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Career Management 101: Don’t send a CV!

Johann Redelinghuys is previously founder and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles South Africa, now The Director of the Chairman's Institute and of Portfolio&Co

Most of us don’t like our jobs and most of us are going to do exactly nothing about it. Surely it’s time to take control of our careers?

Your job and your career are critical to your happiness and peace of mind. Yet most people fail to manage this most important aspect of their lives with any real degree of competence.They sub-contract it to a boss or the HR department of the company, or worse, to an employment agency.The first lesson in sound career management is to keep control of the process, and not to become a victim of circumstances

In the results of a recent research project undertaken by Accenture, surveying 3,900 male and female business executives in 31 countries, it was found that more than half are dissatisfied with their jobs. More than two-thirds said they don’t plan to leave their current employment.

What are we to make of this? The fact that more than half the people are unhappy in their jobs is sad enough. The fact that more than two-thirds somehow plan to muddle through and not do much else about it is desperately sad. 

In this age of information, available at everyone’s fingertips and offering the opportunity to research a company and a job thoroughly before taking it on, it is surprising to see how many people end up in a situation they didn’t want. 

The potential reasons for dissatisfaction are vast. In each case it could be anything from a grumpy boss to a failing company or a feeling that you are a square peg in a round hole. Often it is just that you don’t feel appreciated and valued. Whatever the reason, the fact is that many people who should be satisfied and fulfilled in what they do are not.

So the question we have to ask is, is there not some means of better career management? Is there not a better way, in these times of focusing on sustainability and the proper use of our resources, to ensure that people can work at something that pleases them and which will enable them to use their abilities in a more satisfying way?

If people don’t want to be where they are, the answer must be to show them how to get to a better place. This could be either inside the company to another department or subsidiary or it could be to a completely different company, somewhere outside. Is the reason they will stay where they are, even though they are unhappy, not just because they don’t’ know how to make the move? Or is it that it’s too much trouble or they don’t believe there is something better “out there”?

The first step is not to allow the system to get you down, and to take control yourself. This requires more of a mind-shift than we may imagine. We have been programmed, it seems, to expect that we are given a job, not that we have designed our own career and work opportunities within it. This clicks with the expectation that if I send out a bunch of CVs something, somehow, is going to come back for me.

We see daily accounts on television of unemployed people in countries from Greece to Spain and from Italy to Portugal and many beyond who are protesting their government’s lack of action in job creation. In many cases, they are waiting for a job to be given to them. They are looking for some ready-made work opportunity. What they don’t realise is that many jobs or working contracts are lurking just below the surface, if only they could be identified. 

In the latest Harvard Business Review there is an important article about the emergence of a “super-temp” culture, where some of the best-qualified, top-end graduates are now opting not to have jobs in the traditional sense but to work in short bursts at specific mandates in businesses, doing “temp contracts”. Contract work is where increasing working opportunities are to be found. This is going to be the new normal for many people, from the executive suite right down to those labouring at unskilled work.

Now, I don’t doubt that there are people who have been appointed to great jobs through their Linked-In profile, or whatever social website, but I lean toward the belief expressed so well by Jeffrey Fox in his compelling little book entitled Don’t Send a CV! In it he explains that unsolicited CVs are a complete waste of time. The people receiving them generally receive hundreds, if not thousands. How could this possibly be productive? 

Fox advocates a different approach. He says start by defining what you are good at and what may differentiate you in the market. Let’s say, as an example, that it is skill in supply-chain and distribution. Then you have to do comprehensive desk research to determine which company you would like to work for and where a need in your field may exist. 

Then make contact with the head of the department that is likely to be interested in you. Get his or her name and the secretary’s details. Only then address a personal letter to “Dear Mr Whatsisname, I note that you are having some difficulty at XYZ-company in your distribution function. I have a strong distribution background and would like to meet with you to discuss some of the challenges we in the field are experiencing…” 

Or words to that effect, depending on how you wish to position your best attributes, and what you have learnt from the media about the problems that might exist in the company you are targeting. In this way you are calling the shots and taking the initiative. It is not a waiting game.

If you would like to move to something better in your own company, don’t line up someone in HR and spill the beans of your dissatisfaction to them. It is your problem, don’t make it theirs. Once again, do careful research to establish where your best skills may be better employed inside your business, and then position yourself as a potential solution to a problem that has already been carefully identified.

It is a crime that so many people are unhappy doing what they are doing. A whole raft of executives, more than half those surveyed, are dissatisfied and are in need of expertise to manage them toward a better place. If good career coaching is not available to you, do your own. Take responsibility and do not allow anyone else to be the author of your on-going career discomfort. DM


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