Turning Adversity into Positive Career Traits, with Oscar Garcia

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 337:

Turning Adversity into Positive Career Traits, with Oscar Garcia

Airdate: March 2, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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Every career has its setbacks. 

As hard as these experiences can be, says today’s guest, they also offer you opportunities. 

Oscar Garcia joins us to talk about how to turn adversity into positive career traits.

He’s the president of Aspira Consulting. 

Oscar’s company offers culturally relevant career development and leadership training services. 

He also hosts the terrific weekly podcast, “Career Talk with OG.” 

Oscar joins us from the San Francisco Bay area.

Let’s jump right into it, Oscar. When you talk about adversity, can you give us some examples? What do you have in mind exactly? 

Oscar Garcia:

Yes, you know, in this particular case, since we’re obviously talking about our career, one obvious example is, to give you a particular case, I used to work in the tech industry for twelve years at startups, and contrary to popular belief, there’s a lot of volatility in the start-up industry. A lot of them actually go out of business. 

And I actually experienced many times where literally- I remember one specific time, I walked out of the elevator coming back from lunch, and right across from the elevator was the CFO’s office. He sees me, and he says, “Oscar, come into my office. Have a seat.” 

I sit down, and he says, “Here’s your paycheck.” I was like, what? You know, and so that setting, just sort of, almost a cold-hearted way of just letting you go and, you know, without any notice or any idea or anything like that. 

That’s what I mean in terms of an example of some adversity in our careers. 

Mac Prichard:

And when you have an experience like that- and that had to be really painful, Oscar, I sympathize. But how can that harm either your career or your job search for your next position? What do you see both from your own experience and with the people you serve through your company?

Oscar Garcia:

There’s a couple of things. One is how it harms us personally, internally, and also, our search. From a personal or internal standpoint, listen. I mean, we dedicate the best years, the best days, and hours of our life to a job. Oftentimes, our job becomes our identity, who we are, you know, we give it our all. And so, to be laid off from a job, we take an emotional kick that stings, that hurts. I don’t care, you know, how confident you are. It hurts. Rejection hurts.

Also, though, from a career or your job search standpoint, although this is kind of with the pandemic, it’s, you know, HR is getting a little more flexible. But getting laid off is usually a black mark on your job search. You have to explain what happened. It also can lead up to people passing you over for opportunities, or it can lead to a gap in your work history that, again, you need to explain. 

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned that employers can see a layoff as a black mark. Do you think that’s true for all employers? Or does it depend? 

Oscar Garcia:

Well, it’s not true- to say that it’s true for all employers, no. That would be incorrect, and certainly, that’s not what I’m saying. But I think, generally speaking, employers do view these layoffs as a mark against you. A recruiter can do that. Because again, it is having to explain what happened. Why do you have this gap? 

And, you know, the interesting thing, Mac, about these gaps is that we also have heard about young folks, you know, taking a year off from college, that gap year, and I see on LinkedIn, people praising, that gap,  like, yeah, good for you. But when a mother, a working mother, takes time off to raise her family, and she goes back into the workforce, that is seen as a negative. That gap is seen as a negative. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, we’ve been talking about gaps in employment, and I do want to talk about what you can do to turn an adverse experience into a positive career trait. Before we do that, Oscar, just quickly, what are some other quick examples of adverse experiences? You mentioned gaps in employment, getting laid off, or fired. What else comes to mind when you talk about this? 

Oscar Garcia:

Given that my focus a lot is on providing culturally relevant career leadership training, and also myself being a Latino minority, one of the challenges here in the adversities is imposter syndrome. 

Imposter syndrome, and I believe that, oftentimes, as a minority, we have to overcome or jump through a lot more hoops in order to prove ourselves, in order to prove our value to the company, or in order to feel a sense of belonging. So, imposter syndrome is also another thing that is adversity that we need to overcome, as well. 

Mac Prichard:

And that’s an issue for many people, particularly women. I’m glad you brought that up. Now, let’s talk about how to turn adversity into positive career traits. I know one of the steps you recommend is to know how to value your career journey. What do you mean by that, Oscar? 

Oscar Garcia:

I always say, Mac, that we all have a story to tell, and, you know, we all have, again, our career journey ups and downs, our successes, our setbacks, and what we oftentimes don’t know how to do is how to look at those challenges that we’ve been through and change the narrative, look for the silver lining or look for that fertilizer in order to help us move forward in our career, in finding our next opportunity. That’s what I mean. 

Mac Prichard:

Give us an example of finding that silver lining after an adverse experience and how you might talk about it to an employer or your colleagues. 

Oscar Garcia:

Here’s an example, and in my particular case, I worked for the chamber of commerce. I was the head of the chamber of commerce, the chamber CEO. At the time when I applied for that role, my competition had twenty-five years of chamber experience. She was interim chamber CEO, and the board loved her; like, I had virtually zero chances of getting hired. I had a better chance of winning the lottery today than, you know, getting that position. But I ended up being offered the position, and I worked it for almost seven years. 

Now, that was the experience, but how I felt at the time when I was applying, and even for a few years when I was in that role is, I felt unqualified for that position. I oftentimes felt like that saying, you know, fish out of water. But when I look back today at that experience, I learned many skills as running this local chamber of commerce. 

I learned, for example, how to develop win-win partnerships. I strengthened my public speaking skills. I learned networking. Those are just some examples of some of the skills, the career skills that I learned from that perceived challenge or, you know, that feeling of, again, of being unqualified for this opportunity.

That’s what I mean, and again, in terms of looking back at our career journey and identifying that silver lining, and then learning how to reframe our experiences and be able to retell our career stories in a way so that the next employer, it resonates with them, and we are speaking from a position of confidence, a position of strength, a position of self-worth.  

Mac Prichard:

I gotta ask, Oscar. When you applied for that position, and you got it, what did you do or say that was so persuasive to the employer that helped address what you saw as challenges or even weaknesses? 

Oscar Garcia:

Well, there’s some things that I did, for example. So, before I started interviewing, I started researching and talking to past chamber CEOs, past board members. I identified who were some of the key partners that the chamber engaged with and talking to those leaders. To understand how they viewed the chamber of commerce or their relationship. What were the pluses and minuses of the chamber? What were some areas that they hoped the chamber could move, and in what direction? So I was able to really understand. 

It’s almost kind of like you walking into the doctor’s office, and they don’t just immediately prescribe Tylenol to you. They start asking you some questions to figure out maybe there’s something else going on. Right? They do a full diagnosis, and so that’s what I did. 

And then, I then took that information, and what I ended up doing was sharing both my understanding of the role- the challenges, but I also started painting a vision of where the chamber should be going based on what the community and the key stakeholders wanted the chamber to go. 

That, my friend, is super key and where a lot of people drop the ball. Most people fill out a resume, and it’s so easy nowadays on LinkedIn to just click, click, click and submit your resume, and it’s literally virtually throwing a bunch of mud up against the wall hoping something sticks. 

Mac Prichard:

Hold that thought. I want to continue to explore that idea. So, stay with us. We’re gonna take a quick break. When we come back, Oscar Garcia will continue to share his advice on how to turn adversity into positive career traits. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Oscar Garcia.

He’s the president of Aspira Consulting. 

Oscar’s company offers culturally relevant career development and leadership training services. 

He also hosts a wonderful weekly podcast; it’s called Career Talk with OG.” 

And he joins us from the San Francisco Bay area.

Now, Oscar, before the break, we were talking about how to turn adversity into positive career traits, and you shared an example of a situation you were in, where you applied for a job for which you didn’t have a lot of formal qualifications or experience in that sector, but you did a lot of research, and you found out what the challenges were that the organization faced, and that gave you insights into the needs of the chamber of commerce, where you applied to be the executive director. 

I’m curious, Oscar, how did you know how to do that? 

Oscar Garcia:

That’s part of learning from personal experience, Mac. I had transitioned careers eleven times, and that’s a lot. I mean, I’ve been in the workforce now, I think actually this year will be thirty years. So if you do the math, almost every two and a half, every three years, I transition, on average, jobs, and every experience, whether it’s positive or negative, it’s a life lesson, and I have learned over the years to maximize every opportunity out there as a learning lesson. Listen, before you and I even went on, I told you, you have a beautiful and amazing podcast, and I’m learning from you. I’m always learning.  

And so, I have learned to take these eleven career transitions and improve and figure out, okay, what can I do better next time? How can I get that next opportunity? And so that, my friend, there is no magic here. It’s just common sense, just practical applying what you learned. Okay, I didn’t go to Harvard business school to learn how to overcome challenges and teach me resiliency.

In fact, I’m gonna tell you something, Mac. I graduated from the top public university in the world, UC Berkeley, and amazing college professors. But you know, who taught me more about overcoming life’s challenges? It was a dishwasher, a house/hotel mate, my father, and my mother.  

Mac Prichard:

What lessons did you learn from them, Oscar?

Oscar Garcia:

How to overcome crap. How to overcome resiliency and pick myself up, and lead with a kind heart. 

What more can you want in terms of being able to find your next opportunity? Because you find your next opportunity, not from a job board. You find the next opportunity by leading with your heart and connecting with other people hearts, and my parents were excellent people at building and nourishing relationships. 

Mac Prichard:

Give us some examples of how you did that. You lead with relationships, applied, thought about people’s hearts. And how did that lead to job offers or positive changes in your career? 

Oscar Garcia:

Every Friday, Mac- you and I are connected on LinkedIn- every Friday, I randomly pick someone. In fact, I think I might’ve picked you at one point. I don’t remember now because I don’t keep track. 

But I randomly take a screenshot of someone’s LinkedIn profile in my network, and I call it a “thank God for my network” post. I take that screenshot, share it on LinkedIn, I say something positive about that person, and I tag them. Whether that person responds back and says, thank you, or they don’t say anything, I don’t care. I do it unconditionally to highlight people out there. 

But inevitably, what happens when I do that? A, my network sees and gets an understanding of my personality and who I am, and b, people that I do tag, that I’m highlighting, they’re appreciative. 

And that is a small little way that myself, as an introvert, you know, we haven’t talked about that, that as an introvert, I’m able to build and nourish relationships. Because guess what? Next time I reach out to John Smith, and I’m like, “Hey, John. How’s it going?” You know, I see there’s an opportunity, we’re connected, that John is gonna be more open to taking my call. He’s gonna be more open to opening doors of opportunity for me. 

Mac Prichard:

Oscar, what do you say to a listener who says, “That sounds great, but I don’t have time to send out a weekly message. I’ve got to find a job right now.”?

Oscar Garcia:

Here’s the thing is that, if someone is in survival mode, meaning that you need to find a job right away because the bill collector is knocking on your door- listen, take care, and do what it is that you need to do to find your job, and forget, you know, highlighting people and so forth. 

But once you get out of that sort of survival mode and you have a job, then you know what? Now that you’re in success mode, don’t be selfish. Put your eyes on other people and help other people because there’s that famous thing, that karma’s the b-word. Well, that’s not necessarily true. Karma’s whatever we put out. So, if you put out some good stuff out there, guess what’s gonna happen? Good stuff is gonna come back. 

Mac Prichard:

Talk about another way that you say people can turn adversity into positive career traits, and that’s to highlight your own experience and knowledge. What do you mean exactly? How can talking about yourself help you overcome challenges you might face in either a job search or your career? 

Oscar Garcia:

It’s really about reframing our challenges. I can view the fact that English is my second language as a negative. I can view the fact that I’m a first-generation, and woe is me. Or I can reframe and say, you know what, I’m not a first-generation professional. I’m a pioneer. Because think about this, remember when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon? He was the first human to land on the moon. We don’t call Neil Armstrong a first-generation moon lander. We call him a pioneer. It’s rephrasing, thinking from a position of strength. 

The second way that we can do this, Mac, is what I call embracing FEAR, and I actually use an acronym which stands for- F for flexible. Alright? Change happens. E stands for be willing to embrace change. The only person that loves change is a baby with a wet diaper. I’m about to be fifty-three years old, and, you know, exactly that I love change. I share part of my story here, my work-life situation. Okay? The A stands for aspirations, and the R is for results. 

Listen, quit banging your head up against a wall. If you’re submitting resumes, and you’re not getting the results, maybe you need to try something else. It is not a badge of honor to be sending and applying for three hundred and fifty jobs. In fact, quite frankly, I’m like, what is going on with you’? Like, stop. Focus on results, recalibrate. 

Mac Prichard:

Another idea that you share that I know you encourage people to consider when turning adversity into positive career traits is to learn how to attract opportunities. What do you mean by this, Oscar? And how do you do that? 

Oscar Garcia:

Well, so remember, we have to go way back. Okay, Mac? But in high school senior year, I remember I had some classmates that were amazing athletes, and colleges and universities were courting them with full-ride scholarships to attend their college or university, and most people would say, well, of course, Oscar. Because they’re amazing athletes, they’re super talented. I’m like, yeah, I agree with you. But let me ask you this, Bob. When you’re applying for a job, are you not telling that employer that you’re the best candidate? Oh, yeah, I am, Oscar. Then why isn’t that employer coming to you and begging you to work for them? 

And the reason why that doesn’t happen for ninety-nine percent of the people out there is because we don’t know how to market ourselves, Mac. So, learning how to brand yourself, how to market yourself, how to share content that adds value, that showcases your expertise, and, as I mentioned earlier, learning how to – forget networking. I hate the word networking. But learn how to build and nourish relationships. You learn how to do those things, and you are going to be attracting opportunities versus panhandling for your next job opportunity. 

Mac Prichard:

What’s your best advice for building relationships? 

Oscar Garcia:

Be a friend. As an introvert, networking scares me. And again, I’m about reframing things, and so, I remember one day, you know, I’m a friendly person. I can go to Mac, virtually or in person if we were to be, you know, and be like, hi, Mac. I’m Oscar Garcia. And if you reciprocate, and you’re like, hi, Oscar. I’m Mac, and that’s the start of a friendship. 

Keep it, simple folks. I mean, I’m not here, you know, to give you some Ph.D. answer responses. Just common decency, being kind, and just being a friend is the best way to build and nourish those relationships. 

Mac Prichard:

And how do you know that’s working, Oscar? You reach out to people, maybe you share a screenshot, or you connect with someone on LinkedIn once a week and follow up with them. You take these small steps. But how do you know it’s effective? 

Oscar Garcia:

So, from a business standpoint, Mac, I’m now going on that almost seven years of having my company, and I have done well over five hundred training workshops and so on and so forth. Out of those five hundred plus trainings, probably maybe ten I went after. All the others- people came to me. In fact, I actually over the last couple years, I started taking screenshots of emails, messages on LinkedIn, and other ways. Because people I don’t think are gonna believe me that this happens, and I’ve taken these screenshots to show like, oh my gosh, this company came to me.

Here’s a perfect example of you and I, Mac, and I mean this with all love and respect to you because you are amazing. You came to me to ask me to be on your show. I didn’t come to you. That, my friend, is how I know it’s working.  

Mac Prichard:

Well, Oscar, it’s been a terrific conversation. Now, tell us what’s next for you? 

Oscar Garcia:

Well, we’re super excited, Mac, that this year we are doubling down and focusing on providing very specific, culturally relevant career leadership training that’s targeted to employee resource groups and also folks that are in the diversity and equity inclusion. I mean, you know, two years ago all the things- that social unrest had been happening, and so forth, something that I think has awakened the corporate world’s heart and conscience, to really create even more and more diversity in the workforce and the board room, and whatever I can do on my end to help encourage and help professionals and companies achieve that, count me in. 

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well, I know, Oscar, listeners can learn more about you and your companies services by visiting your website, aspiraconsulting.com, and I know you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and when they do, please mention you heard Oscar on our show. 

Now, Oscar, given all the useful tips you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to turn adversity into positive career traits? 

Oscar Garcia:

We often hear, Mac, that we need to find our voice, we need to find our voice and speak up, and I’m here to tell you, folks, we do not need to find our voice. What we need to do is have the courage to use our voice. I leave you with that. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Ty Reed. He’s the founder of Recovery Career Services. 

It’s a nonprofit that helps anyone who wants to return to employment and put the past behind them.

One out of three American adults have a criminal record.  

And if you’re one of them, that can make it difficult to get your next job.

Join us next Wednesday when Ty Reed and I talk about how to find work if you have criminal convictions.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Jeni Wren Stottrup. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week. 

Have you dealt with circumstances so difficult, you’re afraid nobody will hire you again? Find Your Dream Job guest, Oscar Garcia has. Oscar knows what it’s like to lose a job with no warning, and he has learned how to use that adversity to advance his career. Oscar says you begin by reframing your story; telling it from a position of strength, not victimhood. View every obstacle as a challenge instead. Oscar also shares how to brand yourself so that companies come to you, as well as how to find the courage to market yourself well.

About our Guest:

Oscar Garcia is the Founder & Chief Empowerment Officer of Aspira Consulting, a Silicon Valley training and consulting firm.

Resources in This Episode: