Don’t Have An Executive Career Emergency

Question: I don't want a job, but I do want an emergency plan. I've been with a leading agency for over a decade and have no plans to leave, but at the same time, the only constant in this business is change. If the worst-case scenario happened, I think I have the skills to contribute somewhere, but I wouldn't know where to begin looking for a job. What sort of advice would you give to someone in this situation?

Nick Corcodilos: Imagine if instead of being worried about suddenly losing your job, you were worried about having a massive heart attack. An emergency plan would be simple: Call 9-1-1. Boom, we're done.

Now, if you wanted to survive such a shock, you’d need to already know a good cardiologist, and the doctor would need to already know about you.

In other words, you have to be prepared. So it is with job change. If you wait till the last minute, without preparing to avoid disaster, you're almost begging for great pain and a bad outcome. Start your preparations now.

Prepare: Who Do You Know?
Something like 60% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts. Give your contacts a check-up. Do you have any? Who are they? What could they do for you?

According to research in the science of networks, it's not the people near you in your network who will provide the help you need. Researcher Duncan J. Watts suggests it's people you barely know, way out on the periphery of your network. (See “Six Degrees: The science of a connected age,” by Watts.) So, who do you know? Who knows you?

Prepare: Develop The Right Habits
Also important is the quality of those relationships and how you treat them.

  • Calling everyone in your Rolodex and asking them for job leads doesn't work. But that's what people do.
  • Going to networking meetings and biz-card exchanges don't work. But people do it.
  • Meeting with other unemployed people to share job leads doesn't work. (I could never figure out why people go to career clubs.)

People do a lot of dopey stuff like that because they don't know any better. They want a prescription, and hucksters are ready to provide one.

What works is hanging out with people who do the work you want to do, and developing substantive friendships based on the work you want to do. People hate to talk about where you'll get your next job, but they love to talk shop. That's how others get to see you in action. It's how they assess your value. But, much like your doctor monitors your health, you need to invest the time regularly.

If you hang out with peers and reveal your value in a way that engages them and makes them want to keep in touch with you, well, that's where job leads come from, without you ever having to ask.

Prepare: Avoid Emergencies
The emergency exit when you lose your job is usually the front door, which you will be shown with little ceremony. If you have another job waiting, that's great. But if you don't, what matters is how prepared you are.

You certainly don’t want to start asking around for a good cardiologist while your heart is going into arrest. So why would you wait to find who can help you in a career emergency? There are people out there who would quickly refer you to their boss–but you must have an ongoing relationship. Otherwise you wind up in some emergency room, hoping for the best.

Sorry to get maudlin, but the health of your career depends on avoiding emergencies. The time to start a job search is now. For more on this topic, see “Is Job Hunting Different For Executives?”

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