I’m so many people: balancing our many sides in job search

"I'm so many people."

“I’m so many people.”

“I’m so many people.” When Mad Men creator Matt Weiner put these words into the mouth of protagonist Don Draper’s teenage daughter Sally, he could have been speaking for all of us.

From the moment we graduate college, and often earlier, we are coached to put our best face forward, showing the side of ourselves that is most marketable to potential employers. The problem is, showing just one side can make us look — and feel — pretty one-dimensional at times.

As we evolve as professionals and as human beings, the many “people” inside of us compete more aggressively to be seen and heard. I’m not talking about a Sybil-like scenario with true multiple personalities, but rather the chameleon-like qualities that allow us to adapt and contribute, on and off the job.

The question is, when it comes to job-search protocol, how can we showcase the best of our many sides without deviating too far from the script? I’ll start by sharing my own multiple dimensions and how they have contributed to my professional identity, and invite others to do the same.

PTA Mom — With my son about to finish middle school, I’ve logged thousands of hours between two schools since he was five. Through this experience, I have met some of the most interesting and accomplished individuals in my lifetime, many who have become dear friends. Moreover, it has challenged — and ultimately strengthened —  my leadership abilities more than 20-plus years of professional managerial roles.

Daughter and Parent Advocate — About 15 years ago, when my own recruiting business was at its peak, both of my parents became seriously ill in the space of six months.  Over the next decade, my magnificent mother lost her life to a rare and wretched form of blood cancer, while my father endured a series of progressively debilitating strokes that left him unable to speak for himself.  As an adult only child and a new parent myself,  I was suddenly navigating unfamiliar and terrifying territory both medical and logistical. I had to put aside my own emotions, which ranged from devastating sadness to resentment at the overnight role reversal. While learning to apply the kind of rigor and persistence that felt more familiar in a business context to increasingly complex medical issues, my ultimate lessons were all about grace and acceptance.

Volunteer Career Navigator — Years of supporting and advocating for my parents  highlighted  my preference for directly helping individuals.  As a search consultant, while I truly cared about the well being of candidates, my primary allegiance, by definition, was to the employers that hired them. My evolution into career counseling felt organic and put a name on what I had been doing informally for the past two decades. Before making the leap, I tested out this premise by volunteering with a local non-profit providing a range of supportive services to women in transition.  I ultimately chose to work with a population of college students, many of them first generation, and this experience was contributory.

Lifelong Learner — While this one might sound cliché, I’ve earned the designation. Returning to school at 50 to earn an advanced degree in higher education counseling, complete with internships, after years of running my own show and speaking and writing as an industry expert, was both affirming and humbling.  It led to my choosing employment at a college career center  versus counseling students as an independent practitioner, yet another learning experience, and one that also allows me to contribute knowledge from my recruiting background.

Relationship Builder —  In a professional context, relationship building is often code for business development. While I have done my share of this successfully as a business consultant, it is the personal relationship building that better defines me.  From a 31-year marriage to real and enduring friendships across geographies, jobs, neighborhoods and volunteer experiences, relationships remain my most deeply held value.

Bringing this back to job search, I recently had the chance to bring all of these “people” to my own search process for my first non-internship role in higher education.  This did not mean that I told these stories on every interview.  What it did mean is that I kept these dimensions alive, introducing them as appropriate, when speaking about a deliberate mid-life career shift. They also informed an internal decision-making process to evaluate potential opportunities and work environments, holding out for one that would honor more than what was immediately apparent on paper. I am so fortunate to have found that.

In the case of the fictional Mad Men character, Sally Draper, life has compelled her to become “so many people” at far too early an age.  One can only hope that in whatever afterworld viewers imagine after the series concludes, that she  grows up to honor and integrate these dimensions into a rewarding livelihood. Personally, I’m holding out for child psychologist.

What about you?  Who are your many people?














Icebreakers for the end of winter job search blahs

It’s barely March and in the Eastern US, at least, it still feels like frigid February. Staying on track with a job search is rarely easy, but when it’s bleak outside, it can be even harder not to internalize the weather.  Here are some ways I’ve found to make it through the final stretch as painlessly as possible until the real Spring thaw. Try these out for the next two weeks and watch your job search energy soar along with March temperatures.

Go with the wind. Stop fighting against the elements and indulge yourself a little. Cut back your search time by 30 minutes a day and use the time to phone a friend, do easy reading or catch an episode of your favorite series on Netflix.  Add popcorn and hot chocolate.

Start to un-hibernate. Warm up your contacts with face to face interaction. Social media is great, but overdoing it can add to end of winter feelings of isolation. Try to plan at least one early a.m. coffee or after hours get together each week. When the weather warms up, add more.

Break the ice each day with just one main focus area.  For instance, devote Monday to LinkedIn updates, Tuesday to scanning relevant industry job boards, Wednesday to researching targeted employers of interest, etc.  Friday is a great day to chart your plan for the week ahead, including any checklist items you might want to fit in over the weekend.

Plan an early Spring meetup with local friends and colleagues also in search mode. It can be as simple as an energizing walk in the park followed by coffee and lead swaps, or as elaborate as a Saturday of self-run workshops, idea sharing and an inspiring guest speaker or two.  The main point is to surround yourself with positive people who will support and encourage each other.

And here’s an encouraging thought for starters:  along with the ice, there are some anecdotal signs that the job market is finally starting to thaw.  I’m hearing about more success stories every month, including among long-term searchers and those over 50.

What are you seeing out there? Any tips to share for getting through the last windy gasps of Winter?

A Tale of Two Job Markets

As both a career counselor and a recruiter, I see the state of the job market from many vantage points.  Frankly, it’s a confusing picture that  looks like two parallel graph lines that refuse to intersect.  On one line — let’s call it Line E for Employed —  there are my well-employed clients and colleagues who are increasingly being pursued for roles that directly leverage their current and marketable experience. Terms like “multiple offers” are in the vernacular again. 

Then there’s Line U (for Unemployed). While the market seems to be loosening up for some of these folks (and I stress that my evidence here is anecdotal and experiential, not Department of Labor empirical data), many remain stubbornly in transition purgatory. I’ve written before about the “over-50 and overqualified” factor and that is certainly part of the picture.  While there are no magic paths from Line U to Line E, here are a few strategies that seem to be working for some:

–Changing sectors.  Moving from corporate roles to non-profit, higher education, etc.  This tends to work better for “infrastructure” functions like finance, human resources and communications.  Compensation level can be a big trade-off (though not always as much as you might think), along with adjusting to more consensus-based management styles and decision-making processes.  However, the over-50 crowd is well represented and anecdotal reports of job satisfaction and perceived stability are plusses.

–Relocating.  Not a viable option for many but for those who can make it work, competing for roles in less geographically desirable markets can be a way back in and doesn’t have to be a forever move. Some organizations — knowing that they have tough markets for relocation — are even open to partial arrangements like holding onto a house back home and living in company-sponsored housing during part of the typical work week.

–Joining synergistic alliances.  Consultants who collaborate rather than compete can create a broad scope of services as well as widespread geographic representation for prospective clients.  While some organizations will always favor large-scale consulting firms, others find price and service advantages in hiring these kinds of consultant consortiums, especially when the principals have previous big-company experience in their backgrounds.  

So once again, no magic bullet — but a few ideas to evaluate as we all search for ways to help two job markets converge into one that offers opportunities for anyone who wants to stay in or get back in the game. 

What are you seeing out there?