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Live Job Search Journey – “Networking Nancy”

12+ Months and No Offers for a $300K/year Executive – Can You Relate??

“Nebulous…Exhausting…Lonely.” These are the words that a once positive senior level executive recently used when describing her job search to me. Unfortunately, she’s not alone. And yet, the silver lining still exists as some of her colleagues and compadres call with reports of, “I finally landed and I couldn’t be happier.”

Over the next several months, I’ll be personally working with and tracking the progress of three real executives that are currently in transition. I will be speaking with them on a regular basis and post blogs with “real time” updates on the opportunities and challenges they face in their job search. Below, I would like to introduce “Networking Nancy” and her background. I am working with 2 other executives and hope to get their profiles posted shortly.

Due to the very real nature of the details in these blogs, I will refrain from using their real names as well as generalizing some information that may reveal their identity. However, these executives have willingly participated in this series in hopes that they may get your ideas, feedback, and support in their job search. They also hope that their story may help and encourage anyone that may be going through something similar.

PROFILE OF NETWORKING NANCY
In Transition: More than 12 months
Last Job: SVP HR for a $600MM Company; High tech and industrial companies, most recently, but also service businesses in the past
Last Base Salary: $273K
# of Job Offers Received: 0 (Has withdrawn from a few opportunities because of fit with companies, industries, or geographies; feels she would have had offers on at least 1 of these); Was runner up on two positions (Q4 2009)
# of Interviews: 15 – 20 face to face interviews (first round) with unique companies; 5 led to second round interviews and some have led to her completing personality assessments
Weekly Activities: 3 coffees per week
2 networking meetings per week
Job Search Plan: Her outplacement provider gives their clients metrics to track weekly. She gives a report on her weekly meetings, including hours put in, letters sent out, and new contacts made. She also includes three highlights for the week and her goals for the next week.

Networking Nancy spends an average of 32-35 hours per week on her search, but sometimes more. She tries to spend 6 hours per day at her desk sending out letters, making calls, and talking to people that can hire or help her. She sends out 10 cover letters and resumes per week to companies with job opportunities that might be a fit for her.

Beliefs about challenges facing Networking Nancy’s function (HR):

  1. HR has been downsized significantly in this downturn.  Things began to percolate in Q4 2009 but prior to that, they were pretty dead.  That upturn has continued into early 2010.
  2. Her high salary has restricted her opportunities, as has her industry experience.  She has opened her mind to comp packages commensurate with the job, and is willing to look at opportunities in the $150K to $220K range.

Roadblocks to getting a job have included:

  1. Compensation: There are very few local companies that have comp packages similar to her prior package.
  2. Tight Industry Requirements: Particularly in growth industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and med device companies.  They are saying they have to have healthcare experience.  Software companies say they want HR experience recruiting and hiring software engineers.  Same with insurance, and retail. Companies are looking for domain experience and it has been the #1 knockout factor for her.

Her Journey

In the beginning, Networking Nancy was attending a lot of transitioning executive networking group events, including the McDermott & Bull Executive Network, CafeNet, and a group run by her outplacement firm.  More recently, she has been focused on business events that would attract employed executives and service providers such as ACG (the Association for Corporate Growth), Rotary Club, Women’s Hospital Association, LAVA (LA Venture Association), and OCVG (Orange Coast Venture Group).

Her one-on-one meetings are no longer with out of work executives, but are focused more on meetings with business consultants and currently employed executives.  She also tries to hold one-on-one’s with recruiters on a regular basis.

One thing Networking Nancy has not done is put out any white papers, however she feels that could possibly be useful and is looking for topics appropriate for an HR executive. (Do you have any ideas for Networking Nancy?)  We discussed the special report process and how she could target them to particular industries, and make the connection between her skills as a senior HR generalist with operations experience and the needs of companies to build high performing teams in today’s challenging marketplace.

Where are the opportunities coming from?  Her networks are so good that if there is a job out there where she could be a fit, it finds its way to her. Networking Nancy gets at least 5 referrals a week, but not all are a great fit for her.  People realize that, but still refer them to her.  One person has probably sent her 30 job leads.  The majority of leads are coming through her professional networks, or from her personal network that she’s built while in transition.  One important theme is: people care.  Recruiters are driving opportunities to her as well. She feels that if she’s not hearing from a recruiter, it’s not because they forgot about her, but because they don’t have a job that’s a fit for her at that moment. 

Networking Nancy has run into several people that have been in job search mode for over a year that were doing the same things she was doing. They all agreed they needed to be meeting with leveraged networking contacts that could get them closer to a job lead.  Anyone that can introduce her into a company is more interesting than someone that is unemployed.  That can include service providers, consultants, and employed executives.  Highly networked people in the business community are a bonus.

Challenges

Networking Nancy expected to be in transition for 15 to 18 months. In a normal economy, she would have expected 9 to 12 months, but given the economy she doubled that number. She recently passed the timeframe she gave herself which bothers her. She has talked with other senior HR leaders and is hearing that it’s taking upwards of 18 to 24 months.  She also expected to have more interviews in the beginning of her search. 

In early 2009, she was approaching this search with a “business as usual” attitude, but realized that the market had come to a standstill after running across many peers out of work.  Outplacement consultants managed her expectations and told her she would have had 3 opportunities already at the 6 month mark, but because of the economy those hadn’t come in. 

Emotional
Being unemployed, is a horrible, awful, devastating circumstance for people.  Networking Nancy started doubting her faith.  “Where is God in this process and does he intervene?  What’s wrong with me?  How come I can’t get a job? There must be a fatal flaw.  I’ve got to be broken in some way.”  For 9 months, she wrestled with why she was in transition.  At a point, you come full circle and realize it’s not you.

Depression and insomnia – Her beliefs are if you have trouble going to sleep, that’s anxiety.  If you wake up in the middle of the night, that’s depression.  Men get isolated more than women.  Men get more depressed and more isolated quickly. Women have more support – girlfriends, kids, etc. – that provide a distraction.

Physical
She’s always been very physically fit, but did get into better shape while in transition and now works out 5 days a week. She’s actually lost weight and feels better today than when she was employed.

Financial
She cut her monthly burn rate significantly.  She had a financial planner help her at no cost that developed a plan for her and helped her work through decisions to increase her financial runway while she’s still looking for work.   Networking Nancy also sold her house and cut other monthly expenses significantly.

Professional
Staying current becomes a challenge, but it’s important to stay informed of new issues in the market.  Recruiters ask, “What have you been doing with yourself?”  Networking Nancy feels the need to stay professionally up to speed and even though it costs money, continue to attend industry seminars and events.

Support

Networking Nancy created a system to support herself in all the above areas.  She established a support group for herself, including an accountability partner.   She bought a book on stress management and educated herself on managing depression and anxiety by reading this book on a regular basis.  She does devotionals everyday – hope, being positive, lessons learned from difficulties, navigating life, and things she’s grateful for in her life.  Positive thinking which gives her a good shot in the arm everyday.  She studies a positivity model with a group that is ½ non-working and ½ working people.

Lessons Learned

The worst day of the week is Monday.  Networking Nancy scheduled accountability meetings with a partner every Monday at 9:30am to get out of bed and get the week planned. When she meets people at networking meetings, she follows up with emails and asks for meetings 1 to 2 weeks out.  Keeping a structured week has helped her to stay positive.  She has Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning meetings that keep her focused on the goal and don’t give her time to get down.  Job leads are coming in from all over the place so she is constantly replying to these and trying to set herself up for interviews.

She realized that the busiest transitioning executives never missed anything. Consistency was their norm.  Keep plodding along, everyday, every week, and every month.  When Networking Nancy stops being productive is when she starts feeling bad.

She took a hard look into her weaknesses and looked to make adjustments.  She realized that her style was going to work great with some people and not so great with others.  Networking Nancy made some changes in the short term and began to “dumb down” her background.  She changed SVP to VP in her resume so that it wouldn’t turn off potential employers who would see her as too senior.  She did not talk about her non-HR experience in operations because some companies would say they were looking for more of a traditional HR person, not someone with as much broad experience.  In the past, she would mention that she worked with high growth companies, but that didn’t fit with slower growth companies. She projected that companies would value that, but that was incorrect and she feels that has kept her out of some opportunities. 

The most important lesson Networking Nancy learned was to let the company talk more about themselves and let them ask questions of her knowing that her background would fit with most of their needs.  Her analogy is that she can play a banana and let the company peel her back and learn more about her experience that is relevant to their needs.  In the beginning, she felt the need to talk more about her experience and make sure the company knew that she was a fit for their needs.  Now during an interview, Networking Nancy feels that if she can get the interviewer to talk, she gains valuable insight that allows her to tailor her comments about her background to their needs.  This approach slows down the natural tendency for “C” players, in particular, to fall into the role of expert and start giving solutions before really knowing the landscape.  She recommends the book, “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play,” by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig, which has also been highly endorsed by Stephen Covey.

Another change is that she gives a little information and then stops. She asks, “Did that answer your question, or would you like another example?”  She speaks slower, she checks in with the interviewer, she paraphrases, and she repeats back to them to make sure she’s on the right track.

Today

Networking Nancy is still paying it forward and staying positive by helping others. She recently met with a college student looking for work and a mother returning to the workforce and gave them advice as well as made referrals for them.  She’s coaching them on how to prepare for interviews, how to research the hiring manager, prepping for interview questions, and developing a list of questions for the hiring manager about the opportunity.

She’s also very open to continuing to learn. We spent 30 minutes discussing how best to write a white paper or a special report targeted to specific industries.  While she feels she’s learned a lot about transition, as she hasn’t yet landed a job, she is still looking for new ways to make herself stand out as the best candidate.

Comments, questions and suggestions are appreciated. I will regularly update this column based on Networking Nancy’s prior week of job search.  She is very interested in learning other things she can be doing to find the right next job faster, and is open to learning from other executives that have successfully transitioned into new companies, or that have good ideas.

4 Responses

  1. Pingback : “Networking Nancy” – Update 05/04/10 | Rod McDermott's Blog

  2. Pingback : Live Job Search Journey – “CEO Charlie” | Rod McDermott's Blog

  3. Tom Cassidy

    Thanks for the article on “Networking Nancy”. I have been out of work now for about 21 months and can relate to the lows. Reading about how she is coping with this difficult time has given me some things to think about as far as what I can do. I want to be a survivor and not a victim.

  4. David Muller

    Networking Nancy sounds like an extraordinary individual. During this transitional time it seems we must change on the inside as well as on the outside. Nancy’s effort to pay it forward helps with the a sense of self worth.

    I suspect she wrestles with the demons every day — I know I do. Those demons include “am I any good?” Why doesn’t anyone want me? For Nancy it appears many firms want her, but maybe the fit isn’t what she needs. Do we reach the point where we accept a position that is offered even if it is not the end all be all? If we do, there is no reason to stop our search for the “perfect” position. At least we will have an income from which we can continue our quest and reduce the anxiety prompted by dwindling savings.

    Reading earlier blogs, it appears the “above and beyond” approach is what will get us noticed. Rod references doing white papers for prospective employers. The idea of solving their problem with a thoughtful and creative approach though unsolicited shows initiative, leadership and going the extra mile. Now the goal is to find prospective employers and understand their needs in order to write the white paper. There’s work to be done. Keep going Nancy, your profile has given me a needed frame work to move forward.

    David

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