Always Be Looking? Good Advice, But Better to Have a Good Network

“How long were you in the job? Twenty-nine years was the reply.”

Things were good; he was at the top of his game. Headhunters were always calling with opportunities, and he would politely decline. He usually said something about “not being really interested,” and that “things are good here.”

And then, that day came along that we all have seen — he was “ambushed” and he was out. He took a package, as they say.

We were brainstorming ways to expand my brand and she suggested that I connect with you.

That statement was from a CLO at a major company looking to expand beyond the corporate role and create a brand around her. She was at the top within her organization and had unfettered access to senior leadership. However, she was eager to become known outside of the organizational cocoon.

Two calls from opposite ends of the spectrum

That was my day — two conversations that were 180 degrees apart.

The weekends here in Saudi Arabia are Friday and Saturday, so I have dedicated Fridays as my way to give back to HR. From 9 am EST to about 1 pm, I’m calling, following up, listening, and giving directions and suggestions where needed.

Mostly I listen, and at the end, give my insight. So while my CHRO work is fulfilling and a dream come true, Fridays are the day that I really look forward to. Yes, the fulfillment of my Fridays can’t be matched.

So at the end of that memorable day, I considered those two calls as being the most diametrically opposite of each other.

The two callers both were working in top roles, but the long timer was asleep at the switch. He had reached the top, had total access being a part of top leadership, and had access to the Board.

However as we spoke, he said how he never gave any thought to expand his brand beyond his current station. He was never really interested in networking or social media. Although he was at the top of a well-known corporate brand, he never used that perch to expand HIS personal brand.

Now, he is trying to play catch up. We talked about the Board of his former organization that he knows on a personal basis. He recently met with one Board member, and the director told him that he did not know he was looking or even on the market.

He told him that he had just received a call a few months back for a role that would have been perfect for him — if only he had known. He said he realized then that his first step was to network with all of the board members. Again, he was playing catch up!

Realization sets in

As our conversation continued, he realized that the due diligence that he used in his prior work could also be used to devise a job search, consulting opportunities, or a role on the HR speaker circuit. At the end of our hour conversation, he said that in all those years on the job, a great many opportunities came across his desk and he never entertained  a single one of them.

As my mother told me one time, “never put all your eggs in one basket.” I called it ABC, which means “always be looking.” This does not mean that you should always be looking for the next perch. What it does mean is that you should always listen and build a relationship with anyone who calls. If something sounds intriguing, take the interview. It never hurts to listen to anyone’s pitch.

My CLO friend understands this and is looking to spread her wings. Speaking, writing and networking are her goals. I admire her approach because that is the path each of us needs to take today. You can’t take anything for granted, not after the last 4-5 years.

You have to be inquisitive about your career path, and it should be a burning issue that is always in the back of your mind. My CLO friend realizes that now and is moving to look for her next perch. She is not really looking for another job, but she is looking to expand her brand into her industry and out of the clutches of the organization. This is a win-win for all.

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Everybody wins when brands are expanded

Organizations should applaud when their people get out and are visible in the industry. Whether it be a presentation, roundtable, local conference or a travel conference, this should always be encouraged. As they are introduced, your organization’s brand is front and center.

However, one company representative told me that at their company, anyone looking to speak or travel has to take a vacation day or day without pay. I was at a loss for a response when I heard this.

The onus is on each one of us as we pursue our career mission. What roles are you best suited for and where are you headed? Hopefully, you can figure that one out because a great many people never quite get it.

Those are the ones like the friend I mentioned above. He would have been fine if he could have just hung on, but by never asking that question, he was lost when he was shown the door.

The tragedy is that it is doubly hard to answer that question when you are shell-shocked, out of your job, and your mental capabilities have been diminished somewhat.

A solid network is ALWAYS valuable

So at the end of that day, the key take away from both my conversations is the power of networking.

Network, network, network – even when you don’t want a new job. A well-developed professional network can be a source of friendships, mentors, and referrals for everything in your life. Go to those industry functions, do coffee, lunch or a drink after work, but to maximize your trajectory, networking has to take center stage.

Your network can also provide objective insights for evaluating opportunities and problems. Trade organizations, churches, alumni associations, friends of friends, and continuing education classes all offer excellent sources for cultivating relationships with colleagues who can help advance your career.

Remember: job security comes and goes, but a solid network of valuable contacts is valuable no matter the circumstances.

My CLO friend knows this and is working towards it. My other friend is just starting the process. He’s a little late, mind you, but he has learned his lesson.

Organizations should encourage all of their “experts” to get out and tell their story. Both brands, the personal and the corporate, will benefit as a result.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.