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Rebuilding Career Confidence as an Exec

Rebuilding career confidence

Rebuilding career confidence after a job loss at any level is difficult. It can be even more complicated at the executive level. It can force you to suddenly question your abilities, loyalties, or worth just when you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career. You’re not ready to retire, but you certainly weren’t planning to reinvent yourself. So now what?

One place to start when rebuilding career confidence is to know you’re not alone. ProPublica and the Urban Institute discovered that, by 2018, more than half of U.S. workers over 50 were being pushed out of longtime jobs before they chose to retire. The pandemic made things even more volatile and unpredictable. Now there’s a potential recession at hand: 98% of U.S. CEOs are gearing up for a recession in the next 12 to 18 months.

This is the main reason The HT Group started its Professional Career Action Team (PCAT) over a year ago. The group of CIOs, CFOs, CMOs, CROs and other C-suite executives meets regularly to provide emotional support and executive coaching during job transitions. PCAT was started two years ago at the height of the pandemic and has 30 alumni to date.

We asked The HT Group Director of C-Suite Services Sam Wood, who helps lead the groups, to offer us some of the top takeaways from PCAT that can help executives in the thick of rebuilding career confidence. Here are the three areas he recommends focusing on:

Feel Your Feelings

As an executive, you may have gotten good at pushing your feelings to the wayside in pursuit of the greater good. All of that can come crashing down after a job loss. We’ve all learned to some extent over the past couple years that mental health and “feeling your feelings” is important. But moving on from there is another thing.

“We stress the importance of leaving resentments of a previous company behind and then looking toward the future,” says Wood.  “For many, this is the first time they’ve had to look for a position–they’ve always been recruited from one position to another. So it’s a new place for them, and an important step.”

Educators and Authors Silviana Falcon and Kandi Wiens did a great job addressing a similar process in a recent Harvard Business Review article. When you work hard to be successful, devoting decades to an organization or cause, they say, your grief can be gut-wrenching, and the feelings of anger, betrayal, isolation, shame, and hopelessness can be overwhelming.

“Those emotions can feel intense, unwieldy, and even unmanageable, especially when you’ve attained a certain position or income level, bear the financial responsibility of a household, or when work has become an intrinsic marker of your moral worth,” they explain. “You may also notice that the forced transition disrupts your routines, triggers unhealthy coping habits, and places significant strain on the relationship with your partner.”

Joining a group like PCAT can help. They also give other coping tips here, including a refresher on “neuroleadership” coach David Rock’s SCARF model, five social dimensions that influence your reaction to triggers like job loss. They include threats to your:

  • Status: Your relative importance to others.
  • Certainty: Your ability to predict the future.
  • Autonomy: Your sense of control over events.
  • Relatedness: How safe we feel with others.
  • Fairness: How fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.

Only when you can address these feelings can you start rebuilding career confidence. The tools needed to do this are different for every individual, although the belief that “the best way around is through” seems to be a universal truth.

Get Organized

Once you’ve acknowledged your feelings and formulated ways to prevent your emotional responses from sabotaging your job search, it’s time to get organized.

One of the biggest game-changers Wood has witnessed happens when executive job seekers start placing metrics around their efforts. In short, treat your job search like a job and measure your inputs and outputs.

“Where are you focusing your efforts? How many people have you networked with today or this week who can help get you closer to your goal? How many hours do you spend on your job search, and where is the point of diminishing returns on certain tasks like filling out applications or preparing for interviews?” Wood asks. “Those who can formulate job search metrics around what they’re doing—and adapt as they learn—seem to reach success much faster.”

Being a good student at this point is essential, mainly if rebuilding career confidence hasn’t been necessary before. Surround yourself with people who “know better” and take their advice because some of the hard-and-fast rules of job searching you find online may not apply as well to you as a seasoned executive.

One such tip, Wood points out, is to avoid relinquishing control to an applicant tracking system (ATS) or similar automated tool if possible.

“There are a lot of tips out there on how to win over an ATS system by using keywords, but seasoned executives are inherently going to get lost in the system no matter what,” he says. “Instead, it’s absolutely imperative to take the human approach. Use the extensive network you’ve built up over the decades and find someone who knows someone who can effectively get your name to the top of the list.”

Redefine What’s Possible

Stop to consider that younger professionals may be securing the jobs you want not necessarily because of ageism (although that can certainly be a factor) but perhaps because they’re more open to new possibilities and opportunities. You might chalk that up to ignorance. But is ignorance, in this case, bad?

A classic example is sticking to the industry you know. Doing so is comfortable and may make the most sense, but is it wise not to open yourself up to new adventures?

Earlier this fall, we covered the topic for all career levels. As it turns out, about one in four respondents to a CompTIA study reported pursuing a new job during the first half of 2022. About 60% sought that job in an entirely different career field. The top reasons they cited for the change include higher pay/better benefits, better job security/stability, a more flexible work environment including remote work options, better well-being, and better career growth opportunities.

Now, those may not be the reasons a C-level executive would start over in a new industry. But it sheds light on how common it is for other workers. If staying in the industry you already know and love is getting you nowhere in your job search, there is value to marketing your skillsets to an entire new-to-you sector. 

“This is where a knowledgeable executive recruiter can help you because we can outline to employers the value of bringing on a seasoned executive with, shall we say, ‘no baggage’: No preconceived notions or outdated assumptions that could stifle innovation or business transformation,” Wood suggests.  

Keep the Faith

“We tell execs that their best years professionally are ahead of them, and that they need to find an executive position that they enjoy so much it doesn’t feel like working.” Wood says. “The success of PCAT is nothing short of outstanding. Our PCAT alumni are in the best positions they’ve ever held.  We facilitate the creation of a self-marketing plan with target companies, which means they play offense, going after positions and creating opportunities versus passively waiting.”

If you’re an executive rebuilding career confidence after a job loss and want to learn more about The HT Group’s Career Action Teams, find Wood on LinkedIn and reach out,  give him a call, or drop him a line.