At iRelaunch we have run 20 Return-to-Work Conferences for over 5,400 people in aggregate. All in, we have presented or run over 260 career reentry programs for over 30,000 people. Our conferences and many of these other events include opportunities for our attendees to speak directly with employers interested in hiring them. We debrief with every one of our employers, and as you can imagine, we get a lot of feedback about the conversations they have with the participants.
Early on, before we got good at providing training to our relaunchers about what to say and what not to say when interacting with employers, employers reported a common refrain among the job seekers was “I’ll do anything.” Candidates blurt out these words in an effort to appear flexible and easy to place. They don’t realize that, with this simple phrase, they are shooting themselves in the foot.
The reality is that employers hate to hear this. It is not their job to figure out the perfect role for you. That’s your job and it’s hard work. Figuring out exactly what you want to do, and, therefore, which job to apply for at a particular employer, takes time. It requires talking with people, a thorough career assessment, lots of reflection and a good bit of research too. The career assessment process drives the rest of your relaunch, but a lot of people want to skip it because it’s so much easier to work on your resume or research companies online and apply for jobs instead of doing the heavy lifting to figure out exactly what you want to do, now, at the moment of your relaunch. You need to figure out if your interests and skills have (or have not) changed while you have been on career break. The longer you have been out, the more important this is.
Remember we make career decisions at a very young age, and often without much of a strategy. We may fall into a job, or take a job because we are fulfilling our parents’ or someone else’s expectations. If we take a second job in the same field, we suddenly have a “career” and are often head down, pedal to the metal once we are in that career, never taking the opportunity to step back and evaluate whether we were on the best path in the first place.
Unless, that is, we take a career break. The career break can be a gift, because it is often the first time we get the opportunity to reflect on our original career path. We can then course-correct, if necessary, when we relaunch our career. Some of us discover we were on exactly the right career path to begin with and return to exactly what we left. Or maybe we loved what we were doing before, but find it no longer compatible with our life stage, so we return to something related to our prior career, but not exactly the same thing. And then there are those of us who realize we were not on the right career path to begin with and we end up relaunching in an entirely new direction.
The difficult but essential step for a successful relaunch is to get out of the house and talk to people – ultimately, this means talking to employer recruiters and managers. That’s when you may be tempted to say “I’ll do anything.” As Archie Bunker used to say to Edith on “All in the Family,” (Millennials – look it up ), you need to stifle yourself!
Instead, say the following “I worked at a law firm on corporate finance transactions and am now interested in regulatory compliance roles at your company.” or “My background as a medical social worker led to my current focus on work in hospice organizations like yours.” or “I’ve always loved working and excelled as a financial analyst and I applied for two financial analyst roles at your company.” If you are not sure what you want to do and are speaking with a prospective employer when you are at this earlier stage, it is likely the conversation will force the employer into a career advisory role instead of discussing next steps in their hiring process.
Remember it is your job to do the hard work to evaluate your skills and interests and identify the open roles at the employer that are the best match. Then study up on your interviewer(s), the employer and the industry, and you will be ready to have a serious and meaningful conversation about your employment prospects.
Carol Fishman Cohen is the CEO of iRelaunch, a career reentry firm that runs the iRelaunch Return to Work Conferences and works closely with companies to create formal return-to-work programs, usually involving professional internships. Her full bio is here.