Listen and Look for Opportunities


Executive recruiters contact more than 50 people per day, and often, experience rejection almost as many times. Most rejections are legitimate – the position doesn’t fit their professional goals or the timing and geography are off. We can accept that. It’s more difficult to accept rejections from people who don’t properly consider the opportunity before rejecting it.

That happened just this past week. I had recently contacted a professional who I have known for quite a while and told him about an opportunity that I thought would be good for him. Without really listening, he told me that he was busy and asked me to call him in a couple of weeks. During those two weeks, we filled the position. When he called me this week to ask about the position, I told him that it was no longer available. He acknowledged that it would have been a great career move for him, and was disappointed and regretful that he didn’t take the time to explore it.

Regret over missed opportunities happens way too often, and it’s not always related to a professional move. Maybe we have an opportunity to buy a better home or car, but instead of taking the time to explore it, we convince ourselves to remain with the status quo. Maybe we have an opportunity to experience a unique event or trip, but don’t want the hassle of introducing something new to our lives. When we realize that we missed an opportunity, regret sneaks into our lives.

Sometimes, we get lucky, and opportunity doesn’t pass us by. One of my gym friends recently made a career move that he had been contemplating for over a year. His only regret – that he didn’t make the move much earlier. He was one of the lucky ones. His opportunity waited around for him.

That doesn’t happen often. More commonly, opportunities appear only briefly, and they are rarely under a spotlight screaming “Take Me!” You have to be aware enough to recognize the opportunity when it appears.

Back in college, I had the opportunity to ask a rather remarkable young coed on a date to a fraternity party. The timing wasn’t great. She was transferring to a university in another state the next month, and she already had a boyfriend. I had reasons not to take the risk, but I did it anyway, and it opened the door to 21 years and counting of marriage. I often think of what might have happened had I let Lynda leave Lincoln for North Carolina without ever asking her on a date, and am thankful for the lesson that risk is often rewarded.

Big and small opportunities appear almost daily. Sometimes, they are loud and overt – like a recruiter’s call. Other times, they are quiet and subtle – like a friend offering to introduce you to someone new. The best way not to miss these opportunities is to listen and look.

Listen to everything around you. When a friend makes a suggestion, consider it. After a lunch or a chance conversation at a party, review the conversation. I can’t tell you how many times my friends casually mentioned something that later led me to success. Many times, it took review and follow-up on that conversation, but listening started the process. Likewise, listen to the media surrounding you. Granted, not everything is positive and useful, but it’s your job to shift through the chaff for valuable kernels. It’s worth the effort.

Look for opportunity. Use your brain’s reticular activating system by programming yourself to notice opportunity. When your brain knows that you’re looking for opportunity, it will steer your attention toward it. It’s like those pesky ads that appear on Web sites after you use your computer to shop for something. Advertisers know what you’re looking for. So does your brain. Let your brain direct your attention to that.

Opportunity is a great gift. It opens doors and improves lives. Don’t let it pass you by.

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  1. #1 by tdawson55 on June 13, 2016 - 7:32 am

    Boy, this is really spot on. Fear and disruption of one’s routine go hand in hand when looking for opportunity and usually the best ones are the ones we don’t look for at all. They “present” themselves. The saddest part is realizing you missed out after the fact and usually there is no going back. But life is full of opportunities, both good and bad. Sifting through those can be a daunting and challenging task. But making an informed decision is the only way to go. Many times the decision is made on emotion and not intellect….that’s where we get into trouble. Thanks for the post Mitch.

  2. #2 by jrvkorn on June 21, 2016 - 8:56 am

    And I might add that when those opportunities present themselves, be open to them. Many times our SCARFian brains want to dismiss them under the guise of protection. Great article Mitch! Thanks for sharing.

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