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Success Story: Checking Your Ego At the Door to Land a New Job

By Perri Capell

You can have a great resume, loads of contacts, smooth interviewing skills. But in a job search, attitude comes before everything else.

Job hunting can be demoralizing, even humiliating, especially if you've been laid off. But if you are feeling depressed, bitter or hopeless, you may emanate these emotions just when you need to be making a positive impression. Without a good attitude, you won't network or interview successfully.

John Short, an Illinois hospital executive who landed a good offer two-and-a-half months after being shown the door at his prior employer, cites his attitude, plus a heap of hard work, for his job-search success.

"You need to get past holding grudges or being angry or it will come out in interviews," says Mr. Short, now chief operating officer of St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Ill.

For four years, Mr. Short had been vice president of professional services with a 500-bed community hospital in suburban Chicago when his boss retired last fall and a new chief executive was hired. The two didn't see eye-to-eye about the future and the new CEO wanted his own team. "Since I was the No. 2 guy, we agreed I would resign and leave," says Mr. Short.

In some ways, the job loss wasn't a surprise. Mr. Short says it's common in the health-care field for senior executives to lose jobs in management shuffles, and he had mentally prepared for it to happen to him someday. This mindset helped eliminate some of the grief that people can feel following a layoff, he says. "The signs were all there, so when it happened, it wasn't really much of a surprise," he says.

Early on, Mr. Short made a conscious decision to show humility in the job-search process. Mr. Short says most executives see asking for help as a sign of weakness, but he made a point to request and take advice. "It was a lot about learning and validation."

He selected an outplacement firm, revised his resume and organized his "story," or what he planned to say about his termination and goals. He says he made a commitment to himself to use all the resources he was offered at the outplacement firm, which included counseling on job-search techniques.

"He was a sponge and wanted to learn everything," says Russ Jones, managing principal of First Transitions, the Oak Brook, Ill., outplacement firm that helped him with his search. "At our first meeting, he said, 'You are the experts, tell me what I need to do,' and then he did it."

Receiving severance pay also helped ease his discomfort and anxiety. Knowing he had some financial resources, he decompressed for a few weeks after the termination and stepped up his exercise routine. "I worked hard emotionally on getting past feeling sorry for myself and channeled my energy into finding a new job," he says. "What helped was diving into the preparatory activities."

Mr. Short says long before he was laid off, he started to prepare by developing a list of 20 people he could call immediately to discuss his options. He started with these people, and they referred him to others. Being clear about his goals -- to land either a chief operating officer job at a large hospital or a chief executive officer position at a community hospital - helped his contacts to be helpful in return. "My networking was less effective if I wasn't clear about what I was looking for," he says. "I was best received when I communicated what I wanted."

He was candid with contacts about the reason he was unemployed, explaining that the chemistry with his new boss was poor. Initially, he was worried about what people would think, but he found that most of the people he spoke with said they had experienced something similar.

Mr. Short applied to openings advertised on search-firm and association Web sites and posted in newsletters. But in the end, networking led to his current job. A former boss recommended Mr. Short to a recruiter who was working on the St. John's opening. The hospital wanted someone with experience in Catholic health systems and at least 10 years of progressive management experience, says Dick Carlson, the executive vice president and top administrator of St. John's . Since starting his career in health care in 1979, Mr. Short had worked at three hospitals, including one in a Catholic system and a university medical center.

He had two interviews with St. John's managers, and the chemistry worked between him and Mr. Carlson, Mr. Carlson says. The hospital checked out the reasons Mr. Short left his previous job and didn't view it as a red flag. "I look at it as their loss and our gain," says Mr. Carlson. Mr. Short received a job offer in late November and started work in January.

Mr. Short says he's no longer fearful of a job loss, should it come again, and he continues to network. "People I contacted were very willing to help," he says, "even people I didn't know. I've learned I can do it better."

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Article from Today – July 2005