July 24, 2017

Actively Listening for the Knock of Opportunity

By Chuck Hutsell, Practice Lead, IT and Gaming

One day, not long after my family had moved into a new neighborhood, I was enjoying a relaxing afternoon and the comforts of some family time and a little NFL football. Suddenly, there was a knock at my door. We weren’t expecting anyone, and like most people, I was a bit irritated at the intrusion of this knock into my sanctuary.

It turns out, it was a neighbor whom I had not yet met, and he needed my assistance with a project he was working on. Oh, the unexpected choices life offers us! Without notice, I was thrust into the dilemma of either being a jerk and telling him I can’t help him because I am “busy,” or having to leave my sanctuary of comfort (and a very close ballgame) to help him out. I chose the latter, and my life was forever impacted in ways I would have never imagined.

My neighbor and I became very close friends, and remain so today. We have created lasting memories and shared events that have become traditions in our neighborhood. We’ve watched our children grow, go off to college, and have even seen a few of them graduate! Throughout the ensuing years, my friend and I have shared professional experiences and offered each other valuable advice that has helped each of us navigate successful careers. In short, I hesitate to think what I would have missed had I chosen not to help my neighbor. I am forever grateful for that knock on my door.

When You Hear That Knock

As a recruiter, 90% of the candidates I speak with are not actively looking to change jobs. When happily employed, professionals tend to become willfully complacent and shut down that part of their personality that seeks opportunities elsewhere. In fact, for many employees, considering other job options feels like a form of infidelity and betrayal. It is not. In fact, remaining open to the world’s possibilities is as important to enjoying a rewarding career as it is to living a full life.

Breaking Through Barriers

Though most individuals may not be actively looking, 100% of them should be actively listening. It is entirely possible to appreciate your current job and workplace to the fullest, while also keeping your ears open to conversations about career opportunities and your evolving professional needs.

As a recruiter, it is my job to educate prospective job candidates about previously unexplored opportunities that are aligned with their career trajectories. This process, however, often begins with navigating past walls of defense and skepticism that many professionals have instinctively erected between themselves and recruiters. I begin by communicating that they have absolutely nothing to lose by listening to me, and potentially a great deal to gain. The information that I possess could have a positive effect on their professional and personal life. Also, I respect people enough not to waste their valuable time, nor mine. Prospective job candidates that I contact can simply ignore me if they choose to, but learning more about a potential career opportunity costs them nothing and could profoundly impact their lives, careers, and families and loved ones.

From Listening to Actively Listening

When a person practices “active listening” they acquire knowledge. We are all familiar with the phrase: “Knowledge is Power.” Learning more about an opportunity empowers you to make a more informed decision. Most people are predisposed to answer “No” to questions they are asked. In contrast, most people are predisposed to welcome a “Yes” answer to their own questions! I believe “active listening” is an effective bridge to negotiate this odd gap in human communication.

Once a prospective job candidate is open to the idea of listening, by default they become more informed. Confidence is elevated by the security of knowing that, despite one’s current fortunate circumstances, other options are out there. The simple idea of possibility is inspiring. At this point, prospective job candidates become active listeners – they are more attuned to their professional surroundings, much as when, behind the wheel of a car, our senses are heightened to detect any noise or sound that may require our attention while navigating our way toward our destination.

Actively listening is a choice. I engage professionals to make that choice – to accept the invitation to choose to actively listen even if they are not actively looking.

From Actively Listening to Actively Searching

It is human nature to want to feel in control, especially of those forces that impact our ability to be happy and provide for ourselves. So when orchestrating a job change, professionals want to feel they are in control of the process. Actively listening opens up professionals to their career realities. Life is rarely perfect. Sometimes the optimal job arises when the candidate is not looking, and sometimes the candidate begins their search after the ideal job has been filled by someone else. Variables are seldom 100% congruent with the professional’s desired timing of a job change. But actively listening primes the content professionals for possibilities they never saw coming, and prepares them to embrace change instead of fearing it.

From Uncertainty to Confidence

Job candidates who are active listeners steer their careers with confidence and alacrity. Actively listening is a state of consciousness that allows professionals to be vigilant about their own careers, and shifts the power away from negative and irrational external forces – such as the notion that considering other job opportunities is an act of betrayal against a current employer. That sense of shared loyalty sometimes proves to be a false equivalency. Actively listening also means hearing our own internal voice that offers greater personal awareness, fulfillment, and the confidence to grow professionally without guilt.

The Power of Suggestion

Every person has a life story about something great that happened to them when they weren’t looking for it. Some of the best things in life occur when we least expect them. So when the universe offers us a moment of serendipity, we should take it. When I ask a prospective job candidate to script their next job opportunity, they are soon describing an amazing position that they haven’t found, or at least not yet. But now they are actively listening, and what they hear from me may be at least a step toward that position they seek. Because some day, that position will exist, and it can be theirs. But only if they are open to that possibility; and that begins by making the choice to, for a moment, leave their current environment of sanctuary, and answer that intrusive knock of opportunity.