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Job Search Strategies: This First Step Matters Most

The first stop in any executive job search should be the closest mirror. While this sounds trite, it actually runs contrary to the urge in many of us to respond to a setback by immediately jumping back into the fray. We get calls every week from executives advising us that they have, on that very day, severed ties with their employer and are making the rounds to get their next job.

Most of us only take a step back to calibrate our careers, capabilities, interests, limitations and motivation 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.

In a perverse way job loss is an opportunity, a forced staycation if you will, during which we can travel inward to revisit and adjust our goals and aspirations. Though such introspection 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 provide useful maps and tools for this journey and thus if they are offered or available one should take advantage of them. If not, a basic framework will help make the journey more purposeful and productive.

Consider the following simple considerations; MONEY, MEANING, SECURITY and LEISURE.

Money: Ask yourself how important money will be to your next job decision. If it is a, or the, key consideration this will force you down certain decision paths and options. It will also dissuade you from looking at certain jobs, or possibly even sectors such as non-profit. It will also temper your decision-making if you are considering switching industries, a move that often requires an initial step down in responsibility or pay as a whole new world is learned.

Meaning: How important is the sector 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 more ‘meaningful’ work, perhaps with a focus on 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. If meaning matters a lot, and money does not, firms like Habitat for Humanity or Environmental Defence become intriguing options.

Security: Executives love or hate the roller coaster world of high risk start-ups. Some find the ride exhilarating while others frightening. The latter may be 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 in the Gatineau Hills just outside of Ottawa. Many of our neighbors work in the public sector. While they may or may not enjoy the work they do (like everyone else), there are certain undeniable lifestyle considerations that have factored into their career choices. These include relatively defined hours of work, generous vacations, rich benefits, pensions and on and on. While the tech sector executives and consultants in the neighborhood regularly burn late night candles, these other people can be found skiing or cycling in the company of their families. How important are such considerations to you in your next job and what tradeoffs are you prepared to make for them?

Gauging yourself on these four basic criteria directs 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 a step in the direction of making a well considered decision on your next employer and role. It is a critical first step.

About the author

Robert Hebert is Managing Partner of Toronto-based executive search firm StoneWood Group (www.stonewoodgroup.com). He can be reached rhebert@stonewoodgroup.com or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777