Chad Lemke

Chief Operating Officer, Array Services Group

I was a first career executive and had spent all or most of the previous twelve years expanding my responsibility and furthering the careers of those around me.  Sometime after the third ownership change, I found myself negotiating the terms of my release from the VP role that had been my pinnacle accomplishment.  It was the end of an amazing run.

The concept of finding a new career was completely foreign.  You don’t exactly look in the classified section of the local newspaper for your next executive level position.  The prospect of finding my next opportunity was as much exciting as it was scary.  OK, more scary than exciting.  I just wanted to get back to work.

I dusted off my contact list and started thinking of how many people within my network could offer me an opportunity equal or greater than I had in the past.

After a couple months of what I thought was active job searching, I came to the sobering reality that if I relied on applying only for posted positions, job boards and my existing network, I might be unemployed forever…or at the very least a long time.  I had spent significant time preparing my resume and I was proud of the decorations and accomplishments it encapsulated.  However, I also knew that it couldn’t talk and it wasn’t evident to the reader why those accomplishments followed me.  In my mind, my resume, would never be able to tell the story, but was rather just a table of contents.  I needed to get in front of people and be my own resume and tell my own stories.

I set my mind on personally introducing myself to the decision makers who had the opportunities that I desired.  First, I had to identify those individuals at the companies in my industry who could make positions for me if they would so choose.  In my case it was the owners and CEOs.  I cross referenced three trade organization lists in the geographical regions and created what I believed to be a comprehensive list.  Although trade organizations proved to be a great source in defining the breadth of the market, they provided little depth of information.  I found that using, Google, Dun & Bradstreet, Hoovers, Manta, company websites, industry white papers (and even just calling the receptionist!) that I was able to create detailed ownership and management structures that really helped me as much to know where my opportunity was not as much as where it might be.  It was quite motivating to gather intelligence on each of the companies individually.  Each new lead as it developed was an exciting new possibility waiting to be explored.

Once I knew who to contact at each of the companies, as well as where, I set out to overcome what I thought to be my greatest challenge.  These people did not know me.  I knew that it would be extremely difficult to get time with the CEOs and owners of companies if to them I was a “nobody calling from nowhere.”  I started by calling and setting up informational meetings with many of the owners and CEO’s of companies that we too small or otherwise were not likely to have opportunities for me.  I thought at the time that this would be good practice, but what I quickly learned was that it was the greatest networking and intelligence gathering exercise I could dreamed of.  Most of the owners and CEO’s or Directors at these mid-size and smaller start-up companies were once star employees at other companies within my market.  As you would expect, the careers of many of the top professionals were intertwined with each other.  These meetings provided me not only incredible background information, but also the familiar names I needed to make contact and set up meetings with the decision makers who were more likely to have the opportunities I was desiring.   In effect, I was no longer a “nobody calling from nowhere” and as an orbital benefit, I became pretty polished at sharing my accomplishments.

I admit that at first these conversations caused apprehension, but with application they became much easier.  I developed a series of industry-specific questions about implementation of cutting edge strategies, technology or changes in the marketplace with regulations, etc.  Through this I was able to build credibility quickly and without having to sound like I was selling myself.  What I had in common with all of these leaders was the industry.  Leaders love to share their own war stories and ideas to improve in the future, I just had to get them talking and trusting that I was like them.

I chose to keep my phone conversations short and reserved my best stories for my in-person meetings.  I developed my proudest accomplishments into stories and practiced them so they were short and focused on the displaying the value I could offer.  By keeping with a very conversational approach, it was quite easy to direct the interviews to these stories and in turn to get the owners and CEOs to share their own stories and experiences as well.  I was never afraid to be the one asking the questions in the room.  I found this to be the quickest way to gain instant credibility and keep a relaxed atmosphere.

In my best week, I garnered three separate six-figure offers, of which I chose the one with the company that faced the most challenges.  The CEO was willing to create a role for me overseeing his group of 5 companies as Chief Operating Officer.  Four years later, those challenges have turned out to be by far the best opportunity.  Now I have another story to tell.

I thought it important to note that I keep the same Guerilla mentality as I am building my team.  Having the flexibility to structure my new opportunity, I decided to personally build and keep responsibility for the recruiting team in operations rather than structure it as an HR function.  The recruiting team alerts me to any interesting and impressive people they may meet because they know that the best positions are not always posted.  Being creative in landing those candidates and being willing to create positions for them has significantly helped make our team stronger.

Remember, you are your living resume, get in front of people, share your successes and challenges and you will be surprised what great opportunities you can create.