Angling For New Opportunities
I’m no career counselor, but for some reason people ask me for advice when seeking to make a job change. Perhaps it is because I once made the switch from law to business, or perhaps it’s because much of my career to date has been in finance, a notoriously fickle industry subject to the wild gyrations of the markets and the economy in general.
Or perhaps it’s simply that, as the Farmers Insurance advertisement goes, “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.”
My standard advice for someone seeking to make a job change is quite simple: resist the temptation to simply go do the same thing somewhere else. Instead, recognize that in performing your previous job or jobs you have picked up valuable skills that may have application beyond the scope of what you’ve done before. You also may have gained good perspective on what you like to do and what you dislike doing.
I then suggest you sit down and list all of this on a piece of paper with the aim of placing some value on each of the items (note: this should be the value to you personally, not the value that the expectations of others may suggest). You should end up with a sense of what you can do that will make you most happy and/or fulfilled. Now, broaden your mind and look for opportunities that best match that. If you can find something that you will enjoy, you will be good at it; if you are good at something, you will enjoy doing it. It is a beautifully virtuous cycle.
That’s usually the sum total of my advice. It seems to be well received. But it frankly does not go far enough. It does not address the much more difficult issue: how do you find and secure these great new opportunities?
I enjoy fly fishing, also known as “angling.” I won’t say I am good at it, just that I really enjoy it. I’ve learned a lot from it, including things that have nothing to do with fish. Things that have a lot to do with life.
Here are my observations, set out as a list of ten rules, on how the process of pursuing a new job opportunity is very much like angling:
1. Go where the fish are. You would think that this was obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of anglers waste time in the wrong fishing spots. The same can be said of job seekers. Do your research: find the industries, sectors, companies and firms that are engaged in what interests you and have good prospects for growth. Look for areas of market transition or developing need that point in the direction you want to go. Remember that it is much better to ride a wave than fight against it.
2. Use the right fly. The best anglers I know like to “match the hatch,” meaning they carefully investigate what the fish are eating at the time of year and the spot in which they are fishing, then pick a lure (“fly”) that matches that as closely as possible. The equivalent in job seeking terms is to assemble and tailor your “elevator speech” value proposition to the needs and opportunities you’ve discovered in your market research. Employers and fish are both smart: they will ignore something that does not resemble what they are looking for. And never send out a resume until requested for one; it’s a bit presumptuous and no fish or employer will be interested in going after a fly that involves too much work.
3. Get your fly in the water. I get a big kick out of watching newer anglers waving their rods back and forth trying to perfect their cast, hoping to get it as beautiful as Brad Pitt’s in the movie “A River Runs Through It.” While perfecting one’s cast is a worthy goal, no one ever caught a fish with a fly that high above the surface of the water. The entire purpose of casting is to get the fly in the water; hopefully as close to a fish as possible (which is where practice does come in handy). Once you have done your research and developed your personal value proposition, get out here and start networking, “putting your fly in the water” so to speak. In my experience, this is the most difficult step for most people to take, but if they don’t, they won’t get anywhere fast.
4. Don’t expect feedback. It is a glorious day, you make your perfect cast, the fly lands right in front of the fish, but the fish just swims away. Why, you wonder? Was it my choice of fly? My cast? You will never know. Accept it. The fish has neither the time nor the interest in giving you feedback. Ditto for most of the people and companies you reach out to. Don’t expect it, don’t dwell on it, just move on.
5. If you are not seeing or catching fish, move to another spot. Hope springs eternal in the heart of the angler. He or she is quite likely to spend too much time in a single fishing spot, hoping by sheer force of will to catch fish that are either not there or are simply uninterested. The same can be said of the typical job seeker. If you are consistently striking out with one industry or market, step back and reevaluate your strategy, broadening your scope of potential targets.
6. Keep your fly moving. In angling terms, this is called “stripping your line,” pulling your fly along back towards you in a quick motion which causes the fly to move through the water in imitation of a live creature that would be attractive food for a fish. If you do not move the fly, it can appear dead, and in any event the motion is necessary to catch the fish’s attention. Similarly, it is not enough just to send out an email, expecting the recipient to rush to read it. Follow-up is crucial, just make sure that it is appropriate and not pushy; no one likes to feel they are being “sold,” harassed or railroaded.
7. Watch for nibbles or bites. These can be both exciting and frustrating, for they do not “deliver the goods.” But they do provide feedback that the fish are there and that they might be interested in what you are showing them. Take it for the encouragement that it is, and get your fly back in the water, close to where you felt the nibble, and keeping it moving, no more and no less than normal.
8. If you hook a fish, keep tension on the line: not too much, or you may break the line, or too little lest you let the fish spit out the hook and be gone forever. In angling, this is called “playing” the fish; in job seeking it is the delicate dance of convincing the potential employer that they cannot succeed without you, and negotiating the terms of employment. The trick here is not to either overplay or underplay your hand.
9. If you don’t land it, you haven’t caught it. Many anglers prefer to “catch and release” fish rather than keep them. But the rule of thumb is, if you have not managed to get the fish on land, or in the boat, or in your hand and completely within your control, you have not caught that fish. Once caught, it is your decision whether to keep or let go. The same is true with job seeking; the goal should be to get to a position where the decision whether or not to accept the opportunity is yours. And that is a wonderous feeling.
10. Enjoy the outing. It can be a very “zen” experience to be outdoors fishing a lake, pond or stream, enjoying nature; it isn’t really necessary to catch anything in order to feel like you’ve had a good day fishing (some note that "it is called fishing, not catching,” which definitely distinguishes fishing from playing golf!). Job seeking is a bit different, because the entire purpose of the exercise is to secure a new opportunity, but that does not mean you can’t enjoy the journey along the way.
And the number one piece of advice I give everyone? Try fly fishing. It can change your life.
“Tight lines” everyone!