Recently, I was talking with a friend of mine about the current state of the job market in the U.S. My friend is an executive with a pharmaceutical company and her comment to me was, “Nat, the bodies are dropping everywhere.” Meaning, that after several mergers with other companies, more senior-level leaders and professionals are being given their severance packages and told, “Thanks, it’s been great…but there’s the door…you’re no longer needed.”
In talking with her, it got me thinking that the current state of the economy is a bit like the child’s game, “Musical Chairs.” “Around and around, round we go, where it stops, nobody knows.” When the music stops, someone is going to be without a chair to sit in–or have a job. Well, here we are in January 2010 in the largest game of Musical Chairs we’ve ever seen. Companies have to make strategic decisions to cut their labor expenses, streamline operations, and work more efficiently. Understandable, but these strategic decisions are shifting a lot of leadership talent to the unemployment lines and into long periods of unemployment.
I’m seeing more senior-level, very talented people experience extremely long periods of unemployment. Why? I’m actually investigating that right now, but anecdotally I think it’s a few key things:
1. Lack of skills in how to “fish” for a new job, externally. I think for many senior-level leaders/professionals, they’ve been entrenched in particular occupations or industries for so long that they’ve never had to go look for a job because they’ve always had one. For many, they’ve always been promoted internally for new opportunities, or back in the good ‘ole days, a headhunter sought them out. In essence, these professionals have never “learned how to fish” to find a job externally. As an example, a client of mine had worked at a VP level in banking for over 25 years. Upon receiving the news he was losing his job because the bank was closing, his response was,”What do I do now?” He lacked job searching skills, as his only thought process about finding a job was the Sunday classifieds or going to CareerBuilder. He had no knowledge of social media–at all. After being unemployed for eight months, he finally came to me and expressed these comments: “I have been trying to find a job. I’ve applied for a ton of positions online. I’ve called to follow-up, but I can’t get anyone to call me back… It’s so frustrating. The pressure is building, I have a mortgage to pay, I’m draining my savings and I’m about to have to tap into my 401k. I’ve worked in banking all these years, I have a ton of leadership experience, but all anyone in HR sees is that I’ve only worked in banking/finance. They can’t see that I have skills in successfully leading employees, working with customers, handling compliance, and that I can–and want to–adapt to a new position in a new industry.”
With that gentleman, we had to revamp his resume to showcase his true talents in leading people, managing budgets, communicating with clients, etc. to make him more portable–and attractive–to other industries. And, we had to introduce him to LinkedIn and social media. The other thing we had to do was work on his self-esteem. After months of unemployment, this confident, former banking executive was beginning to feel like a failure. His extended period of unemployment was exacerbating the problem of him landing a job, as he wasn’t coming across as confident during interviews. So, vicious cycle had emerged continually keeping him unemployed.
2. Lack of “sharpening the saw” with continuing education. I see a lot of senior-level people who possess great skills in what they do–but they don’t possess great skills beyond that. What I mean by that is they’ve been complacent in managing their own careers. Once the “music stopped” and they lost their jobs–they were suddenly thrust into a environment that requires survival skills. Not unlike being marooned on a desert island without survival skills. What I’m referring to when I say “sharpen the saw” is one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits. In this job market, the survival skills are in the form of both formal and informal education. Informal education may be certification programs, such as earning a Lean 6 Sigma Certification, or going back to school to earn an advanced degree, or getting a degree in a new field that is emerging, such as bio-tech.
So, for senior-level leaders and professionals, who are struggling in the job market, it’s time you reassess your situation. You’ve got to get yourself some additional job search/career training–and you need to sharpen your saw.
Until next time…