No one can afford to be a truly “passive” job seeker. The price you will pay for the resulting early obsolescence is just too high. Last week, while speaking to a room full of technical professionals all of whom were members of a very "with-it" association, my business partner, Mark Mehler, and I asked for a "show of hands" from all those who had registered with their professional association’s job "agent." The agent in question was an opt-in, email push of job titles and locations posted that week to the association’s web site.
“As an alternative,” we also inquired, “do you use an RSS reader to monitor an even more selective search results page of jobs you might aspire to?” We expected to see many hands in the audience reaching for the sky because the "agent" had been around for several years and, we knew from the association staff that nearly 60,000 members had registered to receive their jobs listing.
Not one of the 300 people in the room raised their hand. Mark and I looked at each other in shock. We thought (hoped) that maybe they were all lying and simply too embarrassed to admit they checked out the market place in front of their peers. Apparently we were mistaken. They were all suffering from the deadly disease CMDS (Career Management Deficit Syndrome).
We know that a passive job seeker is someone who is not looking for a job (at least at the moment) but “passive” shouldn’t be a synonym (or excuse) for “ignorant” about the rapidly changing job market and the related competencies needed to succeed in your chosen profession.
Imagine that you keep your head down for a year or two. You work hard, perform well and ignore the cacophony of failures, mergers, acquisitions and reorganizations. Too confusing. You turn off all advances from corporate and 3rd party recruiters - until they go away. Too distracting. You stop reading technical journals from cover to cover and scan only for the articles relevant to your current assignment. Not relevant. You skip the industry ads hyping the next great thing and avoid the articles about tools your company can’t afford or won’t buy for years. Too frustrating. You stop fighting for the time, money and opportunity to attend local chapter, regional and national meetings of your profession. You don’t know anybody attending anymore anyway. Too many priorities. Or, you occasionally attend some conferences but on a rotation basis with other members of your company staff and pick the sessions you know your boss wants you to go to in order to teach the rest of the staff when you return. You hang out and sit through sessions with other members of your company and, maybe meet a couple new folks but, never keep their cards. Too time consuming.
You think you are keeping your eye on the ball...but, you wake up one day, head off to work and have a sit down with your manager who tells you...
...that your company is preparing for a downsizing. Tag, you’re are it.
...that your job description has changed to include skills you don’t have. Tag, you’re it.
...that the skills you do have are now obsolete and your network is essentially reduced to people just like you. Tag, you’re it.
The feeling in the pit of your stomach? Its CMDS.
Shifting to an "active" job seeker status after years of truly passive behavior nestled in one company is likely to be a long painful process requiring the use of your savings and possibly a Career Doctor who will explain that you are sick (you knew that) and tell you all the things you didn’t do to maintain a balanced and healthy career management lifestyle.
What you need is a CMDS indicator to warn you when things are taking a turn. There are many prescriptions to CMDS prevention. Here are three:
Make a list and examine the websites of the trade, professional and academic associations and publications involved in your profession. See if any will promise to send you an email of the openings posted by employers that match your interests (Agents). Scan the titles and text of what you receive once a week for the following:
Note: Agents can be found at major job sites but they are unlikely to send you all the information you need. Instead they make you go back to their site to scramble around for the information or they send you jobs that don’t match your interests. Look for agents you might find at the corporate web site staffing pages of companies that are leading your industry (or embedded in the text of side discussions on professional email discussion groups). Complain or avoid the ones that provide you the poorest results until they learn how to communicate. Better still, create your own (pull) Agents. Learn about Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Download an RSS reader and load it up by searching for jobs and information critical to your profession and tagging the results pages.
Headhunters come in all sizes, shapes and flavors these days. Contingency, Search, and Corporate are three of the most popular. Believe it or not, some of them really know something about you, your capabilities, the market, the competitors and more. They are likely to begin their conversation by asking if you "know someone who..." Don’t hang up. It’s an opportunity to learn what you might be worth in the marketplace and a chance to build your medical kit bag for those emergencies you cannot plan for.
Thank them and say "not me" if you are not in the market but, (and this is very important if this is a person who really does specialize in your field), tell them you will contact someone you know is looking. Then do it. Helping an active job seeker find a position is the single best way to help yourself. You never know when you might need the favor returned. Call the headhunter back and make the connection or, call them back and tell them you were not able to make the connection. This ensures you will be called again - and remembered.
Don’t lose that person you helped. Keep track of where they land and periodically, once a quarter at least, touch base and compare notes. Save the recruiter’s contact information as well. In fact, make absolutely sure that you take down their email address and put it in a group email entitled "Emergency CMDS Medicine". Add one or more emails each month.
You may already be getting dozens of emails that you’ve "opted in" to receive. Typically, these cover sports, stocks, games, great buys and more. OK, it is getting overwhelming. Get rid of as much spam as possible but, do opt-in for general news feeds that keep you apprised of key articles related to your professional interests, the competition in your industry and your own corporation. You’ll find these at professional association sites as well as at search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN where you can pick from among hundreds of topics, list the competitors or issues you want to track and quickly scan the results. Keep it simple.
Beyond these three simple ideas are many more. What do your most successful friends do? Have you called your college alumni association and asked for a list of all alumni who work in your firm? In your competitor’s firm? What do you know about the members and leaders of the professional association that maintains the body of knowledge for your profession? What are kids entering the profession learning that you know nothing about?
Managing your career is a process that needs constant attention. The marketplace you work in is a critical component of that process. Technology allows you to automate the flow of information, scan the results and prepare more efficiently for the likelihood that change will affect what you do next. A passive job seeker still involved in an active career cannot afford to get CMDS.
Next week: If you think working professionals are obsolete, imagine how deeply flawed their managers’ careers are? Oh, are you one?