Managing Your Career Before the Ambush Comes

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I worked all those years, coming to work every day, doing a great job. Each year there was a raise and eventually more responsibility.

I went home at the end of the day and came back the following day. I repeated that cycle all those years until one day, I came in and was let go.

During all those years I had received numerous inquiries from outside headhunters, but at each call was kindly rebuffed because I loved what I was doing. My resume had never been updated in all those years, and I had not interviewed in 24 years.

Being negligent

As I listened to this call this week, I felt sad and angry at the same time.

I was sad because this had happened, and I was also livid as to how people can become so blinded. This was a C-level person, sitting on numerous boards with major players throughout the industry. He knew everyone in his field but never had even a cup of coffee with them, let alone lunch or dinner.

Now he was out of a job, and like a deer in the headlights, he sadly does not have a clue.

Resume coach — check. Interview coach — check. Mindset –well that is another story. That will stay unchecked for a while, and to be honest, it may never be checked.

How could you?

If there is one thing that I want to pass on to anyone working today it’s that you can never be lulled into a sense of security.

These times are so different that you never want to be “ambushed.” That is my term for walking in to work one day and being called in and let go. If that happens to you and you are surprised, don’t get mad with the company, get mad with yourself for allowing it to happen.

You should always be aware of what is going on around you. You can not afford not to. Eye contact is always a give away.

When your boss looks away and will not connect and this continues over time, be aware. When your comments and recommendations are basically passed over as not importance, be aware.

We all have that inner sense when we know something is not right. My friend on review now noticed that a few months prior to being let go, things just did not seem right. He just kind of brushed if off and he paid the price.

My code phrase is “Always be Looking” [ABC]. This may seem strange, especially coming from an HR person, but one thing I have always advised people is that one should never allow their sense of self to be lulled into a mindset that you never keep your antennae up to see what is out there.

Only you are in charge of your career

If someone calls, take the interview because you never know where it will lead. If you have not interviewed in a while, by all means go. Think of the interview as a career workout.

The more you take, the better you will become. It is like working out in a gym and getting in shape. My buddy has not interviewed in over 20 years, and I hate to think about the first one that he will walk into

Here’s the bottom line: You are the one that is in charge of your career. Not the company you work for, not your friends or family because in the end you are in charge. Your master plan if you have one should constantly be reviewed and update.

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Many people don’t have career investment plans because they rely on the organization they serve to provide them. A select few recognize that the investments your employer makes in your career are no longer enough.

In today’s global market, you can no longer afford to wait for your employers to invest in your professional growth, development, and career. You must know yourself and your career ambitions well enough to recognize the necessary career investments you must make and determine your wisest career investment path.

Riding it out is not an option

Some may say, I will just want to ride this out, but my friend thought the same. He figured as long as he had been there, all those years that this would be it. It was it in a way. It was the end of his career as he knew it.

You can’t wait till you are fired or laid off to try to revitalize your career. At this point of the ambush, you are not in the right mental shape to put a plan together. The process must be ongoing, especially when things are going good. The juices flow better when you are in that state of mind.

You have to use every business encounter and conversation as an interview. Make the connection mean something. My friend had access to numerous boards and their influential members, but never once did he have a career conversation. Never once did he do coffee, lunch or dinner.

Being aware of all going on around you

Self-awareness and self-management are all part of career awareness. We must all be “on point” at all times.

It is said that snakes, when they flick their tongues, are getting a sense of what is going on around them. We should all adopt that mindset and always try to keep in focus of where we are headed. This could be the in same job but in a different location. It does not matter.

Ongoing career management is going to be the new normal, whether you are just out of college, mid-career or whatever.

This morning I read about another friend who got a big job six months ago for a major brand. What I read was that with a new strategic focus at my friend’s company, she would be out. Yes, only six months in her post and she will be out. Add the 20 plus years of my friend in the other scenario and you can now see that you have to be in charge.

Nobody knows you like you, so manage you before the ambush.

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.


3 Comments on “Managing Your Career Before the Ambush Comes

  1. I’m with you Ron, all the way.

    My second job out of college–the first was a disaster and lasted only four months (–I got a phone call for an interview. I hemmed and hawed, not knowing what to do, and the HR rep said, “It sounds like you like your job. Maybe this isn’t the right time,” and I agreed.

    Six months later, I was begging to get an interview at that company, but no dice. So I learned my lesson right then and there.

    Despite not getting an interview with the company that’d called, I did eventually land another job. Eight months later I get another call (ah … the good old days) offering me a job outright. This time I didn’t hesitate, but I did ask for time to think it over.

    Then I go to my boss (who was one of the best bosses I ever had), and I tell her “Look. I got this call, and they offered me a job making $3000 more.” (Hey, this was 25 years ago.) I tell her, I love this job, and I love working for you, but the last time I got a call like this, I said no and lived to regret it.”

    And this is why June (that was her name) receives the honor of being one of the best.

    She said, “Listen. We like you, but I can tell you right now you aren’t getting a $3000 raise at your next review. What’s the job again?” So I tell her, and she says, “Take it.” And then she took me out to lunch! And I did freelance work for her while working at my new job!

    ABC, indeed. It’s not about being disloyal. It’s just the new reality.

  2. Well, if one gets good opportunity he must grab it. We all sustain for good work and growth, so there’s nothing wrong if we make a switch for all good reasons but its equally important you must leave at good terms.

  3. Thank you for the great example and points. I agree that we are in charge of our careers. I’ve seen professionals too often rely on their organizations to manage their careers. Yes, the feedback and professional development opportunities individuals can participate in that are associated with their current role and work environment are extremely valuable. However, employees may be doing their careers a disservice if they rely on such feedback and opportunities in isolation—individuals need to own
    their professional development and careers.

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