Job Search Strategies: Step One

November 7, 2008

The first stop in any executive job search should be the closest mirror. While this sounds obvious, even trite perhaps, it actually runs contrary to the urge in many of us to respond to a setback by immediately jumping back into the fray. I get calls every week from executives advising me that they have, on that very day, severed ties with their employer and are making the rounds to get another job.
Soul searching is an iterative process, the proverbial onion of understanding that is peeled layer by layer. It can be an uncomfortable, at times even painful examination and as such garners few volunteers (that said, self-awareness is a key differentiator in high performers). The only time most of us take that step back to calibrate our careers, capabilities, interests, limitations and motivation going forward is during times of significant stress such as death, divorce, ill-health and job loss. The rest of the time we are too busy doing whatever we are doing to be thinking seriously about whether we are doing what we should or want to be doing.
Thus, in a perverse way job loss is an opportunity, a forced vacation if you will during which we can travel inward to revisit and explore both old and new destinations. Though it holds the promise of treasures, it is rarely a relaxing journey, burdened as it is with the weight of urgency, the fear of what we may learn about ourselves and the uncertainty surrounding tomorrow’s unknowns. Outplacement services and specialized support groups (such as the Phoenix Executive Network in Toronto) provide useful maps and tools and thus if they are offered or available one should take advantage of them. If not, some basic organizing and planning will help make the journey more purposeful and productive.
There are four simple categories of consideration: MONEY, MEANING, SECURITY and LEISURE.
Money: Ask yourself how important money will be to your next job decision. If it is a key consideration this will drive you down certain decision paths. It will also dissuade you from looking at certain jobs, or possibly even sectors such as non-profit. It will guide your decision-making if you are considering switching industries, a move that often requires a step down in responsibility or pay as a whole new world is learned.
Meaning: How important is the industry in which you work, the products or services the company offers or the work itself? Some executives tell us they are tired of working for companies whose products mean nothing to them. Others specifically want to get into more ‘meaningful’ work involved with the environment or healthcare or public service. If meaning is an important consideration going forward this will guide your search process and the decisions you take.
Security: Executives love or hate the roller coaster world of high risk startups. Some find the ride exhilarating while others are frightened. The latter are often willing to trade money or meaning for that security. Executives coming from long careers at large companies will often admit that they prefer the security of such entities and covet finding similar organizations going forward. If security matters, it should play a factor in the sectors and companies targeted.
Leisure: Our family cottage is located just outside of Ottawa in the Gatineau hills. Many of our neighbors work in the public sector. While they may or may not enjoy the work they do, there are certain undeniable lifestyle considerations that have factored into their career choices. These include relatively defined hours of work, generous vacations, rich benefits and on and on. I cannot help but notice that while the tech sector executives and consultants (that would be me) in the neighborhood burn the late night candles on most evenings, these people can be found skiing or cycling in the company of their families. How important are such consideration to you in your next job?
Gauging yourself on these four basic criteria aims you towards certain target markets, companies and jobs most likely to satisfy you. There is much more to soul searching than just these four considerations (for example, what kind of people and company cultures do you thrive in? In what organizational contexts and roles have you tended to be most effective, and why? How does your next position fit into a broader longer term career plan? etc etc), but at least you have taken an important step in the direction of pointing yourself down a well-considered path.
Next week, next steps.