So, you’ve been laid off. You were a high-flying executive in a technology company two
years ago and now you are grounded.
The good news is: you’re not alone – there are thousands of other people out there in
the same position. The bad news is: you’re not alone – there are thousands of people
out there in the same position, and you will have to find a way to set yourself apart
from them as you look for a new position.
To move yourself forward through what will likely be an intensive search is
difficult, but essential, and the operative words are “moving forward.” If you merely
present your past accomplishments to prospective new employers, you will remain
planted in your past. Instead, you need to use your past experience to convince
employers that you have the knowledge and skills of their company and their industry
to help move them forward. If you can do that, you will propel yourself into a new
position and challenge.
The reality is that companies want people who know how to win. Here’s how to
present yourself as a winner and come out on the winning end of a new job, perhaps in
a new industry.
1. Learn How to Market Yourself.
Keeping an upbeat attitude may be the most difficult task of all. At a time when you
may be feeling down and out, you must nonetheless remain positive and upbeat. Don’t
let yourself get disillusioned or sidetracked and never give up faith in yourself and
your abilities. Most people hate acting as their own direct marketer, but that is
what searching for a job is all about. People are not lucky – – they create their own
luck. It starts with marketing the best product that you have – – you.
a. Create a focused plan. Research which industries and areas of the country
are hot right now and identify companies within those industries and geographic areas
that you want to approach. Don’t assume that you must limit your search to the
industry in which you last worked. If possible within the constraints of your personal life, look at companies in new
areas of the country (or world). Once you have decided the industries and geographic
areas in which you would like to search, network constantly and aggressively, but with
focus. Direct your networking to where there are real opportunities. This also
involves extensive research: you must learn who the contact people are in the
companies, associations and cities in which you are searching and seek out those
b. Create the right pitch. In order to land an interview, you first must get
past the “gatekeeper” – e.g., the secretary or administrative assistant who controls
access to the person with hiring authority. This isn’t easy and requires you to
develop a pitch that sets you apart from other job seekers. The worst thing you can
say is, “I’d like to speak with Bob Jones about employment opportunities.” You will
be dead in the water with that one. Instead, craft a pitch that demonstrates your
knowledge of the company, its products, its markets or its industry. You are much
more likely to reach Bob Jones if you tell his assistant that, “I have research on how
the data warehousing industry can increase sales and would like to present my findings
to Mr. Jones.”
c. In the interview, sell yourself through your own questions. Most
interviewers remember more of what they have said during an interview than what the
applicant has said. To get beyond this, and to set yourself apart from others, you
should impress the interviewer with your own knowledge of the company and its
industry. The best way to do this is by asking concise, focused questions that allow
you to demonstrate that you’ve done significant research about the industry, about the
company itself – including its products, its market and its competitors. And last but
not least, you need to demonstrate that, as a result of your past experience, you can
help move the company forward.
2. Be willing to take a step backward.
If it appears that you may have to accept a position at a lower level on the
executive ladder than your previous one, don’t assume that you are losing
opportunities to move forward. In a hot company, or a hot industry, you may move ahead
faster than if you seek higher positions in companies or industries that are
3. Approach lots of companies.
In this economy, it is unrealistic to expect that you can successfully land a new job
by talking to only a handful of companies. You should plan to approach a minimum of
50 companies, and contacting 100 companies is not out of the question. From this, if
you have followed all the other steps outlined above, you should have a good chance of
landing five to seven interviews.
Searching for a new job following a layoff can be one of the most difficult, draining
and demoralizing processes that people have to endure. Or, it can become one of the
most uplifting, eye-opening experiences that can change your life for the better. Just
give yourself time, don’t lose your self-confidence and follow a well-crafted plan.
Most important, never forget that employers are looking for people who can demonstrate
energy, intelligence, aggressiveness and persistence. And persistence will pay off.
Jeffrey Christian is the President and CEO of Christian & Timbers, the
Cleveland-based executive search firm he founded in 1979, which now ranks
among the top 12 such firms in the country. Mr. Christian was recently named
to the Forbes Midas List which ranked him as one of the top 50 most
influential deal makers in technology.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on CIN, an internet.com site for IT executives.