Why trying to get a job could be your worst option

It’s a natural reaction after leaving the Mothership to look for another job. After all, paid employment is all the we’ve known and the pull of the paycheque remains strong. We feel like there is certainty and security around having a job and it looks a lot less threatening than the alternatives. In fact, it seems like the safest and best option.

In fact, the opposite may well be true, for several reasons.

The first one is that recruitment is broken. The process of selection has become so convoluted, so contrived and so capricious that it has become painful to go through. It’s a massive time and energy suck, from deciphering the management gobbledegook and ridiculously specific requirement specs to submitting your application through tortuous and unfriendly websites.

In return, you mostly get ignored (if you’re lucky) or demeaned. Not only do companies feel it is perfectly acceptable not to acknowledge any applicants (even though this would be a cheap and easy thing to do with today’s systems and technology), I’ve heard of people who have gone through several interviews and then hear nothing, get no further response at all. I’ve also heard of job specs being changed during the interview process or jobs being pulled altogether – both between the offer and the contract and even between the contract and the start date.

It’s hardly comforting to reflect that your fate throughout this process is in the hands of people who would have looked to you for advice and guidance, and even mentoring, in the past. Now, they can remove your application in a second, due to misunderstanding, bias or even by error. After so many years of holding senior positions and being responsible for making things happen, this lack of control makes you feel powerless and is very stressful.

The second reason is that if the process doesn’t kill off your chances, somebody in the process will because of your age, experience and perceived cost. Of course, ageism is illegal but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means it’s not explicit. It’s entirely possible the people interviewing you, selecting you and potentially those managing you will all be younger and less experienced than you. They may perceive you as a potential threat, or inflexible, or too questioning, or just difficult to relate to, or any of the many other preconceptions about older executives.

It’s been shown that the older people are, the more effective they are in getting things done but this premium, that comes from experience and wisdom, is not well recognised. Youth and energy is more prized in our modern work environment.

Thirdly, it is likely that you will end up applying for roles that only play to one or two of your strengths, or are at a more junior level than you had previously worked, in order to widen your search and improve your odds. Actually, this can do the opposite. If you go for, say, project management roles because you’ve done a lot of that in the past, you are going to be up against project management specialists who will have more focused experience and skills than you. If you are going for more junior roles, you will be seen as over-qualified and may be perceived as a threat by those who will be above you.

Finally, if you didn’t leave the Mothership on your own terms, you probably had a painful and bruising exit. You may well have had an extended period of unpleasantness before that. Do you really want to go back into that sort of toxic environment again? Is it really worth it?

In short, trying to get a job back in corporate land can leave you open to indifference, rejection, disrespect and even abuse. It’s entirely possible that you can spend months and months applying for jobs without getting anywhere, draining your energy, enthusiasm and your precious finances. When your confidence has already taken a blow and your self-esteem is in a lull, opening yourself up to this can be very risky. Does this still sound like your best option?

Some people do manage to get another job, often through their network, and it’s likely to be one of the large percentage that are never advertised. If that’s possible for you, then great. You will probably know if that’s viable quite early on and will have had opportunities come to you by that route in the past. However, there is still the question of whether you wish to remain in that toxic environment. What’s more, the chances are that you will be back outside the Mothership again in a few year’s time.

For many of us, however, our networks are not well-developed or extensive enough to yield these opportunities. If that’s the case for you, then your best and safest option is to focus on Plan B and forget about trying to get another job. And Plan B is to create a life that is rewarding, fulfilling and sustainable. A life designed to fit you and not to fit an employer. The best option is actually to work for your own future.

5 ways we sabotage our business after leaving the Mothership

It’s quite common for people to set themselves up in their own business after leaving the Mothership, offering  their services as a consultant or coach or trainer, or some combination of these. I did and I’ve seen many others go this way because it’s the easiest and obvious choice, so it’s popularity is not surprising (although whether this is the best choice is a question for another day).

What’s surprising to me, however, is how these intelligent, articulate and able people manage to sabotage their new businesses whilst believing they are being perfectly rational. Even more surprising, they all make one, some, or even all of the same five unintentional mistakes (yes, me included).

When you begin a business delivering your personal services, you have a set of existing assets that you should be using to turbo-boost you at the start. These are

  1. Your experience and skill set
  2. Your industry knowledge
  3. Your network of contacts and relationships
  4. Your ability to address specific, high-value problems
  5. Your status and credibility (to some extent, this is a product of the others)

Using these to get your business up and running, you can get to that crucial break-even point as quickly as possible. You can develop a new direction after that but you will have proved to yourself that you can make a  living from your own efforts and can move forward with confidence.

Instead, all too often we disable or ignore these assets by doing the following:

  1. Doing something completely different

You’ve spent all your career in IT but now you’ve decided you are going to offer psychometric profiling as a service. Or leave behind your HR expertise and go into web design. This is not usually driven by some mis-guided desire to ‘follow your passion’ but by a desire to have a change from what you’ve done in the past (and got completely jaded about).

2. Work in a different industry

Similar to above, we decide we no longer want to work in the industry that we know. It may be because we believe it is shrinking or just that we are heartily sick of it. Instead of leveraging our knowledge and contacts, we decide to go into an industry where we know nothing and nobody. Or worse, go into several industries, any industry, as long as it’s not the one we’ve come from.

3. Work in a different location

You’re fed up with the commute and the noise and hassle of working in the city, so you decide it would be nicer to work nearer to home; have a better life balance, spend more time with the family or on our hobbies. This sounds lovely. Unfortunately, you don’t know anyone in your local area and so have to build up networks and relationships from scratch. As you get to know your area, you  realise that there aren’t any of your target customers in your locality, which would have been obvious from the start if you had thought about it for more than a second.

4. Ignore our existing network

Having spent all our working life building up relationships and establishing credibility and trust, we decide to ignore this network because we don’t believe it will be relevant to our shiny new business. Instead, we put large amounts of time and energy into meeting new people, in the hope that they will prove to be the right ones to reach our customers. However, these new people do not yet know us, trust us, rate us or remember us and so do not provide any leads. Meanwhile, the people in our old network (who do know, trust, rate and remember us) could  connect us to our target customers immediately but aren’t because we’ve never asked them too – because we’ve assumed they couldn’t.

5. Make a generic offer to a generic market

About the most common statement I have heard at networking events and when speaking to people new to running their own businesses is “I provide a wide range of consulting services to small, medium and large businesses”. It’s not their fault, they are unfamiliar with the skills of marketing and are operating well outside their comfort zone but they might as well say “I do some things for some people”. Actually, that is what they are saying. It’s impossible for anyone to help them get any business or for them to focus their own efforts in an effective way. They are basically firing arrows up in the air and seeing who they land on because they are scared that if they aim at a specific target they will miss out on other opportunities. (I, of course, have NEVER been guilty of this ;-9)


These apparently rational decisions are often made because we have not worked through the ending of our corporate career. This is an event that has the same psychological impact as a divorce or the loss of a loved one and it is vitally important to process the events, feelings and emotions so that we can move on and transition to a new career and life-style. All too often the final part of corporate career is an unpleasant experience, a bruising and sometimes traumatic exit that colours our judgement and causes a rejection of what went before. Instead, we need to hold onto the positive assets to build your new business, at least for the initial stage.

It seems to take people about 1 1/2 to 2 years to figure out what they are doing wrong and to process their experience enough to be able to re-evaluate their past career and leverage those assets. By this time their initial enthusiasm, energy and capital is badly depleted but, with luck, they will have learnt enough and found enough resources along  the way to recover the situation and make their business the success they were always capable of.

If you are a corporate leaver, consider these five unintentional mistakes before you decide on how to start your new business. You don’t have to build upon your past but it makes it a lot easier to get to a level of success that supports you financially, so that you then have the freedom and confidence to move in a new direction.

Sometimes, of course, changing your occupation, industry, location or network can work but not if you are looking to trade on your prior expertise, which you often are as a consultant, coach or trainer. These are mistakes people make unintentionally, that’s why you need to think about them. (although the last one is ALWAYS wrong and you definitely need to think about that).

Brene and Me

I can’t remember when we first met. I think we were introduced by a mutual friend, Seth. I followed a link in his blog and there she was, talking to Ted.

I watched her talk. It was startling, surprising, moving. And I knew it was aimed at me. There were hundreds, thousands, maybe millions in the audience but I know she was talking to me.

“So”, I thought, “this vulnerability thing. It’s important, isn’t it. I really should do something about it”. And then I carried on as before.

I came across her again a few weeks later. Someone else, I think it was Jonathan, was talking to her. “This is definitely important” I thought, “I must do something about this. Perhaps I should get her book.” Only the book was only available in hardback in the US, so I decided to wait until the paperback came out. I told myself it was the price but maybe that was a convenient excuse to avoid possible discomfort from reading it.

It was a few months later when I got her book and I read it through avidly. “Wow, this is really serious stuff, I must do this wholehearted living thing, I must be more vulnerable”, I thought. And I carried on pretty much as before.

But I kept bumping into Brene. More talks, more blogs, more podcasts. I felt like the damn woman was stalking me! “I haven’t really got this yet, have I?” I said to myself. So I read the book again, and I told everyone how important it was. And I carried on pretty much as before.

Unsurprisingly, not much changed. This was a disappointment. “What’s wrong with you?” I asked myself, “why don’t you get this stuff? Why aren’t you doing ‘vulnerable’?” Exasperated, I read the book again, only this time I took copious notes. One way or another I was going to drill this stuff into my thick skull.

Now, change is a funny thing. It seems that nothing is going on and then it all happens at once. Of course, it’s not really like that, it’s a steady stream of small, almost imperceptible changes that occur until a tipping point is reached. I kept going back to my notes, listening to Brene again, trying to shed the armour I had built up over the years. Then, one day, I just decided I wasn’t going to do that shame thing anymore. I decided that what other people think is entirely their affair. No more shoulds, oughts, musts and have-tos. I decided I am enough. I decided I am worthy of love. I decided I am going to be vulnerable (because that’s what let’s the good stuff happen).

This wasn’t the beginning, nor was it the end, but it was a big step. I was able to switch off all the scripts that I ran to do myself down and make me feel bad. I was able to quieten, if not entirely silence, my inner critic that always told me I was worthless and it was all my fault. I felt that I could look up and look forward, that I could escape the box that I had been trapped in for so long.

I still meet with Brene from time to time. We still have work to do. There are relapses, there are times when I want to put the armour back on, times when I want to crawl back into the box and hide. Being vulnerable, you see, is not about weakness, it’s about strength and courage and some days we just don’t feel that strong or courageous. It feels easier to go back to what we knew, what had been familiar, what had seemed comfortable. But a few words from Brene puts me straight, reminds me how awful that was and what more there is to be gained by wholeheartedly embracing life.

I still wonder why I knew this was important, why I persisted. Intellectually, I got it but I couldn’t seem to access it, as if the armour I was seeking to shed was getting in the way. But it called to somewhere deeper inside me. I just knew I had to listen to Brene until I got it.

I think you should listen to her too.