"I'm a 37-year old Venezuelan, who during the last 16 months has lived through the odyssey of job searching. I really don't know how many kilometers I have walked, nor résumés I've sent or applications filled. What I do know is that I'm feeling desperate and depressed. I haven't got the moral strength to face my family, more so when my son is asking me, 'dad, aren't you ever going to work again?'"
That's the story of Miguel, a public accountant with experience and lots of motivation. Like him, more that two and a half million unemployed are trying to survive and keep their careers on course. Where have the good old days gone? Venezuela [Figure 1], one of the richest countries in the world-the fifth oil producer with a population of 22 million-had been growing steadily for the last 40 years. It was named the land of opportunities for its natural resources and democratic political system. Many immigrants from other countries like Italy, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and others made this land their second native country. Early in the 90's Venezuela had an important place among developing countries.
Today, however, this situation has changed for the worse: the country has the highest rate of unemployment of the region (25%) with a tendency to increase. Now Venezuelans are emigrants. Most of them young, qualified professionals with no hope of finding significant jobs at home and looking for better opportunities elsewhere. Many have become depressed and with negative views of the future.
Is it possible to manage a career and be successful in such a difficult economy? "Everyone shines his own light amongst all the rest. There aren't two fires alike: there are big fires and small fires, and fires of all colors. There are people with calm fires that not even the wind knows, and people with mad fires that fill the wind with sparks. Some are fires that neither shine nor burn, but others burn with such passion that you can't see without your eyes blinking, and whomsoever approaches shall light up."-Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer
The human being has an enormous capacity to create and generate solutions once he/she sets out to do it, or when encouraged by challenges. Venezuelans are by nature cheerful people, with a sense of humor, friendly, creative and optimistic. Always trying to draw the best out of each situation they know how to turn adversities around, rise up again, and with renewed strength move forward. The following scenarios provide an idea of how people are coping with the difficult situation of the Venezuelan job market:
Scenario 1: This scenario includes 53% of the unemployed population. They make a living through informal jobs, using their creativity and talents doing the best they know, and waiting for the situation to improve
Scenario 2: Includes a minority of employed professionals who have been able to remain in their areas of specialization. They are survivors of cutback programs, always on the lookout for better opportunities in and outside their companies.
Scenario 3: Others have been forced to rediscover themselves and engage in new and personally satisfactory career path.
Let us now allow the actors themselves to describe how they have undertaken the challenge of restating their professional future, and, why not, their lives.
Case Study: Pedro
Trying hard to build an executive career in information technology After 16 years of a successful management career in an important public services private company, Pedro switched to an executive position in a mass consumption enterprise. Despite an impressive record of achievements, and with no explanations given he was fired. Today, after an 11month search he has managed to find a job as project manager in an IT outsourcing company. Although he would prefer working in a larger company that could grant him more "security," he has learned from the experience how to cope with difficult changes. His job and career, formerly detached at the top of his life priorities, are now perceived as part of the whole of his life. For Pedro, career success now means having the competencies to switch from one job to another in the shortest time possible. What are the keys for success?
* View life from a different perspective to avoid depression.
* Seek professional help and find support from family and friends.
* Develop a spirituality. Be patient, persevering and disciplined.
* Consider job searching as a time-consuming life project.
* Know your strengths.
* Have clear goals and focus on what you want
* Be open to new learnings.
* Market yourself like a brand.
* Develop the ability for interpersonal relationships and the mind of an entrepreneur.
His recommendation: "View yourself as a change factor wherever you are." Career coaching for Pedro is a very important service. You have a person that listens to you. You don't feel alone. You have an external opinion from somebody not contaminated. You get help in designing action plans, increasing your enthusiasm and focusing on results.
Case Study: Ricardo
From corporate communications executive, early retired, to freelance consultant. With a 15-year career in the field of corporate communications, and having reached an executive position in the largest corporation in the country, Ricardo had formed the idea and believed that companies took care of individual development, that talent was taken into account and that effort was rewarded. After an early retirement, Ricardo underwent a career transition process that taught him differently. He now sees his career as an opportunity to use his talents and strengths more freely. He feels he must take control and plan concrete actions for marketing himself and his talents; have a name, a sort of brand that stands up for itself. It's a big difference! For Ricardo, a successful career means personal satisfaction, congruency between personal goals, work and results. It means assuming greater responsibilities, being recognized and earning an income high enough to gain security and a good quality of life. What are the keys for success?
* Have clarity of mind to analyze and weigh your losses.
* Rethink your abilities, and redefine what you've got to offer in your area.
* Research the market. Define a niche. Specify a service proposal.
* Undertake actions with the support of family and friends. Develop a network of contacts.
* Develop the motivation for hard work.
* Update your knowledge and skills, learn and be open to change.
His recommendation: "Opportunity is the privilege for those ready to take it." Career coaching for Ricardo is of great importance. Professional career coaches help you uncover your dreams and talents, as well as your traps. The coach is the method, the cold, objective interlocutor, the possibility of a vision, or the one who will let you see the obvious. Nevertheless, the final decision is always yours.
Case Study: Jose Gregorio
Trying to grow and develop in the corporate world...José Gregorio is a young Petroleum Engineer with a MBA degree. After four job changes and a short unemployment period he became project coordinator for a large mass consumption company. These changes have influenced the way he perceives his career. He believes changes are important and should be sought after. But changes need to be planned. He feels his career is important within the context of his life: it provides a sense of purpose and direction, and not just the means to pay the bills. José Gregorio defines success as the ability to remain employed, and if it's within a modern company the better. What are the keys for success?
* Keep your self-esteem high. Know that you're good and valuable.
* Be on the look-out for opportunities.
* Learn and prepare yourself.
* Weigh your strengths and weaknesses to make your offer to the business world.
His recommendation: "Nowadays one has got to be versatile. Regardless of one's studies one has to remain open to different possibilities. The world in which the carpenter only works with wood is over." Having a professional coach alongside with you during the process is a very valuable help. It helps you clarify and meet your objectives. I think it's also important to seek the help of psychologists to help you understand your personality and discover strategies for coping with difficult situations.
Case Study: Carol
Flexibility after all...freedom to choose
Carol is an Industrial Psychologist who lost her job after a steady career with a consulting company. She was so fully identified with her career and with certain professional stereotypes that her self-esteem began to suffer impacting other areas in her life. She lost her sense of direction and felt frustrated and failed. Now she believes a career is not a straight smooth line, nor a race against the clock. It's not something you develop just to grow vertically in an organization, but also to do those things that give you pleasure doing within the framework of a life plan were pay is not the most important consideration. For Carol, a successful career is a constant search for happiness. What are the keys for success?
* Identify and evaluate your talents, values and interests, and build your career upon that evaluation.
* Be flexible, have a positive attitude and never give up.
* Adopt an entrepreneurial frame of mind. Now you're on your own.
* Don't compete with others but with yourself.
* Think that there's always an opportunity to do something.
Her recommendation: "It's never late for career changes. Don't be afraid of trespassing the limits of comfort. Don't be afraid of doing something new."Carol believes career coaching can provide the tools to help you move ahead. The most important thing is to want to improve. We need to stop and reflect about the interpretation we're giving life. We must learn to go where our heart indicates the answers are. By way of conclusion... "Traveler, there is no path, you build the path as you move."-Antonio Machado, Spanish poet.
In Venezuela now we see that times of crisis can also be times of opportunities. We have learned from experience. People are not just coping, they have developed a natural talent to use their resilience. My experience as a career coach in the present-day economic context of Venezuela has been very enriching. The learning has been huge. I'm still seeking alternative and more creative ways to provide career coaching. I have been accompanied in my search by the ideas of Dick Bolles, "The creative minority;" Laurence Boldt, "The art of making a living;" Cliff Hakim, "The career lattice approach" and "The self-employed mentality;" Howard Figler, and his "five business cards instead of one;" and the useful advice of professor Rich Feller from Colorado State University: "tell people that in a situation like this, in the short run, one has to redefine expectations and learn to live with less. In the long run, this kind of structural unemployment suggests becoming an entrepreneur seeking any problem to solve which might tie ones interests and skills."
Boldt, L.(1999). Zen and The Art of Making a Living, New York, NY: Compass Books.
Bolles, R. N. (2005). What Color is Your Parachute?, Berkeley CA: Ten Speed Press.
Figler, H. and Bolles, R. N (1999). The Career Counselor's Handbook, Berkeley CA: Ten Speed Press.
Hakim, K. (1994). We Are All Self-Employed, San Francisco CA: Berret-Koehler Publications.
About the author
Egberto J. Fernández, Ph.D., JCTC. has been since 2002 a career and job transition coach and since 2003, Country Career Advisor for Going Global, Evergreen, Alabama, USA. Since 1996, he has been associate consultant with Forja Consultores, Caracas, facilitating workshops in leadership, team building and communications for the most important corporations in Venezuela. At Petroquimica de Venezuela, Caracas, the Venezuelan petrochemical corporation , from 1992-1996, he was Corporate Training and Development Consultant and from 1987-1992, Training Supervisor. From 1985-1987, Branch Personnel Manager for Corporacion Polar, Caracas. From 1982-1985, he was Executive Development Supervisor at General Motors, Caracas. From 1965-1978, he was Administrative Supervisor for vocational centers at the National Institute for Vocational Education, Caracas. Since 1987, he has been Associate Professor for post-graduate management programs at Universidad Simon Bolivar and Universidad Central, Caracas, Venezuela. He earned Bachelors Degrees in Business Administration and Accounting at Universidad Central, Caracas, Venezuela (1965); and the Ph.D. in Vocational Education at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, USA (1982). He has been trained by Richard N. Bolles in the twoweek Life and Career Planning Workshop, Bend , Oregon, USA (2001) and is a Certified Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC), Career Planning and Adult Development Network, Pacifica, California, USA, (2002).
Contact him as follows:
Egberto J. Fernanda, Ph.D., JCTCC
P.O. Box 2025323
Miami FL. 33102-5323