Seven Steps to a Better Job


Suppose "David" -- not a real person -- was a project manager for a hardware manufacturer on the California Peninsula when he was laid off in July 2010. He was relieved, because he wasn't sure he wanted to spend the rest of his life in high tech. But when David, 37, entered my office 18 months later, he was still unemployed -- and now scared.

To help David find a job he truly wanted, I took him through my Seven Steps. Step 1: Decide if you are willing to embrace a simpler lifestyle to increase your career options. David's wife wanted to buy a home, and David wanted a new SUV. I told him that if he were willing to forego the Bay Area home, he would have more career options to explore. He said he wanted to consider those options. Step 2: Identify your career nonnegotiables. David decided that the things he absolutely needed in a job were working for a good cause, the opportunity to be persuasive and a short commute. I told David to convey his nonnegotiables to everyone, from his parents' friends to his college alumni. One of the alums suggested he become a fund-raising specialist. David liked the idea. Step 3: Use time effectively to train for your new job or career. The alum suggested that David get a master's in public administration. However, I urged him to consider foregoing State U for what I call "You U," where you select one or two experts in the field and ask, "What should I read? What workshops should I attend? Would you mind if I watched you work?" Step 4: Do an intense, two-week job search. Most people who do their job searches sporadically, perhaps answering one ad per week and telling close friends they're looking, are unlikely to succeed. By compressing your job search into two weeks, you're more likely to:
  • Implement it, since you can endure almost anything that will be over in two weeks.
  • Receive encouragement within the first few days, because you're making many more inquiries.
  • Receive multiple job offers at the same time.
In Week 1, I asked David to apply for 10 jobs for which he was qualified. I also asked him to tell his networking contacts that he was looking for a fund-raising job in the East Bay and to ask if they knew someone he should talk with. Finally, I asked David to identify 20 East Bay nonprofits he'd be excited to work for, email them a cover letter and then follow up with a phone call. Within a month of his two-week job search, he received two job offers. Step 5: Negotiate wisely. When David got an offer to upgrade the fund-raising operation of a small East Bay private school, I told him to delay negotiating and say, "I'm pleased you're offering me the job. Can we set up an appointment to discuss terms in a few days? In the meantime, I'm fortunate enough to have another job offer, so can I speak with a prospective coworker or two? I want to get a better feel for the position." This approach strengthened David's position and gave him a chance to get a sense of the most he could reasonably negotiate for and to gauge whether he even wanted the job. Step 6: Make the job fit you. For a career to really work, you must tailor and accessorize it as you would a suit. We next determined how David could tailor this job to his strengths. While he had database skills, he preferred the one-on-one work of cultivating donors. He got the school's head to agree to outsource the database work so he could spend more time with potential donors. Step 7: Always look forward. Despite landing a better-fitting job, David still resented being laid off. I told David about my father, a Holocaust survivor. My father rarely discussed the Holocaust and never with bitterness. When I asked him why, he said, "The Nazis took five years from me. They won't get one minute more." If he can resist looking back bitterly, we all can. [Dr. Marty Nemko is a career coach in private practice and coauthor of Cool Careers for Dummies. Look for 200-plus of his articles on Marty Nemko's Web Site.]
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