Had Big Career Success & Now Struggling To Get A Job? Here's What To Do...

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Welcome to the "AOL Career Luck Project." Inspired by you, our readers, this new weekly series offers practical advice by showcasing real-life examples of career makeovers. Learn to create your own career luck using the tips and techniques given to project participants. Every Thursday.

Meet Charles.

After 20 years in sales, and then running his own business for a short while, Charles is now struggling to find a job. He's hitting all the local networking events and has applied to hundreds of jobs online. However, it's only landed him four interviews and no job offers. Recently, he befriended a woman in HR at a business networking breakfast. Charles asked her if she'd be willing to give him some candid feedback on his resume. Imagine his surprise when she agreed. Even more surprising to Charles was her honesty. She told him the following:

I've seen you at multiple networking events and I know you had a long career in sales followed up by owning your own company. I can tell you right now nobody wants to hire you because they think you will be too difficult of an employee.

And she's right. When you've owned your own company, or had a long, prosperous career, (or both in Charles case), your success can work against you when looking for a job. Here's why...

Business Owners & Highly Successful Professionals Have A "Persona"

As you climb the ladder of success, people watch you go up. They see you reaching new levels of professional and financial satisfaction. So, when they see you've climbing back down (i.e. closed your business, lost your job, etc.) and are now looking to start over, they assume you won't be very happy until you are right back up at the top of the ladder.

Let's face it: Why would you have climbed in the first place if you didn't want to stay there? Or, go even higher? That's why many employers will avoid hiring someone with a lot of experience and success. They fear you will be:
  1. Unhappy with the more basic roles and responsibilities of the job.
  2. Leave them as soon as you can make more money.
  3. Want to be in charge and feel compelled to always speak up and share what you think should be done - even when it's not your authority to do so.
Even if you feel certain this doesn't describe you, employers will continue to assume you'll be this way until you change their misguided assumptions.

Career Luck Project: How Your Success Can Hurt You On The Job Hunt

Create Some Career L.U.C.K. for Your Professional Identity

Charles needs to be proactive and start to spread a message amongst his network that shows how recent experiences have taught him he wants to be an employee again. He also needs to prove to all those he networks with that in spite of his past success, he is not high-maintenance. (Here's an article on LinkedIn that shows you how to deal with being called "overqualified," which is often an employer's code for "high-maintenance.)

Let's breakdown what he should do:

Locate the Problem - Charles started his own company when his former employer got bought. Instead of finding a new employer, he thought with all of his years of experience and customer relationships that he should be in business for himself. He quickly learned he couldn't compete with the bigger competitors and had to close up shop after several years.

Uncover the Issues - Entrepreneurs are seen as very independent. After all, if you have the courage to start your own company, you must have the confidence and belief in your abilities. The downside is that employers will assume that you wouldn't do well as an employee now that you've had a taste of entrepreneurship. They see you as potentially being bossy, opinionated, and tough to manage.

Create New Plan - Charles needs to proactively spread the message that his experience owning his own business taught him to appreciate working for an employer. He must be able to articulate clearly why he would rather rejoin the ranks of the employed. It might sound something like this:

Owning my own business was a powerful experience that taught me a lot about myself professionally. After all those years in sales, I thought being an entrepreneur would be a good fit. But, what I learned is I prefer being part of something bigger. I missed having a team of colleagues and an abundance of resources that working for a larger company provides. I also gained a whole new respect for managers and executives running these organizations. Having been in their shoes, I now see all that goes into running a company and feel I can support the management team's goals better as a result. Now, I want to take this experience and channel it in to my next job. I am really looking forward to getting back to work with a firm where I can leverage my skills and abilities to get them results.

By sharing his experience and all it taught him about how hard it is to run a business, managers will see Charles as an excellent person to have on their staff because he was humbled by the experience. They know he will have greater respect for them as a result of it.

Know Your Next Steps - Charles needs to create a bucket list of companies he wants to work for and focus his networking on meeting people who work there. Then, he can share his story and seek their advice on the best way to earn an interview with their company. The more he can connect and tell his story, the more likely he'll be to get people to refer him to jobs. It's very important he use this technique because applying online won't work. The Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and the recruiters will most likely skip his resume for the reasons listed above. Charles needs to go around the process and have in-person conversations with people who can hear his messaging first-hand. This will have a greater impact and help him get in front of hiring managers faster. (For further reading on this subject, here's an article that shares the importance of avoiding a common face-to-face networking mistake.)

Charles is a talented professional who enjoys working hard and achieving his goals. He's learning now that his track-record of success brands him as someone who employers think wouldn't be a good fit due to the "too many cooks in the kitchen" cliche. They assume he'll act in charge and expect too much. It's up to Charles to market himself differently so he can prove to employers he would be more than happy as an employee.
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