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The Brazen Careerist

Maybe you're just not that good

When you lose your job, the first thing you're supposed to do is leverage your network to find another job. But here's a question I get all the time: "What do I do if everyone in my network is unemployed?" The sad news here is that a dried up network usually reflects a dried up career.

Some of you will declare that you are great at your chosen profession and just bad at networking. You are deluding yourselves. All top candidates are good at networking because the network comes to them. And when it comes to back scratching, top scratchers call other top scratchers. So if employed people are not calling you on a regular basis to network, then probably you are not perceived to be top in your field.

This is a bad time to be anything but a top candidate. In the current job market, hiring managers who have openings are besieged with resumes, many of which are outstanding. Mike Russiello, CEO of Brainbench, an IT training company, says right now "only the most qualified candidates can count on relative job security and growth."

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Sure, there are exceptions to this rule -- there are stupid, incompetent people who still have jobs -- but I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who is exceptionally good at what they do and in love with their career choice who is unemployed for a long time.

Still wondering if you're one of the best? Well, if you haven't received some sort of offer in five or six months, that is not a good sign. Even companies with hiring freezes will make exceptions for outstanding candidates.

Russiello says, "Companies are getting very good at identifying top performers, looking at things like past roles in projects, certifications and how someone interviews."

Basically, you're going to have a tough time looking like you're at the top if you're not.

So, maybe you're not the best. Don't get upset. This is a great time to figure out where your gifts really do lie and what you really love to do. You might just need to refocus your current career on the area that makes you shine.

For example, my friend had a resume with five or six different types of companies on it. We rewrote the resume to focus on a narrow industry where he has had the most success. Now the parameters of his job search are smaller, but he is a top candidate within that narrow space.

Some of you will examine your resume and find no way to make yourself look like a standout in your field. In that case, you might have to start over in a new career where you can be a star: Scary, yes, but the opportunity cost of starting over is very low when you don't have a job anyway.

We can all sit around and bemoan the economy. Or we can all use this time as an opportunity for self-assessment. Everyone who is about to write a letter to me about 1) Companies are unfair or 2) No one notices your gifts, write a letter to yourself, instead, as an act of self-assessment. You might not like how the world works, but you live in it.

So instead of engaging in a discussion about what is fair, engage in a discussion with yourself about what career would make very good use of your inherent gifts, what career would make you really excited. Note: People who love what they do make more money. So in fact, when it comes to the task of career self-assessment, honesty does pay.

If you think you were already doing what excites you, maybe it can be a hobby. At least entertain the possibility that you are not that great at your work and your talents lie somewhere else. Try something new - you may be surprised at how employable you are, and you may even surprise yourself by finding a network of people who have jobs.

-- Posted: July 7, 2003

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