Mr. Simon is happy to introduce Terrence H. Seamon, an executive coach and facilitator with the Ayers Group, experienced in working at all levels from C-level to front-line. He is results- and action-oriented Learning & Organizational Development professional with passion for learning, managing change, and creating more effective leaders, teams, and organizations.
Natalie met with Terrence to speak about the role of small job search support groups for people who are in transition, define the significance of personal brand, speak about the importance of networking and accountability partnership, and touch upon the subject of job seekers' personal and professional development.
Meet Terrence H. Seamon
NL: Terry, people of various job seeker networks from New Jersey, USA, are familiar with you and happy when you speak to them. Everyone describes you as a very knowledgeable and approachable person. But I'm not sure that many of them know exactly what kinds of services you offer and what you do as a professional. So why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
TS: Thank you for those nice words. I work for the Ayers Group, which is an outplacement company in New York. I am based out of the Princeton Office, though I haven't seen the office in a couple of months during the pandemic. But I'm still very busy with clients, working with them remotely using telephone, email, Zoom, Skype, and other tools. I've been with Ayers since 2009.
In 2008, I was working in New York for another company, and when the financial crisis happened that year, I was let go along with millions of other people.
I found myself out of work and actively networking when a networking contact of mine called me and asked if I'd like her to introduce me to a friend of hers at the Ayers Group, and I said: “That would be great, thank you so much!”. I met one of the senior people at Ayers at that time. He and his colleagues liked what I brought to the organization, and they hired me, and I've been with them since 2009. I'm glad to be with them, they're a great team.
My job there is a Career Transition Consultant, which is a fancy term for a career coach. We work with professionals and executives that have been let go by their companies. They are now in transition, either looking for another job, a change of careers, going into business for themselves, or becoming consultants. Whatever the case might be, we help them with their career transitions.
At the same time, I'm part of the ministry at my church, The St. Matthias Employment Ministry here in Somerset, NJ, which I co-founded with one of our deacons in 2007 and we are now in our 13th year of operation. In the beginning, we used to have monthly meetings, like a lot of similar groups do. But after a few years, we suspended the meetings and went virtual.
We now work with people individually by appointment, providing needed support. A lot of it is resume review, help with LinkedIn, and interview prep, but for the most part, it tends to be helping people with their resumes, and it's a free church-based ministry. We don't push the church side of it. We will work with anybody that hears about us and wants our help. And we tend to work with people right here in Franklin Township (NJ, USA) where I live. So I do this type of work both professionally and as a volunteer minister through my church. And I really like it.
I think I've found my calling after many years previously in the training and development field, as a training manager in a variety of industries. I still like that work, too.
But that work has dried up quite a bit since the pandemic, although I do expect it to come back once business re-opens. So, my training work will probably come back again, although it might not be what it was before, with the concern that we have about social distancing and the spread of the virus. So, it's probably going to be a slow, incremental return of that business. We’ll see.
NL: With these numerous layoffs going on, do you expect your number of clients to increase at your main job, the Ayers Group, and at the church? What do you think?
TS: Yes, we're seeing increases at the Ayers Group. It's quite a dramatic spike in the last couple of weeks. My workload has gone up, which I'm happy about. I like to be busy with a variety of clients. And that's exactly what I have right now.
The work at our church, however, has stayed the same. Even though there are a lot of people out there who need us, I think people are staying away from church. I'm sorry to say that because the churches themselves had to close down their in-person church services.
I think the members of churches have pulled away from their church involvement. At least that's what I'm seeing. I don't know if that's true across the board, but it’s what we're seeing with our church. Now that we're starting to talk about possibilities of having the congregation comeback in a very controlled way, the interest in our Employment Ministry may increase.
NL: One more question about your professional activities. Who are your typical clients at the Ayers Group, because at the church, you say, you work with pretty much everyone, right?
TS: Yes, at the church, anyone that comes to us that would like our help, well, we'll work with them. At the Ayers Group, it's also anyone, but most of the people come to Ayers because their former employer has provided our outplacement service as one of their benefits in their severance package.
The general profile I would describe as executives and professionals. We see people from senior vice presidents, managing directors, and directors as well as professionals in all fields such as science, engineering, law, marketing, and HR. We also see lots of IT people. In fact, right now, I think half my client load is IT people of one type or another.
NL: Mostly management positions?
TS: Many of them in management, yes, some individual contributors, but many in management. So, we see a broad spectrum, all industries and all occupations. We do see all levels, but mostly executive and professional.
NL: So, are companies still providing career transition assistance to people who have been laid off, or has this benefit been reduced in recent years?
TS: I'm sure many companies have pulled back. A lot of companies don't offer it at all. But the companies that do offer it are continuing to do so, I'm happy to say. Of course, we have a sales department in our company that is out there spreading the word about our services.
We're always looking to acquire new customer companies and our salespeople have been successful. I think our salespeople's job is to convince companies that if they're laying off people, they ought to assist them in their career transition, and we've seen new customer companies coming on board.
I hear that our competitors, companies like Lee Hecht Harrison and Right Management, who are much bigger than we are, also are very busy. Even though we're a small fish compared to them, we're quite busy now ourselves.
And I'm happy that we're there, because, as we get very good feedback from our clients, we're really helping people a great deal, whether it's job search skills, helping them prepare for interviews, or encouraging them and motivating them to keep going despite the disappointments and setbacks.
Types of Motivation
NL: I have noticed that people fall into two categories, they are either really self-motivated or need some external motivation. What I mean is, the 1st category of people doesn't need external motivation for themselves. They know what they want to achieve and are able to motivate themselves. People from the 2nd category may be good specialists and achievers in a corporate environment when there is a boss or someone motivating them to do things and setting deadlines and everything. However, when they are out of job, they feel as though they are outside of time and place and seem lost. Probably self-motivation is something that would be good for some people to learn, right?
TS: You're right, we're all cut from a slightly different mold. Although you and I are very self-motivated, others may not be.
As a result of working with accountability groups over the years, I have come up with a little formula, I call it AIM.
So, a small group can improve your Accountability. That's the “A”, and the “I” is Ideas. A small group can be a source of ideas. You might be a creative person, but when you meet with your group, you have the potential to share lots of ideas. Members can ask: “Have you thought about this? Or: "Have you thought about that?” Now with more people, you are going to get more different ideas. And then the “M” is Motivation. So, Accountability, Ideas and Motivation.
AIM is something that a group can do for a job seeker. Some people need accountability more than anything else. They need somebody to make sure they stay on track toward their goal meeting their commitments.
Some people really need the “I”. They come to the group and they might say: “Oh, I'm out of ideas, I tried everything. What else can I do?” And other people are just down in the dumps, and they need motivation. They need somebody to lift up their spirits, make them feel better about themselves, and build their confidence back up. Some people need all three.
Ideally, a group of three or four can provide AIM. The desire, the sense of structure, the regularity of it committing to the process. All of those elements, I think, will make it work. If you take any one of those elements away, it's in danger of not working.
Coaches and Mentors
NL: Okay, my next question is: “When would it be best to engage a coach?”
TS: Oh, glad you're bringing up coaching! I think another good element of an effective job search is a coach.
Now, does that mean it has to be a professional coach that you pay for like somebody from the Ayers Group?
Not necessarily, it could be a friend, a spouse, a former coworker, or a former boss. A coach is somebody who helps you to perform at your best. When you ask somebody for coaching, you're really asking them to help you perform better. And what you're asking them for is feedback.
For instance, if you show them something you are writing, you want an honest opinion as to whether it sounds correct and conveys your meaning. The coach might say: “Well, this word here, I think, is not the word that you're looking for. Try this word.” The coach’s feedback will help you be a better writer, it will help you improve your performance.
I'm a big believer in coaching. There are professional coaches out there, for example, Alex Freund is a well-known professional coach, and my company is filled with coaches. But it could be just someone that you know, and you ask them for coaching help.
Something similar to coaching is mentoring.
It might be the same person who's coaching you at point A in the conversation, and then at point B in the conversation, the focus has shifted.
If you were to say to the coach: “You know, I have been thinking about possibly changing careers.” Now, it becomes a mentoring conversation, right? That person might say something like: “Well, that's a good dream, but you might have to go back to school for that.”
So now it's more of a reality check. And that's one of the things that the mentors do – they provide a very gentle, loving kind of a reality check to you. They help you think about future options in a positive way, but also in a realistic way.
I think both coaching and mentoring can be very helpful to people who are going through a job search so that you don't go through it alone. That's one of my principles. Don't do it alone. Make sure that you are reaching out to others. Whether it's small support groups, coaches or mentors. The more a job seeker does all of those things – the better because those are all the kinds of resources that a job seeker or a career changer can benefit from.
Work Search Buddy Relationships and Job Search Support Groups
Creating a job search support group can be very, very helpful. The group should be small (1-4 members) who can work together to help each other with their individual brand statements and present them, making the branding memorable so that other people will catch on to them. This would be only one of the topics that the group would work on, each member offering feedback and suggestions.
NL: Work Search Buddies or Accountability Partners. How did it start? How did you first hear that it is important to have them during a career transition?
TS: For me, it came up years ago, during one of my own career transitions. I've been in that process myself five times in my career. And during one of those (it was probably more than 15 years ago), I was attending a job search support group for HR professionals in Princeton. It was a great group of about 20-30 people, very helpful to me at that time.
Someone suggested to a few of us that we should form a smaller group and get together to meet in between the scheduled meetings of the larger group. The larger group was fine but you didn't really have much chance to get more familiar with people and have the kind of focus that you would want.
When I was invited to join, I said: “Yeah, great, let's do it! Where are we going to meet? When are we going to meet?”
We'd always try to meet at places where there was food, so we met at coffee shops and restaurants in different locations in and around the Central Jersey area. Typically, we'd gather around a table, and we would just talk for an hour, maybe two hours.
Today I would probably say it should have been a lot more structured. Then it was kind of loose. At one of these sessions, I think we really started to strike gold. That's when I think the accountability came in.
We didn't have that word "accountability" then, I don't know who came up with it, but it is a perfect word for what it was because we were there to help one another.
We began to account to each other about what we were currently doing, and we would all comment on a person’s progress. Someone would say: “I tried to make 10 calls last week, but I only made 8.”
Another member would ask what happened and a good conversation would take place to get to the reason for the shortfall. The group would work to encourage this member to do better, and this type of help and accountability moved each of us into a better way to proceed with our job hunt.
We enjoyed being together. Over the years, I found that when there’s an agenda, structure, goals, feedback, and reporting – it works very well. The key is to keep the group small. The smallest group is obviously two people, but it can go a little bigger, up to four, but no more.
NL: With too many people, no one will get enough attention.
TS: That’s right! People are not going to get enough attention. In fact, a group of eight would be better off splitting into two groups of four. Keep it small, and everybody's getting the attention that they want. Everybody is on the Hot Seat, which is a good thing. Right?
NL: What do you mean by Hot Seat?
TS: It's a way of defining accountability. Keeping somebody on the Hot Seat means you are making them accountable by making them a little uncomfortable. If you are sitting on a hot seat, you can’t be complacent, you can’t be comfortable. And you should never be comfortable in your job search.
It’s a good type of heat because that heat can actually be inspiring to action. In fact, discomfort is probably better. For example, if last week’s goal was to call 10 people and you only called 5, this week try to call at least 6, and even more the following week. Once you have gotten to 10, keep pushing and keep going.
Another key element of the group is desire. The people in the group have to want to be there. And if they want to be there and are committed to the group, then it's going to work. If somebody's there because they were invited, but they don't really care, if it’s not a big deal for them – that's not going to work. They probably won’t show up after a while, which is not such a bad thing because that person is going to drag the group down.
Whoever shows up has to bring their energy and focus so that this hour or two, the group is committed to being a worthwhile working session. Wherever you are, when you meet, you're there to focus on each person's thoughts. Whatever their career goal might be, you are there to help, support and critique. So, whatever the individual goals are, the group is there to support each other.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can wrestle with a powerful question and find ways to make the world work better for all.”
NL: I have a few people I meet with on a weekly basis, as part of my Job Search Mentoring Program. I follow a certain structure in these meetings, but keep polishing it all the time.
TS: It's a good thing to keep polishing, because every time we meet people in the job search career transition process, we are all evolving, changing, learning and adapting. We're all in motion and growing, hopefully, all the time. And your brand should always be a moving thing because we are not the same persons that we were even a month ago.
NL: What would be your recommendation for meeting frequency with Work Search Buddies?
TS: With a commitment to the job search, a weekly meeting is best. Set it up on a certain day, at a certain time, do your best to maintain that schedule, but be ready to flex in case people get interviews or get calls from recruiters, or whatever might come up.
Try to make it a regular scheduled event that you look forward to and plan to attend, just like you did when you were working and had to show up for meetings. This is the same type of thing, except you're not in a corporate structure anymore. You are creating the structure yourself. I know it can be done because I've been part of such groups. Some groups have been more effective than others over the years.
NL: Some people feel the discomfort when the meeting is too strictly structured. They prefer to have more social time and emotional support, rather than having everything so strictly structured. What's your recommendation on this point?
TS: I think that each group is going to have a mix of that, especially as they have more than one meeting, and they get to know each other, person-to-person. Some social time may be very important.
One may ask: “How's your spouse doing? How's your child doing in school?” That will just naturally occur as a part of the process of getting to know the other people in the group.
I don't think you want your group to be too mechanical. So, a blend of structure with social time, social expression, I think, is probably a good thing.
The danger is if the group goes off track into too much socializing. Individuals may want to get together offline to socialize. The group’s time should be focused as much as possible on the group's work with, perhaps, some socializing at the front end, when people arrive, and maybe at the back end, when people are leaving.
NL: I agree, it should be similar to a corporate environment meeting, where you allocate some, like five to ten minutes at the beginning of the meeting for social time, but then you have to get down to the agenda, right?
TS: Yes, I would recommend an agenda. I mean, the agenda could be as simple as: “Let's take turns going around the group and have everybody report.” The reports are different because people are different.
The report of a person who's thinking about opening his own business might be: “Well, I met with my financial advisor last week. And here's what he said…”
The next person who's doing a traditional job search might say: “Well, I had three interviews last week. Let me tell you how they went.” So, each person's report will be very much coming from their priorities.
If you want to learn more about the benefits and mechanics of starting your own network group from Terrence’s own experience, Mr. Simon recommends you listen to his radio interview with Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter and a career coach.
Building Your Personal Brand
NL: I know that you're very active in networking. So, how important is building a personal brand and networking? How important is it for you? And do you also recommend it to our job seekers? How much time should they allocate to these activities?
TS: Somebody once said that an organized job search is an effective job search. And I totally subscribe to that. How a person gets organized may be a very individualized thing. But I do think that part of the organization that a client needs to create for themselves is a clear sense of their brand.
Brand is a term that needs some definition. I like to keep my definitions very simple. And it's what you want to be known for. Like you've got Mr. Simon, and that's a great tool that you've created. And I'm sure that's part of your brand, Natalie.
And I think everybody's got to think about that and it doesn't necessarily pop right out. Obviously, sometimes you have to do some soul searching, get feedback from other people that know you well, to perhaps, bring that all together into a sense of: “This is who I am, what I'm all about, and what I can do for you, Mr. or Ms. Employer.”
Your brand is what you communicate in your resume, cover letter, business card, LinkedIn profile, and face-to-face meetings.
And so, it becomes part of your presentation of yourself as an individual, someone of the value in today's marketplace. Your brand is a very important thing.
If you think about it, the question your brand is answering is:
- Who are you?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why should we do business with you?
NL: As I understand it, if someone has a strong brand, he/she will be able to make a memorable elevator pitch that anyone else will understand and remember.
TS: Yes, I think so. Getting the brand crystallized and knowing that another person could summarize what you do is the job of the job seeker herself or himself, and they have to work at it. It's not easy, and it takes some time. Also, you've got to share your efforts with other people for their feedback.
NL: I would say that even when you are employed, you still have to work on your personal brand. Don't cease to be a personal brand. Many employees tend to identify themselves with their company, sometimes to the point of forgetting the word "I" and only think in terms of "WE". They lose their own identity to some extent, and if they are laid off, it may take some time for them to get back to "I" and start understanding: “This is who I am, this is my personal brand.” So, never lose your personal brand. Right?
TS: That is a great point. And when you join a company, it's one of the many balancing acts that I think people may not be that good at. But it really is a balancing act.
You want to have the We-part, you want to be a team player and contribute to what the company is trying to do. But I agree with you:
Don't lose your own identity, your own brand, your own You Incorporated.
If they decide to let you go for whatever reason, and that happens a lot, you need that personal identity in your new transition. We're in a very dynamic world where there's a lot of change. And I think one of the things we can count on is there will be more change.
NL: Sometimes the best WE is when all I-s have synergetic goals.
TS: Yeah, I like that.
Professional Growth and Goal Setting
NL: What do you do for your own professional growth?
TS: Normally, I'm a big believer in regular ongoing personal and professional development, whether it's reading books, watching TED Talks, taking little mini-courses online, whatever the case might be.
During the pandemic, I've been very focused on making sure that every week I'm doing things like that. Right now, for example, I'm part of a reading group and we all ordered the book "Practical Action Research for Change" by Richard A. Schmuck. We are reading a chapter per week.
It's a terrific book about being a more effective change agent. The author is focused on school systems, but we can apply what he's saying to the work that we're doing.
In my case, I'm applying it to being a career coach. Other people in the group are applying it to their consulting businesses. It's an example of the ongoing emphasis on professional development that is a very high value of mine.
I'm always thinking about what else can I learn? A lot of what's in the book I already know, but it brings back ideas and the group is looking at them again.
We're refreshing ourselves, and we're going deeper into these ideas. I think that's a very important thing for any professional – always to be learning, especially for anybody in a career transition, as this is a prime time for learning.
Think about what your career goal is, and then what skills, what information, what knowledge, what thought leadership is out there that a person in career transition should get plugged into on a regular basis. Just keep feeding your own expertise with additional information.
NL: Let’s talk about recommendations for allocation of time, percentage-wise. How should we allocate our time in these meetings? The three that are thought of most are job search, networking and career development activities. Some people, of course, also have either a current job or side hustle. So if we talk about professional time, is it mostly these three or four, how should we allocate time?
TS: If you're a group of four, meeting for an hour or two, the first half of that meeting could be the reports, each person making a report, and then the second half could be for looking ahead.
- What are you planning to do this coming week?
- What questions or challenges are you facing?
What ideas do you need from us?
I would encourage each person to come to the meeting with a report and a question that they want to post to the group. For example, a question might be: “I need your ideas on overcoming my tendency to give long-winded answers in interviews. How do I cut back on that?”
NL: This is a good insight on how to structure the time within the meeting. But how should people allocate their time during the week between meetings? What will your suggestions be here?
TS: If you're a job seeker, I would definitely recommend making sure that you're spending time on your job search every day. But don't overdo it. Don't spend all day on the computer. It's too much sitting, and sitting is bad for you. And you need to have a work-life balance. Just like when you were working, you still have work-life balance concerns when you're in a career transition.
Get up out of the chair, water the flowers in your garden, walk your dog, see what needs to be done in your home, check in with your family, see how everybody's doing. Do not spend the entire day sitting there staring at the computer. It's not good for your health, and it's definitely not good for your job search either.
If you are a morning person – make the morning your job search time. Check LinkedIn, check your inbox, make a few phone calls, follow up with recruiters you've been talking to, structure all of that just the way you did when you were working.
Actually, put these things into a weekly schedule just like you did when you were working. Put in the time on your job search, and then stop, take a break, get up and go do something else. And make sure you've got a balance on a daily basis. I encourage people to create a daily routine that works for them and then stick to it as best you can.
NL: It's a good idea to know how much time I want to spend on LinkedIn, for example. Once I know that, I don't feel guilty. Is that the right way to look at it?
TS: Yes. I probably spend about an hour on LinkedIn on a daily basis, usually in the morning.
My job requires that I review notes from people, respond to requests to connect with me, answer messages, review and respond to comments on something I posted. I also do research for my clients on LinkedIn – I look at companies that I know they're looking at to see if I know anybody that works there.
LinkedIn is a very, very helpful tool I find for my clients and for me. Some days I might start the day with that hour in the morning and then come back to LinkedIn at the end of the day, because urgent things might come in later since people that I'm connected with are at all different time zones.
Remember the reading group that I mentioned before? People in that group are from all over the world, including India and Canada, so comments come in at all different times of the day.
Resources and Recommendations
NL: Are there any resources you recommend on the topic of accountability partnership?
TS: It is definitely:
- Paul Cecala’s new book “Work Search Buddies: Finding a Job with a Little Help from a Friend”. He's writing about this topic.
- The book “What Color Is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles touches on this topic in one of the chapters, I know he recommends it.
- A variety of articles have been published over the years about forming small job search groups. A good way to find them is by googling “accountability partners” or similar references.
NL: Once people are hired, would you suggest them making sure they stay relevant in this job so that when the next round of layoffs occurs, they are the ones that remain on board, rather than being laid off?
TS: Or they might get laid off anyway because quite often layoffs have nothing to do with performance, it's really just cost-cutting.
One of the things that I recommend is DO NOT STOP NETWORKING.
A lot of people make that mistake. They think: “I'm working again, I don't have to do this networking thing anymore.” Very bad mistake! I think it's important to continue to network and to be part of conversations about careers because you can always keep learning about careers and career transitions. Even when you land.
Marty Latman, the facilitator of the financial executives networking group in North Jersey, has many sayings, but the one I'm thinking of here is: “You are always in transition.” Think about that. Even after you finally land that job, Marty would say: “Don't make this mistake. Even though you've landed – good for you, you are still always in transition.”
NL: It's time to start preparing for your next transition.
TS: Yes, start preparing for the next one. Hopefully, it won't happen, but it could happen. So always be thinking about that.
- Always be learning.
- Always be networking.
- Always be connecting with people.
Don't isolate yourself in a job the way many of us have done. We go to work, and now we never see anybody anymore, except for the four walls of that office that we're now in. And that's a mistake. It’s much better to keep learning, keep networking, stay in touch with people.
As you get back into a company, make sure that you stay externally aware of what's going on, stay plugged in, and don't unplug from all the things going on in the economy, in the community, in the world. Because you'll be caught in the next downturn, and you won't be ready.
If you start preparing now, for that eventuality, the people around you will all be shocked, surprised and flat on their backs, but you'll be ready to hit the ground running on your next career transition.
NL: Thank you, Terry! It has been a real pleasure speaking with you and learning from you as well. I think that anyone who reads this interview will agree that your advice and guidance to people in a job transition is both excellent and thought-provoking.
About the Author: Natalie Lihacova is a co-founder and CEO of Teammate.Exec and Mr. Simon. She has over two decades of experience leading people and running businesses. Before switching her career to Information Technology and Business Management, Natalie used to be a musician – a singer and a choir director. She is passionate about helping people discover their true potential as professionals.