My friend John Suarez, President of Referral Ready, a training resource for resume writers and career coaches, wrote a wonderful article last month for a careers industry association newsletter.
John is a resume writing pioneer. His innovative writing style embraced personal branding before it had a name and inspired many of us in the industry. He juggled his resume business with teaching communications classes at three different colleges, all while managing to earn a graduate degree in Organizational Communication.
None of these compared to the classrooms he attended from the ages of 19 to 37 at the School of Rock, as the lead singer of several locally-based and regional touring rock and roll bands.
The farther he gets from those attempts to postpone adulthood, the more he appreciates what that time taught him about personal branding and job search.
Here are four of his lessons, paraphrased with permission from his article. Chances are you might have heard this song before.
Lesson #1 – Join the Right Band
Simply being on stage singing was never a driving passion for John. Singing the right kind of music (the kind he liked) with the right musicians (the ones he liked) was everything. He liked it best when everyone had a role, the roles were well defined, and everyone was expected to pull their weight.
They had good nights and bad nights, good markets and bad markets, but a common vision helped them endure the fragile dynamics of such an ego-driven entity. Without that vision, the music would surely have suffered.
And so it is with executives slogging through unsatisfying careers. They are often out of place, in a dead end job that neither satisfies nor motivates at any level. They are married to a lifestyle that demands constant touring and time away from home. They love country music, but find themselves in a jazz ensemble expected to improvise a solo performance instead of participating in a three-part harmony.
They are in the wrong band. They need to acknowledge it, redefine their vision, and move toward reaching that vision.
Lesson #2: Play Your Own Music
John and his band learned very early that they could make a living playing other people’s songs, but the career they aspired to hinged on their ability to write, record, and sell their own songs.
So they did, and one major record company encouraged them to continue. One music journalist even gave them pretty good review in Billboard Magazine. Unable to gain any traction from their early success, tensions rose and the band started falling apart.
But they stayed true to the formula for as long as they could. In the end, it wasn’t the formula’s fault. If you are a recording artist, playing your own music is still the way to make the most money in that business.
Some of the C-level executives I work with have simply forgotten how to play their own music. They started out moving in one direction, then they went another way, then another, and another. They chased money, opportunity, personal growth, professional advancement, travel, power, status, and other legitimate ends. And one day they woke up a complete stranger to themselves, wondering where it all went off track.
Left unattended, passion slips out the back door in search of a hammock while they resentfully punch the clock to fill their over-long days with tasks that have nothing to do with their passion or talent. In that moment, they are not playing their own music.
They need to remember why they started down their path in the first place. Their career path is supposed to serve THEM, and to help them honor that place inside themselves where the sound of their own music and their sense of purpose is in harmony with what their job or career is currently providing.
One without the other is a recipe for compromise – a losing proposition.
Lesson #3: Good Marketing Trumps Good Talent
A brutal touring schedule kept them playing as many as 25 nights a month in markets throughout the Midwest. Over time they developed several homes away from home and a loyal out-of-town following, so naturally they thought that as a band they were getting better.
And here was the tricky part: they were getting better. But they weren’t building a fan base in those markets because they were getting better. They were building a fan base because they were doing a better job of marketing.
Their fans had no idea whether they were getting better or not. They just knew they liked the band. John and the band tricked themselves into believing that their musical talents were creating larger crowds. Ego will do that.
In hindsight, talent probably ran a distant sixth behind marketing, passion, persistence, professionalism, and whatever name you assigned to the sensory assault of the massive light and sound equipment they traveled with.
They might have been selling talent, but people were buying something else. They were buying an experience, and they either liked it or they didn’t.
The same thing happens in job search. From the employer’s perspective, talent at some point becomes a “given” and the real differentiating factor for making a hiring decision is much more precise. By the time someone gets to an interview, the question is how that person’s talent “fits” the employer’s need. So talent is important. People who can’t compete on talent don’t even get to that point in the discussion. But marketing the talent wins the job.
An executive career portfolio – resume, career biography, and other materials – is an exercise in marketing, NOT writing. If these communications don’t brand the candidate and market their skills to an exceptional degree – in person, on paper, and online – they will consistently lose interview opportunities and job offers to people whose career portfolios and online presence do just that.
Lesson #4: Listen When the Music Stops
For many people in career transition, the music has stopped. Some were laid off, and the music was stopped for them. There is opportunity there, the gift of time (and those with severance packages have more time than others).
This is their opportunity to stop and listen to the internal voices that guide each of them in the right direction. Too many times they’re uncomfortable with the silence, so they try to make the same music again and again despite the fact that they don’t even like the music.
Whenever possible LISTEN.
Some clients come to me buffered by a sense of job security but very little satisfaction. They need to stop the music themselves. Many do not, which helps explain why so many people are not passionate about what they do. And in this hyper drive speed of a world we’ve created for ourselves, standing still for a moment of silence does not appear to be a popular option.
Which is sad because the silence carries not only a message, but an answer, the right answer, if they can only block out the noise and LISTEN.
Executives in a quandary about what to do next have some work to do before tackling their resumes and other career marketing communications. They need to embrace their passions. They need to define their personal brands around those passions, market their unique promise of value, and get themselves into jobs that will feed their passions.
They need to start over with lesson #1 and really think things through. If they can define the right band to join, then it’s time to move forward.