Losing your job is a disorienting kick in the gut. One association executive shares the story of how his career coach got him off the ropes and back in the ring.
By Bryan Ochalla
Before losing his job as CEO of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police in March 2008, Todd Wurschmidt, Ph.D., CAE, CFRE, says he "didn't know there were animals called career coaches."
That all changed when Wurschmidt, who spent 23 years at the helm of the Dublin, Ohio-based organization, met Marshall Brown, PCC, president of Marshall Brown & Associates, a few months later at an ASAE & The Center event.
As he sat and listened to Brown talk about his experiences as a career coach, Wurschmidt says he "could tell that [Brown] knew what he was talking about, that he had a wealth of experience working with people just like me." As a result, he adds, "I was pretty sure he would be able to help me find a new position."
Wurschmidt had tried to do that on his own in the months following his dismissal, but, like most people who are pink-slipped after spending more than two decades in the same position, he quickly found he was unprepared for the modern job market.
Case in point: Shortly after Wurschmidt left the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, an acquaintance (who happens to be the vice president of human resources at an association) agreed to look over his resume. Her reaction? "This is atrocious!" Wurschmidt says with a laugh.
"I hadn't addressed it for years and years," he says of his formerly disregarded resume. "I didn't have time to look at it, really. I was too busy dealing with all of the things our association was accomplishing and trying to accomplish."
Wurschmidt faced another reality check after he flooded recruiters with his resume. "I thought, 'I've done a lot of great things in my career,' so I put together packets of information about myself and my accomplishments and sent them around," he says. "I didn't realize at the time that recruiters don't work that way. In fact, quite a few of them were turned off by what I did. It was pretty embarrassing."
At least one good thing came out of the experience. "It got me to think about reaching out for help," Wurschmidt says. "It got me to think, 'Maybe someone can expedite this process [of finding a new position].'"
The latter is a tactic Wurschmidt turned to many times while he was at the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. "My philosophy has always been, no matter what mission or objective or task I'm trying to accomplish, to surround myself with people who know more than I do about the subject at hand and who can help me get the job done," he says.
"Before We Get Started …"
Wurschmidt was pretty sure Brown was another one of those people after seeing him in action. What he didn't realize at the time was that he would have to answer a few more wake-up calls before Brown would be able to help him work his way back into the association world.
When he talked to Brown for the first time, Wurschmidt recalls, "He told me, 'You have to get over being let go.' I heard the same thing from a lot of people at that time. 'You aren't the first guy to go through this,' they told me. But it was the first time I had gone through it! Hearing Marshall, who has helped so many other people through the same situation, say the same thing, though, really struck a chord with me."
Another of Brown's comments from that same session struck a more dissonant chord, at least initially. "He said, 'I'm picking up a lot of negativity in your voice,'" Wurschmidt remembers. Brown said pretty much the same thing during their second session, he adds. "He told me, very firmly and frankly, 'I'm still picking up a lot of negativity in your voice, and if that continues I won't be able to work with you.'"
"It was like being struck with a sledgehammer," Wurschmidt says of those early experiences, though he describes them as being "profoundly beneficial," too. "Marshall was putting the mirror up to my face, so to speak, and that's just what I needed at the time. He knew that if he could pick up on my negativity, so could anyone considering me for a job.
"I'm not sure how many other people would have been that blunt with me," he adds. When you lose a job, "everyone else in your life is so concerned with consoling you or brushing you off because they're busy, but a coach doesn't have to worry about that."
That's all part of being a career coach, according to Brown. "A lot of people who are downsized or 'right sized,' as some people put it, are very angry when they come to me," he says. "Often, they don't know why it happened, or they don't understand why it happened."
As a result, Brown says he typically spends his first few sessions with a client "helping them get rid of that negative energy. You only have so much energy to give, and if you're going to put out more negative energy than positive energy it's going to be very difficult for you to get another job."
Brown says his job as a career coach is to help his clients "see the situation from a different perspective. I have to help them take that negative energy and redirect it."
That can be easier said than done, of course. But Brown has a few tricks up his sleeve that help clients come to terms with their sudden and surprising unemployment. "Sometimes I'll have them write a letter to their former employers and then I'll have them do something with it, such as mail it to me so I can tear it up. Or I'll have them take it into their back yard and burn or bury it."
Brown says some of his clients "are asked to leave their positions immediately and are never given the opportunity to defend themselves or say what they'd like to say to their former employers." As such, the exercises he has them go through "are all about allowing their voice to be heard."
For Wurschmidt, becoming aware of his negativity was all that was needed for him to move on from his dismissal. "After Marshall brought it to my attention, we didn't need to spend any more time on it," he says.
Brown agrees. "After that, he was able to see the possibilities," he says of Wurschmidt. "He was able to move forward."
Getting to the Job at Hand
From then on, Wurschmidt says his sessions with Brown were "very methodical." Like clockwork, the two talked over the phone for about an hour every other week. "We spent a lot of time at the beginning talking about my goals—what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go. Then we made sure my resume and cover letters told that story."
After that, they spent most of their sessions going over Wurschmidt's "homework": networking. "Marshall made it clear early on that I would get another job by networking, not by blindly filling out applications or sending off resumes," Wurschmidt says.
As a result, "our conversations became a constant drumbeat," Wurschmidt adds, before rattling off a list of the questions Brown posed most often. When are we going to talk next? What are you going to accomplish between now and then? Who are you going to talk to or meet with?
"Most jobs at this level come about because someone you know either tells you about an opening or recommends you to someone who is trying to fill an opening," Wurschmidt says. As such, Brown's guidance was "all about getting my name out there and getting in front of as many people as possible, in the hope that one of them would say to someone else, 'Hey, you should talk to Todd Wurschmidt.'"
That's exactly how Wurschmidt was introduced to Robert Van Hook, CAE, and Jackie Eder-Van Hook, MSOD, founders of Transition Management Consulting, Inc., late last year, an introduction that quickly led to him joining the Washington, DC-based firm as an interim executive and independent consultant. (He helps associations and nonprofits across the country during times of transition.)
"I've always loved learning and meeting new people, and that's what this job is all about," Wurschmidt says. "I go into some significant organizations, see how they operate, offer some suggestions, and then go do it all over again at another organization. It allows me to use all of the skills I've developed over the years and learn some new ones, too."
He no longer calls on Brown as a coach. "His job was to help me get a job, and as soon as I got something, his job was done," Wurschmidt says of their three-month engagement, but it's likely he'll call on him as a colleague and even a friend for years to come.
"When I first came to Marshall, I was in shock," Wurschmidt says. "I needed someone in my corner, someone who cared about my future, and that's what I got—and then some."
(Associations Now, Jul. 2009)
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