All of us have been in situations where we are anxiously awaiting some news (hopefully positive) and get impatient for the phone to ring.
However, the impatience gets much more heightened when your career and livelihood depends on it.
I have recently come across several situations where marketing oneself (or blowing your own trumpet as some people call it) is not part of one’s DNA and the fact that the phone doesn’t ring causes huge frustrations someone embarking on an uncharted career path. Some examples:
- Solo Consultants – there are many senior executives who get the entrepreneurial bug or have had enough of the hectic corporate life in their mid 40′s or later and decide to set up a consulting practice in their area of expertise. Many find the first few months extremely stressful from the frustrations of cold calling, lack of brand equity of being part of a bigger organization, having unproductive time on their hands, irregular cash-flow, etc. The situation can be exacerbated if the person has not been in a sales or marketing role. E.g. one of my clients had spent his entire career building a solid track record in the supply chain function where he was used to having vendors approaching him all the time to solicit for business. When he decided to venture on his own, my client found the reversal of roles very unfamiliar territory
- Recently retired C-suite professionals seeking Board and advisory roles – Here too, the professionals have all the credentials needed to be an excellent advisor or on the Board of a large company. I recently spoke to a CEO of one of the large Indian business houses who felt that his credentials should speak for themselves and companies should seek him out for Board or advisory roles. The reality is that there are many professionals retiring at the C-suite level all the time and unless one is visible, the phone will not ring
- Aspiring coaches – Coaching is an emerging sector in India and there are many who strongly feel that they will make excellent coaches after being credentialed as a coach (and rightly so). However, I have met many aspiring coaches who have realized only after investing their hard-earned money getting trained as a coach that marketing their nascent coaching practice is more important than their credentials, at least till they build their reputation in the marketplace. Many of these aspiring coaches have focused their business development efforts on coaching corporate leaders (which is where a lot of executive coaches are focused on as well). The aspirants have not taken into consideration what attributes in their background and experience could be attractive to clients and then focused their coaching practice accordingly. While the potential for coaching corporate leaders is quite vast and the market is still largely untapped, it could still cause a lot of frustration to aspiring coaches who don’t have the gravitas to compete against more experienced coaches and end up having to push very hard to make a breakthrough. On the other hand, if the practice is focused on an area where clients could be attracted to the aspirant, there is a pull effect which will result in the phone ringing and while the segment may be relatively small, the coach gets his/her practice up and running much faster.
- HR professionals trying to reinvent themselves as headhunters – These professionals have the credentials to make super headhunters since they have solid skills and experience in assessing new hires. However, selling is not a natural skill for an HR professional and this causes a block for them to be successful in building an executive search practice either on their own or under the umbrella of a larger firm
If your story is somewhat similar to the four examples I have cited above, here are some practical steps you can take to make the phone ring (apart from giving your number to a tele-marketing site ):
- Start with an anchor client - this is an ideal situation since it means that you have some productive activity and cash-flow going from day one. However, this is not easy to achieve when one is making a switch into a very different area
- Create a niche that you can “own” – this is the key ingredient for success and I cannot emphasize the importance of this exercise enough. You need to think through carefully what it is about your background and experience that would be attractive to clients and is very different from what others can offer them. Sit in your client’s shoes and decide on the niche from their viewpoint. Talk to a few potential clients among your circle of friends to get ideas. Remember that it is not about what you would like to offer your clients but about creating the pull to attract clients to you. Also, the size of the potential market and statistics about market share are irrelevant. You just need to have enough clients to stay fully productive and have a regular cash-flow and this could very well be a miniscule share of the market. I recently met a consultant who has operated on his own for a few years and he told me that maintains the belief that he has 100% market share all the time, because as long as his plate is full, he has captured all the business he needs and everything else is irrelevant
- Position yourself correctly - Once you have decided on your niche, it probably is best to stay as high-end as possible so that you get the best trade-in for your most precious commodity – your time. There is a natural tendency to pitch one’s pricing too low initially in order to get in your first clients but it is a fact that most of your clients will not appreciate the value of what you are giving them if they are getting it cheap. By staying at the high-end, chances are that there will be a better recognition of the value you are providing your clients and in the process you are creating a brand for your business as well. However, clients do expect differentiation from cheaper alternatives and therefore you need to be able to demonstrate this to your clients constantly. A very senior CEO coach recently said that clients pay the highest price they can afford and they do not go for the cheapest alternative available and this principle could apply to any service offering
- Be visible – this is the third most important ingredient after finding your niche and positioning. Being visible is not about cold-calling all the time or creating a public persona, both of which may be very contrary to your personal style, if you are someone who prefers to be low-key or is publicity shy. Visibility is about being seen among your potential clients and this can be done through a variety of means which best suit your personal style – it includes speaking at or attending a conference which your clients attend, joining an industry association relevant to your target client market, actively participating in various LinkedIn networking groups, publishing a blog or a thought leadership piece in the press, informal socializing with potential clients or their influencers, sharing very useful and topical information with your potential clients, etc Once you select the visibility methods that best suit your personality and approach, you should be able to get past the blockages that many of us have to marketing ourselves. Once you have created the right amount of visibility for yourself, the chances of a client remembering to call you when she/he has a need will be very high. And being invited to pitch for the role means that the client has decided to hire you (subject to the commercial terms being acceptable) or is very close to deciding to hire you and is only evaluating what you have to offer against a handful of other choices
- Aspire to achieve trusted advisor status - All service related businesses are built on trust and reputation. Hard selling most often doesn’t have any impact and could be counter-productive to generating business, since no one wants to hire a slick salesman. Clients want to see results, certainty of excellence, someone who listens & tells them the truth in a candid way and holds a different viewpoint and most importantly is able to deliver a very high return on investment as compared to the fees they will be paying you. Therefore, your ability to showcase success stories from your prior engagements or past experience (if you’re at a start-up phase) will give clients the comfort that you can be a trusted advisor to them and if you maintain the highest level of excellence when executing the assignment, it will definitely lead to repeat business from that client or the success of that assignment becoming a showcase when pitching for others
- Never lose any opportunity to evangelize – our new business venture or professional preoccupation needs to be an intrinsic part of our daily lives and therefore we should use every platform available to evangelize. This could be a social gathering with old friends or a dinner engagement where you may not know many other guests. By constantly evangelizing, you receive more encouragement for your new venture and you may also meet someone who has a close connection to a potential client or is a key influencer to many of your potential clients. I have had many opportunities emanate from conversations with a passenger sitting next to me on a flight or from someone I met for the first time at a dinner party or an old friend who I bumped into by chance after a long time. I term all these as “synchronistic meetings that lead to opportunity”
- Remain flexible – while staying focused on your niche area is very advisable, there is also a need to remain flexible to opportunities that come your way. E.g. my main focus is on career coaching for senior management professionals and these are typically 3 to 6 month engagements. However, I am also flexible to have one-off sessions with mid-career executives where their need may be just to clarify their thoughts around a work-related issue that needs to be addressed immediately. I have also remained flexible to have shorter coaching engagements with participants of a program offered by INSEAD (the leading European business school) since it offered me the scope to coach a relatively larger number of clients across industry sectors. The message I am trying to convey is that it good to stay focused but one also needs to be nimble enough to respond to specific client needs as long as it fits into the overall vision for your business
- Patiently tighten your belt – patience is a virtue that is severely tested during the start-up phase of any business, especially if it is service related. However, one needs to keep this in mind and find non-work related things to fill up those spare hours during the initial phase so that you remain preoccupied and don’t run out of patience. We also need to become more mindful of our expenses. While we hope that our business will take-off immediately, we need to budget for several lean months without cash-flow and cut down on our non-essential expenses if needed
Am hoping that if you adopt the above steps, you will create sufficient pull to attract clients very soon and not have to face the frustrations of cold-calling on potential clients who give you a few minutes of their time after several weeks of trying to get an appointment and then never revert
As always, would love to receive your perspectives and comments on this subject. If you have other pointers to share or have viewpoints that are very different from mine, please post them as a comment below. Feel free to share this on your social networking pages if you think the blog could be useful to your social & professional circles. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org as well
This is my pet subject since I ‘ve reinvented my career several times over the years – moved from the finance function of an MNC to selling financial services in the mid 1980′s, then became an investment banker and made a huge career shift into the headhunting world 7 years ago and more recently flying solo building a career coaching practice.
With the world rapidly changing, all professionals need to frequently reinvent their careers. As Thomas Friedman recently wrote in the New York Times: “What is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying more automation, outsourcing, robotics — anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care & pension liabilities. That is not going to change. And while many of them are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for the same kind of people — people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value-adding jobs that technology can’t, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.”
On a similar note, LinkedIn’s co-founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, has a book coming out called “The Start-Up of You,” where he argues that professionals need an entirely new mind-set and skill set to compete. “The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone. No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it’s now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business.”
Therefore, I thought I should share a few pointers based on my personal experience of reinventing my career:
- Do you really need to make a switch?: Many people make a career switch because they are dissatisfied with their existing role. However, it is important to understand that the reason for dissatisfaction with a career usually lies within. Therefore, do not be hasty. Make sure you thoroughly explore your feelings of dissatisfaction with your current career before you start looking for solutions.
- Discover your passion: This should be the first item on your “to-do” list when you want to reinvent your career. There are many methods to discover what you enjoy doing in terms of professional work – go with what works best for you. For some, it may involve spending hours meditating or soul-searching. For some others it may mean speaking to close friends and mentors or reading books or online articles on this subject
- Broaden your career objectives: The second thing you should do is getting clarity on your career objectives, which should be broad enough to be applicable across sectors. These are not career alternatives but a list of the 5 to 10 broadly defined things you would like to have in any career role, it is the check-list that you use to evaluate any new career opportunity that comes your way. If you havent defined these already, spend time with a mentor or career coach to do this exercise
- Look for emerging sectors: Making a switch in careers is much easier into sectors that are just emerging and therefore need to look for “out-of-the-box” talent. If you try to switch into a career where there is a well-experienced pool of talent available, it will be an uphill task competing in a beauty parade for any job role. You may then need to make an entrepreneurial move – either by setting up your own shop or by joining a start-up where most of your compensation will be performance-linked
- Fungible skill set sectors: When I made the big shift from banking to headhunting, I focused on doing search work in the financial services space where my domain knowledge and contacts in the banking & financial services world could be brought to use to source and evaluate talent. Moreover, I needed to be self-driven to generate fee revenues, something that I was used to doing for many years as an investment banker. Therefore, when you evaluate the emerging sectors that you could consider moving to, it would be useful to analyse where your existing skill-sets and expertise could be brought to use in those sectors
- Money is important: Blindly following your passion may not be a good thing. We need to remain practical as well. Do not believe that if you love what you’re doing you’re bound to make money. Recognize that you need a sound career plan and a comfortable financial plan to co-exist in order to have a successful mid-life career change experience.
- Be Proactive: It is unlikely that you will receive calls from headhunters or prospective employers when you are making a career switch, because you are in the “out-of-the-box” category. You need to be proactive in first figuring out who could be hiring in the sector(s) you want to switch to and then dig deep into your network of contacts to make the connections to those prospective employers. It would be ideal if you could find a contact who would make a strong recommendation to a key decision maker at a prospective employer. However this may not be possible in all cases, at the very least you need to find a contact who can help you get an interview with a key decision maker so that you can present your credentials personally and hopefully convince that person to hire you
- Burn your bridges: This is a tough one. It is normal human tendency to keep an escape door open so that you can go back to your earlier career path in case the switch doesn’t work out. However, this will make you ambivalent about the switch and you will not be 100% committed to make a success of your new avatar. Therefore, I suggest that you burn your bridges to the past and only look ahead. Reinventing your career is not easy. It requires a lot of extra effort and dedication to come upto speed in the new sector in the shortest possible time frame. Therefore, you need to be totally focused and committed to become successful in your new role and this often happens when there are no safety nets and to survive, you have no choice but become successful
- Create Positive Energy: For those of you contemplating a career switch when reading this blog, I wish you lots of luck. Stay passionate about your move and the positive energy you create will definitely bring good fortune your way!!
As always, would love to receive your feedback and comments on my blog. Also feel free to share this on your LinkedIn or Facebook profile or pass it on to anyone who may find this blog useful
You can email me directly at email@example.com as well.
Did you click on the link to this blog because you have aspirations to be the CEO of your company?
All of us have dreams about our professional careers and when we embark on our careers, fresh out of college or MBA school, we may have lofty ambitions which may seem fuzzy in the long distance and are more focused on the next step or two, perhaps because youngsters can only take baby steps. However, when one enters into one’s thirties, the longer term goals could become clearer and I have come across many who make a move to have the possibility of being on the fast track with a new employer, since he is falling behind in the race to the top at his present employer. By the time you reach the end of your thirties or in your early 40′s, it could be clear whether you have a reasonable chance to make it to the top job or not ….
However, those dreams of becoming CEO don’t die so easily and I have encountered quite a few senior management professionals during my headhunting days and now as a career coach, who want to find some way of fulfilling that dream before they retire,,,,
And more often than not, they make a move that is quite risky or even foolhardy – just to fulfil that dream
I am going to narrate four stories, which some of you who are in the second half of your career may find familiar, not because you may know the characters involved but because you may be in a similar situation. Hopefully there will be some learning and a rash move will be avoided in the process
Ravi’s story: (all names changed though the stories are real) – Ravi was my classmate who had worked for a few years before enrolling at IIMA. After his MBA, Ravi joined a large PSU and moved up in seniority to the middle management cadre. However, he wanted a slightly faster career path and decided to join a large MNC in India. Being the hard-working, non-political person that he is, Ravi’s career plateaued, perhaps because he was not a good upward manager, and he decided to leave the company when he was in his early 50’s to try to achieve his dream of becoming CEO elsewhere. He initially tried to run his own boutique consulting firm (where he was naturally the CEO), but that didn’t take off and by then when he was already in his late 50′s. In order to fulfil his dream of being CEO, he joined a small ITES company (a sector that he was completely unfamiliar with). The company was too small to have any sort of critical mass and hired him at a very low salary just to play the role of an administrator. Though the stint didn’t last very long, Ravi achieved his dream of being CEO but at a huge price. The decision to leave the MNC was not well thought through and he should have either decided that he would be more focused on “upward management” (a very difficult ask since it was against the grain of his personality DNA) or he should have recalibrated his dream and instead counted the blessings of a steady income and a retirement nest-egg, by remaining at that MNC for the next 5 to 10 years till he retired
Ashok’s story: Ashok was my business associate in the mid 1980’s and we have remained in touch as friends since then. He was a finance professional who had a steady career, made a few moves and rose to become the CFO of a multinational in India. When he was in his mid 50’s a couple of years back, he was passed over for the CEO’s job which went to the Marketing Head. Ashok was very disappointed because his ambition of becoming CEO at that MNC disappeared. Ashok then met an entrepreneur who was in his late 60’s and wanted to retire from running his SME manufacturing unit. The entrepreneur’s sons were not ready to take over the reins and he therefore invited Ashok to step into his shoes on a profit-sharing basis. Of course, the SME unit could not afford to pay Ashok’s relatively huge fixed compensation at the MNC and he would need to take a huge hair-cut in fixed compensation in exchange for the share of profits. Ashok was very tempted to take up the offer because of the opportunity to be CEO combined with wealth creation potential. We chatted over coffee about this move a few months back. He told me that his wife was very averse to the move – apart from there being no necessity to create a larger financial nest-egg (both his daughters were married and he had saved a fair amount over the years), she felt that their stature in the wider friends’ circle would be drastically reduced since he would be moving from being the CFO of a well-known MNC to the CEO of an unheard company. I asked him how other members of his immediate family and his close friends felt about the move. This set Ashok thinking and he told me that quite a few of the significant people in his life didn’t seem to be keen about the move. Since some of them had not expressed their views openly, I requested him to have a frank conversation with a few of his friends whom he considered as mentors. After speaking to them, Ashok decided that he should not make the move and will continue to ride the wave at the MNC till he retires in 2014.
John’s story: John is an IIT engineer who has had a fast track career in sales and marketing. He didn’t feel the need to do an MBA because he was a high-performer at work and his role was constantly expanding, through promotions and by a couple of job moves that turned out to be excellent ones, in hindsight. He moved to the telecom sector when it was just emerging 15 years ago and is now part of the senior management team at one of the Indian telecom companies. He is almost 50 years old and feels that the lack of a management qualification has closed the door to the CEO’s corner-room suite. John decided to quit his job recently (partly because of fears that he may become embroiled in the legal cases related to 2G scam) and is very actively thinking of doing a short-term Senior Management Program at one of the leading US business schools. He is going to finance this expensive program himself (approx USD 100K, which in pre-tax income is a lot more) and consulted me before taking his decision. I spent several hours playing devil’s advocate with him, so that all the key factors for his decision would emerge. I did this because I felt that his heart was all set on the program and his head was being completely over-ruled by his heart. There were two factors that finally emerged which will probably lead him not to do the program – Firstly, I asked him to think of a couple of dream jobs that he would like to have and assess the attributes needed for those roles. It became clear that his experience and track-record would be paramount and that his academic qualifications (or lack thereof) may not be an important factor. Secondly, he had not factored the loss of salary income he would incur by attending the program. In actual fact, the cost of attending the program was more almost triple the USD 100K he had initially computed and he could buy a small apartment in Mumbai for one his young-adult sons, with the same amount. John is probably not going to the US to do the program and will instead focus on how to be selected for his dream job
Rashid’s story: Rashid is an IIT Engineer who did his MBA at one of the IIMs and then was selected by one of the leading FMCG MNCs in India. He was an above average performer (just a notch below the top performer category) at the MNC and was deputed on some excellent roles, with a couple of international postings. However, his career plateaued when he was in his early 40’s (3 years ago) and he decided to look for another role. Since making a move would mean a loss of 2 decades of “brand equity” that he had built up at the MNC, he felt that only a CEO level type of role would make his move worthwhile. He didn’t make it on the initial shortlist for any such roles at other FMCG companies (because there were always candidates who didn’t need to make such a “big step-up” move and so were better qualified than him for the job). Rashid was then offered an SBU Head role at a retailing company, which was part of one of the major Indian business houses and just starting up. There was a dearth of relevant talent in the retailing space 3 years ago and Rashid was a sought after candidate with his pedigree qualifications and his track-record for almost 2 decades at a major FMCG MNC. However, Rashid didn’t enjoy the stint and has recently decided to move back into the FMCG sector. Three issues that he didn’t envisage when he made the move were – the very different work culture between the MNC and the Indian business group, the fuzzy code of ethics at the Indian business house and the lack of support systems, partly because it was a start-up situation and partly because the Indian business group wanted to limit its investments & overheads till returns were at least on the anvil.
So what are some of the common themes of these perhaps familiar stories?
- One needs to do a periodic reality check on your career aspirations. It may be helpful to speak to mentors or trusted friends, especially when your thinking is clouded by emotions. Only very few make it to the CEO’s corner-room suite. The rest of us need to recalibrate our expectations or reinvent our careers from time to time
- Keep all your career goals in mind simultaneously. Don’t just focus on just one of them and shrug off the others as unimportant (E.g. you may fulfil your dream to become CEO but lose out on financial savings towards the end of your career or your social stature)
- Academic qualifications become almost irrelevant toward the latter part of your career and taking time off to attend a short-term programme can be very costly
- Never lose sight of softer factors like cultural fitment and that your employer’s ethical standards need to be totally in synch with yours. These softer factors are not easy to define but the reputation (or lack thereof) of certain business groups is well-known. If you are unfamiliar with the business group, ask some of your friends, I am sure some of them will give you invaluable advice
If you have other learnings or insights from these stories, please post a comment below so that others can benefit from them. Also, feel free to share this on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter or pass it on to anyone who may find this blog useful
As may be commonly known, we make job moves due to a combination of “push” and “pull” factors. The “pull” factors are the attractions of the new role and the “push” factors are the reasons why we are looking to move from our present employer
My conversations with several candidates during my days at H&S and RRA showed that many of them made a poor job move when the push factors were high, especially when the person was out of work for some time and felt the need to get back into the workforce at the earliest. Therefore, their decision-making was hurried or clouded by emotions and this resulted in a job move that they would not have made in more normal circumstances.
Some of the learnings that could benefit persons who have high push factors are listed below:
Don’t make a “short-term move: Sometimes, one may feel the need to make big compromises and take a new job role as a stop-gap arrangement. This happens more often when the markets are bad and one has been out of work for a long time. However, it is my view that such moves are not worth making since they could have longer term consequences. Firstly, the chances that one will make a success of that stop-gap role are very low because one is constantly looking for a new role and not focused on making a significant contribution to that role. Secondly, it is difficult to justify to the next employer why one is looking for a change so soon, since one certainly cannot say that “I took it up only as a stop-gap measure”. Most importantly, the short-term move will always be on one’s employment record and could come up for discussion at job interviews even a few years later. My recommendation is to be realistic about the new role one could get in that market situation and then work towards getting the best possible role with at least a 3 year time-horizon in view.
Due-diligence on new employer: It is of paramount importance that anyone making a job move must go in with their eyes fully open and this is achieved by asking lots of questions during the interview process as well as by making one’s own investigations with former employees of the new employer, its clients, suppliers, business partners as well as anyone else who could share some valuable perspectives on that organization. Therefore, irrespective of the push factors being high, one must never lose sight of the due-diligence that one needs to do on one’s prospective employer
Maintain focus on career objectives: One’s career objectives are the 5 to 10 broadly defined parameters which one looks for in any job role. When push factors are high, one may fail to evaluate whether the new job role ticks off many of the career-objective boxes or not and therefore, it could be useful to take time out and evaluate to what extent each of the career-objective parameters are likely to be met in the prospective job role
Phone a friend: When push factors are high, our brains may become clouded by our emotions, e.g. a fear that one may be made redundant or fired if one doesn’t quickly make a move. Therefore, our ability to take a cool-headed decision on the prospective job role may be impaired. I therefore recommend that one must speak to a few close friends or mentors who have one’s best interests at heart and will give honest feedback on whether one should take up the prospective job role or not
Be realistic about new job role and compensation: Many prospective employers are very cut-throat when they are making an offer to a job seeker or to someone who they know has very high push factors. Therefore, the designation could be at the same level or a notch lower than one’s previous role or the compensation package could be lower than what one earned at one’s last job role. One may be forced to swallow a lot of pride in order to accept the terms of the new offer. I am of the view that one needs to be realistic about one’s circumstances and may decide to walk away from some offers if the compromise to be made is too large. However, for offers that are in the ball-park of one’s previous role, it may be useful to have a conversation with one’s new boss on how performance is evaluated in that organization and to understand the time-frame within which one could expect to get back to a similar designation or compensation package as one’s previous role. While the new boss would get the message that you are making a compromise by accepting the offer, it would also put a positive spin on the whole thing by focusing on the future and delivering superior performance to overcome the compromise situation
Hope this has been helpful to those of you who are currently in a “job-seeker” status. Would love to receive your comments on the above pointers as well as any other aspects that job-seekers could find useful to make a better decision on their new job role
Feel free to share this on your LinkedIn or Facebook profile or pass it on to anyone who may find this blog useful
You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org as well.
Over the years, salary packages in India have been simplified and the menu of a myriad types of allowance and reimbursements (driver, petrol, car repairs, telephone, electricity, entertainment, etc.) have now been done away with and a lump-sum Base pay package is now set which can be split into just a few allowance heads.
However, compensation packages especially at senior management levels have become more complicated and the new jargon includes terms such as ESOPs, RSUs, LTIPs, Deferred Bonus, Sign-on Bonus, Sweat Equity, etc.
I recall spending a couple of days facilitating the closure of a CEO level search assignment and the entire two days were spent first getting a thorough understanding of his complex compensation package, then trying to fit this package into the new employer’s compensation structure and then going to and fro between my candidate and his future employer to reach a meeting ground on the compensation offer. Thank God for my analytical mind and eye for detail – otherwise, it could have been “I don’t” instead of “I do” by either the “bride” or the “groom” right at the hiring altar
I have also encountered situations where the compensation discussions ended up being hard bargaining sessions, like buying vegetables or fish from a roadside vendor. And when both sides took a tough stance, egos came into play and either the candidate had to swallow a lot of self-generated pride and felt he was making a big compromise to accept the offer or the hiring manager felt that he was over-paying to close the hire. Therefore, either the candidate loses a lot of the excitement about the job move or the hiring manager gets worried that he could face uncomfortable questions from the new hire’s peers when they found out that the new hire is being paid much more than them
It is my view that the closure of hires should rarely stumble at the final stage and I recommend that if one adheres to the following steps, compensation negotiations can be concluded in a relatively smooth manner:
Share the complete picture upfront:
When you are asked to provide your compensation details to your prospective employer (perhaps after the first interview), ensure that all components of your present compensation package are listed:
- Base salary package including all allowances
- Retirement benefits including gratuity and pension fund contributions
- Non-cash perquisites like insurance coverage (medical, life and accident), club memberships, etc
- Bonus – your actual bonus for the previous year and target bonus for the current year
- Stock Option / Restricted Share plans and LTIPs – ideally include vesting details and an evaluation of the current “in the money” value of the unvested options / shares
When your prospective employer has a comprehensive picture of your compensation package, they can take a call whether your package is in the ball-park of what they could potentially offer or not. There is a possibility that you may be dropped from consideration if you are earning much more that what they could offer. However, it is my view that it is better to run the risk of being dropped from consideration at this stage rather than investing the time of going through umpteen rounds of interviews and then facing the disappointment of getting an offer that is below what you are currently earning.
Benchmark your compensation:
I recommend that when you get to an advanced stage of the selection process you should try to collate information on the compensation structure of your prospective employer and the ball-park compensation packages that some of your future peers could be earning there. Apart from the base pay, you should also find out information on the performance bonus structure and whether the company offers stock options, LTIPs, etc. You could obtain this information by making some discreet enquiries with trusted friends who may be currently employed at the prospective employer or who worked there recently. If don’t have such trusted friends, find one who can get you this information anonymously. A seasoned headhunter may also be able to give you this guidance. If you are moving to a new industry, I suggest you should also get some data on where the prospective employer benchmarks its compensation vis-a-vis its competitors
Set your expectations:
Once you have the benchmarking information, you should then set your expectations of the compensation offer at two levels – the minimum that you would accept (anything lower and you would walk away) and the level at which you would be reasonably happy (expected level). However, I suggest that you should keep this information to yourself and not share this even with the headhunter involved in the hire.
Let the new employer make the first move:
Most prospective employers will ask the candidate to state his expectations of the offer. However, my advice is that you should never state your expectations and duck the question by saying that you don’t know the compensation structure of the potential employer and request them to give you an offer instead. If you state your expectations first, then that becomes the ceiling for the compensation offer and you may be either pitching too high or too low. On the other hand, if the prospective employer makes the offer, then that becomes the floor and you can try to increase the offer if it is within the ball-park of your expectations.
I suggest that if the offer is below your minimum expectation, first re-examine that your minimum expectation is set correctly and then have one more discussion with your prospective employer to ensure that you haven’t missed out any component or mis-evaluated anything. If the offer is still below your minimum expectation, you could politely decline the offer. If it is between your minimum and expected level, then look for ways to communicate your expectations without making it sound like a hard bargain. Of course, if it is well above your expected level, be magnanimous and accept it graciously, but also make sure that you have evaluated all the key components correctly.
Use intermediaries where available:
An intermediary can be very helpful to soften any negotiation involving money. Therefore, I suggest that the headhunter who brought the opportunity to you (if there is one) could be actively involved in the compensation negotiations. Sometimes, someone from the Talent Acquisition team in the HR department plays this role, to reach a compromise solution between the hiring manager and the finalist candidate. There is one caveat about using such intermediaries that one should keep in mind – the headhunter earns a fee for closing the search assignment and therefore, he is not necessarily fully on your side and may nudge you to accept a lower offer just to close the assignment. Similarly, the Talent Acquisition team would also like to complete the hire and move on to the next position to be filled. Therefore, use such intermediaries cautiously
Clarify all the personal related HR policies:
I believe that just before you accept the offer, you should also clarify all the personal related HR policies – travel rules, leave, etc – if you haven’t done so already. For example, if your new job involves a lot of international travel and you have been entitled to business class travel for all long-distance flights in your present job, it could be important to clarify that your new employer has a similar travel policy.
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I recall reading some years back that every employee will go through at least two situations of redundancy / lay-off during his/her career life-span. However, with much higher volatility in the employment market due to a variety of factors, it is very likely that you will faced with the predicament of becoming a job-seeker many times in your career. And it is becoming a fact of life that the likelihood of this happening, increases with the passing years and when one is past one’s prime, it could be more difficult to find a role similar to your last one.
Therefore, I thought that a listing of some strategies that could be effective for job seekers to get back into the workforce in a timely manner, may be interesting for many of my readers, who either may be in that predicament or know someone who could find this blog useful:
- Don’t take it personally: Any situation of forced unemployment can be traumatic and therefore, you need to acknowledge this internally and take steps to get over any negative feelings. Bear in mind that the correlation of one’s performance with being laid-off is becoming much lower because such decisions are taken to meet corporate objectives and may have little to do with one’s job performance. Therefore, never let the lay-off situation demean your self-worth
- Create Positive Energy: Your chances of success are more often dependent on how you feel internally as compared to market conditions. Therefore, it is important to view the situation (though it was not at your behest) in a very positive way, as an opportunity to reinvent your career & do something different, to take stock of where your career is heading, take that long-postponed vacation, to enjoy the luxury of time, etc.
- Perfect your resume: It has been my experience that most candidates do a rushed job updating their resumes when they get a call from a head-hunter. They just add information that is top of the mind and rarely look at the overall presentation that is being made through one’s resume. Use the time that you now have to do a thorough review of your resume, make your achievements crisper & more quantified, weed out old data that is no longer relevant (like hobbies during your school days or minor achievements early in your career). In short, spend time evolving your resume into a strong pitch document of your credentials
- Reassess your career objectives: Use the time available to think through your career objectives afresh. Take the help of a close friend, mentor or career coach to crystallize your objectives. These objectives should be a broadly defined list of must-haves for any job role and give you the flexibility to consider a range of career alternatives that meet these objectives
- Create a long-list of career alternatives: When job market conditions are weak or when the straight-jacketed career alternatives have a limited number of employers who are in the hiring mode, it is important to spend ample time making a long list of career alternatives and being as creative as possible. Unearth “out of the box options” by speaking to close friends, former colleagues and mentors.
- Decide on your “best-fit” career choices: Once you have created the above long-list, you need to analyse it from two dimensions – firstly how each alternative fits with your broad career objectives and secondly, how your credentials stack up vis-a-vis the beauty parade of candidates contending for the same role. The second dimension is harder to analyse since our self-opinion of the strength of our credentials may be out of sync with reality and therefore getting feedback from some head-hunters, close friends and mentors could be very insightful. The net result of this two-dimension analysis will be a list of career alternatives (perhaps 5 to 10 in all) which you are excited about, since they fit well with your career objectives, and also confident that you have a reasonably high probability of bagging a role. Therefore, you are now focused on paths that have a high probability of success.
- Rejuvenate your contacts: The talent acquisition process has changed dramatically in the last few years with widespread use of social networking and internal employee referral schemes. My recent conversations with several clients show that over 60% of the hires are now completed without the use of a recruitment agency. Therefore, it is even more imperative that you spend time rejuvenating your network of contacts – make a list of people you need to reach out to, get ideas on job roles and specific opportunities from them and constantly open new doors, because you never know which door could lead you to an opportunity or be one-step away from that perfect opportunity
- Reconnect with head-hunters: Despite what I have written in the previous paragraph, you must also reconnect with the head-hunter community because one of them may have an assignment where you could be a strong contender. However, it is important to note that there are broadly two types of firms in this community – the major firms which only work on specific assignments and the boutiques which are more flexible and will send out a resume to a potential employer in the hope of making a placement fee. The major firms are therefore less “job-seeker friendly” since they are responsive only if they have an assignment that fits your profile. On the other hand, if you have a strong senior level connections with a couple of boutiques, you could get them to selectively circulate your resume to potential employers, ideally after discussing the employers they would approach with you. However, choose to activate this option carefully because you do not want to be in a situation where your resume gets circulated randomly to all sorts of employers and an opinion gets formed in the market that you are desperate to find a role
- Network professionally: While many more are getting active on professional networking sites like LinkedIn, not everyone spends time compiling a fairly detailed profile on these sites and also creating a large network of connections. While the profile should not be a substitute for a resume, it should have sufficient detail so that your profile gets selected whenever searches of relevant keywords are conducted on that site. Moreover, it is also useful to get more active on local professional bodies and alumni chapters, the power of which gets lost sight of, in this online cyber world.
- New ideas every day: You may find it useful to spend a few minutes, shortly after you wake up in the morning, thinking about new untried actions that could take, who else you could call or reach out to, who could be a good contact to develop and what is the best way to connect up with that contact, who could give you out of the box ideas on career alternatives, etc. For some, the ideation may happen in the shower, for others it may happen late at night when you have some “alone-time” – whatever works best for you. You need to be looking for creative ideas every day
- Plan your day well: Most of us keep systematically maintain our calendars when in a full-time job role. I would recommend maintaining a similar level of discipline when between jobs, so that you plan and then spend adequate time on your job search and not get hijacked by diversions that may come up during the day.
- Be patient but also persevere: When one is sitting at home with time on one’s hands, one tends to forget that others may be very busy and slip up on their committed response times Therefore, if you have been promised a response after a job interview in a week or two and three weeks go by, it may be appropriate to send a polite request wanting to know the status of the decision-making. However, one needs to maintain a tight-rope walk of being patient and continuing to persevere, simultaneously
- Use down time effectively: Stay busy by learning a new skill, attending a short-term professional course , taking on a new hobby or volunteering for a charity. Fill up your day so that you are using your time productively. However, this should not be at the cost of keeping ample time for your job search and have the flexibility to attend interviews as and when they come up. Also, having the luxury of time is an advantage you have over candidates who are already in a full-time role. You can be much better prepared for interviews and ensure that you are never late for any interview (ideally budget to be there 15 minutes ahead of time)
Hope this blog has been helpful to those of you who are currently in a “job-seeker” status. Would love to receive your comments on the above pointers as well as any other strategies that job-seekers could adopt to transition back into a new role in the shortest time frame
Sounds familiar? I guess most busy professionals have encountered something similar and that is why in my seven years as a head-hunter for senior management positions in India, I rarely came across a perfectly crafted résumé. I also guess that most people may not perceive what should be an obvious fact – that your résumé is your “pitch-book” document and therefore, needs to be perfect in all respects in order to make the right impression to anyone reviewing it, especially when that person is taking a decision that could be critical for your career growth.
I have had many senior management professionals asking me for guidance on a “perfect” resume and here’s some of the guidance I have given them in Q&A format. Of course, like most things in life, perfection is very hard to achieve if one’s profile could fit a number of diverse job roles, it is preferable to tailor-make your résumé for each category of job role.
Hope you find these viewpoints useful when you next update your résumé:
Q: What is the typical time taken by someone reviewing a résumé for the first time?
While there are no statistics on this aspect, I have come across many comments in networking group forums and spoken to a number of people who confirm that the first review of a résumé normally lasts between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. This review is to take a preliminary “go-no go” decision and the person will only spend more time a résumé if it passes that first-cut test. It is only when a person is being interviewed for a specific role that the résumé is read in detail and used as a basis of the questioning during the interview. Therefore, a résumé should be in a format that is reader friendly both for a quick review and for a detailed analysis. It is also important to put your “best foot forward” by capturing some of your key strengths on the first page itself
Q: What is the ideal length of a résumé for someone who has over 10 years of experience?
A: Most people have come across a typical résumé of an US based professional – everything crunched into one page, small font, use of bold font to highlight employer names, job titles and two small tables at the bottom of the page – one for educational qualifications and the second for “Other Interests”. While such a format could work for someone who is freshly out of university, I am of the view that once a professional has over a decade of experience, the one-pager doesn’t capture adequate information on the person’s work experience and critical information may be left out if everything is compressed into an A4 page.
I have also come across the other extreme where people try to cover up quality with quantity and have a 7 to 10 page resume. Such documents either have too much information or too much of white spaces, both of which are not reader friendly.
The ideal length could be around 2 to 3 pages. It could stretch to 4 pages if one has over 20 years of experience with several job roles but that should be the upper limit for a résumé
Q: What are some fundamental do’s and don’ts that apply for all résumé?
A: Accuracy – It is a natural tendency to exaggerate one’s achievements a little in one’s résumé. However, it is very important to avoid this tendency and ensure that your résumé is 100% accurate. Every piece of information presented in the résumé should stand the test of “drill-down questioning” and if one is unable to give credible responses when an aspect of your résumé is probed in detail, it will mean a loss of integrity and very likely result in the opportunity going to someone else. A simple test is to ask a colleague or close friend to review the résumé to check for possible inaccuracies or exaggerations and to then correct the potential misunderstandings in your résumé
Spell-check: This is a very basic need but is often forgotten by many professionals. I came across a résumé of a Head of Marketing for Credit Cards where the word “Platinum” was misspelt in several places and this made me reject the applicant. Apart from spelling mistakes, please also check for grammatical errors. If the Queen’s language is not your forte, ask someone whose linguistic skills are strong to review your résumé. This is particularly important if you are being considered for a role in an international firm and there could be people from diverse nationalities involved in the selection process
Personal information: Most Indian employers today adhere to the US “equal opportunity” code, where an employer is not allowed to discriminate anyone on the basis of race, creed, marital status, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. While an US employer is not even allowed to ask questions relating to these aspects, it is common for Indian employers to find out such information during the interview process. However, I find that some résumés contain too much personal information – it could be OK to put one’s date of birth and perhaps marital status on one’s résumé. However, listing information on parents and siblings or one’s spouse’s occupation is certainly not needed and could be seen as a sign of weakness – that one needs to put this information to try to bolster one’s professional profile.
References: Many résumés have a line at the end of the document – “References: will be given on request”. To my mind this is superfluous. It doesn’t make much sense to list out the names and contact details of a couple of referees either, apart from trying to impress the potential employer on one’s connections (again a sign of weakness). Both these practices are archaic and in today’s world it is quite common for head-hunters or prospective employers to conduct a 360 degree reference check with upto 6 referees in all. Therefore, there is a need to choose the referees carefully depending on what a prospective employer needs and not provide them upfront in one’s resume.
Q: What should be the outline of one’s résumé?
A: For senior managers with over a decade of experience, I believe the following outline would be quite ideal:
- The Heading could be “Résumé – First Name Last Name” with a line below listing one’s personal email ID and mobile number, so that this information is easily accessible
- It may be good to start one’s resume with a snapshot of one’s professional profile – not more than 5 crisp bullet points.
- The Professional Profile snapshot could also be replaced with a Career Objective statement but be careful to amend this when submitting the résumé for different kinds of roles
- This could be followed with an “Employment Summary” table summarizing one’s various job roles in reverse chronology – Employer name, Designation, Start Month & Year and End Month & Year. If one has had multiple roles with the same employer, list out all the roles because it shows that one’s performance has been rewarded through promotions or job rotations. Such a table is very useful when someone is scanning your résumé for the first time, since it gives the reader valuable information without having to plough through the rest of the résumé
- The next section of the résumé – which would be the longest in the document – is the descriptions of each job role (see the next Q&A). If one has over 15 to 20 years experience, then some of the early roles may not be very relevant and therefore only the last 15 to 20 years could be listed in detail with the prior experience captured in a couple of lines. This will also help one to keep the résumé length to not more than 3 to 4 pages.
- The penultimate section is a summary of one’s academic qualifications. Only university level qualifications or professional credentials like Chartered Accountant, etc. need to be listed. Even if one has topped the examinations at the school-leaving level, the information is not very relevant for anyone taking a decision on one’s career at the middle or senior management level. It is preferable to mention the year of passing for each academic qualification (unless one is trying to hide one’s age!!). Also, if one has pedigree academic qualifications (IIT + IIM or University level gold medals, etc.) you could list your qualifications above the Employment Summary table so that you can impress the reader upfront!!
- “Personal Data” is the last section where you should list a postal address. Mentioning one’s date of birth & marital status is optional, as discussed earlier. If one has a foreign sounding name, like mine, mentioning the Nationality may be recommended especially if one has studied and /or worked in different countries. Finally, you could list a few pastimes and hobbies which you are involved in today and not those you were involved in as a student!!
Q: What are the important aspects to list for each job role?
A: I recommend that each job role should ideally capture four aspects:
– One line stating the Designation, Name of Employer, Location, Start Month & Year and End Month & Year. If one has had gaps between job roles or if one doesn’t remember the exact month when a job move took place (this could happen if the move was internal), then listing the Start and End Years (without the month) could be acceptable.
– “Job Metrics” – a couple of lines on who you reported to, how many persons were in your team and/or your span of control, all in one sentence to summarize your job role.
– Responsibilities – only the main ones should be mentioned and try to merge overlapping areas to keep this to not more than 5 bullet points
– Key achievements – This is the most important part of the resume and often missed by many professionals or is improperly worded. The contribution made by you personally and the impact of the achievement (% revenues grew, amount of cost savings, % increase in customer satisfaction or employee engagement, etc.) needs to be brought out succinctly. Again, use of bullet points is recommended and list 5 or 7 main achievements, unless one has spent many years in the same role (which in itself is not a good thing, because it indicates stagnation in one’s career)
Q: How often does one need to update one’s résumé?
A: Even if one is not actively looking for a job move, it is preferable to update one’s resume periodically. This will ensure that you always have a high quality and updated resume at hand, to submit to anyone if needed – responding to a call from a head-hunter or applying for an internal job posting. It also ensures that one doesn’t need to do a rush job to meet a head-hunter’s deadline in the midst of one’s work pressures. I would recommend that one should update one’s résumé at least once a year and perhaps review it every 6 months.
A fall-out benefit of updating your résumé is that it could lead to some introspection about the direction of one’s career and help in proactively planning a career move – internal or external. If there is no change in your résumé after a year (no new achievement or responsibility to add to the list) it could be a danger signal that one’s career is stagnating. Alternately, if one has had an excellent year of achievements, which may be difficult to surpass in the coming year, it could be a good time to make an internal or external move as well!!
Hope this article has helped you to improve your personal “pitch-book” document
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I read somewhere that young professionals entering the job-world today will have made 10 to 15 career moves by the time he/she is 35 – that’s an average of just a year or 18 months in each job role. Life-time loyalty to your employer was an attribute that professionals of an era long-past were proud to have and over the years the trend seems to be going to the other end of the spectrum. Life-time loyalty also came with the comfort that your employer would never fire you, except if you knowingly violated the law or breached the company’s code of ethics. However, in this day and age, every professional needs to be prepared to face redundancy several times in his/her career
Despite the back-drop of lack of loyalty both by the employee and the employer, I feel that frequent job moves could have very negative consequences on one’s career in the long-run. Apart from making it difficult to explain the frequent job moves to a prospective employer in the future (especially if the move has been for a small raise or a small step up the career ladder), the professional would have failed to establish a track-record of performance in any job role, which resulted in an internal promotion.
My conversations with many employers have shown that they consider a 3-year stint as being the minimum threshold to establish that someone is a high-performer. The first year is seen as a “honeymoon” period where the new employee is getting to know the organization and may demonstrate a few flashes of performance but the expectations of the new employer are not high. It is in the second year that the new employee demonstrates performance and the third year establishes whether the employee can maintain a consistent track-record of high performance or not.
I have come across several average performers who make moves every 2 years or so, because they realize that they need to make a move before their inadequate performance is discovered and they are fired
Therefore, if one has not spent at least 3 years in at least some of one’s job roles, and ideally with an internal promotion in some of those stints, it would be difficult to demonstrate to a prospective employer, 15 or 20 years into one’s career, that one is indeed a high-performing manager. Moreover, one runs the risk of being clubbed with the rolling stones who move every two years because they are not gathering any moss!!
I have been thinking of writing a book focused on senior management careers for some time but the economics of spending 6 months writing a book just don’t add up, literally!!
So I have decided to share some of the knowledge that I have gained as a senior management executive search professional and more recently as a career coach, through the blogging world. My intention is to write a short piece two or three times a month and hopefully my viewers will find my blogs useful when making their all important career decisions
It is my view that the decisions one takes for each career move, whether internal or external, are as important, if not more, as the performance one demonstrates between each career move. My conversations with hundreds of senior management professionals over the last 7 years have led me to the conclusion that many professionals are not proactive about their career moves and often dont take a well-considered decision, especially when the push factors to look for a new role are high. Therefore, they leave their fates to luck or good fortune and the consequences of just one wrong move can be quite dire, because it could take years to make amends and get one’s career back onto the fast-track
So am hoping that through these blogs I can provide some useful perspectives to my viewers. Feel free to comment or subscribe to these blogs if you find them useful