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Time for a career change. Now what?

Subscribe to Leadership Development 12/16/2015 Robert Dilenschneider

 50 plus Roche interview

The following is excerpted from Robert L. Dilenschneider’s book 50 Plus! Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life.

There came a time in my own life when I knew I had to leave Hill & Knowlton, the public relations firm where I’d been working for twenty years, and strike out on my own. I needed a clean break. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.

So I started to fantasize. I thought, I could be a scriptwriter. I could work in a foreign embassy. I could be a teacher, underpaid but gratified by the work I was doing. In my fantasies, each of these occupations offered major satisfactions. But when I weighed the pros and cons of those jobs, I grew indecisive.

Fortunately, someone helped me out of my muddle: Gerard R. Roche, who is retiring from executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles International, Inc. at the end of 2015 following a stellar 52-year career where he served in many leadership roles, including serving as CEO and a member of the Board of Directors. He was a high-level headhunter who is so well respected that his colleagues voted him “Headhunter of the Century.” He’s also a friend.

Gerry and I went to breakfast one morning at the Sky Club. I sat at one end of the table and Gerry sat at the other. Then he opened his briefcase and began pulling out job descriptions for searches he was conducting. He must have had forty or fifty job descriptions, and he forced me to consider each one as if it were being offered to me. Did I want to be a salesman? A banker? An airline executive? How about a social worker or a veterinarian? Gerry ran through a long series of possibilities. In the process, he helped me realize what I should have known instinctively — that I love public relations and wanted to stay in that business. Only this time, I wanted to be my own boss.

Everybody can’t have Gerry Roche for a friend. But everybody can perform the same kind of exercise that Gerry put me through. I highly recommend it. You can do this exercise by checking out the jobs listed in professional journals, in the want ads, and on the Internet. I’m not talking about a job search here. Far from it. I’m talking about an exercise in the imagination. It can make you appreciate the benefits of the field you are already in and, at the same time, open your eyes to fields that you might not normally have considered.


If that’s your situation — or if you suspect that it easily could be — you probably feel intensely discouraged. I would urge you to resist that feeling. So would Gerry Roche. As a preeminent headhunter, he’s worked with the best and the brightest, more than a few of whom have been given the boot at some point in their careers. Here’s what he has to say:


RLD: How do people over fifty handle losing a job?

GRR: Some people go to the next situation immediately. Others go nowhere, do nothing, and eventually retire. And then there are those who open up their own store or start their own business, which I tend to encourage. There are no hard and fast rules. Losing a job can be a perfect time to review and redirect your future and career. Charles Darwin had a great line: “It’s not the brightest, nor the strongest who survive; it is the most adaptable.”

RLD: Why do people lose their jobs?

GRR: The number one reason, performance issues aside, is mismatch at the hiring stage. Specifications on both sides can be stretched or ignored. Number two is the lack of clear communications at annual review time — or, worse yet, no reviews at all. Sound feedback, formal or informal, is critical. Number three, some get bored. Number four, personality conflicts develop and go unattended. Number five, unforeseen relocations or corporate realignments can happen. I like to use this line: “The reasons some marriages fall apart are as mysterious as why some stay together.” Same principle on the job, different parties. Analysis is not easy. It takes effort on both sides for the relationship to survive. Solid performance and attention always help.

RLD: How should people react when they lose a job?

GRR: The worst thing to do is to blow your top and say, “It’s not my fault; it’s the people around me," "It’s the sales manager," or "This place isn’t run very well.” Above all else, don’t criticize your old company or boss when you’re job hunting, even if your criticism is valid. It’s a huge mistake to blame others. You’re killing yourself with that approach.

RLD: And what is the best way to react?

GRR: Take the high road. Don’t fight it, don’t criticize, don’t argue about the rationale behind it. Be optimistic and positive, and take a fresh look at everything, including yourself. Don’t get bitter; get busy.

RLD: When you interview someone who is looking for a job, what is the most important thing they can tell you?

GRR: I need to hear what you have achieved. What is your background? What have you accomplished? What beasts have you killed? Tell me what you’ve done! Don’t tell me how great you are. And don’t tell me about how hard your former boss was or that they didn’t respect you or they didn’t like short guys or you got in a fight with the boss or the company was going in the wrong direction. Just give me the facts. What percent increase in sales and revenues did you deliver in your operation? What products did you design? What markets did you open up? Now tell me what you want to do, and we’ll see if it’s realistic.

RLD: What do you tell people who have jobs but are dissatisfied with them?

GRR: What you should be doing right now is developing options, because — here’s another line I like to use — “If you only have one option, you don’t have any options.”

Option number one should be to keep the job you have. You are hurting yourself if you leave a decent job that you can use as a base. So now that I’ve said there are no rules, Rule One is that having a job is better than not having a job. The best way to get a job is to have a job.

RLD: Has starting over become more difficult in recent years?

GRR: No, not if it’s approached the right way. It depends on the individual’s ingenuity, drive, determination, and objectives. What do they want? What are they seeking? Are they burned out? Are they challenged? I’m an enormous respecter of the individual. And what I’m saying is, “Hey, the ball game’s open, it’s a free game out there, and there is no reason to get discouraged.” It’s not simple, and it’s not easy. It depends on you. It depends on what you’ve got on your résumé and in your stomach. It depends on how hard you want to pursue your life’s ambition.


From 50 Plus! Critical Career Decisions for the Rest of Your Life, by Robert L. Dilenschneider. Citadel Press Books, Kensington Publishing Corp. Copyright © 2002, 2015 by Robert L. Dilenschneider. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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