You’re Out of a Job, Now What?

Yes, "networking" is an overused buzzword. But when you're between jobs, it's your best bet for snagging a new one.

Five years ago, Peter Iannone watched his chief financial officer job at Envenergy, a small Santa Barbara-area technology company, disappear in a merger. Knowing that the top finance spot would be offered to the CFO of the other company, Colorado-based Encorp, he began to plan for a new future.

But rather than create a list of available CFO jobs and flood the market with résumés, Iannone, then 44, chose another approach. He spread the word among a score of friends and former colleagues that he was heading for a transition. And what came back to him was unexpected: His perspective on the job hunt was totally transformed.

“After I got past the emotional panic of not knowing what I was going to do on Monday morning,” Iannone says, “I realized that I had an opportunity.” At heart, he’d always been “an internal controls guy.” The epiphany — realizing that perhaps he should pursue such a position rather than grab the best current CFO slot — came from an old mentor: a CFO he had worked for 25 years earlier, and who had been the first to promote Iannone to department manager.

So he set up a sole proprietorship to take on accounting and finance consulting jobs, all the while tapping his network to test the career change idea. That steered him into the path of a 15-year-old contact who now worked for tax and accounting advisory firm CBiz Inc. By late 2003 Iannone “made a 180 turn back to public accounting,” signing on as a CBiz director and internal controls specialist.

What had opened him to the change, Iannone now says, was the exposure to people who knew his strengths and weaknesses, and could point out the obvious. And that mentor from 25 years ago in particular. His list of contacts reached back to his public accounting days with Arthur Young & Co., before he moved into corporate finance, and into 12 years as CFO for Spatz Laboratories, and then three as Envenergy finance chief. While the list of contacts wasn’t that long, “I’d take a solid network over a huge network any day,” contends Iannone.

Few executives keep as close as Iannone to key acquaintances from past years and past jobs. But they should.

Indeed, according to several career counseling experts, Iannone’s job search was picture perfect — maintaining a professional network while he had a job, soliciting advice when he knew change was imminent, and then tapping the network to find job opportunities that suited his personal goals. Easier said than done, note the experts. That’s why they are keen on offering advice about how to build a network, a personal brand, and a new career.

Job-Search Risk Management

Risk management is part of a CFO’s daily routine, of course. But even executives adept at hedging financial positions, calculating reserves, or scrutinizing insurance policies often fail to bring a risk frame of reference to their personal lives. “They need a similar, risk-based approach for their career,” asserts Chuck Eldridge, who heads the financial officers’ practice for executive search firm Korn/Ferry International. In other words, says Eldrige, don’t wait until you’ve lost your job to build a network.

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