“I’ve been out of work for so long – I’ve just not been that lucky”

This is a very familiar plea.  Sadly, a lot of the people who come to me have been trying for quite a while to find a new role, haven’t succeeded, and now their spouse is beginning to lose patience.
A couple of years ago, I was interviewed for a job myself.  It was an academic role but running an enterprise incubator – a kind of support hub for spin-off businesses from a well-known university.  What was great was that I could carry on doing the things I love doing – www.executive-post.info and www.the-confidant.info – at the same time.  There were four of us who’d been shortlisted and we each had to give a talk on innovative ways of teaching entrepreneurship.  As part of my research, I studied the syllabus and websites for as many similar institutions as I could find.  Aside from the process of teaching, I discovered two things that just about every well-known entrepreneur will describe as having been key to their success and yet virtually never featured in any syllabus – they were LUCK and CONNECTIONS.  Now, to be fair, a few business schools did teach basic networking, though they didn’t relate it directly to enterprise success.
[Sadly, I didn’t get the job, so if anyone is in a position to offer me something similar PLEASE get in touch!]
I’ve written a lot about networking in the past, so I’d like to concentrate on the LUCK element here.
In the context of a job hunter, what might the upshot of that ‘luck’ be?
It’s landing a job.  It’s being offered a job by someone.  It’s being introduced to that someone, or being introduced to someone else who knew that someone.  It’s happening to meet someone who could help.  It’s about something that led to you meeting that someone.  And it’s about doing so at the right time, rather than the wrong one or simply too late.
It’s probably about a lot more things but when someone says to you that they’ve “just not been that lucky”, it’s usually one or more of these that apply.
Now managing your networking (having said I wouldn’t reflect on this) is about the systematic process of contacting, meeting, impressing and maintaining contact with, people who could help you achieve your purpose – usually a referral to someone in the position to employ you.
Since systematic and luck aren’t really seen as ready bedfellows, the luck bit must be something different to the networking bit.
“Happening” is an interesting word too.  It implies that something regularly happens.  In other words, it really does take place.  It’s a bit of a mis-construct if we say that we haven’t been lucky, when we actually mean we haven’t done anything.
Now the decision to employ someone is not just random either.  If I want a new IT director, and someone with a background in grounds maintenance walks in, I’m not going to offer them a job.  So the timing must be right, the people who meet must be right, and the knowledge must be right.  That’s when ‘luck’ tends to appear.
So ‘luck’ is about the coincidence of our ongoing networking, our specialist know-how, and a need on their part.  And therein lies the rub…
When we are in a role, we are constantly observing what’s going on, learning about it, making adjustments to what we do to accommodate those little gems, incorporating this knowledge into our psyche so that we can bring it out when we need it later.  We might not be, indeed often are not, aware of what is happening.  But what makes a good employee and certainly a good executive is this constant learning and adaptation.  What impresses colleagues and bosses is that their knowledge is up to date and that they have already adapted to fit it into their work.  Of course, some of the knowledge is simply of the form that I describe as; “Here’s somewhere or someone to watch for later.”
When a lot of people are made redundant, or leave a role for whatever reason, they stop doing this learning and adapting.  This means that when they DO meet someone who could offer them a role, they don’t inspire them – they don’t have those gems of subject or market knowledge that would set them apart.
What’s more, their chance of meeting the right person is a bit random too.  You see, if you know that a particular topic is hot in that industry, and you have ideas as to how to address it, you don’t devote your energy going to meet any old contact – you focus on the ones who have that need.  If necessary, you even expand your network to include them (and those who know them) in it.
Now, I know that this is a sweeping generalisation, but sadly all too often, when I meet someone who says; “I’ve just not been that lucky.”, I will usually discover that they haven’t been keeping up with their specialisation since they left work (if they even did so while they were in it) and that they haven’t thought of targeting people and organisations that must need (or need to adapt to) the changes in that discipline.
Darren is a good example and he has agreed to me mentioning him.  He has a postgraduate degree in a discipline that has relatively few large players within it, but a reasonable number of smaller ones who subcontract to them.  A massive Europe-wide contract was awarded to the French-based major player, while Darren was working for the UK-based competitor.  His firm made him redundant.  For twelve months, he recovered himself, explored alternative Masters programmes, considered a completely different career, and got steadily melancholic thinking that he would never work in his chosen field again.  We made contact online initially, then followed up with a phone call.  He used the ‘luck’ line with me and I pursued the same line of enquiry with him as I have described above.
He agreed to prepare a one-side summary of the key issues facing the industry, now that it was nearly 18 months into this French-based contract.  He identified two key problems – smaller subcontractors were already appearing to be unable to deliver the technology solutions that they had been expected to deliver and the major player was being heavily scrutinised in the media for its impending failure to meet certain critical milestones.  Now this observation was happening in the English-speaking media and not the French.
Darren felt that he knew as much as anyone else about the technology and what needed to be done to deliver on time.  He didn’t claim to have the answers to the problems, but he knew how to manage the project to deliver them.
Acting slightly circumspectly, he asked around the Alumni group of his original employer to see if anyone knew anyone else who worked in the French market.  A name was given, a British former colleague now based in Paris.  He rang the person.  They spoke the same language – not just English but the same technical and management languages.  Darren was very open – he had to be – he had only one opportunity.  The Brit-abroad worked for the main contractor, but wasn’t involved directly in the impending crises but he promised to put Darren in touch with the person who did.  Later that afternoon, Darren was called by the Frenchman.  Two DAYS later he was in Paris and working for the firm – even though it would take several months for his security clearances to come through!
So, if you find yourself in this situation there are four things to do…
  1. Start to prepare a one page summary of the key developments, both technical and commercial, that have been going on in your field in the last 12 months.
  2. Identify who will have a need as a result.
  3. Create a mini-list of your contacts who may be involved in, or have colleagues who are involved in, these areas.
  4. Target your networking on these contacts.
I wish you every success, but don’t forget that I am only at the end of a phone and will be very happy to help you.
Cheers, Graham.
NB This post originally appeared 6 years ago in my Executive-Post blog – but was lost when it was subsequently hacked.

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