by Mark Gilman
The economic landscape is littered with highly talented people who can’t find a job. Can’t even sniff one. Many of these people are more qualified, more team oriented and more experienced than many of the people who are enjoying new employment. So what’s keeping these people on the bench? And how about those who have “grabbed” whatever was available and found themselves, in spite of their abilities and education, working in a dead end nowhere job far below their potential?
For many it’s an inability to market themselves. Let me share a few real scenarios of people I’ve come across in the past couple of years and some quick tips to set a new course.
Employed but Underutilized
I met with a 28 year old woman a few weeks ago on a reference from a friend of mine who said the she needed “career help.” I like doing this stuff (pro bono) because it helps me keep in touch with what’s going on in the job force. I found her to be over-educated and underutilized, and in spite of having an MBA, was working as an “executive secretary.” I’m pretty good at helping people design a personal plan of goals, objectives and targets. But there’s only so much I can do. When I asked her what her proven skill sets were, she said – “I don’t know.” I asked her what her passions were. “No idea, but I do love dogs!” I asked her if she hated her job? She said, “obviously.” What kind of job did she want? “No idea.” Needless to say, I’m afraid she’s going to be a long term executive secretary with a very expensive education to pay for.
Unemployed and Unrealistic
Randy Ramson (not his real name) is another guy with an MBA. Sharp, young, and energetic. But in spite of a few odd job projects on contract he’s been involved with the past year, can’t land a full time gig. He’s way too talented to be sitting on the sideline. His issue is he’s waiting for the brass ring. He’s been waiting for four years since college and the specific ring he’s trying to grab keeps getting smaller. He wants to “run” a company, not work for one. He wants to lead and not be “led.” He wants to manage and not “be” managed. Unfortunately his work experience, or lack of, does not even remotely qualify him for the jobs he’s seeking. Unless he successfully launches his own startup (he’s tried) he won’t be leading anything until he gets some experience. It’s amazing to me the talented people on the sidelines who believe that a degree qualifies you for a leadership position. Ask any associate at a law firm who graduated with honors, etc. who gets fed everyone else’s grunt work until they’re “earned” a partnership, sometimes more than a decade later – and they’ll tell you that learning is the key to advancement.
Unemployed and Unidentified
The economic landscape is also littered with people who had great jobs at big companies as “project managers.” These are the important folks who keep teams and objectives on budget, make sure workloads are distributed properly and tasks are done on time. Their teams are highly successful. Unfortunately when the market tanked a few years ago, these top level project managers became a luxury and were axed in favor of the people who actually did the work. These talented folks are now on the sideline hoping for project jobs that no longer exist and without the ability to tell prospective employers what they actually do. I had a woman come to me for a job with a full portfolio of her impressive work. When I asked what “she” did to achieve her impressive successes, she kept saying “we.” At the end of the interview, she couldn’t identify one thing she’s actually done herself. It wasn’t that she was incapable, but that’s not what her job was.
These are things I share constantly with people war are underutilized or unemployed. They are some very quick ways to get out of the morass they are currently in and move towards more positive employment and advancement opportunities in the future.
- Promote yourself. Whether in a dead end job or when trying to share your expertise, let people know what you’re doing. If you’re doing some creative, successful and strategic things – don’t be afraid to tell other what you’re doing. Share them on a blog, by e-mail or just tell someone at your office about it. As a matter of fact, get OUT of your office and work the halls. You’ll be surprised how many people don’t do this. They don’t know what you’re doing because they don’t know YOU. I was part of a review team that was looking to cut people at a Fortune 100 company and a guy we were interviewing reeled off an impressive list of things he’d accomplished. The V.P. of Sales sitting next to me then said – “If you’ve done all great things, why have I never heard of you?” He was cooked.
- Build Subject Matter Expertise. What’s your passion? What’s your expertise? Once you’ve figured that out – start a blog about it, write articles, pitch media people, write a column for your local paper or a trade magazine, tweet about it and broadcast your knowledge on Facebook. You’ll become known for the things you write about and that in turn will make you more marketable.
- Learn Everyone Else’s Job. The most valuable people in the workforce are those who can do multiple things. You can’t silo a career anymore – you HAVE TO – learn to do other people’s jobs. People who can do multiple tasks and thus, save the company money by doing more than one job, get noticed – and promoted.
- Fix Your LinkedIn Page. Unfortunately the people I’m talking about here spend an inordinate amount of time on Facebook. I’ve got news for you – nothing you do on Facebook is going to get you a new job or a promotion. However – in the pursuit of letting people know what you do, what you’ve done and where you’re going – LinkedIn is a valuable resource. Most of you have a page you haven’t updated in months or years. Make sure it’s relevant. Make sure it’s full of things you’ve DONE and accurately shares your skill set. Get rid of the stuff on there you don’t want to be identified with or do any longer. It’s a great place to meet new connections and build a reputation (a good one).
- Clean Up the Clutter. Get rid of things you’re attached to that doesn’t paint you in a positive light. Be careful what charitable and political organizations you’re aligned with, have a professional photo taken to replace the one of you on the boat that you use on your blog and LinkedIn pages, get rid of all the party photos on Facebook and any posts that might offend someone (remember, it doesn’t take much).
- Get Out there and Network. The best jobs and places for advancement are not in your office or on your laptop, phone or tablet – they’re with people you can meet at any number of mixers, professional networking organizations, roundtables, awards banquets, charities and civic organizations. Ask some people out to lunch or coffee – get out and start talking to people. The last thing you need to be doing is hiding in your house. Real relationships begin and end with face to face meetings.
Mark Gilman is the President of Decus Strategic Consulting and Communications, a visibility company which helps individuals and businesses get noticed and gain attention. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.