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I was speaking with a business friend of mine, a CFO who had been out of work for several months due to a company reorganization. He was looking for advice on how to approach a job opportunity. It was a position in which he could hit the ground running and save the company a considerable amount of money.

After the first interview with the COO, my friend was advised he would be brought back to meet with the founder and CEO of the firm. He had reached out to the company the following week, but heard nothing back. It was now two weeks since the first interview, and my friend was disappointed he had not yet been contacted for another meeting with the CEO.

He asked me, “What next steps should I take to reach out to the COO?”

If you’ve ever been out of work — especially with a family to support, as was the case here — then you know how money issues can put you into a chaotic and fearful state of mind. My friend was getting anxious. His severance would run out the next month, and he was concerned as to how he would pay his bills when that happened.

This frame of mind, though understandable, is not the best way to approach a job search. It creates a deadline mentality that can limit your ability to act effectively.

My friend was spending most of his day searching for opportunities using online job boards, forwarding his resume to any for which he felt qualified. With little to show for his efforts, he was tiring of that approach. He then resorted to calling some of his business friends for help, again with limited results. His frustration was mounting while his confidence was shrinking. No wonder he was anxious!

My response to his question about approaching the COO was to ask him how much he wanted the job, regardless of the pressure to pay the bills. If he were still working and not actively looking, would he sill find this opportunity interesting? The question surprised him.

He thought for a second, and then he responded, “Probably not.” The work was not going to be challenging, the COO seemed somewhat controlling, and he would be taking a pay cut from his previous position.

Know What You Want

Too often, people who are out of work just want a job — any job. However, this isn’t a great approach for actually getting a job, especially not one you enjoy.

Instead, you need to start by asking a few questions to clarify for yourself what you want. These questions will help you uncover the bigger picture, which in turn will motivate your actions to find a job that is actually right for you. Here are the questions I asked my friend:

  1. What do you really want to do in your next position? He articulated in detail the type of work that motivated him as well as the responsibilities he wished to avoid. With a greater focus on what he wanted in his next position, his enthusiasm for the search began to heighten. He started to see this job search could be an opportunity rather than a hardship.
  2. What companies do you want to work for? I challenged him to name 10-20 firms he would want to approach. Until this point, he had just been banging away to find a job. By tailoring his introductions, using contacts he might have in a target firm, or finding new contacts through his network, he could open constructive conversations.
  3. What are the other priorities in your life? What do you want outside of a career opportunity? I asked him to consider six areas of his life and explained they are continually changing: personal health, friends and family, significant other, personal growth, fun and recreation, and physical environment at work and at home.

Nurture Your Network

I asked my friend one more question: How many people are you reaching out to every day? He answered he had a list of about 50 people he felt could help him find a job. When I asked him how many of them he called each day, his reply was three or four tops, and some days none.

Leveraging your network is an area many people who are out of work struggle with. They feel uncomfortable asking for help. However, reaching out to your friends and business associates is not really about wanting help. Rather, it is about nurturing your network.

I told my friend the calls would be much easier if he began them by sincerely asking how his contacts were, rather than focusing on himself. Inevitably, they would ask how he was, and he could speak about many things, including his job search. If his contact could help, they would probably offer to at that point.

Then, I asked my friend why his list of people he could call was only 50. He had more than 500 first-degree connections on LinkedIn alone. What was stopping him from calling them all?

He was making assumptions about who would be willing to help him and who would not. When you’re out of work and looking for a job, that is not the time to limit your network. In fact, it is a great time to build it. If you don’t call someone, you’re 100 percent certain to miss any opportunities they might have for you, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by picking up the phone and nurturing your network.

Seeing the benefits of reaching out, my friend started to gain confidence in his search. He became much more engaged and proactive, reconnecting with people, offering support with their issues, and receiving their support in return.

Interestingly, my friend was eventually asked to meet with that CEO. Through our conversation, my friend realized that although the job was not a promotion, which was what he normally sought in new roles, it did offer a great deal of flexibility in other areas of his life. It allowed him to spend more time with his family, halving his prior commute. The company also gave him a free membership to the gym in the building, which the CEO encouraged him to use frequently. My friend took the job, and he is happy to be there.

Barney Feinberg, PCC, CPCC, CPA, is the founder and CEO of The Chemistry Factor — Executive Coach and Recruiter. Follow him on Twitter: @chemistryfactor.

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