Being in the recruiting business, not a week goes by that I don’t get a call from an accomplished professional who may be compelled or, in less optimal circumstances, forced into a job or career change. Many professionals may go a decade or longer without actually having to look for a job. When the time comes, panic often ensues.
Here are a few tips on how to handle a mid-life employment crisis.
- Take a deep breath – It’s important not to panic, even if your financial condition isn’t optimal. When prospective employers sense panic, it’s a red flag, so keep your emotions in check.
- Assess your network – I often tell job seekers to write down the top 20 people in their lives with whom they would share major news (good or bad). Family, neighborhood friends, clergy, industry peers, coworkers, clients, and high school or college friends all fall into this category. This is your core network. They’re the people who care about you the most. This is your starting point.
- Direct your network – Job seekers are often hesitant to foreclose any job options and hence make the mistake of telling friends “I’d be happy doing anything as long as it pays well.” Having unspecific directives makes helping someone difficult. A college friend once told me he wanted to be President of American Airlines. While that may have been a little far-fetched (he’s not now by the way), it’s remarkably specific. By being as specific as possible about what you want to do, where you want to do it and for whom you want to do it, you activate their network most effectively and allow them to connect the dots in their network to help you.
- Focus and research – Five meaningful approaches to companies will yield better results than 100 blind online responses to job ads. When you find an opportunity that appeals to you, find out everything you can about that company. Who in your network is in that company or in that industry? Who’s their largest client? What are their plans for the next 12-24 months? What relationships or skills do you have that help them get to their goals? Who is the real decision maker? The information is everywhere and there’s no excuse not to put in the work to gather as much relevant information as possible. That’s your advantage.
- Making “the call” – A mentor once told me that everyone has a short list of people for whom they’d drop everything they’re doing to take that call. Your mission as a job seeker is to find and activate that person for the decision maker you seek to influence. It takes research, time and luck, but if you’re able to get the company’s biggest client or the decision maker’s close friend to make “the call” for you, you stand the best odds of at least getting a fair hearing.
Remember that finding a new job or career is like any other business goal. You’re just more personally invested in the outcome. By assessing and directing your network, this often unplanned journey can be an opportunity to craft new relationships while substantially bettering your career and your life.