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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Notes from Transition: Permission to Take Time Off

Note: This series is written for others who are in career transition, either from the same company I left or elsewhere. Having been fortunate to have transitional benefits, and a great network of HR pros,  these posts are written for the benefit of those who don't have as much time or the good advice available to me.  
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Usually people in transition fall into two categories; those who aren't active enough in their search and those who do nothing else.  I fall into the latter category.  People who don't search enough are usually overwhelmed with the enormity of the task, easily distracted, or feel hopeless.  Rather than look they find other things to do.  For those of us who are focused on the search, the state of being that is transition is unacceptable and must be worked diligently until resolved.  At times that resolve and focus can become so intense that we don't do anything else and that is not a healthy state.

Just as you can't work at any job day and night, weekdays and weekends and stay healthy, you can't work that hard on your transition and stay healthy either. As one advisor of mine put it,

"You are the Sales Manager, the Sales Rep, and the Product all rolled into one.  You have to strategically decide how to sell, go out and do the selling and be the thing sold all at once.  If you ruin the product, there is nothing to sell and all the other effort is wasted."

Knowing intuitively that I would be leaving my last job, I have been working this search intensively since late August. This week I will have my 9th or 10th phone or in-person interview including a fourth interview I just completed last week with a company in Indianapolis.  I have had three near misses: two low-ball verbal offers where we couldn't come to terms and one position that was pulled at the last minute.  My friends and colleagues are awed by how much activity I have generated in such a short period of time through networking.  By three weeks ago, however, I was exhausted and knew changes had to be made.

Since then I have been intentional about planning my time.  I've been interspersing my search time with volunteer work with Soles4Souls during the week.  This breaks up my mental focus and helps me approach each career opportunity with fresh eyes.  I have planned golf or music gigs or some type of family activity for the weekends.  On Saturday and Sunday all you can do is apply on-line anyway, and with the average on-line ad getting 1,400 responses that strategy has dubious payback at best.  You are better off going to the Y, playing golf, or some other activity that brings you into personal contact with people.

The Big Idea here is this: in transition your have one job and that is find your next job, so you need to work it like a job Monday through Friday and take the weekends off.  Keep a routine to the greatest extent  possible; exercise, church, meal times, lunch with friends, etc... and keep yourself physically, spiritually and emotionally balanced.  Think of it as any other big project you have managed in the past and work it carefully and religiously until its completed.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Video Interview

One of the advantages of modern technology is the ability for remote, face-to-face conversations.  In HR I haven't done a telephone screen in over a year, opting instead for Skype interviews.  Now as a candidate I am being interviewed through this technology and the shoe is on the other foot.  There is a technique to looking your best during a video interview, and here are a few tips for those of you may be in or considering a career transition.

The first things I notice as an interviewer are lighting and background.  So often there is something distracting in the background such as a window with open drapes or blinds blinding the camera to where I can't see the interviewee.  Another common mistake is something distracting and unprofessional in the background like dirty laundry in the floor or general clutter.  It makes no sense to put on a jacket and tie and then have an unprofessional presentation behind you.  You can also focus the camera in to where you are just showing your face and upper body, not allowing the viewer to see anything behind you.  If your camera doesn't focus just move it closer or further away until the picture looks right.

Also the lighting on your face is important; if your face is dark you come across as unfriendly, similar to if you are frowning vs. smiling.  Having your face properly lit, and a smile on your face as you speak, gives an entirely different presentation.

Another issue I run into is camera angle.  If like me you have a little more chin than you wish you had then you don't want the camera looking up at you from your desk.  If you use a laptop place it on a stack of books.  If you use a camera mounted on or continued within a monitor, angle the monitor for your best presentation of our face.  For video interviews I use this setup.


Other than the physical setup just remember some of the basics.  Have something to drink nearby in case you get choked; you can't cover the camera like you can cover the phone with your hand in a telephone interview.  Have your questions prepared ahead of time, and relevant documents handy so you can refer to them if need be for specific questions.  

Finally, speak slowly, confidently and with a smile.  After just a minute or two you'll adjust to the face on the screen and start talking to it just like you were there in person.  





Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Encouragement

I told Vonnie about a week into transition that the kind words said and sent to us were almost worth the anxiety of these changes.  I wasn't entirely kidding.

Of course nobody, or at least very few people, want to go into career transition. You would always prefer to make your own exit on your own terms, but that doesn't always happen for you.  When you do find out that your time has come there are waves of emotions that come with that news, from euphoria to terror and almost everything in between.  When the mood turns dark or the night gets scary the kindnesses and encouragements carry you through.

I say this for two reasons. First I want to give a sincere and heartfelt "thank you" to all of you who dropped by the office, sent a card or note, and for so many of you who sent emails.  The "you won't be out there longs" and "you'll do fines" and "you are great at what you dos" are the things that help when you need it most.

Second I want to encourage you to encourage anyone who you know is in transition.  Being on the receiving end of all this love and kindness makes my heart ache for anyone going through this who isn't getting it.

Finally, if you are in transition (and I have heard from some of you) please know that those emotions you are feeling are normal.  There isn't anything wrong with you if you panic in the middle of the night, or in the middle of the day.  I have a better network than most and had a head start.  Still, friends and family still do occasionally have to remind me that its still early and there's nothing wrong just because I don't already have my next job.

Find someone you know who can use it and encourage them.  Help them network.  Invite them to lunch out of the blue and make some calls on their behalf.  It is a kindness you may need yourself some day and you won't know until then how much it means to someone who needs it.

Comments are welcome as always.

Jim


Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Transition: First Installment

A little over two weeks ago I received the news that I wouldn't go forward with the new Harper Collins Christian Publishing Division. As of Wednesday the 19th I'm off the payroll and will receive my lump sum severance on the 9/28 pay date. Although I now have a full-time job, finding another job, that process inevitably leaves me with time on my hands.  The question that immediately comes to mind is how best to spend it.

I spent most of yesterday helping Soles4Souls which is in the midst of a significant leadership transition.  I also spent time reading and preparing for a video interview next Tuesday.  This weekend I'm helping my dad with a recording project.  I very much believe that all things work for good, and that significant change points in your life happen for a reason.  The difference between a negative experience and a blessing is often what you do with the hand you're played.

Part of what I want to do is chronicle my transition.  Being a Human Resources professional of some 30 years I know this territory better than most. During the recession I passed the 1,000 mark in the number of people I've separated from employment during my career.  While that wasn't a happy milestone, and remember that my role is to execute the decisions of others, it does give me considerable experience to bear in my own transition in that I've watched so many others go through theirs.

The nature of mergers is that headcount is reduced.  Others will undoubtedly follow me although I have  zero details or inside information and couldn't disclose what little I know. Being one of the first as the new senior leadership team was named early in the process gives me the opportunity to be out there a little while before others.  Hopefully by showing my process, including successes and failures, I can help those who come after.

Comments are always welcome; otherwise I hope this will help someone and turn my own difficult moments into a blessing for someone else.

Peace and blessing,

Jim

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Down the Road I Go: A Personal Reflection on Leaving

Friends and Colleagues,

Today is my last day in the office; I will depart Thomas Nelson a little later in the month but will office from home for the rest of my tenure.  My departments need to focus on their respective new leadership and figure out how they will work together: that won't happen with me still in the office and available.  If you are in the office today feel free to come by if you like; I'll be finishing up a few odds and ends and should have time for farewells.

As for leaving Thomas Nelson after almost 12 years I am excited, and a little sad, but mostly excited.  To paraphrase Reagan, I didn't leave Thomas Nelson, Thomas Nelson left me as it becomes a Harper Collins brand name.  My role was to develop and uphold the Nelson culture although I was not alone in that duty. My departure at this moment in the integration with Zondervan beckons in the new Harper Collins Christian division and culture.  I came in a change agent and am leaving the same way I came in.

I came to Thomas Nelson in the spring of 2001.  I was recruited because the Company had many problems, among them being extremely high turnover (25% each year), low morale, a palpable sense of unfairness, and concerns over career paths, fair pay and poor benefits.  We fixed all that and for the last eight years less than 5% of our people left each year for other jobs.  Under Mike Hyatt's leadership we ushered in a modern era embracing social media and a general modernization of our attitudes. Gone was the bunker mentality of "The world is no friend of Grace" and we actively engaged the market and the culture with authenticity.  We then entered the dark years of the recession and had sound leadership in Mark and Stuart who saw us through financial peril.  Last year was our best year ever.

All that is amazing as I look back on it, but it is not the most important evolution to me.  That one is my own.  I came here so long ago on a one year contract to fix the HR department, take a check, and ride off into the sunset. I came, a Catholic boy from the auto industry, with a stiff back and a corporate attitude completely focused on the business.  What I found were the most amazing people with whom I've ever had the pleasure of working.  My staying here these many years does not just reflect the passing of time, but my own personal and professional evolution from a change agent to a steward.  Upon leaving I am excited, and I am a little sad, but most of all I am grateful.

I came here to change Thomas Nelson and, along with the hard work of many others, we did. But it also changed me and for that you will all have a fond place in my heart always.

I'm not sure where the road takes me yet but there are many exciting possibilities.   Just seven days since getting the news that I wouldn't be part of the new company the market has warmly welcomed my resume.  I hope to stay in Nashville but some interesting possibilities have presented themselves elsewhere.  Bookmark this blog and I'll keep you posted on where I wind up and why. If you want to keep in touch send your contact information to me at:

jimthomason@bellsouth.net

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't reserve my highest gratitude to Sam Moore, who built The House we've lived in all these years and who took a chance on me in 2001.  Many will be in charge but there will only be one "Chief".

Peace and Blessing to you and your families.

Jim