ritually each day, those unexpressed areas around your new job will slowly start to feed into your writing. Over time, you will be surprised to “hear” what seems to pop into your mind as you write. It could be memories you haven’t thought about for a long time. It could be different perspectives or opinions about your work or people you know. It could be creative ideas or solutions for problems or projects you’re working on.
After a certain amount of journaling, you will begin to hear things and receive input that relates more and more directly to your reinvention, some of which you can later translate into concrete plans and activities. Just as you start the Reinvention Journal with strings of seemingly random thoughts about your day-to-day life, as that day-to-day life begins to include more and more elements of your emerging reinvention plan, your Reinvention Journal will reflect that activity.
Intriguing and useful patterns of ideas and information will increasingly begin to emerge.
Don’t worry about how your Reinvention Journal looks or reads. No one else is going to look at it. You don’t have to write evenly or legibly, or with fine literary style. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation do not matter. You don’t even have to look at it or read it over once you’ve written an entry. The purpose of the journal is simple: to bring thoughts into your conscious mind for you to consider.
You’ll probably have periods of time—perhaps days or even weeks—where nothing meaningful seems to be coming through in your journal about your new job. Just keep writing. If you’re blocked, write about your block. There will always be something to write about because you are always in process on something, whether it’s positive or negative, productive or distracting. Sooner or later, you will work through the fallow period and begin to channel positive and productive ideas once again.
A job interview at any age is an intimidating experience. When you’re older and out of practice, it feels like the stakes are even higher.
I don’t think it matters where you’re applying — whether it is a job interview in your industry or if you’re striking out in a new direction, interviews are interviews. They’re scary, intimidating, and your professional future hangs in the hands of your interviewer. Many of us in the boomer generation are confronting a situation we never thought we would be dealing with: launching a second-act career in our 50s or 60s. Yet that is exactly what many of us are doing — bravely ripping up our old resumes and rewriting our life stories so that we can sync up with a world that has changed radically since we were last “on the market.”
Strategy #23 – Ace Every Job Interview
Here are some suggestions to consider if you are heading into what is likely your first job interview in 10 or more years.
A wise teacher used to tell me to be 100% engaged and enthusiastic about what I was doing, but to be 100% detached from the outcome. Win or lose, as important and maybe even life-saving as getting this gig may be, it is ultimately out of your control. You can only be the best person you can be. The only way you’re going to get this job is if you don’t hold back on revealing that great person. That doesn’t mean you sell too hard or tell interviewers repeatedly why you’re the exact right person for the job; it just means that you’re you. If you’re having a hard time finding your confidence and your equanimity, think back to a time in your life when things were really humming on all cylinders. Remember that feeling and bring it with you to the job interview.
Show What You Stand For
Today, experience, sad to say, is not as valued as it once was. In a world that’s changing so fast, with businesses and industries getting disrupted out of existence, experience may not help you overcome a completely out-of-left-field challenge. You have to be curious, adaptable, resourceful and persistent. In short, you need to be driven by values and qualities of character. This is what a recruiter will be looking for. As an older worker, if you can be quietly inspiring, downplaying your own accomplishments while praising your colleagues, and talking about your life and work experience as a gift rather than as a badge, you may just win them over.
Don’t Let “Hiring Mom And Dad” Perceptions Define You
Yes, that’s a real expression in the back rooms of millennial-heavy businesses and departments. Your interviewer will most likely be younger than you are. When older workers present themselves, there’s a good chance that ageism will rear its head. My advice: Ignore it. Not every younger person you meet is going to be dismissive, but be on the lookout for some awkwardness or discomfort. Rather than clam up, shut down or reveal just how infuriating this really is, be smart and strategic. Show (don’t tell) that you have no issue with younger people. Remember:
1. You’re not there to teach them a lesson.
2. You’re not there to tell them war stories about how things were when you were their age.
3. You’re not there to impress them with how much you’ve learned and grown over the years.
4. You’re there to be of service and to support their mission and their goals.
You should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Don’t do this from an arrogant position. Don’t sit back in your chair, cross your arms, frown or take out your list of questions so that you can take control of the interview. Be curious. Do your homework. Lean forward. Ask perceptive questions to show that you not only understand the job, but understand the company and the culture. Use your questions as a way to reveal why you could indeed be the right fit for this job. Don’t be afraid to get into a real conversation.
Be willing to reveal things that you could feel a little uncomfortable about. Don’t hedge your way out of questions like: “Why did you leave your last position?” or “How long have you been looking for a job?” Your discomfort is a sure sign that you aren’t right for the position. Spend time prepping for these questions, and find answers that are authentic and show that you are willing to overcome challenges and learn from past experiences. This is a great opportunity to inject some self-deprecating humor into the conversation — and to maybe make a joke at your own expense. A little vulnerability can go a long way toward creating empathy and respect for what you’ve been through.
It’s Not The Job, It’s The Fit
At the end of the day, your job interview has about 10% to do with your resume and about 90% to do with “fit.” Does the interviewer think you’re someone whom everyone else is going to enjoy coming to work with in the morning? As organizations and hierarchies have flattened out because of technology, there is more power in what used to be thought of as middle management. Hiring and firing is more team-driven than ever, so don’t be surprised if it takes a half dozen rounds of interviews to trot you around to all the stakeholders you could be working with. If they don’t “get” you, if there’s no “click,” then do you really want to be working at a company that doesn’t understand and appreciate you for who you are?
Follow-Up Never Gets Old
While so much has changed in the hiring process, the fundamentals still apply. Remember to thank your interviewer by email immediately after your job interview. And, just like in the old days, send them a hand-written thank you note the same day. I advise clients to actually have the note card in their pocket or bag all ready to go, with a stamp already on the envelope. I don’t care how old or how young they are, your interviewer will be impressed with your follow-up. It may not get you the job, but it demonstrates your thoughtfulness and your character.
Remember that if you don’t get the job but have still made a strong impression, you’ve just expanded your network. That young recruiter may turn out to be your biggest new fan and may have just forwarded your resume to a friend of theirs at another company where there’s an opening.
Tomorrow is another day!
(This post initially appeared on my Forbes Coaches Council Blog HERE)
“Chase relationships, not job openings.” This is a mantra I share with my graduate students as well as with my boomer clients when it comes to networking.
This represents a paradigm shift away from thinking that career development is mainly about distributing résumés to apply for open positions. In the digital age, we all have to be more proactive about creating and nurturing a network of strategic business relationships that will get us in the door before the job opening is even posted. This also applies to business creation, where we need potential investors to know us and trust us before we ask them for a penny.
Trying to land a job or start a business without a preexisting network today is like trying to win a war without an army. If you are not part of an active network, your chances of landing a job, raising money for a venture, or finding any of the resources you’ll need to further your career are significantly diminished.
Strategy #19. Turn Your Network into a Career Relationship Funnel
Most people have a fuzzy sense of what it means to have an active network. A network is not simply your contact list or address book, your Facebook friends, your former colleagues, your college classmates, or the members of your union, guild, or professional association. The fact that you know them and can reach them doesn’t necessarily make them part of an active network.
An active network consists of people who can make a strategic contribution that will serve to advance your career goals. It can help you not only to get a job or to start a business but also to maintain a successful job or business. Your active network funnels new ideas, new people, and new business opportunities to you. An active network takes managing – it’s a two-way street. Not only are you seeking help from the people who support you, you are also providing support for them in whatever they are doing. In giving you will receive. In fact, I encourage you to engage with your network primarily as a giver of encouragement, expertise, empathy, insight, support, and information, and only secondarily as a receiver of help (including job referrals). If you are perceived as someone who is giving of their time, energy, knowledge, and other resources, people will look forward to hearing from you because you will usually be offering them something: an article you just read, a valuable experience you wanted to share, a suggestion based on a conversation with a colleague, or an introduction to someone they might enjoy connecting with.
Contrast that with someone who only gets in touch when they need something: they want to know if you’ve heard of any job openings; they are looking for the names of people who might have open positions and want you to refer them. It’s all one way—their way. They never have anything to offer. Their attitude is a bit desperate. They come across as needy. So when you network, don’t lead with your need.
This may be challenging for you to do, but it is essential in order to maintain the positive flow of information from your network. When you communicate with people in a positive way, focusing on what you can give rather than what you hope to receive, they will be uplifted when they hear from you. They will also be inspired to return the favor when they come across an appropriate job opening or another way they can help you.
Over time, your active network can serve as a lead generation system that is very similar to a classic marketing funnel.
Here’s how it works: start by dividing all the contacts in your database into three groups—Platinum, Gold, and Silver.
Your Platinum group is your smallest group. It may include only a handful of people—but they are vitally important. They are your de facto “board of directors,” the people with whom you are closest and with whom you can really let your hair down and be vulnerable. They are people with whom you can talk about your career goals and practice your job interview skills. They are compassionate, encouraging, and have your best interests at heart.
Your Gold group includes everyone with whom you have a good working relationship—people who are, at the very least, “in your corner.” They are like-minded individuals who may or may not work in the same field as you. You may have done business with them as coworker, client, or vendor. You may know them socially or through your community activities. Consider which of these Gold group members you can approach to discuss your career reinvention plan and how best to engage with each of them.
Your Silver group is the largest, most general group. These are the people you’ve met who have the potential to be members of your Gold group. They are people whose business cards you have collected at networking events, conferences, or business meetings; friends of friends who have asked to join your network on LinkedIn; colleagues present or former whom you barely know but whom you could call or email based on shared connections.
In this methodology, networking contacts start out as Silver, progress to Gold, and in a few special cases wind up as Platinum. Your life and career are fluid, so your network will be, too. Your Gold and Platinum contacts may change when you get a new job or start a new business and need to develop a different set of resources. Equally as important, you will also participate as a Silver, Gold, or Platinum member of other people’s networks.
This three-level funnel helps you to find and develop relationships with people who think as you do, appreciate what you have to offer, are grateful for the assistance and support you provide for them, and are willing to connect you to job openings, people who can hire you, or people who will help you launch your own business. Building and continually nurturing this funnel is the best way of bypassing the frustrating process of chasing after job postings and never getting a response. In a business climate increasingly built on referrals, successfully activating your network is the only viable strategy.
Dan Goetz, a business owner I profile in my book, Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50, used to see himself (pre-reinvention) as a hired gun. After he was let go as CEO of a family-owned manufacturing company, he found it challenging to find a job as senior and as satisfying as the one he had lost. It took him far longer than he anticipated to build any kind of traction, but when he did finally build momentum, it was because he began taking a more pro-active attitude in his job interviews.
Dan already knew that his network was the best way for him to find a new position. As a result, initially, he wasn’t too focused on seeking out specific job postings to apply to, opting instead to rely on his relationships to guide him to meeting new people and planting the seeds for an eventual position that would be the right fit.
The effectiveness of his networking efforts was, in his words, “dramatic.” People were taking his calls, and he began to build traction. There is no doubt in his mind about the value of focusing on one’s network: “It works. It doesn’t work overnight. But it works!” The problem was that it was taking too long. He spent almost a year networking without finding a new position, and in the process he burned through much of his savings. Additionally, (this all took place in 2009) the value of his house had tumbled by almost fifty percent because of the recession. Dan felt as if he was running out of time.
His goal (and expectation) upon leaving his company was that he would ultimately find another job as president, CEO, or some other senior hired-gun position. But as more time went by, he realized that these jobs were few and far between. Many companies were looking to hire younger executives they felt would have more staying power than someone in their fifties (Interestingly, statistics disprove this bias).
Things may have turned around for him because of an epiphany he had about how he was presenting himself. Instead of talking about what role people wanted him to fill, he started asking people in interviews what problem they had that they needed solving. The tone of the conversations started to change, and Dan found himself getting taken a lot more seriously. The interview would shift from him having to promote himself and why he was a good candidate, to a more give-and-take conversation about the company, its industry, and what the company was trying to achieve. In many instances, Dan was able to come up with suggestions, examples and ideas for how the company could address their problems. Even if the interviews weren’t leading to offers, Dan felt more engaged with the people he met. Instead of steeling himself against the next interview, he was excited to learn about a new company, and to exercise his critical-thinking skills. Regardless of the outcome, he knew that he was very often being of service, and that what he had to say was helpful.
As often happens when we are searching around in unknown territory and trying out new things, Dan received an unexpected offer. Whereas in the past, it was something he might have turned down, he was much more willing to consider it – partially because he needed a gig, but also because his mindset was shifting…
A CPA contact introduced him to a small team of private equity investors who were turnaround specialists. They had a problem, and the CPA thought that Dan might be the guy who could solve it for them. Dan wound up consulting for the next two years with this group, turning around a distressed company, and making a tidy profit from his stake in the deal. Convinced that ownership, while riskier in some ways, was the way to go, versus trying to get another hired gun position, Dan went about meeting with investors and wound up buying the company he runs today. As he says in the accompanying video, there were some “emotional times,” as he and his wife made the transition into this new life, but the result has been “now that we’re in the new job, now that I own this company, life is great, and all that stuff is behind us.”
Shifting the mindset from job applicant to problem solver is very do-able. You have the great advantage of being an outsider – someone who can bring a fresh perspective into the job interview. This is exactly what got Dan his shot at turning around the distressed company for the CPA’s investor group. But if Dan hadn’t gotten used to offering solutions in his interviews, he might not have been so confident and comfortable in talking with the investors. So be pro-active as you engage with potentail employers. Do your research and be prepared to speak your mind in a constructive and service-oriented way. You might be surprised by the results.
Here’s some insight into both ends of the spectrum – a two-part interview on boomers and millennials with WEAA Wealthy Radio host Deborah Owens.
The first interview (30 minutes) addresses the challenges facing millennials as they are entering the workforce – and of course my piece in the last 30 minutes focuses on boomers. A few callers chimed in with questions and comments.