Bob Jones wasn’t shocked when he lost his job as CIO of Moore & Company in Forest Hills, IL, last February. Like hundreds of other companies suffering heavy losses thanks to a weak economy, the $2.5 billion business-forms printer’s sales were tumbling at the time, and so cost cutting became a top priority. A turnaround CEO was brought in, along with a new CFO and CIO, and 1,000 people, including Jones, were cut from the 19,000-strong workforce.
The first steps in a job search
The former CIO doesn’t like to use the term “laid off” to describe his exit. Jones prefers the gentler “let go” terminology, as his parting from the company was “friendly” and his severance package “fair.”
Yet, he declines to elaborate much further. In addition to his three years with Moore, Jones had served as CIO for the Whirlpool Corporation and spent four and a half years with management consulting company McKinsey & Company.
While his prior management experience had helped him master the corporate diplomacy game, last winter he realized he now had to master the job-hunting game. At first, he predicted it would take just a few months to find another IT helm. But by midsummer, it became clear that the economy was not going to turn around quickly, and the job market was more competitive than he realized.
But no matter how long the job search, Jones had no intention of settling for the first CIO job that came his way. Thanks to a financial cushion, built from his severance package and income from his wife’s small importing company, he had the luxury of time to find the next good job. His goal was to obtain a CIO spot at a $5 to $20 billion manufacturing and distribution company.
In preparation, before severing his relationship with Moore, Jones took advantage of outplacement services provided in his contract. A blue-chip outplacement firm was retained, though Jones declined to state the period of time the service was available to him.
While some people justifiably criticize the retention of outplacement services—as corporate guilt money and a waste of time—it’s not a cheap corporate offering these days.
“The traditional employer-paid outplacement package, which costs $5,000 [includes a desk, a phone, and up to five hours of counseling over a three-month period], rarely gives terminated employees what they need,” observed John G. Agno, president of Signature, Inc., a business-coaching company in Ann Arbor, MI.
As Jones had served in a high-tier management role, it is safe to assume he was provided a superior outplacement package with costs far exceeding $5,000, and Jones praised the services he received.
“It helped me target my job search and analyze the type of company that would be best suited to me,” he said.
What works and what doesn't
During his first few months of unemployment, headhunters approached Jones about three prospective CIO roles, none of which met his requirements. Two positions were at small companies, and the third was at a consulting company.
Yet, at the moment, his job prospects are surprisingly good considering today’s sluggish economy. Headhunters recently landed him five searches, all with compatible companies.
Luck, however, isn't why job searches keep coming his way. It is just sheer hard work, Jones said, evidenced by the fact that he is using virtually every job-hunting technique at his disposal. He ranks executive search firms (headhunters), in conjunction with professional networking, as his best job avenues. Online job boards and cold contact methods land way at the end of his list.
“Seventy-five to 80 percent of my time is devoted to getting the attention of headhunters,” said Jones. “Broadcasting your resume all over the map doesn’t amount to much.”
While Jones admitted that he follows the job boards to see what positions are posted, he doesn’t consider them an effective job source because the hiring companies are inundated with resumes, which means many get lost in the pile.
He added that writing to a company, or cold calling, has also proven to be unproductive. “If you don’t have a contact at a company, you’re screened by assistants,” he explained.
Agno agreed with Jones. “For mature workers, the most common way to find a new job is by using social networks and headhunters,” he said.
Salary is a sensitive interview topic
When a mature job seeker does get summoned for an interview, Jones advised using extreme care when discussing salary.
“If you are asked what salary you’re looking for in the early stage of discussions, avoid the question by focusing on your salary at your prior employer,” he said. “Put off serious discussions until you are certain the company is excited about you. But, be flexible about salary. If you earned $300K on your last job and you’re offered $250K, consider taking the cut, especially if it’s an incredible job opportunity. Look at the long-term rather than short-term opportunities, which means assessing the ultimate value of stock options along with advancement opportunities.”
Be prepared for a long road
For today’s job seekers, reaching the point at which a job offer is made can take several frustrating months from the time of the initial interview call, so you need to be prepared.
“Getting the people who are talented to the people who need the talent amounts to a long and tedious process,” said Jones. "The search and screening process by a headhunter can take three to four months alone." Then the interview process involved can eat up a few weeks.
While Jones is fond of today’s online sites, he is convinced that the Internet will, one day, speed up today’s tedious job-hunting process and make it more efficient. His top advice to CIOs and senior executives who have been "let go" this past year is to accept that there are no shortcuts in job hunting. He estimated that he puts in six to eight hours a day, often seven days a week, trolling the employment waters. According to Jones, it's time well spent, and it will eventually pay off.
Looking for a new job?
If you have been let go or laid off and are searching for a new position, what job-hunting techniques, strategies, and approaches are working or not working for you? Share them with us, either by sending us an e-mail or by starting a discussion below.