With skills like yours, why would anybody want to hire you?
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Job Search
I was having a conversation the other day with someone from IBM. They just announced some layoffs, and it was going to affect a few thousand people…this time. As we contemplated the people who would be left without a desk, we got to talking about how so many people leave a company, and are basically unprepared to work for another company. I mean…they know nothing that’s of any relevance to anyone else.
Perhaps you got soft working at a company for 20 years. Perhaps you didn’t keep up with new technologies. Perhaps you let your skills slide a little bit. Perhaps you didn’t interact with people from other businesses. Perhaps all you did was work. Whatever the reason, I have to ask you. Why do you think you’re going to be relevant to anyone else?
I was talking to Nancy. She has an interview with a weight management company. She’s really excited about it. I asked her how she was preparing for the interview. She said she studied up on the company. What about the competitors? What about the suppliers? What about potential new markets? What about key influencers? I tell you what, if I was going to interview with a weight management company, you know what I’d do. I’d go meet with everybody and anybody in that industry. Competitors. Doctors. Nutritionist. Schools. Associations (American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association). Overeaters Anonymous. McDonalds (to see what they’re doing to help cure obesity in this country – because the whole TransFat thing is simply not enough). Gastric Bypass Clinics. Fitness Centers. Pharmaceutical Firms. Health Food Stores. Online Weight tracking systems. The people who invented the BodyBug. Nike. Anybody and everybody who focuses on weight. Heck, I’d probably call Oprah.
What would I learn? I don’t know yet. That’s why I’m talking to them. And I bet I’ll walk away from the conversation knowing more than I did before I got there. I want to find out what’s going on. Who’s doing what? Any interesting trends (other than we’re getting fatter) going on? Any breakthroughs? What I want to do is gather enough data, so when I’m in that interview with the weight management company, it’s obvious I know the industry. I’m asking all the right questions. I’m up on the trends. I’m up on the issues. I’m familiar with the players. I know people. I’m relevant.
It reminds me of a time when I did a presentation for a commercial insurance brokerage. I didn’t know much about the inner workings of the business. But, I figured other people who’d been in that industry did. I called competitors (thanks LinkedIn!) and asked people for a few minutes of their time. They gave me more than a few. I called customers and asked how they made insurance decisions. I called suppliers and found out how they perceived this company – relative to others they did business with. I spoke to previous employees to find out their experience. And I repeated this in a few markets…so I’d have a good handle on any regional differences. I did my research.
By the time I went in for my presentation, I knew their business – as good as an outsider could. I knew what they did well. I knew what they did poorly. I knew their reputation. I knew why they won deals…and lost them. I knew why people left. I used specific examples – like only an insider would understand. And my presentation was well received. Because it was relevant. I was relevant.
I know a lot of people who are looking to get into the Alternative Energy industry. What they’re doing is applying for positions and trying to meet people in these firms so they can get an interview. What about taking a class? What about attending a conference? What about reading books and magazines on the subject? What about talking to people already in the industry? And I don’t necessarily mean people working at the company you want to work for. I mean everybody else. I mean every solar panel manufacturer. Why don’t you call the solar panel installer and have them come to your house and quote you on installing solar panels (let’s hope you don’t live on the 5th floor of a 10-story hi-rise!). What about the local university? Who’s involved in alternative energy there? Talk to some scientists. Talk to some analysts. Talk to a car manufacturer. Talk to someone who works for the utility company. Talk to someone who works for the city, the state, the country. Talk to a reporter who just did an article about the industry. Talk to everybody! And really find out what’s going on. And really know what’s going on. And then, you’ll be relevant. So when you are finally talking to someone at a company you really want to work for, you’ve already done your research. You’re already knowledgeable. And perhaps, you’ll find that you’re extremely relevant.
I remember when I was looking for a VP of Marketing role. I often think back during that time and ask myself what I could’ve done differently. And I know exactly what I could’ve done. I could’ve gotten more relevant. I was good at my job, but I wasn’t on the cutting edge. If I were to do it all over again, I would’ve taken that extra time on my hands (that two years of extra time!) and gotten really smart on the up and coming technologies in marketing. At that time it was search engine optimization. If I had taken that time to build my skills and become a VP of Marketing with an SEO specialty, I know I would’ve landed a great position. I know there would’ve been opportunities even in a down market. But, I didn’t think about that until it was two years too late (and I was already down the path toward a new career in a new industry).
Think about your functional area and what’s on the cutting edge. And learn that skill. And become more relevant than any of your competition.
Maybe you’re like my college friend, Carl. Carl liked to refer to himself as “Mr. Do the Minimal.” He was a solid C-player. Guess what? In a market like today’s, C-players don’t get hired. You need to bring your A-game. You need to have real skills. And you need to have real relevance.
Maybe you were one of the thousands of people who got laid off last week. Why don’t you take all of this extra time on your hands and get relevant. Get relevant by industry. Get relevant by technology. Get relevant by functional area. Whatever you do, get relevant! And you just might find that what you’ve done for the past 5 – 10 years is less relevant than what you’re about to do for the next 5 – 10 weeks!