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When leaders lose their job they need to leave their baggage behind.

Your position has been eliminated. You dedicated years to your employer and made sacrifices to achieve executive status. Your impact has been vast. You upheld your end of the bargain and delivered value to your employer. Even though you saw the end coming you wouldn’t accept it until it was real so you continued to work hard. Now you’ve been rewarded for your loyalty with no more than a severance package, a pat on the back, and one nasty invisible piece of baggage that you may not even realize you’ve taken with you. Ouch.

So what surprise are you carrying in that baggage? Self-doubt? Uncertainty? Fear? Maybe all three. Maybe more. While you remain unaware of your burden everyone else notices your unseemly baggage. Worse, the longer you carry it the more it weighs you down. It grows more cumbersome each time you submit a resume into a black hole. It grows after each interview that ends with rejection… or no feedback at all.

And that baggage may be the very reason those interviews are ending in rejection.

In order to move on, and you can and will, you first need to confront that baggage and leave it behind. Don’t worry. You are not alone and this nasty baggage is normal for leaders to take with them when they depart. Why? Because as a leader it is natural to look inward and take responsibility for your circumstances. In some way you will blame yourself and consider it your failure that caused you to lose your job. The irony is that part of what makes you a good leader is what makes it nearly inevitable you will blame yourself in some way for losing your job.

When you blame yourself you may unknowingly exhibit a variety of behaviors that sabotage your chances during interviews. You might project a dejected attitude or overcompensate by selling too hard and seeming desperate. You may just seem downtrodden, uncertain, or afraid. Perhaps you have a chip on your shoulder and feel bitter. Maybe you think you’re just too old for anyone to hire you. However your baggage manifests itself it is unlikely to help you project as the competent and successful leader you worked so hard to become.

So what can you do? First, you have to acknowledge that you’re carrying that baggage. At risk of sounding like a psychologist, or maybe a Jedi, explore your feelings. Be honest. How do you really feel? Ask others how they’ve perceived you since you lost your job. Are you carrying baggage? How is that baggage perceived? What are you projecting? Once your baggage begins to materialize then you can move on to step two.

The next step is really simple. Leave that baggage behind. Now that you can see it, just drop it and never look back. That baggage is a vestige of your past and has no relevance to your next adventure. Let go and move onward!

Ok, more easily said than done, I know. Trust me when I tell you that realization really is the hardest step. Once you realize you’re carrying that bag you can redirect you attention to resurrecting your aura of success. Here are ten steps that will help you leave your baggage behind, stand-out, and WIN that next job:

  1. Accept your circumstances. You are where you are, regardless of the reasons. What happened is in the past and has no relationship to the people you will meet and work with in the future. Take the wisdom of your experiences and move forward.
  2. Remember what makes you great. Your success wasn’t just random luck or circumstance. You have talent! Define, articulate and own your talent. You’ve earned it!
  3. Be realistic. Define your professional value proposition. When a company hires you what is it that they are going to hire you to accomplish? Are there people with backgrounds similar to yours doing that job, or is there something you must add to your qualifications to qualify? Perhaps you need to take a step backwards to get in the door? Explore all possibilities.
  4. Be flexible and open minded. Your idea of the right job is merely an interpretation based on your self-evaluation. Treat each opportunity to interact with peers, potential employers and anyone you network with as a chance to learn more about yourself and where you might fit. Make adjustments as needed.
  5. Own your job search. This is your full-time job and you need to treat it as such. What are your goals and objectives? How are you going to measure your performance? What resources and tools are available? What can you delegate? How do you maximize your time? Is what you’re doing working? If not, what can you change?
  6. Differentiate. Differentiating yourself is how you will land interviews. If you’re just sending your resume into a post like everyone else you are far less likely to differentiate yourself than if you take a proactive, or even novel and creative approach.
  7. Have thick Skin. Even with the right attitude, you are not going to land every job you pursue. You don’t have to win every job, just find the right job. Expect your search to last 6-18 months, though of course it could take less time, or it could take more.
  8. Network with those who are already doing the job you want. Job descriptions are typically inadequate. Plus, many of the jobs you wish to pursue are unlikely to ever be posted. To find your next role you are likely going to have to network. One of the greatest ways social media allows us to do that is via LinkedIn. Instead of just looking for open positions, look for people’s profiles that describe jobs you think align with your ideal job. Make contact with those people. Have they heard from any headhunters recently?
  9. Target Companies, not jobs. Identify companies you want to work for, then look for the right job. Maintain an active list of 10-20 companies you are regularly exploring.
  10. Bring that new positive attitude… and leave that baggage behind! Your attitude is one of the handful of variables you can control during a job search and may be the most important when it comes to landing a job. Since you’ve identified your baggage you can leave it behind!

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