Spring is a busy time in the job search/career services industry, which means that I get many opportunities to speak with a broad range of technical professionals. The other day I met with two different IT executives, one a CIO and another a CTO. Each of them represents what I call the “tale of two IT leaders,” both of whom are very common in today’s tech job market. Both leaders are men, both are in their 50s, and both live in the Northeast. Nevertheless, they have very different perceptions on the job market, and they tell two different tales.
Let’s start with Francis. Francis is our CIO, and until 9 months ago when his midsized company was bought out and he opted to take a generous severance package, he has had a pretty charmed IT career. He’s really never had to “look” for a job. It’s always been pretty smooth sailing, so when he took the severance package, it was summer time and he decided to enjoy some well-deserved time off. He let his connections know that he would be looking again after the holidays. Then promptly in January, he began calling around, only to discover that the market was a little “soft” at the CIO level. He’s attended some networking events with associations he’s always belonged to, and he has applied to a few openings, but after 3 months, he hasn’t had any traction.
When we spoke about building a better opportunity pipeline for him and some ways to do that, here is what he said:
“I’ve never had to invest much before [time, money, effort] in making a career move. I’m confused by the market I am seeing, but if I just wait it out a bit more, something will come along.”
Francis considers himself the optimist, and he told me “attitude is everything.”
Then there’s Raul. Raul is our CTO. Raul is currently employed. In fact, he has a very well-paying job with a high-profile company, but he is unhappy with the current culture he is in. He’s been earnestly looking for about 6 months and has had very little response, despite his great credentials and track record. Even though he is employed, unlike Francis, he feels like the market might be discriminating against his age and he finds himself often trying to downplay his years of experience, which makes it harder to compete at the level he would like to. He’s growing increasingly frustrated and is starting to feel desperate to get out of his current engagement but suspects he is “trapped” there, knowing unemployment would only make matters worse for him out in the marketplace.
When we spoke about what we could do to turn this situation around for him, here is what he said:
“You can’t fight a losing battle. The market hates my gray hair, and there’s nothing I can do about.”
Raul considers himself a “realist,” although some might say he’s a pessimist.
In both cases, though, optimist or pessimist (“realist”), each leader has been caught with their technical career “pants” down, so to speak.
The reason? Because although having a good attitude certainly has its merits and obstacles like age need to be considered, when it comes to being successful in today’s marketplace, it isn’t all about how you perceive the world around you. It’s more about how you prepare/strategize for what it says it wants from you.
Francis and Raul represent about 95% of the technical professionals (not just IT) that I speak with. Understandably, they spend their time looking at things from their point of view, whether they like what they see, whether they’ve had it easy or hard before, whether they think they’re qualified or marketable. And as a result, they approach their next career move based on that, usually a “toss the resume out there and see what sticks because that is what we’ve always done before” approach. In other words, their pessimism or optimism doesn’t change their approach. In fact, it solidifies it, leaving them both confused by what they are experiencing…one thinking something better will just have to come along and the other thinking the world is against them.
It’s something small business people must deal with on a regular basis to survive because it has always been the reality of the marketplace (you have to understand it; it doesn’t have to understand you), but it is not something corporate professionals have had to face as much in the past (or at least it didn’t “seem” like that).
So it requires a different approach, based less on how you view things and more on how your target audience views things.
And right now, much like in small business, there’s about 5% of technical professionals who get this. As a result, they are finding opportunity (regardless of their personal outlook), even at 50-something and not just because they have good karma. They took the time to understand that target audience, and they adjusted their approach to meet that audience. It doesn’t mean it was all smooth-sailing or that they didn’t need to overcome obstacles, but they took their perceptions out of it.
It should be simple, but it isn’t. Because the way we look at things, good or bad, skews our “reality” in such a way that even though we might think we’re different, in the “real” reality, we end up following the masses, thinking we’re minimizing risk.
So where are you today? Hanging out with the pessimists/realists and optimists in the 95% club or reaping the benefits along with the 5%?