CIO

Blog: Personal Job Search Update

It’s been just over a year since I officially started my job search. Since then, I've been offered six jobs — three of which were cancelled due to the economy, just as the employer and I were in final negotiations. I've also come in 2nd for nearly a dozen other positions. Darn frustrating, let me tell you! So in one sense, I’ve been successful in my job search: I have received several job offers, landed several contracts, and directly assisted a number of my peers in finding employment. But I have not yet achieved my own final goal. I've analyzed why this is, and I’ve come up with four major issues that I need to address.

ISSUE ONE: THE US ECONOMY

My job search has mirrored the recent financial crisis. I started my search when my most recent employer, a midsize bank, sold the mortgage division I helped create. That was at the very start of the US mortgage industry’s meltdown. The bank itself was recently acquired — around the same time that several other major banks, like Washington Mutual, Merrill Lynch, and Bear Stearns were acquired, too. As the overall market has continued to decline, so too have my opportunities for comparable full-time employment in the financial industry.

I am hearing from a wide cross-section of the job market just how difficult this market really is, and not only for executives. Some recruiters tell me that significant percentages of their clients' positions have been put on hold or cancelled at all levels. Everyone seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach to the economy before committing to their hiring needs. I've also had more than one executive tell me that they believe the market is going to remain unsettled until after the 2008 US election. Together, these statements indicate a willingness of the general market to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, which certainly makes it extremely difficult for job seekers like me to help them find new opportunities to build their business!

I can only hope that I will see the same incredible improvement that the stock market saw yesterday !!!!

ISSUE TWO: DIFFICULTY ACCESSING MY TOP TARGET INDUSTRIES

In addition to finance, investments and banking, I am targeting other industries where I have significant experience. These include strategic management and technology consulting; commercial software; insurance; data warehousing, business intelligence and CRM; manufacturing; and related IT management positions within corporate enterprises.

I am also targeting the defense industry, based on my experience as a US Marine. Unfortunately, I underestimated how steep the barrier to entry would be since my security clearance expired. I continue to highlight my “clearable” status to my networking contacts in this industry.

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ISSUE THREE: I NEED TO COMMUNICATE MY SUCCESS BETTER

I wrestled early in this job search with whether to stay independent as a strategic management consultant/Interim CIO or return to a full-time position. I am certain that my apparent indecision (I called it “openness”) for the first four to five months of my job search confused several employers and likely cost me some excellent opportunities.

However, since then, I continue to have an issue with hiring managers who assume that I prefer consulting roles and/or that I am a “job hopper.”

Herein lies the problem: For the past 15 years I have worked for firms undergoing major transitions – startups, spinoffs, acquisitions, firms attacking new markets or developing new technologies and services, turn-around opportunities, and firms needing major business or systems redesigns to remain competitive. In this time, I have helped build and grow numerous successful firms, enabled and mentored many award-winning teams, and together we have created several patentable technologies. My top references include many of these firms’ executives, who acknowledge that my leadership, innovative solutions and drive were a key factor in their success.

Further, as a direct result of those successes, I have participated in a dozen or more M&A transactions, including selling the very technologies, divisions and even the firms that I helped create. These firms and their founders reached their desired exit strategies years ahead of their business plans.

Unfortunately, these successes have also created the appearance of “job-hopping” in my career. Each time I have successfully built a company or product, it has nearly always resulted in its growth nationally, if not internationally, and to its successful acquisition within 12 to 24 months of my start. “Rinse and repeat” that successful cycle, as I have throughout my career, and I now have a challenge in managing others’ perceptions of my career.

When hiring managers and executive recruiters ask me about this, I have explained the above and provided them with references to support these facts. Many times, these situations then become my strongest interviews and opportunities, since I have clearly demonstrated my ability to deliver successful solutions in difficult situations.

But of course, I have no idea how many others have simply filed my resume without explanation. (This is one subject that I am continually looking for advice and improvement on from resume writers, career counselors, and executive recruiters.)

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ISSUE FOUR: I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT WHAT I DO

I recently accepted the recommendation of a friend and signed up with a career advisor to help me identify new approaches and opportunities that I may have been missing in my job search.

As my new advisor puts it, there is a difference between the passion I put into my work and the passion I put into my job search.

I truly enjoy my work: I love the challenges of tackling multiple issues; collaborating with a team to build out a new business or technology; redesigning an existing systems architecture or business processes to reinvent a division; overcoming a competitive or technological setback; or the pre- and post-transaction efforts of a merger & acquisition. I am very good at seeing the larger challenges across business units, creating integrated solutions based on best practices across industries, technologies, methodologies, and business practices, and optimizing processes to advance the business.

There is a deep and complex emotional element to anyone's job search.

So how can I portray that passion in a resume or an online application? And, how can I keep up that passion and excitement during my job search, especially in light of the current economic situation?

One thing I have learned over this past year: throughout this job search process, when I follow and maintain very specific goals, driven by my job search project plan, and designed to keep my leads pipeline full, it is very easy to stay excited and focused. Following a job search project plan and keeping track of my tasks and efforts has allowed me to see my successes, as measured by the number of opportunities, phone calls, initial interviews, return interviews and negotiating discussions I have had.

I have seen the flip side of that, as well. Maintaining that excitement and passion without a plan to fall back on is very difficult in the face of the frequent rejection that's part of a job search.

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MY SUCCESSES

Despite the above concerns, I have had some successes in my job search, as well. My solution to the above issues has been to target opportunities with firms that are themselves undergoing major transitions, or firms that provide services to organizations in transition. Following this strategy, not only have I been able to land some contract work in the defense, manufacturing and consulting industries, but I have also had six job offers, so far.

As I noted above, three offers were cancelled, directly attributed to the worsening economy, while we were in the final stage of negotiations.

I turned down one offer when they redesigned the position’s responsibilities and dramatically lowered its base salary. The second offer I turned down was with a firm and an executive leader I respect, but the position just wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

The third offer came about 3 months ago. This position appeared ideally suited to my skills and experience. It was with a nearly US$1 billion global firm undergoing a major transition. With nearly 3 dozen sites around the world, the result of several mergers and acquisitions, there were a dozen ERP/MRP systems, as well as numerous custom and vendor-based systems globally, all of which needed to be integrated. We estimated that this was a three to five year project that needed a full-time employee to lead it. So I accepted a contract-to-hire position. Unfortunately, after only 6 weeks, the entire global project was cancelled due to major mid-year budget cuts.

I’d love to hear back from you on what challenges you are having in your own job search. Even more so, what are you doing to overcome those challenges!