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By Charles Toder

In these days of reengineering and restructuring many highly skilled, competent executives find themselves looking for a new job. If you find yourself in that position, I hope my thinking and first-hand experience can help you. Your library and bookstore have large selections of publications which will help you prepare for a change to a new organization or within your present company. Although every author has an individual approach and many job seekers will find reading several books helpful, a common set of suggestions recur frequently.

Get the Best Deal Leaving. If you are being laid off, get the best deal you can on your way out. Company policies vary, and you should fully understand the terms of severance, continuing medical coverage, and assistance with your job hunt. If you think you should be getting a better deal, ask and explain your reasons. Discuss references the company will provide. Tell your family and close friends promptly; their support is important.

Be Forward Looking. It is not unusual to feel mistreated and angry at being laid off. Although you can do a lot of preparation for your job hunt, you are not ready to meet with the outside world until you are ready to focus on what you can bring to a new employer.

Inventory Your Skills and Contacts. Make lists of your accomplishments. Volunteer as well as job-related experience are both appropriate. Achievements that can be quantified and explained in a few sentences will be the most effective in getting the attention of prospective employers. This is also a good time to make a list of prior jobs, dates held, and recent salary history. For each job and company, note some basic information about the level of activity such as revenue, expenses, assets, and number of employees.

This is also a good time to begin identifying potential contacts--friends, business colleagues from your current and former employers, executive search professionals, and college classmates all belong on your inventory.

Start on the Mechanics. To communicate with prospective employers you need quality stationery, arrangements for preparing letters, and a place where you can make and receive telephone calls. Personal computers, printers, and telephone answering machines can all play a part in your search.

Target Your Search. Target a manageable list of job activities, types of organizations, and geographical areas. We all have friends and associates who will help but cannot be constructive without some ideas of what you want to do. Think about how you would respond to their questions. Why did you select these targets? How are they related? What skills do you have for these positions? Do you have a compensation range in mind?

Prepare a Resume. If you have inventoried your skills, made a list of your previous jobs, and targeted your search, writing a first draft of your resume will not be very difficult. Take time to edit your resume carefully. It should look professional, be written with well-constructed sentences, and clearly summarize the information of interest to a prospective employer. There should, of course, be no spelling or typographical errors. The books on this subject describe both a chronological resume and a functional resume. Many authors suggest using a chronological resume unless there is a reason not to, such as several short jobs or a long break in work history. A chronological resume that is able to avoid a possible first impression that there may be a problem is best.

Begin Your Campaign. There are basically four sources for finding new jobs:

* Personal introductions or networking,

* Advertisements,

* Employment agencies and executive search firms, and

* Letters to companies.

These sources may be combined in many unpredictable ways. A networking meeting may lead to an introduction to a search firm. An answer to an advertisement may lead to an interview that, even if unsuccessful, may provide valuable networking contacts. An aggressive job search can use all four sources. The way you allocate your time among these four sources should depend upon the job you are looking for and how closely your experience matches a company's probable job description. Do not base your campaign on the search activities you most enjoy, or, more to the point, do not omit any search activities because you do not like doing them.

Networking. Networking is making your availability for a new position known, summarizing your relevant business experience, gaining information about the personnel needs of employers you are interested in, and, if possible, getting the names of more people to see. Many job seekers are uncomfortable meeting with people and discussing their search. It is not easy to ask friends and strangers for their time and help in finding a new job. But, if you prepare for your meetings and keep the purpose clearly in mind they can be both enjoyable and productive. A few suggestions:

* Prepare your resume and job objectives before beginning your networking campaign.

* Begin with friends and current business colleagues whom you can call and who are likely to be willing to spend half an hour with you.

* Do not ask for a job. In the unlikely event that the person you are meeting with has an appropriate opening, they will tell you if there appears to be a good match.

* Keep the explanation of why you are looking for a job, short. The main focus of the meeting should be on what you can bring to a new position and who needs your skills, not what happened at your prior employer or how you feel about being between jobs.

* Be positive. Networking is a wonderful way to learn, renew old acquaintances, and meet new people. Ask questions and listen to answers.

* Be polite. Arrive a few minutes early, offer to leave after the time you requested is up, and send a thank-you note.

Just as you helped others with their careers, there are many people who will meet with you and help you. Try to make it easy for them to help. Ask about their company and industry. Request introductions to people they are likely to know. In my experience, I found telephone networking relatively unproductive, and as a result, limited its use. For people I did not know or had not seen in a long time, I wrote a letter asking for a meeting, followed by a telephone call a week later. I was not shy, however, about asking for introductions.

Advertisements. The positive side of advertisements is that they usually describe a real job someone is trying to fill. The negative side is that there are likely to be a large number of respondents and the initial screening may be a mechanical comparison of company specifications and applicant qualifications. The better your qualifications match those of the advertisement, the more likely you are to receive an interview. Answer advertisements, but make a reasonable assessment of the chances that your reply will rise to the top of the pile when allocating resources to this aspect of your search. If the company name is listed or you can guess who the employer is from the job description, you can increase your chances of gaining an interview by using your networking contacts to get an introduction.

Executive Search Firms. Search firms are paid by employers to locate candidates with the skills and experience matching their company's requirements. Good search professionals work long hours to find candidates their clients will hire and be happy with. If your profile fits the specifications of a current search, they will be anxious to find you and interview you. Your task is to make sure that search professionals are aware of your profile in the event they have a suitable assignment. Learn about the firms who handle the jobs that interest you, and mail them a copy of your resume with a cover letter. The cover letter can explain why you are seeking a new job and the compensation you are seeking.

You can also become known to executive search firms through your networking contacts. Search professionals call people in specific industries to locate candidates. Executives want to act as a resource; it helps them know what is going on in their industry, it can help their colleagues, and it keeps their own profiles visible in the event there is an attractive position open.

You may also learn of searches while networking. If you are qualified, get the name of the search firm from either your contact or the company paying for the search. Calling the office of company chairman is an effective and easy way to find the name of their search firm. Call the firm and find out who is conducting the search, then call the search professional. If you are businesslike in your approach and recognize that the search professional's time is valuable, you will generally be able to get a description of the job specifications and a chance to briefly outline your qualifications. You may find the search is in the later stages and that a list of candidates has already been assembled, including some who may have met the client. Do not be discouraged. Search professionals will talk to you to increase their data base and because they know that many searches reopen when the client does not like any of the candidates presented in the first round or when the company is unable to hire the selected candidate. Send a polite letter showing how your qualifications meet their client's specifications, and call back every few weeks to make your continued availability known.

Finally, any time you have an opportunity to meet a search professional who handles jobs at your level, do so. Use your prior contacts with search firms and your network to arrange brief meetings. Be especially well prepared to use your limited time effectively, and, as with any networking meeting, do not expect a job referral.

Letters to Companies. There seem to be divergent views about the effectiveness of blind letters to companies. Some advisors are enthusiastic, others think them a waste of time and money. I did not use letters as I did not believe my skills and interests would be effectively communicated to a decision maker through a blind letter. If you think that a letter will reach a decision maker and effectively communicate what you can bring to an organization, try them.

A Final Word. Most of us are accustomed to passing milestones as we complete a project. A job search is never half done, it is either in progress or finished. It will never hurt to remain professional and polite at all times. You never know where a lead will come from or when a job, which seemed to be filled, is open again, maybe at an organization which has desperate need for a qualified candidate like you. *

Charles Toder, CPA, joined the American Lung Association as chief financial officer after a career which included public accounting and a major industrial company.


Michael Goldstein, CPA

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