Staying Competitive In The Modern World with Iqbal Atcha
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Staying Competitive In The Modern World with Iqbal Atcha
One of the things that are fun about being a podcaster is there are times when you meet people that are just absolutely mind-bogglingly smart. In this case, I’m super excited because I met this guy in a work capacity and he’s been one of my favorite people for years and years. He’s one of the brightest, has his fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in the work world of anyone you’ll ever meet. I am thrilled to have this guy on my show. He’s a very close personal friend of mine. His name is Iqbal Atcha. He’s an international speaker, author and leader in healthcare. He’s a pharmacist like me and he’s worked for Walmart, leading a team of professionals to recruit nurses, optometrists and pharmacists for Walmart’s health and wellness division.
Iqbal graduated from Midwestern University – Chicago College of Pharmacy in 1999. He was recognized in 2015 as Alumnus of the Year and he was awarded a lifetime achievement award from his alma mater. He holds an MBA, a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification and three Distinguished Toastmasters certifications. He’s an associate professor at both Rosalind Franklin University and Midwestern University – Chicago College of Pharmacy where he regularly lectures on business and leadership development. He served a three-year term as Director for Toastmasters International, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals develop better communication and leadership skills. He has authored two books and he’s even shared the stage with Deepak Chopra. Iqbal, welcome. How are you?
Corey, I’m great. I’m blessed to be on the show and to be with your audience. I’m happy. Thanks for having me.
Successful Thinkers, Iqbal specializes in talent acquisition and development. We’re going to talk a lot about what you want to be thinking as you’re trying to enter the working world and you’re trying to further your career and when you’re trying to develop yourself further. We were talking about how three people that he’s very close to were let go from their company. Iqbal, what advice do you have to our audience about preparing for their future?
I want to emphasize with the group that no matter where you are in your career journey, a new graduate that’s coming out of school and ready to start your career at the first level or maybe you’re a mid-tier professional that’s been doing this about ten, fifteen years in your chosen profession. Even if you’re at the sunset years where you’re like, “I want to be able to get through.” It’s important to understand the world that we live in from a financial corporate business perspective. There are a lot of shifts that are taking place that is way beyond our capacity to understand.
For anyone that finds themselves in a situation where either there’s an opportunity but they’re unsure of or a decision is made for them about their career, which was not on their radar. It’s important to remember three things because this is all that we have the ability to control. The first is that our positions, no matter what they are, are never permanent. You can be in a managerial position or a director-level position or even at a starting position. It’s no guarantee that you’re going to stay there forever. It’s important to remember that because if you have the mindset of understanding that anything can change in a day, in an hour or a week or a month, it always keeps you on your toes. You are always preparing yourself for whatever the next move may be, whether you choose to make it or not, whether it’s made for you. It allows you the opportunity to have options available so when the time comes, you know how to be able to implement your strategy.Every job search you do should be approached as if it is a full time job in itself. Click To Tweet
The second thing I would tell you is always be open to the possibilities that are existing out. Sometimes those are hard to see. Corey, I’ll give you a great example. You mentioned that I’m a pharmacist and I’m a proud pharmacist. We talked about my alma mater Midwestern University and some of the things that we’ve done together, but I’ll also tell you that I have seen myself more as a talent acquisition leader than a pharmacist. If you asked other pharmacists that are doing what they’re doing, whether it’s in the space of providing patient care or it’s working in a nontraditional role unless such as mine. Most people hold onto that pharmacy degree and use that as their badge of honor. I am a pharmacist, first and foremost and everything else comes second.
I would challenge anyone that’s reading this to understand that you don’t have to create your own prison if that’s not what you want. For many people, being a pharmacist is not a prison. It is a phenomenal freeing experience in a freeing profession. For me, I found that I’m more of a talent acquisition expert and somebody that enjoys helping other people marry their passions with their professional aspirations. What needs to happen is people need to have a broad circle of people to provide input, to share ideas and to help people grow. When you are stuck in this situation or find yourself in a situation that you weren’t prepared for, you typically tend to grasp at the same straw as that you know. I’m a pharmacist. Therefore I can only look for positions that relate to the pharmacy.
That’s not saying that you’re not capable of becoming a teacher or perhaps even something else such as a financial coach for pharmacists. There are lots of tangents. Always be open to the possibilities and be open to receiving that idea. Finally, the third thing is be ready to embrace change. As human beings, we are hardwired to fight change. We look for stability, security, patterns and routines so that we can master them. That way we’re able to continue with other aspects of our life, but unless you embrace the change, number one, you don’t grow and number two, you don’t know what you’re capable of being at the end of the day.
I was having coffee with a gentleman and I was telling him that when I first got out of pharmacy school, you literally didn’t even have to interview for a job. You could say, “I’m willing to go where you need a person,” and they would give you a job. The job market for a number of reasons has closed up immensely. I think you and I have talked about how a lot of times you’ll have multiple applicants for jobs that you couldn’t even fill. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s spot on. I’m a 1999 graduate, so back in the late ‘90s. The numbers, if I remember them correctly are six job offers for every pharmacy graduate. You got out of pharmacy school, you went to the career fair, you sat in front of a recruiter and they opened up their book and said, “Where would you like to go? Here’s what we’re offering. We can do this.” I knew some that were offering BMWs as part of a contract or relationship. You sign up, you get a BMW. Wherever you wanted to go, however many hours you wanted to work, they made it happen. Not the tide is turning. Every profession has a life cycle and they go up and down. I would say that it’s not uncommon to see 50, 60, even 100 applications for one position. It’s very competitive in certain areas. While there are still opportunities around the country, they’re not as plentiful and it’s a different landscape for the pharmacist.
The important thing there that you mentioned is every profession has its life cycle. Whether you’re a pharmacist or whatever you do, you’re always wanting to be looking towards your next career. Is it okay if I share a short story about how I learned that lesson when I was working in the pharmacy?
Yes, I’d love to know it too.
There was this customer that I had and his name was Frank, and he was absolutely mean. He got off on playing the grumpy old man and all of my pharmacy technicians were scared of him. Whenever he would come into the pharmacy, they would all scatter. It was one-on-one with Frank and me. One day, one of my pharmacy assistants, Debbie, was speaking to a young lady who is bawling because she had lost her job that day. She was saying to Debbie that it’s terrible how there’s no loyalty from companies anymore and there’s no job security anymore. She kept using the word anymore and Frank wanted to help her out.
He looked at me and goes, “Corey, there’s never been such a thing as job security.” He said it loud enough so she could hear. He said, “I made a fortune in transistor radios and then some SOB had to come along and invent the television. Even as a small child, I remember the blacksmith sitting on his hands. Here he‘s got the biggest house in town, but he doesn’t have any work because somebody came along and invented the automobile.” Here’s the point he said. “You should always be developing your skills and you should always be looking at your next opportunity because conditions are going to change. Sometimes it’s your own ability to perform. Your job is going to change, so you should always be looking down the road and preparing yourself for what’s coming, because by the time it’s here, it’s too late.” What are your thoughts on that?
I think that’s spot on. Frank had it right. When you shared that story, I immediately think of how many people find themselves resting on their laurels because in their minds, they paid the price. They sacrificed four, six, eight years to go to school to earn an undergrad, a Master’s or PhD. They’ve worked long hours at night and they worked on the weekends, they sacrifice time with their family. After several years, they feel that they’ve earned the right to be able to have all of the benefits and the perks of any job that they may have, whether it’s a financial planner or an event planner that they feel that they’ve earned it. The rest of their professional careers should be, “I get to reap the rewards.” The challenge with that notion is that the world is changing at such a frenetic pace. What may have been something that would have lasted as a lifecycle many years is changing almost every few years, if not even faster.
Take a look at technology, I remember that if you needed to send papers as a fax from New York to Los Angeles, you’d have to go to a fax machine. You have to find a company like FedEx or any other company available where you could go and fax papers to the phone number of another fax on the other side of the country. Fast forward, they’ve created an app called Genius Scan where if you use it, you can take pictures of the papers that you have, it will automatically be converted into a PDF and you can send it by email to your intended recipient. I can guarantee you that in the next few years, that app is going to be obsolete because somebody else is going to create something that is going to either increase convenience and satisfaction and lower the pain points of having to fire up an app on their phone. Because the world is changing so quickly, it’s critical that professionals understand that what they’ve earned and what they’ve learned is not going to last them for more than just a few months. Maybe a few years at best, but unless we stay on top of the changes that are taking place in whatever industry you may be a professional in, you will be left behind.
That’s so scary, yet at the same time, it’s exciting because that means that for those who are willing to change and morph, there are a lot of opportunities out there.
I want to go back to what you said, the potential is so high for people that embrace change. If you are somebody that can enter a situation where all the techniques and the methods that you’ve used in the past are not applicable, but yet you’re flexible enough to look for, try and show results by using new things. You suddenly become a subject matter expert in this space for the group or the organization that you work for. That’s where the true leaders come out. That’s where successful thinkers understand that techniques may not work. I better be prepared to understand if something changes, where am I going to go find the resources that I need? Who am I going to be able to lean on for information that I may not have and how quickly can I implement it? You don’t have to have the answer. You just have to know where to go find.The potential is so high for people that embrace change. Click To Tweet
One of the things that I think is important more than ever is because of the things that you have set already leadership skills. What I’m wondering Iqbal is what’s your perspective on leaders in the market?
The first thing I would say is that the traditional perception of what a leader is not applicable in the world that we live in. When I was growing up as a kid and particularly in the world of business, the first person that comes to mind for me is Lee Iacocca, the CEO and Chairman of Chrysler. For what it’s worth, there were lots of people that had this authoritative demeanor when it came to running a business. You’re the CEO, anything in everything that you say is golden. Back in the ‘80s, that’s how companies operated. The boss comes in, they say this is what it is. They must know something I don’t. We’re going to do it. The world has changed dramatically and I would say that leaders are not the ones that are going to be the captains of the ship as much as they are going to be the glue for the ship. The leaders are responsible for finding the right talent, letting the talent do what they do best and helping guide the entire ship in one direction. That’s where leadership is. If anyone tries to come in and act like Lee Iacocca and says, “No, the color of this wall needs to be red and we shouldn’t be doing this. We should be doing that.” They’re not going to be in a leadership position for very long.
That’s well said because one of the things that happen is this frenetic pace going on and there’s a lot of panicking going on in the working world. I believe that whenever there’s a crisis or a mini-crisis, about 10% of the people are going to take charge and know how to get people to do what needs to be done. About 80% of the people are going to act as soon as someone shows them where they are and how to act. There are 10% of the people that are going to make everything worse. Successful Thinkers, what you want to do is what Iqbal is talking about. You want to prepare your skills to be able to not necessarily know the answer but bring out the answers in the best people around you, which I think is an integral part and partial to our ability to develop our communication skills. Have you seen people out in the working world who are taking advantage of the lack of communication and connection skills and what those people are able to accomplish?
I have and I’m glad that you bring this up because this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to serve as a Director for Toastmasters International here in Chicago. The organization District 30 Toastmasters is comprised of 3,000 members. All of these individuals from different walks of life, from different professions and different age groups. All of them had a shared passion of becoming better speakers and more importantly employing the communication skills within their professional workspace to be able to help others and of course also improve their own professional careers. What I find interesting, however is that, as a whole, we hear a lot of people talking about the necessity for excellent communication skills, whether it’s one-on-one communication, interpersonal skills, conflict resolution and negotiations.
All of these require a certain skillset that cannot be automatically employed by reading a book on day one. It requires practice. It requires using techniques that are learned time and repeatedly putting them to use to see what’s the right way for me to deliver this message. I do see that there are more and more people that are starting to come down and understand that while they may have a phenomenal resume, while they may be excellent at their job, whether it’s coding, programming language or as a CPA, even a physician or pharmacist. I think what’s important is that every one of these professions requires an opportunity for a person to speak to another person because anyone can go to a website and look up information. There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom and that difference is communication skills. I’m confident that more and more people understand that they play a pivotal role in helping others, whatever capacity that profession may be. It’s critical that they’ve mastered basic communication skills in order to help their patient, their customer or any individual on the street by giving them the message in a way that’s deliverable and perceivable to that person.
One of the things that I see in the workplace is this business of people lacking in the ability to reach out to another person and empathize with what’s going on in that person’s world. I think that one of the things that you and I have talked about is when people come in for a job interview with you, we were in a culture that wants to believe in things like casual Fridays and so forth, but companies are serious. Are they not about who they’re putting in front of their customers and their employees?
Year after year and I’d even go as far as month after month. The bar that companies have when it comes to not just finding top talent, but hiring, training and retaining top talent because that talent is the brand of the company. It doesn’t matter what company it is, any Fortune 1000 company. If you have a person that is hired on board to be an associate or an employee, they have to have the mixture or the right combination of looks, ability to speak, ability to communicate and then also strategic thinking. It’s very critical that when they hire somebody, they are serious. It’s a marriage.
What I always tell people, it’s matchmaking. It’s like dating. Finding a job, applying and going through the interview process is just like dating. You can be attracted to somebody based on one quality, but the more you get to know someone and the more you get to know a company, you start to figure out, “Is this the right match for me?” The company’s asking, “Is this the right person for us?” There is a process that people go to. I’m happy to talk about this in greater depth as well. It’s serious business when you think about how you present yourself to your future boss or to your bosses boss or even the CEO.
I think it’s critical that we have you as an amazing resource. One of the things that you and I have talked about is people walking in and looking at you like, “I’m qualified. Hand over the job.” One of the things that I imagine, knowing you as I do, is that internal clockwork in your brain going, “It’s going to take more than that.” I know how hard you work to try to bring that out in people. There are a lot of people struggling to find their dream job or the job that they need to feed their family. What advice do you have for people looking for work in the market?
My coaching clients, my friends, the mentees that I have over the years and I still have. There is a structured process that I share with them because I want them to understand applying and interviewing for a job is not random. It’s not happenstance. You don’t just wake up one morning and like, “I’m going to go ahead and start applying and I’m going to get a new job in a couple of weeks.” That doesn’t work that way. That’s the first rule of thumb I tell people is if you’re going to be seriously applying for positions, understand that that is a job in itself. You are going to be spending an inordinate amount of time researching companies, identifying what your goals are and trying to match them with other companies to see if there’s even an opportunity available and then understanding what that role may be and the responsibilities and to see if you’re a fit there.
The first thing is you’re going to apply for a job, dedicate a certain amount of time a day or a week. It could be two hours a day, it could be an all-day Saturday stint, but if you’re going to sit down and do that, walk into that job knowing that this is what I’m going to achieve. That means, “I know I’m going to be looking for these types of positions within these kinds of companies that work in this particular industry.” The second thing that I would say is ensure that your resume is a match for what the job responsibilities and job descriptions are asking for. In your mind, you can believe that you’re capable of being a senior manager of talent acquisition or a director of talent acquisition because you‘ve done maybe three interviews. Maybe it’s because you had the opportunity to shadow someone.
The fact of the matter is is that every job description that’s out there actually lists what the person selected for that role is going to do. If you can read that job description and recognize that you’ve done the majority of it already, you stand a much higher possibility of being selected for an interview. The other thing I would say is once you’ve done that, once you’ve matched your resume to what the job descriptions are, be patient. I will give you a great example. I received and I will be starting a position on as a director of talent acquisition strategy for a Fortune 50 company. I’m very blessed to have that opportunity. Leaving a Fortune one company and working within a Fortune 50 capacity makes me very happy, but it was not random. I ended up for about six months applying for a director of talent acquisition positions within companies that are in the healthcare space. Out of 100 applications that I put in, 50 of them got rejected in the first two weeks and 47 of them went unanswered and that’s normal.
That’s 97 out of 100.There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, and that difference is communication skills. Click To Tweet
Ninety-seven out of 100 applications that I put in were either rejected or not acknowledged. It can be very defeating, depressing, and even deflating to think that I’m putting in all this work and I matched the criteria that the job poster or the recruiter is looking for. Why are they not considering? It‘s not your fault and I’m not ever going to say a candidate should be discouraged by continuing to do so. I come from a background of sales and in my experience, I’ve always lived my life by the 10% rule. What the 10% rule is for every ten jobs that I would apply to, only one of them is going to read my resume. For every ten people that read my resume, I’m only going to get one job offer, maybe it may be an interview.
It continues to grow. No matter who you talk to in sales, they will tell you the 10% rule is pretty much hard and fast. If you understand that, that means you have to have a thick skin to accept 99 noes. If you hear or you’re told no 99 times, that’s a good thing because somewhere along the line right after that number 99, you’re going to get a yes. That’s how you have to approach the entire job application process. Understand that it’s a structured format and that you’re going to be told no a lot, but it should never discourage you from that process. That’s what I would say to somebody who’s starting their job search for the first timeout.
That’s wonderful advice because I know that people sometimes because of the frustration and because they get so tired of hearing no, they will take the next application and just toss it in without putting that same effort that they put behind the first one. Have you seen that in your career?
Corey, I may have missed that part, but are you saying as a recruiter or as a candidate?
It’s either way. I’ll throw my application in, but I’m not into it. In the winners in this world, I think approach every job offer, every sale, every communication opportunity with the same vim and vigor. What would you say?
I think that for anyone that’s going to embark on this journey, it’s critical to have a boundless supply of optimism. If you start even to feel you’re getting depressed or this is not worth it, remind yourself that there are lots of other people that are in a worse situation than you and that you have skillsets, knowledge, and abilities that others don’t. I promise you, you are a match. You just don’t know what that match is. Making sure that when that half-hearted attitude starts to creep in, take a break, recharge. For me, I love to walk and I’m doing nine or ten miles a day. That helps me rejuvenate my spirit and helps me refocus for what I tried to do. Anybody that tries to approach us in a half–hearted measure, you’re going to get half-hearted results. People are not going to take you seriously enough. Even if you are fortunate to get a pre-screen or an interview, that half–hearted approach or attitude is going to come out in your interview and that would damage your chances for future progression.
The reason I asked the question that way is that I knew that you would share some pearl of wisdom. Isn’t it true that there is such a thing as career coaches, accountability partners that could help a person maintain their enthusiasm?
I’ve used a career coach. I have an accountability partner for my workouts. There are a lot of people that have the ability to show you and even shorten your learning curve as an applicant because they know what’s happening in the industry. They know what changes are taking place. They also know how to navigate through the maze of applications and interviews. I would strongly suggest that if you’re starting out on this journey, you don’t know the first place to start, if nothing else go to YouTube. I know a couple of great coaches.
In fact, I’m proud to say that you were one of my first coaches at the start of my career because I remember speaking with you and you had that boundless supply of optimism. You were phenomenal. You always were in my corner. You helped me realize the obstacles that I was creating for myself. You’re always able to show me some of the pearls that I had within me that I didn’t know how to leverage in a phone call on a resume. I learned through that process and about a two or three-month time frame like, “This is the right way to do it.” Corey, you were the one that helped me do that. I want to let your audience know, I am truly indebted to you for the way that you’ve helped my career progressed to.
You’re certainly welcome. I think that what it comes down to is trying to go alone in this world is a losing proposition. All of the best people in all of the best industries have coaches, mentors, support groups, mastermind groups. Napoleon Hill talked about it. If you want to be successful, align yourself with a mastermind group. To some degree, isn’t that what Toastmasters is?
That’s a great analogy and I would agree with you 100%. I still stay in contact with a lot of the members that I have the ability to serve and the opportunity to do that. What I find is that whether it’s a lawyer or a physical trainer, everyone consistently not only helps each other for the immediate short-term problem but then when they get together, they talk about the challenges that they’re facing. Nine out of ten times someone in that group has been on that journey and has been at that step and they then share like, “I know exactly where you’re at, I was there. I had started the business, I was putting money into my marketing and I wasn’t getting any sales. It was depressing but here’s what I did.” Through that process of sharing in these Toastmasters clubs, people are able to pull themselves up and out and you will start seeing a community of both professional and personal relationships growing very strongly.
The point is like you said. You can join a Toastmasters group. You can find people on YouTube that are sharing information that you need. You could reach out to people like Iqbal and me. You can find someone in your inner circle who’s willing to help you keep that fire burning because going it alone is a way to run out of gas quickly. That’s one of the things that I strongly believe, surrounding yourself with people who encourage you. Iqbal, it’s been amazing how quickly the time has gone. I love that you share your real-world experience and your amazing advice. Before I let you go, will you please share with our audience how they can reach out and get in touch with you or learn more about you. Maybe leave us with one last piece of advice that you would want our audience to take away?
I certainly encourage you to reach out to me. I would love to connect with you on LinkedIn. I’m very prolific on LinkedIn. I do a lot of my work there. I do post articles, and I am more than happy to provide you any advice or help you listen to whatever situation you may be in and maybe even guide you in that space. I know Corey is also just as equally as passionate about this as I am. You can reach me on LinkedIn. My first name as Iqbal Atcha. There are actually two Iqbal Atchas on LinkedIn. I’m the one in the Greater Chicago area, not the one in the United Kingdom. You can also find me on Twitter. I do some postings there as well. As for one pearl that I would share with you. I’m glad that you saved this for last because this is probably the a-ha moment that I had and I love sharing this with people. Most people know that they need to have some form of mentor or coach. A lot of people have mentors. They reach out two to three, five, ten mentors that help them when they’re in a career progression. There’s a difference between having a mentor and having a sponsor. This is where I would say that your audience should be more invested in finding sponsors than mentors.It's critical to have a boundless supply of optimism for anyone that's going to embark on the journey of the work world. Click To Tweet
A mentor is somebody that’s going to listen to the challenge that you’re facing and give you advice on what he or she may think would be the best route to overcome that challenge. That’s great. Everyone needs mentors because other people have lived this life before you and they can shorten your learning curve and certainly ease some of the pain and the suffering that you may be experiencing in your journey. As a mentor, they will never be able to be your cheerleader in a closed-door board meeting. A mentor will never be somebody that will pipe up and says, “You have an opportunity. I have a girl for you. I know the perfect person that will fit.” That is a sponsor. A sponsor is worth in my book, ten mentors. You can have a relationship with a sponsor who knows what you’re capable of. The skills that you have, the knowledge that you’ve acquired over the years, and the ability to change whatever situations or even help other situations happen. A sponsor will speak for you on your behalf when decisions are being made. Successful Thinkers, Corey and anyone else that’s reading, make sure that you invest time finding a sponsor more so than a mentor.
I want you to know that I truly appreciate you sharing your wisdom with the Successful Thinkers out there and I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you. It’s always a delight and always a pleasure.
It’s the same here, Corey. It’s so good to connect with you and your audience. I hope that I have the opportunity to see you again, but certainly again, I invite your audience to reach out to me in any way I can help them. I’m happy to do so.
Successful Thinkers, thank you so much for staying with us and for paying deep attention and taking to heart the things that Iqbal has talked about. One of the things that we both believe is that there’s a match for you. There’s an opportunity for you. You have more power than you could ever imagine. Take him up on that advice. Look for a sponsor, someone who could help you in your journey and don’t ever quit until you reach your goals. Remember that no matter what happens, I believe in you.
- Iqbal Atcha – LinkedIn
- Toastmasters International
- @IqbalAtcha1 – Twitter
About Iqbal Atcha
I’m thrilled to have on today’s show a very close and personal friend of mine. Iqbal Atcha is an international speaker, author and leader in healthcare. He is a pharmacist (like me) and for the past 13 years, has worked for Walmart leading a team of professionals to recruit nurses, optometrists and pharmacists for their Health & Wellness Division.
Iqbal graduated from Midwestern University – Chicago College of Pharmacy in 1999. He was recognized in 2015 as “Alumnus of the Year” and this past May, was awarded a “Lifetime Achievement” award from his alma mater. Iqbal holds an MBA degree, a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification and 3 Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) certifications. He is an Associate Professor at both Rosalind Franklin University and Midwestern University – Chicago College of Pharmacy where he regularly lectures on business and leadership development.
If that wasn’t enough, Iqbal recently served a 3-year term as Director for Toastmasters International, a non-profit organization that helps individuals develop better communication and leadership skills. He has authored two books and has even shared the stage with Deepak Chopra!