“I was downsized from a large corporation about a year ago. Having given up finding a full-time position with another corporation because of my age – I am 52 years old – I set up a little consulting firm a while back and have met with several corporations to discuss offering my services as an independent contractor.
It is very frustrating. Nobody seems to want the work I can do. When I talk about the work I did for my old employer, they tell me either that they’re not interested or ‘we just laid off someone who did exactly that, so why should we hire you?’
I don’t feel I know any longer where I add value, or what I should be doing at this point in my life. Do you have any ideas?”
Sadly, an entire generation of aging ex-corporate executives are having this experience right now.
I admire you, first, for recognizing you are not a “victim” and that your future rests entirely in your hands, and second, for having the courage to strike out on your own as a consultant.
There is only one remaining hurdle you now need to overcome: you need to forget what’s on your resume, and look for work where it actually is, not where you would like it to be.
When looking for consulting work, especially from large corporations, the work they are looking for is rarely, if ever, the work you were doing when you were working in corporate America. Let’s face it, if that type of work was truly in demand, you probably would never have been laid off in the first place. The fact that other corporations have laid off people with similar skills means that you are looking for the wrong type of work.
When you meet with a corporation to discuss consulting work, ask lots of questions and get the other person to open up and talk about what the company is looking for. Be sure to ask specifically, “what are some of the projects your department is working on right now that you might want to outsource?”
Too many consultants begin their sales meetings by talking about their credentials, or walking through a laundry list of the work they’ve done for other companies. Bad mistake. By doing that you put a “label” on yourself, and if that “label” doesn’t fit any work the company needs done at that moment, you’re out of luck. When your interviewer asks you what you do, be as vague and general as possible (“operations management generalist”, “marketing strategist”) so as to create the maximum number of options for a successful “fit”.
When the person you’re talking to mentions a specific project or task they are looking for someone to do, that’s the time for you to start talking. If the job is something you have some idea how to do, even if you’ve never done it before, tell your interviewer you are ready, willing, and able to do the job, and can get started right away.
If a company is interviewing you as a potential consultant, it’s because they need something done and they can’t find anyone with the skills or experience in-house to do it. If they had no work they needed done, they wouldn’t be talking to consultants at all. And if the necessary skills or experience were easy to find, they would already have found another consultant to do it. The fact that they’re having trouble finding someone to do something means there are few or no people in your area who know how to do it. Far from being unqualified, you are one of the best people out there to do the work. Why shouldn’t you volunteer to do it, develop the reputation of being the local “expert” who does that type of work, and then sell your newfound expertise to other companies?
Opportunities seldom come where you expect them to be, or where you want them to be. Often, they will be only vaguely related to the work you’ve been doing. Whenever an opportunity comes your way, especially an opportunity to do cutting-edge work in your field that probably nobody has done before, say “yes”, get the business and then later, in the quiet of your study, figure out how to do the work and keep the client happy. If you truly are a professional in your field, you will climb your “learning curve” quickly and get the job done. After all, you will be highly motivated (by fear of failure if nothing else) to do so.
There’s an old saying (attributed to Erasmus of Rotterdam, ca. 1510) that “in the land of the blind, the person with one good eye is king.” Get out there beyond your “comfort zone”, start saying “yes” when companies mention specific projects they need done, and don’t worry that you are not the “perfect” candidate. Sooner or later, by pushing the boundaries of your “comfort zone” further and further out, you will get a reputation for handling just about any consulting project in your field that anyone needs done, and the clients will be calling on you rather than the other way around.
Cliff Ennico (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series ‘Money Hunt’. This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2021 CLIFFORD R. ENNICO. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.