I love helping people land their dream job.
But even smart people make dumb career moves.
The two reasons why smart people make dumb career moves are 1) they don’t have a career strategy and 2) they don’t put enough time into their job search.
What’s a career strategy?
It’s a written document that says:
- What your career wishes are (e.g. role, content, culture, leadership challenges, type of company, size, location, work-life flexibility, long-term career goals).
- 3 paths you are considering, rank ordered from best to worst (e.g. 1) join a marketing consulting firm, or 2) go into a marketing department inside a corporation, or 3) hang out my shingle and freelance).
- Actions you are going to take by when (e.g. contact the following 20 people who are in a position of influence to help me land my dream job by 12/31…).
What’s enough time to find your dream job?
A half day per week for 6 months will give you a 90% chance of landing your dream job.
What are some examples, so I know what you are talking about?
Three people called me to talk about their job search in the past couple of weeks: the CEO of a fashion industry brand, a rising government leader, and a private equity investor.
Perhaps you will empathize with their job search experience, and you may benefit from the advice I gave them.
CEO OF FASHION INDUSTRY BRAND: I met this leader a decade ago when I was trying to hire him out of McKinsey to join ghSMART. Instead of staying in consulting, he shifted gears and worked his way up the chain of command at a publicly traded fashion company. Over the past 5 years as CEO, he successfully doubled the value of the company, and he was itching for his next gig.
Problem is, he was not sure what his next gig should be.
He didn’t have a career strategy formed yet.
And he was not spending any time on his job search yet.
“Do you have a career strategy? A plan?” I asked.
“Well sort of,” he said.
“Good, please send it to me, so I can look at it while we talk,” I said.
“Well, it’s in my head,” he said.
“OK, what are your career wishes, and what are 3 paths you are considering.”
He really wanted to do another CEO gig, but he was tired of public company drama, the international travel away from family, and he wanted to own more of the company this next time.
So after talking about the plusses and minuses of various paths—maybe being CEO of another public company, or joining a private equity firm as an operating partner, or writing a book and becoming a professional public speaker, or joining a bunch of boards—he ranked as his #1 path “finding a mid-sized private company I can own, run, and grow” in a very specific industry niche.
The more specific his career strategy became, and the clearer the criteria for what he was looking for, the easier it was for him, and for me, to think of key people he should meet—private equity investors who own those types of companies, high net worth family offices who invested in those types of companies, and recruiters who are on the hunt for CEO talent for those types of companies.
Together, we identified 20 people for him to contract. He committed to contact them within the next 2 months, to find his dream job. By the time we hung up, the CEO sounded relieved. He told me that he could very clearly see the path he wants to be on, and the people who will help him find his dream job.
Something that is counter intuitive is that the more specific you can be in searching for your dream job, the easier it is to generate more opportunities. That’s because “I want to work in fashion” is just way too vague, so nobody knows to whom to introduce you. But if you are more specific and say, “I want to find a $50m supplier to the fashion industry based in NY or LA who wants to triple its value over the next 4 years through new product development, management team hiring, and brand partnerships.” Suddenly, people will be like “Oh, several people come to mind who are in that space.”
RISING GOVERNMENT LEADER: I had the privilege of career counseling a rising government leader recently. She is a senior executive running a government agency. Her administration is term-limited, so she knows her job will likely end after the upcoming election this November. So she only has a few months to find her next gig. What she has going for her is she has performed extremely well over the past 4 years. And she has a clear idea of her long-term career goal of being elected mayor or governor in 12-15 years. And she has a very extensive network of relationships which she has built over the years.
Her problem is, she does not know what kind of job she wants next. Private sector or government? Or not-for-profit? Or a startup. Or maybe education technology. Or maybe management consulting. Or maybe work on a campaign. Or fundraising. Or affiliate with a university. Or maybe government affairs at a corporation. Having 10 possible paths means you have not done enough thinking or exploration to form a career strategy. Narrowing it down to 3 paths is better.
The reason she doesn’t have a career strategy is that she has put nearly 0 hours of work into her job search. She is such a good person, she said she feels guilty doing a job search while she is still in her current job. (Btw don’t feel guilty doing a proper job search while you are still in your current job. It’s OK. The whole world works better when people make time to do the work required to find their dream job).
She asked me what I thought of one job that sort of fell in her lap—the role was sort of a “fringe” kind of job in a startup organization that may or may not get funding, and the salary was not likely to feed her family to the level she wanted, she said. Her energy level was low when she was describing it. I said, “You don’t sound too excited by that one. But the more important thing I think we should talk about is how you can free up 4-5 hours a week for the next 4 months to blitz your job search. What can you stop doing, delegate, or delay, so you can make a half day of time per week happen, so you can do the thinking you need to form your career strategy, then do the reach-outs you need to make contact with the right people and get their support in helping you find your dream job.” She agreed that her #1 action item is to make time, make a plan, and work the plan.
PRIVATE EQUITY INVESTOR: Private equity investors don’t switch firms often. They typically find a special group of like-minded investors, and they raise a bunch of money and source companies to invest in, they build valuable companies, and after 5-7 years, they start selling the companies and delivering returns to their investors. Then they raise their next fund. Repeat.
But sometimes things happen that make a private equity investor want to leave and find a new gig.
A private equity investor friend of mine called recently. He said he wanted to connect me with some influential leaders whom he thought would benefit from ghSMART’s expertise—a billionaire family, several CEOs of financial services companies, and a superstar not-for-profit leader. We’re not taking on many new clients these days because we’re very busy, but I always like meeting influential leaders and to be helpful if I can.
But by the time my buddy was talking about connecting me with the 12th titan of industry, I said to him, “Why are you doing this? I mean, thank you, but what’s up with this kick to intro me to so many people you know?”
He explained that he was “activating his network” and that he was going out of his way to connect people he thought would benefit from knowing each other.
I asked him what the motivation was. He explained that his firm’s namesake founder was retiring, and the firm made the painful decision to wind down its operations.
He explained that he wanted to “get out there” and be helpful to folks, learn about various leadership opportunities, and generate some job options.
I must admit, I had not really seen that strategy before—to go hog wild making thoughtful introductions to people in one’s network who might mutually benefit, to generate job opportunities. But I like the approach. And it has given him a reason to get in front of a lot of influential people who might help him find his dream job. So he gets gold stars for action and for re-engaging his network and for making time.
Where this leader needed help was in narrowing down his possible career paths. He was going in too many different directions—middle market private equity, commercial real estate development, investment banking, healthcare venture capital, re-insurance, etc. It just seemed to me that he needed to rewind back to step one in writing a career strategy and to identify his fundamental career wishes, and narrow the various directions to the 3 or so paths that fit his talents and interests the best. Then the “yield” on all his networking and relationship-building will be more fruitful in producing job opportunities that fit what he wants.
Why do the hard work to find my ideal job?
At ghSMART we have a saying, “Everybody is an A player at something.” The challenge of finding your dream job is to do the hard work to create a career strategy, and then to invest a half day per week for 6 months. And once you do, you will put yourself in a leadership role in which you can amplify your positive impact on the world, be successful, and have fun in this next stage of your career.