Being asked to leave your job can be a shock and feel far from a positive career move. But, as Ed van der Sande, Managing Partner Odgers Berndtson Amsterdam, explains, it can actually be the first step towards opening up a fresh new direction.

Many Executives have careers with a steep upwards curve. Jobs come their way, no problem. The ones I speak to can tend to be different. Often, they have been requested to leave their company. This happens quite a lot, so it’s not at all that strange.

If it’s the first time for the Executive, he/she will often think:

"What on earth am I supposed to do now?"

With time on their hands, they don’t know what should or shouldn’t happen next.  

There is a reason underneath all of this, a pretty substantial one.

Our rhythm of working is relentless, non-stop. Then, suddenly, we stop working, because we get fired, or we run our car into a tree, or we retire.

During their career, Executives are too busy to take a moment to think long and hard enough about the remainder of their career and where it might lead.    

And I don’t mean thinking "I need to become CFO or CEO somewhere", but more along the lines of "what am I good at, what should I be doing, how can I develop myself further, and what is necessary for that?"

Invest in yourself

My first piece of advice if you’re joining a Board is don’t just ask for rewards to spend and consume, but also something to invest in yourself.

Ask "What should I do to make sure I keep developing myself" and "how do I want to develop myself within the job market?"Call it career development coaching.

As an Executive, make sure you have a conversation with someone every 4-6 months to help you with that, to force you to consider what should be happening the day after tomorrow.

Organisations used to think that if they assisted the career development of one of their employees, they would leave.

I believe that if you put someone on such a course with the help of an expert, the person will stay, exactly because the organisation offers such assistance.

The person can be trained internally or externally, become a commissioner somewhere, a chairman at the local football club, join local politics and add value there.

Take control

I speak to a lot of people who might have once had a real purpose in their lives, but they got caught up in the day-to-day, and the rest of their career just happened to them. They moved from one place to the next, without giving the reason to do so enough thought.  

Jack Welch of General Electric always said: “control your own destiny or someone else will” and “be in the driver’s seat”.  

People often think along the lines of what’s necessary to succeed within an organisation, but they don’t think outside of that.

They do not think about what they should be doing at the same time as working. Those people come to us, have an interview on "what are my options in the job market". Then I have to disappoint them, 9 times out of 10.

I tell them I can’t help them, you don’t need a headhunter. We are not agents like in football, that have a range of players and they accommodate them here and there, getting paid by the players and the football club they ship them to.

I also worry about those who don’t get asked to leave. If you were never thrown out somewhere, perhaps you never really tried to get the most out of that situation.

In the Rhinelandic part of the world, getting asked to leave is considered shameful, but in the Anglo Saxon part of the world, it’s not, the same as going bankrupt.

Here in the Netherlands, that’s a really bad thing, but if you go bankrupt in the United States, you aren’t pitied. Far from it, at least you tried and learnt something.

Two approaches

There are two ways to approach your next job.

There’s the laisser faire approach, "I’ll keep doing the same thing, another employer will come and pick me up, I will join that organisation and see where that will take me."

Of course, you should always look at all opportunities available, but do something else too, and do it in a very structured manner. Ask yourself, "what do I want to achieve" and "what are my abilities". This is not really hard, but it takes time and energy.

Start with "who am I", "what are my values", "what drives me", "how do others see me", "what happens to me when I am under stress". These are all elements you should be aware of. Know what you have achieved so far and how you are differentiated from others. It all leads to "what can I do". I call that "creating propositions". When I speak to salespeople, they sell to everyone, have propositions for everything, but for themselves, there’s nothing.

You can easily come up with three or four propositions for yourself and translate this into your own branding.

Consider your abilities, your fit for the role and potential, and your motivation. Those are the three areas where you can create real differentiation. So you make a few propositions and you use those.  

It’s a competitive world

If I was born ten years before, I would not have gone to University, because back then my parents would not have had enough money and willingness to let me study. That changed since the 80’s after the government made it easier to do so. Anyone that could go to University, went there.

Soon, there will be a whole generation of people my age coming to me saying: "we are very important and deserve a job".

No problem to get a job, I hear you say, "the baby boomers are retiring, aren’t they?" But the number of baby boomers is a lot smaller and the number of good and available jobs has decreased because now, a lot of jobs can be filled internationally.

You’re not just competing against the Dutch, but the whole world too.

When I started, eleven years back, 10% of our searches were international searches. Now it’s 90%. The chances of being appointed for these top jobs are less and less, so you will have to do your personal branding in a very goal-oriented manner.

Think of political parties targeting their audience. They want to invest their time and means wisely. If you are a liberal, you won’t want to waste your time on someone from the Green Left.

They took that from supermarkets in the B2C marketplace. They target in a way to make sure the right people buy the right products. It’s either the good and expensive, or the very cheap, that survives.

Apply this to people and job seeking, it is the same. Why wouldn’t we position ourselves in the right way? Why not do it in a targeted way, instead of leaving it to chance?

The ways forward

Finally, a dismissal can happen for many reasons. Perhaps another person is expected to be more successful in the role. Maybe the boss wanted something new and set his/her own course. It could be a conflict between old and new school ways of doing things or a generational conflict. There could be tensions within a team or a conflict around appointments. Or a conspiracy towards the person let go.

Whatever the reason, let things settle first. Only meet with a recruiter once you are ready.

Before that, look for one trusted contact for support and speak about the dismissal. Formulate an exit story, get to know where things have gone wrong. Sit it out for a while and take the time to redefine oneself. Manage expectations with acquaintances, and give yourself time to grieve first.

Ask yourself "who am I exactly" and "what am I good at". Devise a (brand) story about yourself. Make a number of propositions about yourself. Look for jobs that go with it. "What is the industry I fit best with?" 

Test your conclusions with friends. It might surprise you, and open up opportunities you might not have considered before.

Do this a number of times.

Then, come and see me.

Ed van der Sande

Ed van der Sande is the Managing Partner of the Dutch office of Odgers Berndtson, where he leads the Business Services & Technology practice. Ed is a trusted advisor to a number of organisations i...

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