Friday, September 26, 2008

Get Out Of The Outplacement Office

Outplacement offices are already filled with nervous executives from the financial sector. And more are coming.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Company has seized the assets of the nation’s largest Savings & Loan, Washington Mutual, and sold their deposits and branches to JPMorgan Chase. The folks at WaMu are in for a tough weekend.

And that announcement came about the same time the networks were informing listeners that the much anticipated bailout plan offered by Treasury Secretary Paulson had stalled amid political infighting between members of Congress.

While the ramifications of these latest announcements have yet to unfold, its effect upon the psyche of Wall Street workers is clear. They’re starting to freak out.

And, as their numbers mount, those out of work are really feeling the heat.

What can these anxious job seekers do to enhance their chances?

Feet on the street

As every good sales professional knows – you’ve got to be in the field. This is no time to be sitting at a desk in an outplacement office. It's counterproductive.

Attend as many events and meet as many people as you possibly can. This is the perfect time to go to all those conferences, seminars and professional presentations you never had time for.

Meet and greet

It’s also a time to renew old acquaintances and foster new ones. One of the few benefits of job hunting is having the opportunity to initiate, develop and reinforce valuable connections.

Take advantage of it and meet people in person. Not over the phone or via email. Make a lasting and positive impression. While these new connections may not be able to help you today, they may do so tomorrow.

Count your effectiveness by the number of meetings attended and leads generated on a daily basis.

Get enough of those and your job search will be brief – or at least briefer.

Persistence pays

This job market demands high activity. Those that put in the effort and keep pushing forward will have the best chance to reap the greatest rewards.

I’m not saying this is an easy marketplace. Far from it. It’s tough and demands a level of persistence that's not always easy to muster during difficult times.

But there are current opportunities out there and there will be others down the road. They'll come from the people you meet. The more face time, the better your chances.

So be out there ... be active ... be visible ... "press flesh" ... just don't sit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

21st Century Executive Job Search

“Come early if you want a seat” is the current warning at New York City outplacement offices.

As the Human Resources leader at one of the big banks told me the other day, the steady flow of layoffs has outplacement firms bursting at the seams and had her wondering out loud, how providing housing and clerical support would help her exiting colleagues find jobs.

“This is the 21st century, isn’t it?” she asked rhetorically.

“I mean,” she went on, “they’re surrounded by an ever-increasing number of other people out of work, which I’m sure is not too good for their morale, and whatever networking benefit they might get from that is probably short-circuited by an unwillingness of many to share hot job prospects.”

And she’s right. Along with administrative help, the resume writing, researching and interviewing workshops that most of the large outplacement firms provide, are often 20th century job-finding support services in a 21st century world.

It’s all about rifle shots

How should the savvy job finder conduct a search in today’s market and what techniques allow one exec to continually vie for positions while others complain about the paucity of opportunities?

Well, here’s what our HR professional looks for when she sends departing colleagues to outplacement firms: “First and foremost,” she said, “I want to make sure that my people are receiving plenty of personal attention. The old tired approaches of answering ads, chasing recruiters and calling everybody they know just aren’t enough.”

She was right again. Now, more than ever, the key to finding another job is to craft a creative and highly-individualized campaign that targets, with laser-like accuracy, those companies that really need your skills.

It’s just like fishing

As any good weekend fisherman knows, there are lots of ways to catch fish.

Many people, when they come across a lake, a boat and a fishing rod, decide to troll for the fish. They dangle the line over the side and ride their boat back and forth across the lake in the hope that a fish will come up and take the bait. When there’s lots of fish in the lake, that technique can work well.

But when the big ones are few and far between, it’s often an approach that leads to coming home empty.

Job hunting is the same. When jobs are plentiful, knowing the basics is enough. The recruiters are flush with opportunities, advertised positions are abundant and firms are in a growth mode, eager to bring on new talent.

However, in these times ... having a seat, a phone and clerical support is about as effective as trolling for fish in a sparsely-filled lake.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Layoffs Travel From Wall Street To Main Street

According to a recently released Business Roundtable survey, nearly one-third of the country's top executives expect to cut payrolls in the coming months as companies cope with a weakened economy dogged by housing, credit and financial problems stemming from Wall Street’s risk-laden mortgage lending practices.

This survey was taken before the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman, Merrill, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Washington Mutual and other Wall Street upheavals that wreaked havoc around the globe this week.

A TV financial commentator nailed it by saying, “It’s like we’ve had food poisoning for a year and now we’re throwing up.”

Forewarned is forearmed

The financial sector meltdown will soon spread to layoffs in almost every industry.

HP just announced close to 25,000 upcoming layoffs spread over the next three years. Dell declared it would reduce headcount by 10%. And more are coming. I’ve already heard from world-class firms that anticipate large-scale staff cuts before year-end.

Those numbers will only add to the five-year unemployment high of 6.1 percent in August that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported … making this year’s layoffs 33% higher than last year.

Ignorance is not bliss

In spite of these realities, far too many executives are ignoring the warning signs and remain unprepared to deal with a sudden job loss.

I gave a seminar to a group of IT leaders last week who were paying little or no attention to personal career management. The pressures at work had intensified for many and whatever little time they had for themselves were spent recreationally. That’s understandable and, of course, gives them valuable work/life balance.

However, the seismic disruption of the financial markets just put all their jobs in jeopardy. And I’ve spent the better part of this week fielding their calls for help.

For the past three decades, I’ve advised thousands of executives to continually monitor and manage their careers. In today’s job climate, those who did are at an advantage … they’re prepared and have the skills to easily secure another position.

Unfortunately, there are many who are unprepared … and that's as risk-laden as Lehman’s balance sheet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Executive Careers: The Impact Of Wall Street Layoffs

Our phones were busy yesterday. Lehman's bankruptcy, Merrill's takeover and AIG's woes proved to be a "trauma trifecta" that sent executives all along Wall Street into panic mode.

A potentially deep and wide job recession just became a reality and the upcoming number of job losses in financial services look to be staggering.

A sector that has already taken a beating, with reductions at JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bear Stearns, UBS, AXA and others, is about to receive a knock-out blow to the career options of many of its senior employees. For the first time, I'm witnessing a palpable fear regarding re-employment prospects.

Where will all these executives find work?

This time really is different

Losing jobs is not new in financial services. Firms have experienced tough times before with large-scale layoffs and reorganizations hitting “the Street” in the 80’s, 90’s and as recently as 2002 into 03.

But this wave is unique. The players are leaving and the game is changing.

Lehman’s bankruptcy is the largest in U.S. history. Bear Stearns disappeared over a weekend. The Merrill Lynch bull, synonymous with Wall Street, will become a monument to the past. In a very short time, we’ll learn how many more financial giants will fall……or shrink.

That market has already absorbed about as many jobs as it can and as layoffs continue, will reach saturation. For many, transitioning out of financial services will be difficult.

Those who make it will undoubtedly face a pay cut.

With an ongoing credit crunch, those smaller employers that have been the traditional engine of job creation for decades in this country, will have difficulty expanding.

Limited expansion results in limited hiring.

And as the economic downturn continues, Wall Street’s financial losses translate into Main Street’s job losses. It already started with HP’s announcement yesterday of 24,600 job cuts.

More competition for fewer jobs results in longer job searches.

Innovation trumps tradition

A “by the book” approach to career management works in a traditional job market. However, we’re headed into uncharted waters.

All indicators currently point to a dramatic corporate “belt-tightening” for the balance of 2008 and right into 2009. Just as these times won’t be business as usual, they are no longer times for career management as usual.

Today’s job climate requires an executive to spend more time planning and managing his/her career. Horizons must be widened. “Out-of-the-box” options should be identified, researched and explored. Multiple contingency plans need to be developed. Now more than ever, career management is a challenge requiring self-awareness, creativity, meticulous planning, commitment and a measured dose of risk taking.

Or do nothing and panic when the pink slip arrives.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part III

Coming out of a 3rd place finish in the Iowa caucus, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton reacted the same way many top leaders do when their initial effort to onboard into a new assignment fails. She reassessed.

With the veneer of inevitability gone, she was finally able to reexamine her efforts coldly and clinically. Exactly what she should have done in the first place had she not incorrectly assumed her nomination was a foregone conclusion.

Unfortunately for her, as is often the case when a new assignment is launched based on an incorrect strategy, she was now playing “catch-up.”

And while the Senator from NY was able to make the mid-course corrections necessary to win the New Hampshire primary, the deep systemic changes her campaign needed would take time to implement. And time, as every new leader knows, is in short supply.

Involve everyone

Critical to the success of any executive who onboards into a new role is the ability to get everyone on the same page.

But when you’re trying to right a sinking ship, there’s a tendency to depend on a handful of key staff members to plug the leaks. And while that approach may be necessary in the short-term, more often than not, it doesn't work out long-range.

Because she was now in crisis mode, it was difficult for her to allot the time needed to fully rally all her troops, define mutual challenges and opportunities, and create a common transition language. All the actions that successful new leaders need to do.

Not involving everyone in the effort, no matter how large the organization, is one of the most common reasons new leaders fail.

Plan for contingencies

Even after abandoning the cloak of invincibility, the team that Clinton led still harbored the belief that the February results from “Super Tuesday” would clinch the nomination.

And though she did well in many of those contests, because she failed to fully plan for the possibility of a campaign extending beyond February, she was unprepared to successfully compete in the ensuing run of small state caucuses and primaries.

As the Senator discovered, failing to prepare for contingencies or not having a Plan B at the ready, creates setbacks that can be impossible to recoup from.

Know what success looks like

And finally, to succeed at a new challenge, any executive must first identify and then focus on the metrics that lead to success.

It’s been widely reported that the Clinton campaign staffers didn’t fully understand or appreciate the subtleties of the Democratic Party’s proportional voting process. Hillary chased state-wide victories while her competition effectively allocated their resources into those districts that provided the highest return on investment.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda

Senator Clinton eventually got her campaign back on track and built up an impressive head of steam ... but it was too late.

The takeaway: No matter the level or accomplishments of the leader, failure to effectively onboard into a new role can, and often does, result in career derailment.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part II

By assuming she’d be the inevitable nominee of the Democratic party, Senator Hillary Clinton clouded her assessment of the situation long before the first votes were cast in the Iowa caucus.

She violated the most basic principles any executive needs to follow when taking on a new assignment. Assume nothing and assess everything.

She did not fully recognize the situation she was in, was unable to acknowledge the new reality and miscalculated what elements she needed for success. Three things any new leader in any new role must get right.

As the Senator continued to onboard herself into her new role as leader of a national political campaign, she faced another challenge familiar to anyone who has tried to get off the ground quickly in a new job.

Build the team

Few things derail an executive’s path to success as much as having the wrong people around them.

I have heard countless leaders complain, after they have lost their jobs, that they waited too long to “get rid of dead wood” or make the staff changes needed to ensure success.

By building a strategy, based on an assessment built on a faulty assumption, the Senator from NY did not surround herself with all the “right people.” While her team was comprised of world-class talent, they did not necessarily have the skills, input or perspective needed to succeed in the new reality Hillary found herself in.

The assessment was off, the strategy was off and the resource requirements were off.

As Iowa approached, cracks in her armor of inevitability began to be revealed in the polls as another critical component of the onboarding process snuck up on her.

Secure early victories

It’s a lot easier to set a positive impression right from the outset than it is to change perceptions later on. And critical to that is the importance of securing early victories near the outset of any new endeavor.

In a corporate environment, early victories tell others “we got the right person” while failures cause others to withhold judgment or outright believe a mistake was made.

In a national political contest, an early victory bolsters the impression of a front-runner while a failure can set an entire campaign into a tailspin.

Hillary’s third place finish in Iowa, based in large part on a poorly conducted assessment, caused her to emphasize the wrong issues, underestimate her competitors and promote a vision unaligned with her constituents.

As would prove true, failure to secure early wins and avoid early failures is a prime cause of career derailment among executives in new roles.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career - Part I

For corporate executives everywhere, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s failure to win the Democratic nomination for President of the United States is a classic tale of how not to onboard into a new position.

Upwardly mobile professionals can learn a lot from her experience.

Leading a national political campaign was a new role for her. And with any new role, there are certain proven steps that when managed well help ensure career success, but when managed badly, can bring disaster.

Examining how she handled those steps provides a case study in career management.

Assume nothing

According to Roger Simon, the chief political columnist for, as early as 2006 following her successful re-election to the Senate, Hillary and her supporters had their eye on the upcoming presidential election.

They did so, he reports, because they believed she was a lock for the Democratic nomination in ’08. That assumption drove their actions, turned out to be false and contributed to her defeat.

People fail in new jobs for a series of predictable reasons. Chief among them is that they don’t fully understand the requirements of what they need to do or it takes them too long to finally figure it out.

Because she assumed that her nomination was inevitable, she misread the requirements needed to succeed. Then she compounded that error by building her campaign on that miscalculation.

And while it’s fine to have assumptions – even strong ones – it’s a career derailing mistake to allow yourself to believe those assumptions are true until after you’ve completed your assessment.

It looks like Hillary may have put them in the wrong order.

“Leave your assumptions at the door,” is the most important piece of advice you can get when beginning a new job.

Assess everything

Conducting a clear-eyed and non-emotional assessment of the situation is the first step any executive needs to take when beginning a new job. It’s from that assessment that everything else flows.

But according to Simon, Hillary allowed hubris and emotions to cloud her judgment and influence her assessment.

Because she assumed she’d win, her assessment of the situation – the most critical part of ensuring success – was flawed. It caused her to not ask all the right questions of all the right people.

Being thorough and unbiased is what the assessment phase is all about. Not doing that effectively is a prime cause of career derailment among those taking on new roles.

Senator Clinton is testament to that.

There's more

Coming to a new challenge without succumbing to assumptions and being diligent in the assessment phase are two of the critical elements needed to successfully onboard into any new role.

Hillary had difficulties with these steps and warning lights were flashing even before her campaign approached Iowa. We'll look at some of the other key onboarding steps and see how she managed them in the next post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How Hillary Clinton Derailed Her Career: Overview

Hillary Rodham Clinton did not get the position she thought was in the bank.

Historians and political junkies will spend years analyzing and dissecting the actions of New York’s junior senator in her bid to be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Roger Simon, the chief political columnist for detailed the problems faced and opportunities lost during Hillary Clinton’s run in an August 25th article, entitled Relentless. In it, he talks about the campaign Clinton led and how her actions and those of the team she directed contributed to her loss and greatly aided her competitor, Barack Obama.

From a career perspective, it’s a fascinating study of what an executive should not do.

It’s a story about misguided assumptions, incorrect utilization of staff, underestimation of the competition, misapplied success metrics and fractured communications, as well as poorly defined roles and responsibilities. All of which led to a botched strategy and failed tactics.

It’s also the story of a high stakes, enterprise-wide project critical to the success of one executive.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be examining and analyzing the different ways Senator Clinton ignored many of the basic career success tenets in her quest for the nomination.

This is a case study with no political opinion.

And for corporate executives, it’s a lesson on how a career can be derailed … at any and all levels.

As everyone knows, nothing’s in the bank until it’s in the bank.


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