By Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter
Recently downsized, separated or fired executives often at the precipice of retirement or at a phase in their executive career ladder where they are feeling old and worn down often struggle with building a career portfolio.
They are so distracted by the issues they will face in a competitive, younger job market as well as the aftermath of emotions wrought by their recent termination, their ability and motivation to deep-dive into recent accomplishments stories, and the leadership nuances they employed to achieve those results, wanes.
It is imperative you find a way to move past those feelings and move ahead toward your next career and life opportunity. You may want to start by reading my colleague, Gayle Howard’s recent blog post, here: Job Search: The Emotional Rollercoaster.
In recent collaborations with executives who were suddenly terminated, I’ve witnessed a propensity for them to focus their career stories on earlier times (often, 10-20 years ago), when their career was newer and shinier, less wrought by the complicated and less than perfectly directed challenges that rocked their career ship in more recent years.
Move Past the “Past”
Here’s how I coached a recent executive to move past the past and prop up her more recent years’ successes (partial recap of my email exchange with her):
What I wrote:
You did a great job of intellectual brain dump in regard to stories of your earlier years where you spearheaded the turnaround of ABC Company or directed the successful start-up of DEF organization from concept to a multimillion-dollar marketplace leader.
The top 5 accomplishments stories you cited, however, describe achievements occurring between 15-25 years ago.
We need also to showcase more recent (last 5-8 years’) initiatives proving your leadership acumen and problem solving talent involving operational, revenue, program, people management, regulatory issues, etc. in a more recent context. In other words,‘what have you done lately’? This is imperative to the success of my writing for your go-forward goals.
Within those stories, I’m looking for both problems faced (with people, processes, etc.) and quantifiable results. It may be that you describe stories that didn’t have an immediate measurable impact but that attach to (impact) a bigger, more organization-wide (or industry-wide) goal, and I need you to measure / quantify that impact for me.
We need to make sure the resume has teeth. I also need to understand the detail of how people responded to your initiative, how you surmounted issues with push-back, or you overcame obstacles with processes or vendors or legislative representatives, or members, etc. (I’m just brainstorming here – YOU come up with the types of challenges you met with), and how specifically you used your knack at influencing, negotiating, etc. to finesse and resolve.
Literally let your mind free and brain dump. BRAG about yourself! This is no time to be humble! It is my job to then cull the nuggets of career gold from the brain dump.
My job is as your career trainer to push you just a bit more, so that when I take the baton, I can continue the marathon by writing you a fantastic, meaty and compelling resume that gets attention (because it has muscle).
Please know that I empathize that this is a difficult time for you to move through such an introspective exercise, but I am confident that not investing in the detail will exacerbate things. By going a bit deeper, pulling together enough recent detail about your contributions, I can market you as a current, hit-the-ground running candidate, which I know you are!
My client’s response:
“This is very helpful. I’ll get to work immediately. Thanks for pushing. Don’t hesitate to keep doing that.”
I share this story with you because I believe it is absolutely imperative that executives and professionals surround themselves with pushy, encouraging partners to help you navigate through the rigor of career change. It is NOT easy. The winds are tumultuous, you WILL get off course, and you MUST continue adjusting your sails. Yet, with the right attitude, continued movement, traction and effort, you will most definitely sail into a new port!