Employed Again in A Job I Want?
Will I ever be employed again (in a job I want) is a common question that is asked by the long-term unemployed? I want to tell you this happens to people at the top of society and the bottom.
This post about the nearly 3-year journey of a client of mine, who I will call Matt.
Matt was a CEO for a large quasi-government /association/finance organization. If I told you the name of the organization you would understand it does not fall into any single category. Matt had worked for this organization for 20 years, 10 years as the CEO. His reputation with his employees was stellar.
The story starts almost 3 years ago when the board brought in a consultant with Matt’s blessing. Due to regulatory changes the industry was in a state of flux. The board decided to lay Matt off with a generous severance. Matt is 56 years old.
Everyone assumed Matt would land on his feet.
The Unemployed CEO
The unemployed CEO is a lonely individual. They have very small networks because they are the boss. It is really true that it is lonely at the top.
Matt started to network and network and network and network. He was well known in the community but he was also one of the highest paid executives in the area. Everyone assumed he wanted and needed the same kind of compensation he received from his previous organization.
Matt knew that he would never reach the compensation levels he had as CEO of his previous organization. He told people that he would take less, in fact much less. The problem was … no one believed him.
This is not just a problem CEOs have, this is a problem we all have when we want to step back in our careers. You can say you will take less but no one will believe you.
Rough First Year
I started to work with Matt about 6 months after he had been let go. His next job would come via a relationship, either a current relationship, a dormant relationship or a new relationship. He quickly managed to go through his current relationships and was reigniting dormant relationships but neither was proving fruitful.
I explained to him that as a former CEO, he would probably have to date to get a job. He needed to become a consultant and do project work. Only through building relationships with his clients would he have an opportunity to come in at something below the CEO level.
Matt did not want to be a consultant. He despised marketing and sales. He did not mind managing others that performed the marketing and sales effort but he himself did not want to do it.
Even though he did not want to, he formed an LLC and started looking for clients. He found a startup on the west coast that needed his expertise dearly. They were a real pain to work with but they would be a client on and off for over 2 years. Matt did not realize just how valuable this client would be in a multitude of ways.
As the end of the 1st year of being unemployed came to an end, he was wondering “Will I ever be employed again at a job I want?”
I learned a lot from Matt about maintaining an even temperament during the job search.
His old organization continued to lay people off. Many of his former employees came to him for advice. He dutifully gave them his time and attention. Matt could easily come despondent because these former employees were able to land good jobs while Matt continued to be underemployed as a consultant. He loves helping his former employees but he kept wondering “Will I ever be employed again at a job I want?”
A COO position was posted at a major foundation in the area. Matt was a good fit but ….. Matt spent his entire career climbing the corporate ladder. He had never stopped to get an advanced degree like an MBA. In fact, Matt’s only educational credentials were a B.A. in Fine Arts. Matt had climbed the corporate ladder with only a liberal arts degree.
Matt got excited about the job. He engaged the executive search firm’s headhunter on multiple occasions. Matt sold himself like he had never sold himself before. He made it past the first round of interviews and then the second round. The last step was to interview with the CEO.
Matt knew the CEO and his wife. He probably knew them too well.
The interview was awkward and Matt was unable to make his key points.
He did not get the job.
Then came the crash. Matt hit rock bottom. His hopes had gotten so high that when he did not get the job it was brutal. He crashed emotionally.
Several weeks later, we found out he had lost to an internal candidate. He was angry that they put him through the wringer only to hire someone from the inside.
Then comes an offer but…
A few months later, a supplier of his previous organization approached Matt. He knew the entire leadership team and they needed help on a specific government contract that Matt had intimate knowledge. They offered Matt a job but it was at 40% his old salary, he would have to commute halfway across the country every week at his own expense and it was part of the business that Matt liked the least. It was a job but Matt was now 57 years old and being a road warrior was especially unattractive.
Matt took the job. Matt informed his consulting clients that he was going to work full-time for this new employer.
The position lasted 4 months before the company laid off most of the staff as they ran out of money.
Matt crashed again. Matt was devastated and relieved. The weekly commute was really hard on his health.
Back to the Square One
At this point, everyone was surprised that Matt had not landed permanently. He was starting all over.
There were few opportunities. Matt was determined not to relocate just for a position as he had been a workaholic as a CEO. He wanted to reestablish relationships and good work-life balance. Like many of us in the 2nd half of life, he knew he had to make changes.
As with a lot of my clients, he was a square peg. He had been a CEO of an organization which was like few others, with no advanced credentials, and it now had been almost 2 years.
He re-engaged with his consulting client and they welcomed him back.
Matt found a COO position with a national association that was headquartered in his town. There were a lot of odd things about the association. It was not headquartered in Washington, D.C. like most national associations. It had a long-tenured staff with some odd job titles. From the outside, it was hard to figure out.
Matt dug in and did his homework. He got all the way to being a finalist.
He lost again to an internal candidate.
Now he is really wondering “Will I ever be employed again at a job I want?”
A Surprise Blessing
Two and a half years have passed. I told Matt to throw himself into the consulting work. Doing meaningful work was critical to his mental health. At this point, I am focused on keeping Matt’s spirits up and cheering him on.
At the beginning of 2017, 3 opportunities presented themselves all at once. The first one was an opportunity to run a somewhat oddball educational association/foundation where the executive director was retiring and the new executive director could live anywhere. Matt was passed over 3-4 months into the process.
The second opportunity was to run a rural non-profit that had major accounting and audit issues. Matt had intimate knowledge of the organization and the problems. He knew many of the officers on the board of directors. The pay was very low but because of the problems with the organization, they could not attract any real viable candidates other than Matt.
They offered the job to Matt at a very low salary. Matt said no to the salary level and he assumed they would negotiate. They did not and walked away.
He was wondering “Will I ever be employed again at a job I want?” He really did not want this job but it was a job.
This was a blessing in disguise.
The third opportunity was to run a foundation that is affiliated with a major university. Matt once again knew many on the board of directors. Matt had worked with the foundation at his previous organization. He was well positioned and we worked on how he could sell himself as the person who could hit the ground running. The foundation had been without an Executive Director for almost a year.
Matt wanted this job. He really wanted this job. My focus was to keep him on an even keel emotionally.
After 4-5 month interview process Matt was offered the position and he accepted.
The day he started was almost 3 years since he had been let go.
It was incredibly sad to watch someone with some much talent go from being a confident thriving individual to someone who questioned everything he did with very little confidence. If this could happen to such an amazingly talented individual like Matt, it could happen to any of us.
Maintaining emotional balance was key. Getting too up, thinking he would get a job would result in a crash when it did not work out. It was all about keeping Matt’s emotions in check.
Another one of my jobs was keeping Matt from exhibiting MSU(Make Stuff Up) syndrome. Numerous times Matt would come to conclusions about why the headhunter or hiring manager had not responded or what he thought they expected based on nothing more than what he made up in his own head. When we are in stress it is absolutely amazing the things we can just make up.
The last lesson is you are not in control of the timing. For many successful executives, this is probably the most frustrating part of the job search. You have zero control!
Matt is now 59 years old and he is a different person. A much better person and very grateful for the opportunity.
He is no longer wondering “Will I ever be employed again at a job I want?”