Career Damage Control

Recently I stumbled across a primer on common career management misconceptions. Managing your career isn’t rocket science, but it is challenging to get in front of, and drive, your career rather than finding yourself reacting to a trigger event. The author says …

Most people do not believe in career management, they only believe in career damage control – which means when something goes wrong they will fix it. Until then, most people don’t bother to manage their careers to prevent disasters from occurring in the first place.

Isn’t that a truism for many of the problems / challenges we face. As long as it’s small and isn’t causing pain, it either doesn’t make the To Do list or it keeps being recycled from one day to the next. It’s only when the pain becomes unbearable that we decided to do anything about it, and then the solution seems monumental. We’re now in reactive, rather than proactive, mode … running hard to try to get in front of the boulder that is threatening to flatten us.

With my finance executives, I find that they are usually so focused on the job that they shelve any thought of long term career management. For today, they have a job, usually an all-consuming job, and getting through the problems, challenges, issues, and situations for “that” particular day are key. Pretty soon, weeks or months or years have passed and the one thing that funds everything else in your life is either in jeopardy or gone … your job. And suddenly, you’re in damage control mode.

It is much, much more difficult to launch a job search when you are unemployed. It’s just a fact. Even if you put aside a company’s / recruiter’s preference for the “passive” candidate, unemployment brings worry, fear, frustration, anxiety, sometimes anger, and even desperation – none of which are attractive in a job search candidate!

As challenging as it might seem to add one more appointment to your already crazy schedule, it is the one way to ensure you drive your career decisions. The reality is that your only security is producing a bottom line that keeps your Board, CEO, and shareholders happy. And sometimes, even that isn’t enough. 

Remember Your High School Girlfriend?

Last week I was catching up with some of my colleagues and one delightful conversation was with one of my favorite CFO recruiters. Naturally, we talked shop.

One of our topics was the “passive candidate trumps an unemployed candidate” which has been getting a lot of press (and outrage) these days. It isn’t fair, is it? Sadly, life is far from fair. 

He once again affirmed that from his professional experience the statement is true, has been true for quite awhile, and will continue to be true long into the future. And then he used the high school girlfriend analogy to make his point. 

Back in high school having a girlfriend meant you were cool, in demand, and popular. You were envied and everyone wanted a piece of you. Then she dumped you and suddenly, you were uncool and unpopular with no Friday night destination invitations. 

The same is true about your career. When you’re holding the title and visible to your target audience, you’re hunted, high-value, and in demand. When you don’t, you aren’t.  Sad, unfair, but true.

Lessons Learned from my Skechers Shape-Ups

While working out is not among my favorite things to do, I really enjoy walking. A few tunes in the iPod and a brisk 40-minute walk 5 times a week energizes me and sets the tone for my days. 

However, traveling and being busy can really knock me off my game. I’ve been blessed with great health and I know exercise will contribute to my continued good health. So, to get back on top, I …

–Made an Investment 

At twice the cost of normal walking shoes, Skechers Shape-Ups are not inexpensive. However, I decided I’m worth it. As long as I continued doing the same things, I was guaranteed to continued getting the same results. I wanted better results and enough pain in the cost to ensure I was energized and committed to the program.

From a job search perspective, it’s easy to think you can do it by yourself. And certainly, there are quite a few people who can and have. If, however, you are not getting the kinds of results you want, perhaps it is time to make an investment in yourself. For every week a CFO or  senior finance executive is out of a job, it costs him somewhere in the $2,000 to $7,500 range. Getting to work even one week earlier could make an investment in yourself one of the best deals in today’s economy.

I’m not so sure “free” advice is that valuable … but that’s a post for another day.

–Got a New Perspective

The design of the sneakers forced me to walk with better posture. If I looked down, rather than out, I risked doing a face plant as I wobbled and zigzagged trying to regain my balance. I can only imagine what people driving by thought … well, yes I can. Looking forward gave me a different perspective, balance, and allowed me to see obstacles well in advance of them and plan how to avoid them before tripping over them.

From a career management perspective, what would a wider view afford you … being able to see obstacles way down the pike rather than jumping immediately in front of you? Being short-sighted … looking no further than where you are today … can cause a life balance crisis if you are completely unprepared to lose your job. And yes, it does happen.

It is always better to look at your current employment as merely being between searches rather than resting on your laurels, feeling lucky or safe. Failing to plan IS planning to fail.

–and Succumbed to the Old Adage …

No Pain, No Gain, for my own good. The design of the shoe allows for a cushioned, fluid movement which, once mastered, has allowed me to speed up my stride and keep the old ticker pumping. Alternatively, if I slow down and exaggerate the heel-to-toe movement, I get the attention of muscles I forgot I had.

Where do you need to slow down in order to get the attention of people who need to know about you? Perhaps it means transforming from a chameleon to a purple cow!

Or, what strategies do you need to implement to keep your career movement smooth and fluid rather than stop and go? Even today, with the amazing glut of unemployed talent available, the “passive candidate” is still the most valued.

… in order to Reap the Rewards.

It’s early in my program as I write this, but I will say I feel great and my energy level is much higher, even on gloomy days when my solar battery runs low. I have every incentive to stay motivated and stick to my walking regiment.

Again, looking at your career … the one thing that allows you to fund every other thing in your life … are you well-positioned to continue reaping the rewards?

Out with the Old, In with the New … Maybe

December 31, 2009. The end of a decade. The last two years alone may have seemed like a decade to many who find themselves among the unemployed.

Tomorrow heralds a new decade and the opportunity to do something new and different. If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s this … 

–corporate loyalty is gone;

–you are only as valuable as your latest contribution;

–networking is no longer about who you know but about who knows you; and

–if the Board isn’t happy, the CFO’s neck is on the chopping block.

The beginning of the decade arrived as a seller’s market. If you were walking, talking, and breathing, you were a candidate for almost any position. Companies were that desperate. Seems like just a distant, vague memory doesn’t it?

The end of the decade paints a much different story. Today, companies take their time hiring … willing to wait for the right and best hire, not just any hire. The market is flooded and competition is stiff. Responsibilities are out, value rules. Culture fit is key. Personal branding facilitates a company’s ability to hire the finance leader with the greatest chance of fitting within its corporate environment.

Many finance executives have either been caught completely by surprise or knowingly took a severance package along with some time off to rejuvenate … only to jump back in and hit a big wall of reality. Finding that next position just wasn’t going to be so easy. And despite the wealth of unemployed talent, recruiters and companies still covet the “passive candidate.” 

Gone, probably forever, are the days of yore. Reality says you can either drive your career or you can be driven. Respond or react. Be hunted or be forced to hunt. Seth Godin’s blog post today posed this question …  “Seven years from now, what will you have to show for what you are doing right now?” I’d like to pose my own question from a career management perspective … 

Where do want to be 3-5 years and what do you need to be doing in your career today in order to ensure you get there?

Failing to plan is, by omission, planning to fail.  

Happy New Year … may 2010 be filled with much joy, hope, happiness, and health! 

CFOs and Finance Execs Recruiters Really, Really Want


Are you one? Are you sure?

–Do you bring a record of contributions?

–Have you led initiatives that positively impacted the bottom line?

–Is your value proposition compelling enough that a company will pay to bring you on board?

–Has the company moved forward under your leadership?

–Do you hold a seat at the executive table?

Great! Now, do the people who need to know about you, actually know about you?

I recently wrote a post about how stiff job search competition is shaping up to be next year. In a recent Reuters article on Wall Street talent, James Dunne, the senior managing principal at investment bank Sandler O’Neil, said this …

Really, really good people are always hard to get. There will be a few more opportunities, but for the most part, I would say 7.5 or eight of those 10 people at those places we don’t want in the first place.”

Dunne may have been talking about specifically Wall Street talent, but that sentiment extends well beyond Wall Street well into Corporate America. Despite the great talent now actively looking for positions, great may not be good enough. The job search is tough and all indications point to it getting even tougher.

So here’s my next question …

–Are you a coveted “passive candidate?”

In previous posts, I’ve also talked about my recruiter contacts telling me they have been told by their company clients that they are not paid to present candidates found in job boards. Here’s an excerpt from a recent ERE blog post

They [the company] will now not accept any candidate as a referral from me if they do a search after I submit my candidate and find this candidate in a career builder or monster database.

Is your resume plastered all over the job boards? If so, it could be hurting you much more than it is helping you!

Ask yourself this … “what do I need to do to be one of those 1 or 2 people a company DOES want? If you don’t know, maybe we should talk!


The Competition is Heating Up

According to a survey by Right Management, as many as 6 out of 10 Americans are unhappy with present jobs and are planning to become active job hunters next year. A mere 13% said they had no plans to move. 

A recent Workplace Insights Survey by Adecco found the most serious threat to organizations in this recession may be the recession’s end … when employers could see a high level of turnover. 

While neither of these surveys break down the numbers between executives and non-executives, many CFOs have hunkered down this year. My guess is that quite a few senior finance executives will be among the ranks of the looking next year.

According to these articles, competition may be fierce … and my guess is that company’s will wait for the top candidate not settle for any candidate. The savvy pre-candidate will be preparing now for winning visibility and positioning in anticipation of a recovering 2010. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “it takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”

Where will you find yourself next year? Among the ranks of the 

–unemployed and looking?

–employed and actively looking?

–or, the coveted passive candidate?

Will you "settle" for your next job or are you well-position to make the move you want?

LinkedIn: Your Portable Portfolio

There have been a couple of good posts about LinkedIn this week. If you aren’t currently on LinkedIn (shuddering in horror), here’s a good primer … “7 Ways to Get More Out of Linkedin,” which is posted on Mashable.

And the FP Executive Blog has a great post on LinkedIn taglines. Taglines are incredibly important and vastly under-valued. Boring is out, inviting is in. Remember, when you’re standing with a crowd, you’re blending in. Separating yourself from the crowd will get you noticed. The tagline “CFO” or “Chief Financial Officer” will, because its commonality, push you into the crowd in any keyword search.

What was distressing to me about this post was this reality:

John Smith: Looking for work

This gentleman lost his job title and in the process, he also lost his identity. Looking for work might be “what” he is doing, but is NOT “who” he is. It is not “who” any job seeker is. Your value is much greater than your job title.

And this tagline …

John Smith: Business Strategy Executive and Visionary exploring new opportunities

is forcing me to evangelize. This is definitely a more positive statement, but it is still broadcasting a message I personally don’t believe belongs in a tagline. Remember, the most attractive candidate is “still” the one who is passive. Don’t trade “hearing” about new opportunities (as a passive candidate) for “exploring” new opportunities (as an unemployed candidate).

A recent article about the future of finance careers by Kate O’Sullivan at is a must read for finance executives. Here’s one of the key points from that article:

As the economy has begun to stabilize in recent months, however, the market for finance talent has showed signs of thawing. "We're going to see more voluntary turnover where CFOs are going to say, 'I helped my company get through this, and now I'd like to move on to my longer-term objectives,' which might be moving to a bigger company, moving to a CEO role, or maybe deciding it's time to retire," says Walter Williams, a partner at executive search firm Battalia Winston International. Wilson says some finance chiefs will likely look for operating roles as well.

Because you hold the most power NOW, while you are still employed, it is imperative that you build out your digital footprint and your network to facilitate your ability to secure your longer-term goals … and to stand out from your competition. Are you digitally distinct? Or, digitally dead? And what does your LinkedIn tagline tell the world about you?

Passive Candidates vs. Unemployed Candidates

An op ed piece on by Jeremy Eskenazi entitled “Where the Truth Lies: The Need for Balance Between Active and Passive Recruiting” … naturally … caught my attention. I say “naturally” because I am always interested in the hiring trends that will affect my senior finance clients.

On one hand, the article mentions the story about a CEO of a major executive search firm who would only present passive candidates because the unemployed folks were, by definition, inferior. (I’m loosely quoting the story now, not giving my opinion).

The other extreme is the school of thought that says recruiting passive candidates (luring someone who is currently employed into another position) is shameful. 

Every recruiter has their preference and, sadly, even in this market the prevailing perception IS that an executive who is employed has a higher value than one who is unemployed. Mr. Eskenazi tackles the balance question. I’d like to talk about the idea of proactively managing your career to exponentially increase your chances of positioning as a passive candidate. 

Jason Alba, of Jibber Jobber renown, wrote a blog post two years ago and re-posted it today. It looks at a career management mindset versus a job search candidate. It is the essence of how one proactively positions himself as a passive candidate versus reactively, and unintentionally,  achieves positioning as an unemployed candidate. 

When you manage your career like you manage your company, department, or division, you have a plan and you are constantly and consistently executing that plan. It’s a fluid process, not stop and go which only puts you on the endless merry-go-round of look for a job, find a job, work a job, lose a job … and … repeat. 

All the cool Web 2.0 technology available today has made building and maintaining a strong visible presence and social network easier than ever. Seriously, what title would you prefer … passive (and able to be found) or unemployed (and all over the job boards)? When you proactively manage your career, you have a much better chance of choosing your title!

Now is not the time to be an ostrich!

In popular mythology, the ostrich is famous for hiding its head in the sand at the first sign of danger. With nothing but bad news for the past several weeks, it feels like dangerous times … particularly where job–security and finances are concerned.

In such scary times, paralysis can set in … and I’m hoping you won’t get caught with your head in the sand!

Last week I spoke with the Vice President of a privately–held bank in New York City, where she spent the last 20 years … up until a month ago when she was let go, told to pack up her things, and then escorted to the door. Kicked to the curb without so much as an explanation and without any advance warning. She is grieving a devastating loss on so many levels, one of which is her identity as an independent single woman. Imagine the identity crisis when you are a man supporting a family, and you find yourself in similar shoes.

Your marketability is never higher than when you are employed and open to hearing about new opportunities (a passive candidate); bring a solid record of accomplishments; backed by a visible and credible, online presence.

If you aren’t 100% positive you will have your job tomorrow, today is a great day to figure out why someone else would want to hire you and then diligently put that message out to your target market. 

Fordyce Letter Wisdom

Words of wisdom in Recruiting and Assessing Wisely are aimed at recruiters, but they are also applicable to candidates …

“With the explosion of new resources such as social media like LinkedIn and Facebook, and other innovative techniques, the challenge now isn’t just finding the good candidates, but also making sure they interview well and have nothing in their background that can undermine them.”

Can you be found and are you an A–player?
It’s not about what you did, but how you contributed.

Are you prepared to show how you can do the job?
How will your expertise and record of accomplishment solve a potential company’s challenges?

Do you know what Google is saying about you?
Is it consistent? Credible? Not showing up in Google can be lethal. If you don’t show up, do you exist?

The reality is that senior-level finance executive tenure is an average of three years. Being a passive candidate (employed but open to hearing about opportunities), well-positioned with a strong value proposition, and visible to the right target market means you are in the driver's seat for managing your career.