Perhaps the only task harder than reaching a C-level position in the first place is recapturing that rank after you’ve had to step down a rung on the corporate ladder.
How did this happen to me?
One or more factors probably play a key part in this situation, including:
• Your company has closed.
• Another company acquired yours.
• Your management approach clashed with the executive board’s views.
As long as you weren’t fired “for cause,” you don’t need to view your departure as a black mark on your record.
So what do I do now?
A natural decision is to look for another position at or very close to your previous one. However, if your best efforts in that direction don’t pan out, you might reluctantly lower your sights to pursue a step-down role.
At that point the question naturally arises, “What am I going to say when employers ask why I’ve held a lower-level position for the past two years?”
This issue really consists of two aspects in the minds of potential employers: (1) wondering why you’re no longer at the C-level and (2) concern that you might be out of touch.
One definite “Don’t” and a few “Do’s”
Don’t act defensively. Project a calm, non-defensive attitude that doesn’t suggest you’re carrying around a load of negative baggage.
You could take several actions to improve your odds of success. Those actions could include:
• Make your best effort to leave your old company on good terms—don’t burn any bridges.
• Maintain active contact with the people in your professional network, but don’t overwork them.
• Find a way to present your step-down position as a pragmatic decision.
• Look for and keep track of the opportunities you’ve had in your current position to make a distinct and substantial contribution to the company’s success in that role.
• Stay current on critical events and trends in your industry and related areas, so you can demonstrate to prospective employers that you have an up-to-date grasp of essentials.
Keep in mind that if you want a company to make you an offer you can’t refuse, you need to present them with a C-level candidate they’d be crazy not to hire.
[This excerpted post was originally published on the BlueSteps blog. Read the full article on the BlueSteps Executive Career Insider Blog at this link: https://www.bluesteps.com/blog/find-clevel-jobs.]
The old saying, “Ignorance is bliss,” has been debunked so much that I’m not sure anyone really believes it anymore. However, some job seekers I’ve met do seem to adopt that concept–unconsciously, if nothing else. That attitude can have a painful effect on your job search.
3 Things You Might not Know but Should
- Is the target company facing a daunting challenge that could negatively affect you if you were hired? For example, is it a likely target for a hostile takeover or otherwise a probable candidate for a merger/acquisition that could result in elimination of the job you had just landed? Certainty might not be achievable with the available information, but it’s up to you to do your due diligence carefully and sniff out such possibilities as best you can.
- Does the target company have a reputation for being tough on its employees, particularly at the level and/or in the type of role you are pursuing? A company can be challenging to work for and still be largely satisfying and rewarding. However, if it maintains a potentially toxic work environment or spits employees out like a revolving door, you might want to think carefully before seriously considering accepting an offer from it.
- Is the company operating in an industry (or segment of an industry) that’s perched on the slippery slope of declining value? As examples, just look at what happened in the video recording industry with Betamax vs. VHS and later with DVDs vs. tape recording methods. Absolute accuracy in predicting the outcome of apparent trends probably won’t happen, but you might be able to get a good sense of what could realistically happen and determine if that’s encouraging or discouraging in your situation.
Job Search Risks You Might Decide to Take
As I mentioned above, you might find out as much as possible about a situation with your target company and go either way in deciding whether it makes good sense for you to move ahead. Sometimes the risk-versus-reward outlook suggests that it’s worth pursuing; sometimes not. As long as you’ve taken all the wise precautions you can, that’s really the best you can do to minimize your risk and maximize your potential reward.
What might some of the risks be? For starters, you could leave a solid but unfulfilling job to take one that evaporates unexpectedly and leaves you stranded. Or you might find that the person who hired you and with whom you had a good rapport will fall victim to a management shift that boots him or her out in the cold and leaves you facing the possibility of working for a not-so-great new boss–if he/she doesn’t decide to find a way to shove you out the door as well.
I sometimes think the only guarantee is the fact that there are no guarantees! That certainly applies in the job search setting, making it something of a “buyer beware” situation. The better prepared you are for the most likely eventualities, the better you’ll probably end up once the dust settles.
If you’re one of those fortunate people who knew at age 10 what you wanted your life’s work to be and have never wavered from that, congratulations! You’re almost certainly one of a fairly small minority.
Most of us have progressed through multiple career changes; many have done it a lot. Sometimes it’s a question of personal growth, changes in our outlook on life, the realization that we’re capable of more than we’re doing. Whether or not that fits your situation, you might still be considering or have considered a career change or find a compelling reason to do so later on.
I often work with clients who need or want to make a career change, and it can sometimes pose a major challenge–for them as the individual most closely affected by the situation and for me as the professional who wants to help them achieve the desired result. Consequently, I interact frequently with colleagues on this subject and also read extensively about it to gain useful insights.
Should You Make a Career Change?
As I’ve written in the past, a lot of factors can influence the decision on whether to make a career change. For one thing, you might not always have a choice–for example, if your industry basically goes away, you will be forced to look at alternatives. For another, a career change might require an economic sacrifice that you and your family can’t afford under current circumstances.
I do career coaching and consulting, which includes helping clients identify the factors for or against a career change in their particular situation. I do not provide career counseling, which requires intensive training I don’t have, so if someone who comes to me needs that kind of support, I recommend they contact a qualified career counselor. I work with clients to develop a career action plan that will help them move forward. Part of that plan involves determining the pros and cons of the career change and prioritizing the actions needed to implement the plan.
The key here is to conduct a thoughtful review of your situation, seek expert help and advice that’s relevant to your needs, and make a decision that you (and perhaps your family) can live with as comfortably as possible.
Career Change: If Not Now, When?
In some cases, you might have trouble deciding not only whether you should make a career change but also when would be the right time to do it. An article by Kathy Caprino on Forbes.com, titled “5 Ways to Tell if You Need a Career Change,” offers a few pointers on this topic. Her 5 tips on deciding to change careers are:
- You are chronically worn out, exhausted and depleted.
- Your skills, responsibilities, and tasks are not you at all.
- You’ve come to the point where your salary no longer makes up for the boredom and emptiness you feel.
- Despite all the “right” choices you made in your career, the outcome feels very wrong.
- You have the irrepressible feeling that your talents and abilities could/should be used in a totally different (more creative and impactful) way.
I could easily add to Caprino’s list. As an example, if your industry is changing and moving in a direction you find unsatisfactory, it might be time for a career change. If geographical or other factors are prompting you to relocate to an area that will make it difficult to continue in your present career, exploring other options could become essential.
Career Change Tip: Look at your situation as unemotionally as you can and put the necessary effort into evaluating what’s both possible and practical for you. Don’t waste time longing for something you can’t or won’t pursue effectively.
If not now, you might still at some point in your working life either need or want to reinvent your career. When/if that happens to you, do you have a plan for accomplishing it? Much like fire or flood insurance you hope you will never need, a career management plan that takes the need for reinventing your career into account makes excellent sense.
I did that myself a number of years ago and was lucky (?) enough to start working on it while I still had a good job–no worrying about how I would pay the bills tomorrow if I failed to find a new direction or opportunity soon. From clients and other people I’ve talked with over the years, the alternative (no preparation) is a mess–you don’t want to “go there”!
Tips to Reinvent Your Career
An excellent article on Fast Company’s website offers a few practical tips you probably will want to consider for your own situation. “Four Steps to Reinventing Your Career”, by Kaihan Krippendorff, is worth reading all the way through. However, here in a nutshell are the four tips Krippendorff offers:
- Clarify the situation. What has changed that requires a reinvention?
- Assess your assets….What assets do you want to protect and leverage?
- Listen for needs….What needs are calling you?
- Define your strategy. To move into action, we need a clear set of priorities….What are your priorities…?
Pitfalls and Mistakes to Avoid in Career Reinvention
I have no idea how many possible pitfalls and/or mistakes you could actually make while trying to reinvent your career, but I’ll bet it’s more than a few! While I can’t tell you how to avoid them all, I do have a few ideas to suggest. For starters:
- Don’t wait until your “house is burning” before you try to grab some fire insurance. The word “proactive” has become seriously overused, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment that hits the nail on the head. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen in my career? Am I prepared to deal with it if it comes?” Then start scoping-out possible actions to either prevent or minimize potential career disaster.
- Build a network of trusted resources–advisors, colleagues, family, whoever else seems good for this–that you can consult regarding things you should be aware of and consider carefully in your career management plan, specifically with regard to career reinvention.
- Assume nothing! Just because everything is proceeding smoothly at the moment and your career looks solid, it’s not wise to assume nothing will change down the road. For example, you might find yourself in “burnout” because of the demands of your current career or you could develop a strong desire to find a career that lets you enrich people’s lives more than you can where you are now.
Change and Career Reinvention Discomfort
Change often causes us to feel uncomfortable, and a need to reinvent your career is no different in that regard. This is especially true if you are currently comfortable with the status of your career and don’t want to change, but it’s even true if you’re not very comfortable now. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t” pretty much covers it. You might need more than a little courage to take the necessary first steps, but that’s okay. You’ll probably find it a bit easier if you start when you’re not under the gun to make a change; just don’t let that sense of comfort and lack of urgency lull you into complacence!
If you have not yet considered eventual retirement as a part of your overall career management, I encourage you to start now. We all know that the economy and job market have become seriously more challenging over the past several years. What you might not have thought enough about is whether you need to revamp your career management planning in light of the need to cover your retirement years.
While I tend to be an optimist and take a positive approach to challenging circumstances–and I personally do not expect to retire any time soon–I also like to stay aware of what is happening or might be happening that could affect me when I reach that point. To that end, I read occasional articles and other advice pieces on the subject of retirement preparation and calculation of financial needs to cover that period. An article published in October 2012 (just a few months ago) was the latest to catch my attention.
Concern about Retirement Income
Authors Rich and Fry note in their article, More Americans Worry About Financing Retirement, that “Despite a slowly improving economy and a three-year-old stock market rebound, Americans today are more worried about their retirement finances than they were at the end of the Great Recession in 2009, according to a nationally representative survey of 2,508 adults conducted by the Pew Research Center. About four-in-ten adults (38%) say they are ‘not too’ or ‘not at all’ confident that they will have enough income and assets for their retirement, up from 25% in a Pew Research survey conducted in…2009.”
If you do the math, that means there are still 60% of Americans who feel confident they’ll have enough money to cover their retirement. However, if you’re among the 40% who don’t, that might not make you feel a lot better. Regardless of which group you fall into, though, it’s a good idea–maybe even a great one–to start now in doing serious thinking and planning to address your personal situation.
As important as anything else is the need to keep this subject in mind when you’re looking for a new job, negotiating your salary or taking any other action that could have an impact on your long-term income prospects.
Wait Until Late-Career to Consider Retirement Plans?
As the Pew Research article notes, the age at which we feel most concerned about our retirement income has dropped noticeably over the past 3 years. “In 2009 it was ‘Gloomy Boomers’ in their mid-50s who were the most worried that they would outlive their retirement nest eggs. Today, retirement worries peak among adults in their late 30s—many of whom are the older sons and daughters of the Baby Boom generation….This is also the age group that has suffered the steepest losses in household wealth in recent years.”
Worrying alone isn’t the answer, of course. However, thinking you don’t need to consider retirement plans until you’re, say, 5 or 10 years from retirement age, could land you in trouble a lot sooner than you expect. For example, Social Security payments depend heavily on your most recent years of earnings. If you don’t do your best to maximize your income in earlier years, you might not have enough time to catch up. (For the moment, I’m ignoring the arguments about how long Social Security will be around, etc.)
It’s important to remember, too, that future raises from your present employer are based on a percentage of your current income. If you have or can find any negotiating leverage to boost those a bit, it could pay off more than you think later on and help strengthen the financial aspects of your retirement outlook.
This post is basically off-topic, because it is not about job search or career management issues. Because of the recent devastation and ongoing havoc inflicted on the east coast by Hurricane Sandy, I (and a lot of other people) have been thinking about what I can do and encourage others to do in this challenging situation. Mind you, I live clear across the country from the region that Sandy lambasted, but I have at least enough imagination to catch a glimpse of what it might mean, and I know that discouragement breeds inaction, so anything we can do to combat discouragement and foster hope has to be better than the alternative.
Along those lines, I want to share brief information from Jon Gordon’s weekly newsletter, in which he talks about Staying Positive Through Challenges. He has scheduled a teleseminar on this subject, and here’s the essential information:
Fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts – Monday, November 19, 2012 from Noon (12pm) Eastern Time. The teleseminar is free to all who want to listen, but Jon’s hope is that when you register you will decide to make a minimum donation of $10 or more to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy [emphasis added]. The call will be recorded, so you can still listen even if you can’t join the live call.
To get back to my original question: How do you respond to challenges like Hurricane Sandy? Hopefully, most of you will never have to face a situation like the one people on the east coast are now dealing with, but as we all know, disasters and other challenges can come in many shapes and forms–some of which don’t give even as much warning as Sandy did. If you follow the old Scout motto (Be Prepared), you’re probably in as good shape as you can hope to be in a disastrous situation. Ideally, you’re in good enough shape to reach out helpfully to others who didn’t come through as well as you did.
That’s it for now. Excuse me while I go register for Jon’s call and set up a donation to my favorite charity. (I can do that easily because I have electricity and a working computer/Internet connection, which I will try not to take for granted any more!)