I could tell in her eyes and by the way she described herself in past tense that this career woman had lost her way. This bright woman of 40+ had a rich background of experience and she eagerly shared stories about how she moved her way up to greater responsibility – until she was laid off. For purposes of this blog I will name her Joan.
Joan had spent the better part of the last two years trying to find a job. She shows the signs of exhaustion, fear and she wondered aloud, “Am I irrelevant?”
Before being unemployed people knew who she was. Joan was sought after by colleagues, clients and stakeholders for her expertise but now she feels like she has been benched. She is sitting at the sideline waiting for another chance to show her worth.
Joan tries to apply for similar positions and has even begun to investigate a complete career change. After every resume goes out or interview happens she questions, Am I over-qualified? Under-qualified? or Are they just not seeing my value?
She had her share of no responses to applications and disappointing results from interviews she thought she aced. She knew that some positions were not the right fit and so she was screened out. When she realized a position would have her working under a boss who was twenty-something she screened herself out.
Joan considered an entirely new job, based on the advice of friends, but the prospect of investing in further education and other changes in lifestyle just wasn’t very appealing.
Tears welled up from time to time and smiles would surface when she recalled better professional days. Moments of Ah Ha! would brighten the dark tunnel she was passing through but this can’t be all there is. Joan is too skilled to be irrelevant!
I listened intently because I knew that the story, the vulnerability, the fear of the unknown, the questions surrounding her own qualities was not confined to her own sacred space but now for others to see and hear. This once confident business woman was full of self-doubt and it showed not only in the person, but on paper as well.
Joan’s resume was trying too hard to tell the whole story. The language so specific to her industry and so smothered in details it was clear she wanted to be noticed. It dropped names as if everyone should know the players and provided short testimonials like a hybrid of a resume and reference letter. It was inundated with facts and figures as sentences bled more and more over the pages – four pages in fact.
It was clear we needed to work on so many levels and so began a trek through the tunnel together to shed some light on the reality of her situation.
Joan no longer had her pulse on what’s happening in the business community. Her connections were mainly with a couple of friends and close family. She spent many weeks never seeing a single soul, just looking for work by pressing buttons on a keypad, dressed in her “comfy clothes.”
She was living in the past. Sounding more like she was reciting her own eulogy rather than speaking about a living being. Each past tense reference was noted and I asked her to re-frame many of her sentences. Joan needed to find out that the skills and unique qualities she possesses are relevant and transferable to multiple work environments. I told her, “We just need to identify which ones you want to travel with.”
Joan valued time spent giving back to her community and had applied for a couple of jobs at not-for-profit organizations. Given her four page resume was quite over-powering for any reader, and heavy on corporate speak, we began to deconstruct her resume. Joan was not speaking their language and made the classic mistake of thinking her expertise would speak for itself. I suspect most readers needed an interpreter or simply gave up.
We looked at the vast differences between how applicants approach job search and how employers find applicants. Her eyes widened as she realized applicants and employers were traveling in opposite directions. We talked about the information highway and resources that can help get her back on the right road instead of feeling like she is driving around the same traffic circle.
The fact is most people don’t know Joan exists, despite the multiple times she has hit the send button on her computer. She “used to be” a go-getter. Joan chaired meetings, schmoozed with the business crowd, sourced people and introduced people so it falls within her competency to connect. She’d simply lost her confidence.
Joan and I moved through a process that was long overdue. I saw a change in her clothes and make-up, the way she sat and how she spoke. She was slowly holding her own light and not hiding in the dark. She began to trust her own ideas and not immediately look for validation with, “Is that OK?” or “What do you think?” Joan was beginning to see the difference between what she can market today and what can be left as a good work memory.
I’m not going to give you a fairy-tale ending, as Joan is a woman on a journey. But I will share this…
She began to make connections in the business community, she was deeply thankful for the time we had together and most importantly she now knows JOAN IS RELEVANT.
(Thank you to all the women I have worked with, like Joan. You continue to inspire me)