No Finish Line

A marathon runner determines training and running 26 miles to be easier than the job search, where she can’t control the finish line, if there is one.


Marc Cenedella wrote a piece a few weeks ago comparing the search process with running a marathon (It’s a marathon, not a sprint, Nov. 8, 2010). As a veteran marathon runner (I’ve run 24 worldwide), I have some thoughts.

The search process is a terrifically challenging endeavor — it takes time, commitment, hard work and a bit of luck. But that’s about as close as I can come to a positive correlation with running marathons.

Here’s my take: I started to train for my first marathon to rechannel my energy following a breakup. I joined a running team, dusted off my running shoes and headed out the door. I also told everyone, friend and foe, of my goal — to finish a marathon — knowing the pressure would make me finish. Then, I enlisted a friend to throw me a party afterward, as an added incentive to make sure I finished the race. Through the long, hot summer, logging in some 20-mile runs in the humidity, I was determined to have a successful finish. When race day came, I did, and it set me on my path to becoming an international marathon runner. At the end of the race, I felt immortal. My confidence was in the stratosphere for months afterward. (I also managed to meet a new boyfriend, became engaged and married the following year.)

Now for the job search : In August 2007, my job as a senior portfolio manager was eliminated when my company merged with another. The whack to my self-confidence was obvious, but being determined, I dusted off my high heels, donned my navy blue interviewing suit and immediately got out there talking to and meeting with prospective employers. I hired a career coach and a personal marketer to get me in front of hiring managers. I joined networking groups and helped orchestrate training programs and exercises designed to make all of us better as we continued to hunt for jobs.

While taking all the right steps, my timing was terrible: We were in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and there was zero demand in the finance industry for someone with my skills. Despite a rigorous interviewing schedule, tons of networking and volunteer activities to help others (including job seekers), there were no offers. Sometimes after several rounds of interviews, the company would inform me they had simply decided not to fill the position. (Someday I want to write about how companies should be more responsible when dealing with candidates. But, that’s a story reserved for another time.)

What I’ve come to discover is that in running marathons, where I have control over the outcome, nothing can stop me: I’ve run marathons in heat, snow, sleet and pouring rain; with blisters, pulled muscles and a host of other impediments that only fellow runners can appreciate.

The job search is different. My resume is solid, I have impressive skills, I play well with others and I have a record of delivering results. But, I control only one side of the equation. The company controls the other. I sometimes invoke the analogy of an invisible hand moving the finish line further back, so that just when I’m about to burst through the tape, I find I have several hundred more yards to go.

Case in point: Recently, I had 10 interviews with a company, and the decision came down to two finalists, and I was one. Unfortunately, they selected the other candidate, and used voice mail to communicate their decision. Gee, I feel that finish line moving back a few more yards…

I believe in the Chinese saying that with crisis comes opportunity. I have embarked on another career during this process, consulting with financial services companies, particularly in the alternative assets (hedge funds and private equity) space. While it has not yet replaced my former senior executive position, the work is satisfying and something I enjoy doing, since it uses skills I have but did not get to use as much in my previous jobs. I also have begun to focus on smaller companies, where there is a need for an experienced executive to help guide a company through rough shoals. It feels good to be productive, respected and professionally wanted.

I also believe that while the search process is challenging on every level, and at times seems insurmountable, there are things within our control. Being prepared, being professional, working hard to get meetings is part of it. I also believe daily exercise is a vital component. I get up early, get in an hour of some kind of exercise, and then hit the phone and the computer. Is that finish line getting a bit closer? Only time will tell.