9 Lives for Women Blog

Don’t Put Your Job Search Cart Before the Horse | April 10th, 2014

Looking to make a change to your work-life status? You might be considering or ready for a return the workforce.  The approaching summer months could be reminding you that you want to downsize your career. Or you may be starting or continuing a job search after a layoff or career change of heart.

In all of these cases it’s important not to put the cart before the horse. As I coach women (and some men) who are in all industries and at the administrative to the executive levels, I see most making quick—often unfounded–assumptions about their job search fate. Delivered with great conviction (and based more on hunches than actual research), I hear people say things like:

My former industry has changed, so I would be considered a dinosaur after so many years out of the workforce.”

It’s true that industries can change quite a bit after what I’ve seen as an average 12-year hiatus from the workforce. But you’re probably not aiming to walk right back into your old job. Some companies love to hire alumni or women who worked in their industry even many years ago. As long as you’re willing to pay your dues again (which does not have to be returning to the entry-level), your former experience counts. You still have a good foundation from your earlier work, and research will tell you which companies are open to returning professional women who are often infinitely more experienced than recent grads.

“Since I have a lot of great skills and experience, any employer would jump at the chance to hire me for a less stressful administrative job.”

Women who decide they want to downsize their careers—either to reduce their stress level or have more flexibility for family—often assume they’re more than qualified to be an office manager or answer phones. The fact is that most employers look for career administrative professionals—and the reality is that most women who have held more senior-level jobs want less stress, not less significant work. Even if you’re completely burnt out, it’s a misconception that admin jobs are “easy”. It’s not necessarily a snap to schedule a mountain of travel and appointments for the C-suite or create complex Excel spreadsheets for a sales team around the world. If you do have top-notch admin skills, research will tell you which employers—usually small companies or start-ups—seek out admin professionals who are actually “generalists” also wearing lots of higher-level hats.

“No one is hiring people with my skill set.”

 There are certainly times when certain jobs fall out of favor—think of persona non grata mortgage professionals at the time of the real estate downturn—but the smartest professionals do a lot of research to find all the industries and disciplines that intersect with their former work. It’s way too easy to say that “no one is hiring” anyone with your skill set. The fact is that with tenacity, creative thinking and a well-researched compelling argument, you can convince potential employers that your skill set transfers well to new roles and responsibilities.

“At this point, I know my only option is to be open to a less senior job in any location.”

 When employers sense desperation, they run in the other direction. It’s better to research how your skills and experience could be applied to a comparable job in an adjacent industry than to try to plunge your big fish self into a small pond. Generally speaking, employers worry that people who move down the career ladder will use the position as a stop gap until something better comes along or expect to rise to their former level in short order. And, employers often question if someone is really going to move from (or permanently settle in) anyplace they don’t usually call home.

“There are so few jobs out there, I have to play it safe and search for many types of jobs simultaneously.”

Though multi-tasking is an admirable skill, it is not a wise strategy for a thorough job search. It’s very difficult to fully research and explore multiple career avenues. More to the point, it is almost impossible to build up networking connections in multiple industries without driving yourself crazy—and diluting your ability to deliver a succinct and focused pitch on your job search goals. On the other hand, you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself with, for example, a target of “Marketing Manager” at a consumer products company. Within marketing there are many roles and many industries that could capitalize on your skills. When I hear women say maybe advertising, maybe a non-profit, or maybe a job at a local school, I know they haven’t researched any of these possibilities enough to know which would be the best and most productive fit.

If one of these assumptions is your latest job search mantra, it’s time to stop and return to Research Square One. Any successful job search takes a lot of careful research to identify exactly what you’d like to do, the level of job you’re qualified for, the many industries and disciplines that rely on your expertise and the company cultures that are a fit for your work personality and style. You conduct this research via human contact—communicating with everyone you know and the many new connections you can generate through friends, colleagues and Linkedin.

Too often job seekers make sweeping assumptions about jobs they would not like or companies that would not fit their profile. They say it’s too hard to transfer skills to a new industry or impossible to return to a long ago career. They look at me sheepishly when I ask if they have thought of every possible industry that intersects with their skill set or if they are certain there are more opportunities in job option A or B.

The most egregious assumption, though, is believing that there are only a handful of people that can give you insights–and hot and warm leads–to many career opportunities. Look far beyond your small circle of current and former colleagues and remember that every person you know probably knows at least one person in a particular company or field that piques your interest. Don’t overlook the endless networking opportunities through every school you attended—and know that as a parent you are welcome in the alumni communities of all your children’s schools as well. There are hundreds of Linkedin groups that offer instant job search connections, including those gathering the alumni of many of the big and even smaller name companies where you were formerly employed.

Research is the essential first step in any job search, and the more you do, the better the outcome. Take advantage of the summer mindset, when people—despite how busy their offices may be—tend to take a more relaxed approach to work. Make it your goal to send at least 20 networking emails a week—asking for specific information that will help you refine your job search target. Some people will respond with valuable nuggets of information and others will agree to meet you in person. A face-to-face meeting is a “nice to have”, not a “must have”—more and more bits of intelligence is your primary research goal.

Whenever I hear a sweeping declaration that it is impossible to find a certain kind of job, I reply “Who says?”  It’s not unlike all the times our children proclaim that every other child is able to do this or that. More often than not assumptions are made in our own heads or after conversations with just a few people.  Do the research—and you’ll open many new doors you once thought were closed.  —KAS

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