Can A Mission to Mars Help our Careers?

August 12th, 2009

We read a lot these days about how the ranks of the unemployed, or soon to be unemployed, can use this opportunity to turn a lifelong passion into a new career. I don’t know about you, but my early dreams of teaching Shakespeare to eighth-graders were chipped away by mortgages, tuitions, and Blackberry apps. Maybe someday, but not now . . . not until our two daughters can reclaim their birth names and are no longer referred to as Financial Black Holes 1 and 2.

What we should do is take the time to think about how every new career stage provides an opportunity for reflection and reassessment . . . a chance for reinvention. I don’t mean misrepresenting, but rather engaging in the process of looking back and determining what didn’t work and, more importantly, what worked. Which boss type was difficult (and how we chose to deal with that person . . . or not), what responsibilities or expectations were not aligned with our core strengths. At the same time, we can reflect on what we loved, where we brought value, and what made us excited to go to work every day. We should look at each meaningful role we’ve had and extract our career-defining moments. We need to ask ourselves “what was the best job I’ve ever had . . . and why?” And then, do the same for the worst. What may emerge from the vigorous process are new ideas and directions to pursue professionally. While this is not necessarily a time to be selective about what we do next, being aware of those experiences and their impact is a valuable exercise as we move onto the bigger and the better. The question is how do we actively engage in that process over the span of a career. Here are some thoughts.

My husband is a NASA engineer who has made a brilliant career of landing stuff on Mars. I am a devout English major who has found a passion for connecting communicators to careers. Over the years, we’ve gotten more than our share of “Hey, how did you guys meet . . . the planets must have aligned, right??” After I finish laughing like it’s the first time I’ve heard it, I do think about how we peacefully co-exist without really understanding what the other one does. He speaks in acronyms and I quote Browning. He can espouse the benefits of airbag landings and my explanation of how I found the absolute best candidate on this or any other planet — and the intricacies of how I found that person — have him wondering if I am better suited for the NSA than the PRSA.

Several weeks ago, though, a light bulb went off and an acronym he’s been talking about for years made sense in my world. Can job seekers benefit from TCMs – or trajectory correction maneuvers?

What we need to do is understand the potential benefits of our own professional TCMs. What happens when a spacecraft to Mars is launched? mars We, the public, watch the launch and eight to ten months later, we sit . . . holding our collective breaths (not unlike sending out a resume) and wait for the landing (offer letter?) It seems fairly point and click to us but during that ten million plus mile flight to Mars, something is going on behind the scenes that increases the likelihood of a successful landing and those are the TCMs or the usually slight adjustments in direction that refine and sharpen the spacecraft’s path. Whether its one, three, five, or even zero TCMs, they get the spacecraft to where they want it to be.

Do the same with your job search. Take some time and use Ben Franklin’s pros and cons exercise and apply it to the roles you’ve held. Highlight your strengths and uncover your weaknesses. It will nudge you in the right direction and also help you prepare to state your case with a prospective employer who is not quite sure that you’ve got the needed experience in an area that you’ve realized you’re passionate about.

So while we won’t be teaching yoga full-time or building cheesecake empires any time soon, we can decide to refine our resume or search efforts to reflect what makes sense for us to pursue and help us get to where we need to be. If a past focus on a sub-discipline that was part of a broader role really made us happy, take the time to emphasize those accomplishments. The one thing we must avoid is going for something for the sake of having a job. Lack of subject matter familiarity is going to come through in the interview process and could affect how you are perceived by the company if later, the job of your dreams is available. The future employer will remember how you danced around your experience. Trying to become something you’re not will show. If you’re currently in a role, offer to take on additional responsibilities that you’ve discovered you enjoy, using the opportunity to steer your career in a slightly different direction.

Your job search is your mission. You’ve got launch, cruise stage, and landing. Sometimes the results may not be what you hoped or they may exceed your expectations but taking the steps throughout the process, though, will help you get to where you want to be. There’s a lot of uncertainty about the process but what I do know is that when it goes right, and the planets align because we’ve all done our TCMs, this is what happens.

Welcome to the Plan B Communications Blog

May 4th, 2009

Welcome to the first posting of the Plan B Comms Blog. When I thought about the theme for the initial series of blogs, I asked myself what can I contribute that would have relevance and the answer is, hopefully, a meaningful one: to dissect a job search. From a recruiter’s perspective, I may have insights that will help job-seekers during one of the most trying economic times that most of us have experienced. So let’s get started . . . at the beginning.

A fan of Saturday Night Live since its beginning, I’ve hung in there through the good times (casts) and the bad. Every few years a character emerges that saves it for me. I have a new favorite. I am hopelessly devoted to Nicholas Fehn, political comedian who provides “his own take on this week’s top stories.” Played brilliantly by Fred Armisen, Nicholas is one of those characters, like Cheri Oteri’s cheerleader, Arianna, who makes you want to put your head through a wall by the end of his skit. Watch this . . .
(and forgive any commercial introduction):

Why highlight Fehn and what’s the connection between the well-intentioned Nicholas and the inaugural blog of an executive recruiter? Well, it’s all about having a point. There’s a strong link between Nicholas Fehn and searching for a position. Without having a point, it’s like sending your resume to resume limbo; what can we do to prevent that from happening?

With the thousands of resumes I’ve received in response to the specific searches I conduct, it is obvious that there can be a disconnect between what you, the candidate, are looking for, and the message your resume is sending. In a time when the candidate supply by far outnumbers the hiring demand, a well-tuned resume should be one tool in a quiver of many needed to find your next career adventure.

What makes me swivel three times in my much-loved office chair and say ding, ding, ding . . . I think we have a winner? To start, a resume that makes me believe the candidate has read the position description. If I am searching for a Director of Internal Communications or a Vice President of Public Affairs, do NOT send me a resume that says what a successful marketing guru you have been. They’re ships that will pass in the night and right into an Outlook folder that says “Future Marketing Searches.” Now, if you are a marketing genius who also has made significant contributions to a company’s internal communications effort, or you’ve got terrific public affairs experience as part of a broader role, your resume should send that message loud and clear. If you’ve been fortunate enough to wear many hats throughout your career, and many of you have, your resume should reflect that.

Your resume needs to be nimble, particularly when the going gets tough. In short, invest the time in creating a library of resumes tailored to the specific search or discipline you’re interested in pursuing. I’ve met many professionals who have built diversified yet connected careers and tailored resumes can highlight areas of strength and, therefore, have relevance to the recruitment effort (whether it’s conducted by an internal recruiter or someone like me). I know this may be eliciting collective “well, duuuuh . . . tell me something I don’t know” from readers, but you’d be surprised. This is an effort that requires commitment and an investment of precious job search time, but I believe it’s well worth the effort.

What we’re going to do, over the next several postings, is deconstruct a resume. Ten recruiters will likely provide ten different opinions so I am not holding myself out as the world’s authority on what your resume should look like, but what I do know is what gets me to take a second look.

Talk to you next week,

ssm