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What’s in a Word?

The most common term for a person looking for a new job or career is “candidate.”   This is an impersonal and slightly frosty word loaded with negative connotations.  The most common association of the word is with a politician seeking elected office.  This is not a warm, positive, or even respectful way to refer to someone seeking a new job, as most people rank politicians slightly above used car salesmen.

Many contexts in which the word “candidate” is used are impersonal, belittling, and negative: “He is a candidate for the poor house”; “The candidate is taking an exam”; “The HR department is a likely candidate for staff cuts.”  And, of course, there is the “Manchurian candidate.”  

Introducing the concept of customer experience in the recruiting process begins with abandoning the term “candidate” and referring to him or her as a “prospect” or “recruit”.  Perhaps even more important, we should think of the individual as a customer or client.  They are indispensable and irreplaceable to recruiting firms.  They keep the lights on.

I believe recruiters and HR departments should provide a customer satisfaction experience for all job applicants.  I would like to see us build an open and cordial relationship throughout the hiring process.  This practice will be welcomed by the client and advantageous for the recruiter.  As competition increases in recruitment, creating a memorable customer experience will provide a competitive edge.

Getting to Know You

A Russian priest in the nineteenth century wanted to leave the country.  When he got to the border, a guard stopped him and asked him three questions: “Who are you?”; “Where are you going?”; “What will you do when you get there?”

The priest replied, “I will double your pay if you will ask me those three questions for the rest of my life.” 

Any job search or career move, we believe, involves thinking about these three questions. “Who are you?” is perhaps the most difficult one to answer.  Responding properly means delving deeply and honestly into yourself to determine your purpose in life.  It means stripping away the superficial, surfaces, and the inconsequential to consider what is at your core, what gives your life meaning, what brings you joy, what brings you satisfaction, what brings you a feeling of well-being?  What is your passion?

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Defining your purpose does not involve financial matters, prestige, or titles.  It involves identifying what gives your life meaning.  Mark Twain said that the two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you discovered why you were born.  Answering the question, “Who am I?” may mean listening to that irrepressible voice in your mind, heart, or soul.  Answering the question should lead to a sense of authenticity in your life.

Once you decide or discover who you are, look at potential jobs and career changes through that lens.  Is the position you are seeking a reflection of who you are and your deepest goals?  Will it bring you fulfillment?  A sense of purpose? A sense of authenticity?  Does it reflect your passion?

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From Endings to New Beginnings

The Importance of Rituals After Job Loss

Breaking Up is Hard To Do

Neil Sedaka’s lyrics about the mental and emotional pain of unrequited love is applicable to anyone suffering a loss.  There is no way of sugar-coating it. Losing a job stinks.  It does not matter what it’s called (fired, downsized, rightsized, retrenchment), how it happened, or why it happened (poor performance, bad company management, mergers, competition, financial exigency).  It happened!

There are few events in our lives more painful or distressing than the transition from working to unemployment.  Work is central to our lives in ways that go far beyond providing material benefits.  Work fulfills vital psychological needs.  It provides us with a sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence; it allows us to feel efficacious and in control of our world; it gives us a sense of pride, ego, and identity; it improves our sense of well-being; it providesmental and emotional vitality and a sense of purpose.

You have every right to grieve and feel at a loss. Acknowledge your sadness, accept it, own it.  You are not “making too much out of this” or “exaggerating your loss.”  We especially abhor the old bromide: “Adversity will make you stronger.”  If this were the case we would be a society of supermen and wonder women.  There is no model for how people experience the aftermath of losing a job.  Anger, shock, disbelief, isolation, trouble sleeping, weeping, cursing one’s fate, lack of appetite, sadness, depression are common feelings.  How long one experiences these reactions varies with each individual. 

Take time to adjust.  Accept reality for what it is, not for what you want it to be.  Do not catastrophize the future; you will not be living in a cardboard box under a bridge.  Try to maintain your daily routines – exercising at the gym, having family meals together, taking walks, going to the movies -- from before your loss.  This is the time to reach out to others, especially good listeners.  When children learn what happened, they often see the family’s future in unrealistically dire terms.  Assure them that they played no role in what happened, that this is a short-lived period, and that the future is always bright.

Remain positive in your thinking and confident in your abilities.  You have skills, abilities, talents, and experience that make you a valuable asset to any organization.  If you think it would be helpful, make a list of all your accomplishments: completing projects successfully, closing sales, reducing costs, leading teams, solving problems, boosting morale, adding to the bottom line.  Realize that your situation is temporary and is not an augur for the future. Virtually everyone in a C-suite has at some point lost his or her job.

Ending

Endings are often painful and significant.  They may involve broken dreams, disappointments, grief, and unfilled goals.  You are putting to rest something that was significant, something that affected your life, something that you valued.

While distressing, endings also provide a beneficial catharsis. Catharsis is a Greek word meaning “cleansing” or “purification.”  It was first used by Aristotle to describe the impact of Greek dramatic tragedy. Your personal catharsis allows you to purge yourself of past negative feelings, anger at your boss, frustration with colleagues, dismay at assignments, and a general sadness about your loss.  It allows one to achieve a state of renewal, rejuvenation, and new beginnings. 

Creating a ritual may assist you in achieving closure to your loss.Rituals, or patterns of behavior, from “crossing your fingers” to dancing for rain, have been vital to societies and individuals from immemorial antiquity.Recent studies suggest that rituals help us break from the past, relieve grief, and increase confidence in going forward.  They provide a framework for acceptance and formally declaring an end to one’s loss.

We encourage you to create your personal ritual for wishing a fond farewell to your last job.Rituals do not invariably have to be serious.  Irony and humor are always in style.  You may wish to burn the book of rules and regulations from your last job, or chop your old ID tag into an infinite number of pieces and scatter them to the wind.  Whispering a magical incantation decrying your old boss has been known to happen. We know one woman who denounced her former workplace’s dress code, which she abhorred, by burning her pantyhose. 

While rituals may provide some comic relief, they have an important function.  They signal the end of a past event, the cessation of active grieving, and a time to dwell on the future.  The future does not mean, as the trite expression goes, “starting a new chapter.”  It means writing a new script, creating new adventures, finding new directions.  You are writing a new narrative.

Endings, then, are not a time to prepare the wood for the funeral pyre or hang the black crepe.  It is a time of reflection, evaluating career goals, catharsis, finding meaning in past events, putting things to rest, and adjusting to your new reality. It is a necessary precursor to a robust future, positive thinking, and reigniting your passion.  All new beginnings start in an old beginning’s end.

Ode to Perseverance

Applying for a job is often demanding.requiring time, energy, and patience throughout the process.  At times you will be convinced that you will never earn another paycheck for the rest of your life.  Your ego will feel like it has been sacked by an NFL tight end. Your spirits will fall like you have been pummeled by a wrecking ball.  You will experience all the energy of a dead battery. You will be tempted to conclude that there must be something terribly wrong with you or your professional background; maybe you should search immediately for a prime spot under the nearest bridge.  It is easy to fall into a world-class funk.

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself or making bleak assumptions about your future, this is the time to practice perseverance.  By perseverance I do not mean invoking clichés such as “hang tough,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “gut it out,” “never quit,” or “grin and bear it.”Perseverance does not come from adages or bromides; it comes from our inner selves.

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I recently spoke to a woman who was hired at an HR executive after several months of job searching.  She said that she “had to wait her turn.”  I thought this remark was odd.  I had never considered that people looking for a job had to stand in line for a period of time until they reached the box office.  Yet there is some wisdom and reality in her comment.  It is rare for someone to move from one job to another seamlessly.  There is generally a gap.  Whether you are a newbie charging out of the gates or a battle-scarred veteran changing jobs, the vast majority of people have to “wait their turn.”  I believe that during this time, perseverance is an extremely valuable mental trait to employ.

Once you have decided your purpose in the workplace or life, perseverance is an essential quality in achieving it.  It is rare that anyone accomplishes a goal without facing obstacles, barriers, and unforeseen problems.  Sometimes they seem insurmountable.  This is where perseverance comes to our rescue.   Perseverance invokes our emotional and intellectual self-control.  It helps us eliminate fear, self-deception, uncertainty, insecurity, and apprehension.  It allows doubt to be replaced by conviction, foreboding to be replaced by confidence.

At times your job search may resembles the myth of Sisyphus.  Sisyphus in Greek mythology was a man who labored mightily to push a heavy stone up a hill.  When the stone reached the apex of the hill, it rolled down the other side, and the process goes on endlessly.  At times like this, when you may be in the thrall of dismay, it is vital never to lose faith in yourself or your talents or your ability to find an outstanding job.  You have faced challenges in the past and have seen the power of perseverance.  You have seen the strength of your willpower, the force of your mind, and the efficacy of your actions.

Perseverance should not be seen as an ancillary quality, something we onlythink about when we see television spots highlighting the tenacity and grit of wounded soldiers or injured athletes working to bring their muscles back to normal.  Perseverance is an essential quality to possess not only in your job search but also in your job success.  It gives you the confidence that you will be able to overcome obstacles standing between you and your goals because you have done so in the past.  It assures that you will not fear challenges because you know you can meet them. In a recent, acclaimed publication, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth wrote that grit and perseverance are often more powerful characteristics in achieving one’s goals than intelligence, education, or innate abilities.  My experience confirms her observation.  I have seen countless individuals with determination, inner strength, tenacity, and dedication achieve greater success than people with high IQs and impressive professional experience. 

The rarified realm of highly successful people is replete with examples of perseverance and tenacity.  J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has recently surpassed Oprah Winfrey and Queen Elizabeth as the richest woman in the world.  Success, however, did not come easily or quickly.  Her first Harry Potter book was rejected by twelve different publishers.  Even the small publishing firm that bought her manuscript for $2,000 warned her to prepare for disappointment. 

She received virtually no encouragement; in fact, fate or the gods (take your pick) somberly lined up to block her every attempt at success.  While she was writing, she went through a messy divorce and subsisted with her daughter on welfare. When her mother died, she was left with no support network. She became severely depressed.  During these bleak times, however, she never lost faith in herself or her project.  She learned to rely on herself. “Give up,” “surrender,” “submit,” and “withdraw” were not in her vocabulary.“Perseverance” was.  She is now worth approximately $15 billion.

Perseverance may also turn one’s life around even after a severe failure.  Simon Cowell, who you may have seen on “American Idol” or “The X-Factor,” became successful after years of struggle and misadventure.  At age 16, he dropped out of school, had a variety of dead-end jobs, and, as they say in England, “had no prospects.”  He got a low-level job in the mail room of EMI Music Publishing, where he enjoyed some success.  He left to form his own publishing company, E&S Music.  Unfortunately, the company went belly-up after one year, and Cowell was left with debt and no credit.  At age 30, he moved in with his parents.  He became a waiter in Elton John’s restaurant.

He may have had bad luck or misfortune or suffered from poor choices, but he never gave up on his dream to become a music producer and publisher.  He found a job at Fanfare Records, a small company, and helped the organization become successful.  He assiduously searched for talented performers and signed them to Fanfare before they became famous.  The rest, as they say, is history.

In an age of cynicism, short cuts, and negativity, I find the stories of Rowling and Cowell refreshing and reassuring.  They did not blame their early adverse conditions on anyone; they did not allow themselves to be overwhelmed by problems; they did not rationalize away their misfortunes; and they did not let setbacks define them.   To me the most important element in their stories is that they had perseverance: they never gave up, they never abandoned their dreams, they never allowed themselves to fail, and they never lost faith in themselves.

When I think about characteristics that lead to success, I cannot think of a more profound, meaningful, or influential habit of the mind than perseverance.It is not an end in itself but an attitude that allows you to accomplish your goals, no matter the obstacles or mountains to climb.  It places success in your hands.  While you are waiting for your turn, remember the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

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The Secret Sauce of Networking

It’s Not About You

I frequently speak with clients who are apprehensive to build their networks during a job search because they feel that they are using others.  In a “give and take” society, these feelings are completely understandable.  To solve this dilemma, look no further than “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, one of the most popular human psychology books ever written.  Dale Carnegie’s sage advice gives you the answer - “Talk to someone about themselves and they will listen for hours.”  People love to talk about themselves, and if you provide them with the platform for doing so, they will feel like you are giving them something.  In addition,they will think you are smart, charming, amiable, and likeable.  Always make it about the other person.  Let them know you would love to learn about their career history, leadership style, important developmental experiences, future aspirations, and any advice they could give someone wanting to climb the ladder.  Remember, the key to networking is “it is not about you”.

During your conversation, an interesting phenomenon will occur.  In social psychology, it is called the “Law of Reciprocity.”  As mentioned earlier, you have given the other person the gift of talking about themselves.  At some point, they will feel as if they need to return the favor.  Often this shift will begin with a remark such as, “Enough about me.  Tell me about yourself.”  This is where your networking narratives will come into play.

At the end of your conversation, ask the person if there is anything you can do for him or her.  A good network conversationalist, in fact, will have been listening for opportunities during the conversation in which to show your interest.  Besides, it will be your turn to reciprocate, so you must also freely give them information, assistance, and advice that they are seeking.   

This means taking the time to contact people periodically.  If you see an article that you think would be relevant for them or if you have several slides from a PowerPoint presentation you created, share it with them.  Be a good listener.  If you see a need, provide a personal contact, a website, an article, or an upcoming conference that may help them with an issue they are facing or a current project.  Doing so will likely reinforce your networking relationship.

Another manifestation of the “Law of Reciprocity” is that you will feel uplifted by helping others.  You may experience, as philosophers call it, “a self-approving joy.”  Most people, I believe, have an innate sense of altruism.  We enjoy helping others.  And when we do, we feel better about ourselves.  It is a joy that returns to the giver.  In a world of nay-sayers and negative-thinking people, it is a pleasure to be surrounded by eyes-on-the-horizon, glass completely full, power-of-positive-thinking people.  Some of that is bound to rub off.