As discussed in my previous post, there’s definitely no shortage of individuals and organizations struggling through the adversity of a “contracted” marketplace at the moment.  At the same time, there are also some pretty heroic stories (if you look hard enough) of folks using these tough times as a catalyst to get creative, think outside of the box, and conjure up new ways to achieve success!

In my last article, if you recall, I focused on a construction company that greatly impressed me with its innovative advertising and resilient spirit.  Unless most companies with an “all or nothing” policy in terms of their construction and remodeling bids, this firm, Tim Miller Construction, seemed perfectly content to cut the costs down by empowering individual homeowners to do the lion’s share of finishing work on projects, themselves.  What other service providers might be able to follow this model?  Could gardening and landscaping services offer to “consult” with their clients and teach them how to maintain their yard more effectively, instead of simply doing all the work for them?  Could photographers offer special rates to groups of friends (or job seekers) who came in for back-to-back photo sittings together?  Could an enterprising financial planner offer to review a homeowner’s bills/expenses to see if they can find alternatives for reducing them, similar to a site like

“Added value” is is how many company owners need to start thinking if they’ve found themselves in a pinch, thanks to the recession.  But we’ve covered that ground already.  Let’s now change gears and talk about how an individual professional might be able to demonstrate a similar level of market-driven ingenuity.

One local individual who I believe exemplifies this type of thinking is Michael Surkan.  Michael, whom I had the chance to meet several months ago, has a story that is not terribly unusual (I’m sorry to say) in this day and age.  Having been hired at Microsoft during the dot-com era, he worked for nine years at the company in a series of product planning/management roles until finding himself caught up, along with thousands of other company employees, in some of the layoff rounds the company went through last year.  Unlike many such individuals, however, he didn’t simply dust off his resume and start going through the tired motions of a traditional job search.  As a “new media” aficionado and somebody who had always prided himself on proactive thinking and creative problem-solving, he decided the best path to his career future would be to go on offense, rather than defense.

The result?  After setting up a simple blog portal, Pomp & Surkanstance, Michael started reaching out to dozens of local entrepreneurs, technology luminaries, and business leaders — not to ask them for a job, but to ask to interview them for a special series of podcasts he had decided to start producing.  He branded this project “Entrepreneurs Northwest” and found that his invitations were usually received with open arms, since the people he contacted were not only flattered he wanted to interview them about their business insights, but also happy about the extra exposure his social media creations would give their organizations.  In his very first e-mail to me, in fact, he commented “It’s amazing how many people are willing to be interviewed for a podcast who wouldn’t give you the time of day if you just sent them your resume.”

I was one of the folks he approached, a while back.  You’ll find my interview here.  Lenora Edwards (a good friend of the firm) was also featured in a recent interview you’ll find here.  And if you scroll through Michael’s main site, at the link in the last paragraph, you’ll discover that he’s now conducted over fifty of these podcast interviews that have resulted in his exposure to an incredible array of well-connected people in town — while simultaneously showcasing his strengths as a first-rate project manager and new media producer.

Have his efforts resulted in turning up his dream job quite yet?  I’m honestly not 100% sure, but Michael did tell me in passing that he’s received one offer from a startup that he’s currently considering — and that he’s also moving through the official interview loop with another well-known tech company that has operations here in town.  He’s also become the partner in another small start-up, himself, whose business model is starting to show some real potential.  So long story short, while he still might be a “free agent” of sorts, his activities are definitely starting to generate some interesting options and choices — at a time when many out-of-work professionals are still yearning for even one good nibble!

So if you’re in transition and feeling a bit rudderless at the moment, I’ve got just three words for you.  Be like Mike.  Go on offense.  Create momentum.  Find a way to start working on something, even if it’s not a revenue-producing something.  As any career coach worth their salt could tell you, the real opportunities aren’t found sitting behind a computer, they’re found out in the market and you find them by talking to lots and lots of people.  So conjure up your own project that will facilitate some relevant conversations — and go for it!