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Making your luck, and securing your next career step

Making your luck, and securing your next career step

For years I have been helping mid-career business folk make a successful change of direction or simply revitalise a flagging job search. Perhaps, as we stumble out of recession, the August-long national summer holiday behind us, it is time to share the approach that I call “Making Your Luck” to see if others can benefit?

If you are looking for a new role, or thinking about a change of direction then read on.

So … what is the issue? Well there are times when qualified staff are in short supply. Unfortunately for anyone in the jobs market right now these are not such times: Employers are inundated with applicants and are thus highly selective, active hiring programmes are rare, salaries are under pressure and employer decision making is agonisingly slow.

So … what can you do about it? The following notes focus less on the normal Dos and Don’ts (“what to include in a cover letter” or “what to exclude from a CV” etc.) and more on the proactive program that I use myself to help friends and contacts effect a dramatic change in circumstances.

Making Your Luck starts with a little self-evaluation and has 5 steps. But why the title? Well from repeated experience running the program many times I find that it certainly increases your chances of securing that next role, but the offer may come from an unexpected quarter. By following the program you become a more valuable contributor with a stronger personal profile and as such you seem to attract more luck in finding people willing to give you a chance to prove what you can do.

So … here are the basic steps, with brief descriptions, and with fuller explanations below:

 

Step 1
Why employ you?

Brainstorm a list of all the benefits that any employer gains by having you on the team

Step  2
To whom are you a great catch?

Brainstorm the list of employers or employer types that could benefit from each of these assets

Step 3
Analysis: group your targets

Go through the list and identify the groups that emerge. Each of us typically has four or five interlocking ‘Olympic ring’ Groups

Step 4
Select two groups

Select two of the Groups and give yourself
permission to focus your job search on these two FOR A FIXED TIME LIMIT (say 3 months)

Step 5
Become a disciple

Become a disciple of these two groups. Read about them, speak to connected people at conferences, meet the people you know in these sectors

Review

After the allotted time, stop and check your
progress. Did you pick the right two groups? Do you need to replace one? Revisit Step 4.



Step 1 is really straightforward. “Know thy self” as Chinese philosopher and thinker Confucius is reputed to have advised. Simply list out everything that you bring to a team. And in good Brainstorm tradition I mean EVERYTHING. This can be surprisingly difficult however as we tend to take our abilities for granted and it can actually help to have a trusted friend on hand to assist. Can you contribute contacts from a particular geography or sector to enable a team to accelerate a market entry strategy? Do you have deal experience that can increase the chance of successful deal execution? All you have to do is to list everything you can think of BUT make sure you list BENEFITS not FEATURES. It is great that you have worked in Asia, or read biotechnology at university, or been promoted for your sales performance … but what is the benefit to a team that you create or join? Don’t forget to include benefits connected to your personal interests as well as your work activities.

Step 2 follows on from step 1, though I would advise that you leave a couple of days between the two as brainstorming can sap your energy. Step 2 is one of the critical elements of the program and answers the question “to whom are you are a great catch?”. Go through the benefits of having you on a team in Step 1 and list out EVERY company, employer type, group, opportunity, team or other collective that would gain advantage by applying that benefit. List them all – including, for completeness, companies whom you would never dream of working for. The great benefit of understanding to whom you are a great catch is that finding your next challenge becomes less of a needle-in-haystack hunt and more of a matter of communication: If I know whom I can help then I just have to work out how to make sure they believe me.

Step 3 can yield interesting results: go through the ‘to whom am I a great catch?’ brainstorm results and start to group the answers. You will find that you have four or five primary groups that emerge. They will probably overlap, though sometimes one can spot an outlier group almost unrelated to the others. Define the groups so that you capture all your Step 2 items.

“Markets where there are many candidates available
demand specialists not generalists”

Step 4: by now you will be getting a pretty clear picture. You bring some benefits to a team and there are a few particular groups who could really use them. But the catchment is still FAR too wide for you to be able to realistically get to grips with the opportunities in all your groups. So you need to pick two group to focus on. “What?” I hear you exclaim “and turn my back on the others?” To some extent this is exactly what you have to do. If you try to cover too wide a market area then you will be perceived as a member of that unemployable group: The Generalists. Markets where, like now, there are many candidates available demand specialists not generalists. Recruiters only remember specialists. Employers appoint specialists. But how can you possibly allow yourself to focus on just one or two market areas? The answer is to limit the time you focus on your top groups. How long that is is up to you, though I would recommend that it is at least 6 weeks and should most likely be three months to give you time to really get on with the program.

Step 5: having identified your focus areas and decided how long to give yourself you then need to get your head down with proactive effort. Commit to the time, commit to the space, and don’t look back. Become a disciple of your selected markets: Who are the top companies? What has been happening in the space? Who are the lead investors, technical institutes, conferences, on-line and physical blogs, market drivers, changes and prospects? Who do you already know in the space – in your LinkedIn or other social networks, or across your friends and family,  colleagues and contacts? Channel your reading, viewing and thinking time on your chosen markets. In effect one needs to professionalise the task. Ask everyone you talk to about the sector in question and make sure that all your contacts know that this is the sector that you want to hear about. Focus your conversations on individuals in your chosen group and work hard to continually upgrade your contacts to more and more senior individuals. Pretty soon you will be talking to the leaders of the sector, and you will be equipped with encyclopaedic knowledge of the space.

Finally, the Review. After the allotted time, stop. Look at the results of your efforts. What have you learned? And more importantly, did you select the right groups to work on? If the knowledge gain is working, then stick with the groups and repeat for a further period. If one or both of the groups are simply not yielding results then go back to Step 4 and replace the errant groups.

Results?

So … once more … what results should you expect? The first thing you will notice is that the process of finding your next career challenge just got a whole lot more interesting. Passive surfing of job boards and the like waiting for something to come up and then sending out countless applications is a soul destroying business. Taking proactive control is much more energising. As your knowledge of your chosen space increases you will find that you are connecting with more senior individuals, and becoming more engaging in your discussions. In effect, your research makes you a better candidate whether for a classic job or as a founder of a new company (see Footnote on bring your own aspirations to life).

“You can tell the world what you are interested in but you can’t control what the world wants to do with you in return”

But this is also where the luck starts to come in. You can tell the world what you are interested in but you can’t control what the world wants to do with you in return. Senior folk throw a wide shadow and one of the first pieces of ‘luck’ that will come your way will be related to some far flung element of a senior individual’s interests with a conversation or telephone call along the lines of: “Mr [senior contact] suggested I give you a call. We are looking for someone to run our [fill in job role] and whilst I know this isn’t quite your specialty we wondered whether you would consider helping us out?”. Your sector knowledge will have made a favourable impression. Don’t be surprised if the market decides to make some strange offers – all of which you should consider. You might also be surprised to find that you start to behave as a very different type of candidate in any traditional interviews that you attend. With knowledge of the war stories, competitors, products, technologies and issues in a space you will be able to address interview questions with ease and ask the critical questions in return.

What next? Jobs, off-the-wall offers, new opportunities and extraordinary career challenges will follow. Just don’t expect them to be quite what you … well … expected.

Footnote: “I’ve always wanted to … “
A few words on  the selection of groups: Many of us harbour a secret desire to make a radical change in direction. The moment when you are choosing your groups is the moment to give life to this idea. It can be incredibly constructive to select one group that reflects a deep but un-explored aspiration – to set up a new technology company, to make a career in the sailing industry, or to create a climbing wall company in New York – all of which are real examples from this program. Your second group can be your vanilla job role consistent with a traditional career path if you insist. But realise that the moment of group selection is the opportunity to explore your secret aspiration, giving yourself a chance to really investigate it. If, after the allotted time, you find that the aspiration is simply not possible then drop it, in the knowledge that you have at last tested it fully. For the record, the folk who tested their aspirations in technology, sailing and climbing were all rather pleasantly surprised. They are now established in their new roles … as tech company CEO, sailing dingy company Owner and Canadian (sic) climbing wall company Founder.

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