The only job search guide you'll ever need

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Credit: Photo collage by Stephen Sauer

Don't reinvent the wheel. You already possess the training you need to find the next great role in your career.

Face it: at some point in your executive technology career you’re going to be looking for a new job. Even if you’re in a great job and you’ve never been happier, there may come a day when circumstances thrust you into the job market. And when that day arrives, will you be ready with a plan and a process?

I’ve interviewed and coached hundreds of accomplished IT executives who share the same counterproductive traits when it comes to the care and feeding of their careers: they dispense with the strategic and tactical skills that they deployed to drive their companies’ success in favor of an ad hoc and passive approach to finding their next job.

You already have the tools you need to proactively search for your next great opportunity, but you also need the proper mindset to accomplish your goal. You don’t want to convey a lack of confidence to a potential employer. Here’s a template that has helped many IT executives move their job search in the right direction.

Start with the following declaration:

“I’m the CEO of my career.”

That isn’t a slogan. It’s a fact. Just like the CEO and his or her organization, you’re responsible for every facet of your career: Finance, Sales, Marketing, R&D, Human Resources, you name it. It’s your responsibility to understand your unique abilities and how they give you a competitive advantage. It’s your responsibility to know your current and potential customers and then expertly convey your competitive advantage to them with the same discipline and rigor that you applied to your job.

Conduct a self-inventory of your abilities and passions

What are you best at and what are you most passionate about? (My guess is that those categories will overlap.) Try using a legal pad and pen instead of a computer. For this exercise, pen and paper tend to make things feel more concrete and permanent. Next, do the same thing from the perspective of your closest professional colleagues. If you’re not sure, call them up and ask them. This isn’t the time for humility or self-effacement. If the CEO isn’t passionate about his company’s services, then who will be?

Write your elevator pitch

What is your brand? What do you do? For whom have you done it? What are the benefits of using your service? CEOs are usually the company’s best salesperson, with an intimate command of its details, its markets and the benefits it provides its customers. Can you say the same about your value add? Your competitive advantage? And can you say it briefly and succinctly, in layman’s language and with enthusiasm? Your self-inventory will give you more than enough material. Practice giving your self-pitch until you know it cold. Start with a mirror, then graduate to a family member and then a friend. Listen for feedback and adjust it accordingly. If people only retain 20 percent of what they hear in a conversation, then your goal is to make it easy for anyone to remember your brand.

Construct your network map

This will be your survey of your current and potential “customers.” The CEO knows his company’s markets, its customers, competitors and vendors. Do you? Start with your “barbecue relationships,” your inner circle. Then group people by industry, profession and geography. Your network map is a tool you can use during a job search and throughout your professional life. Arrange it on your software brand of choice, easily accessible and constantly evolving and expanding as you develop it. You now own a CRM for a strategic search based upon geography, industry, technology sector, any category you choose. This is a tool you can use throughout your professional career.

Network with a “pay it forward, consultative mindset”

How many times have you been called by a job seeker? And what does the typical job seeking conversation sound like? “Hey, how are you? How’s your family? Listen, by the way, I’m between roles and I was wondering if you knew of something?” Think about from the other person’s perspective: Your job search networking call could be the first, fifth or 15th call that your professional colleague has received this month. How are you going to separate yourself from the competition if you sound like everyone else in a crowded field?

The answer is as simple as it is counter-intuitive: by always putting the other person’s interests first. What is going on in her professional life? What are her problems and challenges? Have you faced anything similar and, if so, how did you go about handling it? What resources did you bring to bear to resolve the problem? Whom can you refer who might help her with her problem? With that mindset you’ve separated yourself from the pack in a meaningful way. Let the others demonstrate their “me first” transactional nature while you’re the one who’s focused on building relationships.

Conduct your job search like a program/project manager

It took planning, organization, rigor and discipline to deliver projects on time and within budget. You understood which resources would be needed and you nimbly adjusted when circumstances intruded on your plan. Why not apply the same skills and training to your job search? It’s a task with lots of moving parts that can be successfully executed if the right executive is leading it.

I’m sure you’re up to the challenge.

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