Between jobs? Here’s how to remain a top candidate
Conducting a job search is challenging, but it can also generate long-term career benefits.
“Now that I look back on [my transition period], it was the most rewarding time of my life,” says Dan Wellers, MBA ’81, who successfully made the transition from a senior marketing position in program management operations with IBM’s systems and technology group to senior director of services marketing at SAP. “I got to explore things that I was interested in doing. I also built and continue to maintain relationships that create value.”
How can you remain a top candidate or even improve your marketability during a transition period? This question has become increasingly important as today’s tough economy has displaced many mid-level and upper-level managers.
Here are some tips and resources for re-starting your career:
Identify your strengths and market them. Pinpoint your most marketable values and strengths, package your message, and rehearse it. “I branded myself as a Swiss army knife with a marketing blade,” says Gregory Siegelman, MBA ’81, who moved from his position as director of marketing and branding at Trimble Navigation GPS to become marketing vice president at Winston Industries. “It makes you stand out in the crowd. It also really describes my background,” he explains.
Build a networking plan. “About 85 percent of all jobs are found through networking,” says Lynne Allen, career advisor for Johnson alumni and Executive MBA students. Obtain the names of people who are in the industry or company you are looking into and set up appointments with them. One Johnson alumnus set an objective of “grabbing coffee every day with someone who could help me to network” throughout his job search. Networking is also a good way of keeping up-to-date on new developments in your industry. Update your contacts on your job search, letting them know that you are exploring options for your career and would appreciate some advice and information. People may not have a job opening at the moment, but they might in the future and your new relationship with them could mean the difference.
Be ready to explain why you are out of work. “Everybody will ask you why you are out of work, so be prepared,” says Allen. Also, prepare your references. Find the most positive way to describe why you left your previous employer, but do not over-explain. And, of course, “it’s important to be as honest as possible.”
Sharpen your skills. Do consulting, pro bono work, or even start a company to maintain your skills and gain new perspectives. “I am bringing in almost an entirely different perspective and set of values to [my new company],” says Wellers, who continues to apply the lessons he learned while launching a nonprofit and consulting for technology startups. Added skills and experiences can help you in an interview, but be sure to take into account the amount of time those activities may require before you make the commitment. Attending business seminars and classes are also useful ways to improve your skills.
Stay fit. “Stay fit, stay active,” Allen urges. Wellers also emphasizes the importance of this: “Exercise,” he says. “First of all, you need to stay in shape.” Exercising regularly helps you to structure your time and keep your mood upbeat. “For me, regular exercise was critical in maintaining the level of energy, focus, and patient discipline that my transition period required,” says Wellers.
Find a career counselor. Each individual job search is unique. A career counselor can give you personalized advice and help you to formulate a solid strategy and game plan. Johnson’s Career Management Center provides alumni and Executive MBA students with individual and confidential career advisory services through career advisors Lynne Allen and Laurie Sedgewick. Log in JConnect to access these and other career planning resources.
Yuezhou Huo ’15 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.