Get the Job You Want by Articulating What You Want

Stop Blaming Outside Circumstances and Take the Blame for Your Own Mistakes

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I am sitting with "Phil," a New York-based account director. He grills me for five minutes and then it's my turn. I establish that he has had four jobs in six years. He blames a host of actors for his predicament, including agency human resources, poor recruiters and autocratic bosses, among others. I share two observations with Phil. First, that he's had a very unfortunate journey. He nods approvingly. Second, that he is the only common theme in his story. He looks shocked. But Phil's story and the way he feels he has been treated is not unusual.

Stuart Parkin
Stuart Parkin

I often hear agency executives speak about clients with enormous frustration. The irritation is not primarily about creative ideas not being bought; rather, at issue is more that clients are too tactical, too reactive. This is ironic, given that the same executives who profess the power of proactively planning ahead and the importance of building brands are diluted versions of Phil's story above. Very often, reacting more to circumstance, they market neither their agency nor themselves in the way they expect clients to market their brands.

Certainly, tough economic times call for drastic measures, and one can expect focus on the tactical. In the advertising world, irrespective of the economy, emphasis on the short term is the norm. This business culture does appear to have a concomitant effect on individual career management. Most individuals fail to manage the progression of their work. And this tactical approach manifests in all stages of the pursuit of a change in job, either in the same agency or when looking for opportunities beyond the current employer.

Individuals in jobs with which they are unhappy will often let the situation continue (possibly out of fear) until this seriously affects the quality of their work. By the time they act, their reputation and the perception their clients, colleagues or boss have of them are not what it might previously have been when they enjoyed their job. If things deteriorate sufficiently and the individual loses his job, the same person tends to react with an equally ad hoc approach.

When looking for new jobs, many candidates focus their initial efforts on aspects of the job search that have more to do with presentation than substance, tweaking resumes and cover letters and "brushing up" on interview technique. The reality is that the emphasis on the "who, when and where," important elements of career planning, make the "what and why" of the ideal job of marginal importance. It is true that activity equates to possibility. And while there is merit in action, if unfocused, it is unlikely to yield optimal results.

So, what to do? What is the way to maximize your job prospects, either where you are or for career opportunities elsewhere?

First, be clear about what you want in and from a job, and make others (at the appropriate times) aware of this. Start by clarifying what your ideal job looks like -- be clear about what you do well and the environment you enjoy doing it in. Clarity about skills and preferences will more easily help you identify the jobs to pursue.

Second, if you have a clearer idea of what the next career step looks like, you then are in a position to write an objective around which to write a compelling resume. You will also be in a position to know which social networks and media, digital and otherwise, to use and how to make them more effectively work for you. It will be easier to ask people for specific assistance rather than simply to ask for help. If you can succinctly tell recruiters what you want, you have a greater chance of landing the role you want.

Third, if you pursue something you really want, this objective will sustain you through a process of job hunting that can be tough on the strongest of personalities.

The agency world has changed profoundly in the last 12 months and will continue to do so. The age of entitlement and the need to give oneself time to stop reacting to circumstance requires taking charge of individual destiny rather than being dragged along by seismic changes in our business. Auditing what you do well, developing an objective and planning how best to optimize your abilities can take days, not weeks. Knowing what career move you want is absolutely key to getting it and to others being able to deliver it to you, either with your current employer, or if not, elsewhere.

Stuart Parkin is a New York-based career coach and executive recruiter. He has 20 years of experience in agency new-business and marketing and has worked on four continents across agency disciplines. He has run Sparkin, his New York-based consultancy, for seven years, working with a range of traditional, multicultural, digital and PR agencies including DDB, Rapp, SpikeDDB, Porter Novelli, Dieste, Fallon, Berlin Cameron and Organic.
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