Now this might seem a strange topic. After all, none of us would set about deliberately losing our jobs – we might resign and move onto pastures new, we might retire from work altogether or we might decide that the company we are working for is not the right fit for us and take some time out to find something new.
When I lost my job, it was the catalyst to start my business (I possibly wouldn’t have done so otherwise – certainly not at that time anyway!) but it was also the single biggest disappointment in my professional life. Now that I can say ‘it all worked out for the best’, I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject with the hope that, even if it’s only person, I can help someone cope with what can be a challenging experience.
My story starts and finishes on a Tuesday, nothing spectacular in that but over the course of 24 hours my life changed dramatically. In those 24 hours I went from being in what I thought was the best job in the world to getting an early train home to explain to my family why I was now out of work. Now in fairness I was given 3 months’ salary in lieu of notice so I wasn’t actually destitute, however I certainly knew that I had a finite period of time to find a job that matched all my expectations, principles and personal goals.
I admit now that this was my first mistake – I should have recognised the road my career was taking, listened to my gut instinct that nagged at me that something wasn’t quite right, identified the warning signs in the conversations I was having with my team and the management and understood that there was an inevitable end looming. Had I done this, I would have sensibly planned my exit strategy and taken the time to really assess what was important to me along with what skills I could bring with me to benefit a new employer.
And so, I acknowledge my second mistake – my focus was always on me. A natural human trait of course, but by not looking underneath the glossy website or detailed job description I had neglected to really get to know my employer – what was really going on in their business, what was the company culture like, what was their management style, what challenges were they facing and most importantly, was it a good fit for me?
Back on the lonely train ride home, I began to realise that the signs had been there for months: working long hours without feeling like I was finishing anything; constant meetings whereby I did nothing but firefight my team’s apparently uber urgent problems and the multiple meetings I had with colleagues whereby they’d leave full of excitement and positivity only for me to have another meeting with my own manager a few days later whereby it was explained that my colleague was upset/angry/add word depending on day of the week.
It hit me like a tonne of bricks – I wasn’t right for the company and they weren’t right for me! Of course, with hindsight, it’s easy to say this now and I found myself wondering why I hadn’t recognised it at the time. I began to realise that when I started in my new role I had no clue about my team or the senior management of the board, apart from the few hours I’d spent interviewing and during this time (see mistake number two) I was tap dancing to get the role and focussing on what I would get out of it, why I wanted the job and what I could bring to the table.
I found myself reflecting that, if only the company had been able to understand my leadership and personality traits before taking me on these issues could’ve been avoided. I certainly had the skills, ability, enthusiasm and knowledge to succeed but all of this could not overcome a cultural mismatch.
By now the train had reached home and, despite me saying this is a 24-hour story, of course it doesn’t end there. What’s next?
Next, came my third mistake. Let’s be honest – no one is ever going to tell you the real ‘warts and all’ truth about their company, either on their marketing collateral, glossy website or job adverts as that’s professional suicide, however I registered with an ‘executive search’ specialist and felt confident they would find me the ideal role.
This was my final mistake. I don’t want to tar all executive search agencies with the same brush (especially as I am now the proud owner of one!) but my experience taught me that no one is going to take the time to understand me if I don’t immediately ‘fit’ a live role they are recruiting for and least of all carry out a comprehensive search for a new career for me based on my skills and attributes.
Unfortunately, the bad press recruitment agencies get was beginning to ring true. After weeks of being told to keep calling back or that the agency had nothing that matched me, I suddenly realised that I was just a number and would only get called if something happened to pop up.
Sod it, I thought! I can do better myself and so I personally approached 4 large companies (only 2 had live roles). It was during these interviews I had my ‘ah ha’ moment – why work for someone else, when I could set up my own business and do this for myself. I knew that my experience and network of contacts would spur me on, and it has allowed me to develop my own unique awareness and understanding of the importance of cultural fit, especially for senior hires. I made a promise to myself never to treat any jobseeker the way I was treated by the executive search agencies I engaged with and to promote a truly consultative approach.
So there you have it, unless something catastrophic happens, nobody needs to actually lose their job or deal with the subsequent ‘what to do next’ worry.
If it does happen to you though, I can highly recommend understanding the 5 stages of grief (google it), leaning on your family and friends – they supported you before the job and they’ll do so afterwards, and if all else fails you could get in touch with me. I’ll offer an ear to listen and, if you’re interested, I’ll explain how I went completely crazy, followed a dream and set up my own executive search agency. Who knows, I could help you find your dream career…