Can a Career Setback Actually Empower You?

Have you experienced a career downturn? If you haven’t yet, I hate to break it to you…it’s just a matter of time. Careers, like roller coasters, have ups and downs. However, unlike roller coasters, careers are not automatically propelled nor do they have a fixed track to follow. It’s up to you to navigate your path.

The Best Thing that Could Ever Happen To You—How a Career Reversal Can Reinvigorate Your Life (Big Shoes Publishing, 2013), by Sander A. Flaum, former CEO of Euro RSCG Life, is an insightful, wise and pragmatic book that can help you bounce back from a downturn by teaching you how to identify your fears, master your internal inhibitors, unleash your unique potential and ultimately propel you forward after a career setback.

I spent time with Sander discussing some of the intriguing aspects of his book. What follows is a condensed version of that conversation:

Why did you write this book?

A major pharmaceutical company went through a divestiture and employees found themselves disenfranchised. I was asked to come in and speak to them about their transition. I researched and put together the content of what is now the book. After one of the presentations, a senior sales leader asked me to come into his office where he became emotional stating, “You changed my life out there. You have to write a book about what you just said.” I wanted to help people out there who feel hopeless after a downturn.

How did you arrive at the title?

From personal experience. I had a devastating experience that led me to a separate path and eventually a very successful career. Looking back at it, it was literally the best thing that ever happened to me.

You write that “men tend to equate their self-worth with their jobs to a higher degree than many women do.” What specific advice would you give men?
Sociologists and anthropologists have concluded that men, in general, find their self-worth based on how far they have progressed in their career and what successes they have achieved. At the same time, they fail to develop rich networks. I’d advise three things:

1. Start networking immediately—call recruiters who have called you in the past, reach out to past employers and connect with specialty interest groups.

2. Talk to at least one key person everyday—reach out to people who are influential and can help you get a job.

3. Deliver your personal brand as a key message—it’s not about you, it’s about what value you bring to your next position.

What suggestion do you have for someone who’s been downsized or terminated?

Ask HR for a termination letter explaining the rationale for the departure. Write the letter yourself (example in the book) and ask them to edit as needed. There has to be complete consistency in what you are saying as the reason why you’re no longer with the company and what they will hear from your past employer.

What advice do you have about working with recruiters?

Find retained recruiters. Clearly communicate your brand in 20 seconds. Remember, it’s all about the value or ROI you can bring for the recruiter’s clients—it’s not about you. And when you talk to recruiters, don’t bad mouth your past company: A recruiter will simply not place you.

If you’re experiencing a downturn or foresee one in the near future, I recommend Sander’s new book. It’s a detailed “how to” that he’s developed over years of successful executive and academic experience. It can empower you to create the next fulfilling chapter of your career and life.


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