Where Are You Going?

—Focusing on your destination during a job search

Several years ago I was part of a methodical downsizing at a major suburban hospital. In outplacement, I went with my career coach to a job club. When it came time to introduce myself I stood and said:

I’m Duane Hallock, former Senior Vice President at Shawnee Mission Medical Center here in Kansas City. I am now looking for a job that will allow me to use the experience and skills I gained in that position.

Afterward my coach pointed out the obvious:  “Your entire introduction looked backward, not forward,” she said. “Others could see where you had been, but you did nothing to help them visualize where you are going.”

She then gave some of the best career advice I’ve ever received, telling me that a job seeker needs to:

  1. Be forward looking.
  2. Position yourself appropriately.

I’ve come to realize that, whether we like it or not, people are always trying to pigeonhole us. That’s human nature, I guess, and it’s especially true when someone is looking for a job.

In retrospect, I understand how my introduction prompted people to categorize me as a hospital administrator. That’s where I had been, so they could only assume that’s where I must be going.

To be more strategic and proactive in my job search, I developed a completely new script for talking about myself. It was awkward at first, but I learned to describe my ideal job without mentioning a previous title or using the name of a former employer. I even avoided telling people up front that most of my experience was in health care. I didn’t want to be inappropriately stereotyped or pigeonholed by the industry in which I had worked.

To help me communicate more effectively, I created in my mind a vivid, detailed picture of what my next job would look like. As I shared that scenario with others, they could visualize where I was going. They better understood how they could help me reach my destination.

As it turned out, that day at the job club was a defining moment in my career. Though proud of my work history, I vowed never to drive down the road looking backward in my rearview mirror. I refrained from spending too much time talking about the road I’d already traveled. My future lay in front of me and that’s what I wanted to talk about. That’s where I focused my energy. I recalled the wise words of Jesus Christ who said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service.”

My advice to anyone in a job search is the same I gave my teenage sons when they learned to drive:  Scan your rearview mirrors for context, but keep your eyes on the road ahead.

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