By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO
Every day I receive a dozen or so inbound inquiries from mid to senior career professionals at an inflection point. They’re somewhere between “starting to consider” or “actively looking” for what’s next in their career path. The expertise and levels vary from board members and CEO’s to VP’s of every functional discipline. Their personal circumstances vary from passive situations to urgent situations. Passive scenarios include returning from a post-acquisition sabbatical or boredom after a 5-year run where they’ve accomplished all they can or they’re simply open-minded to something better yet not highly motivated to make a move. Urgent scenarios are often dictated by outside influences such as a company downsizing, industry consolidation, a new boss, changes to compensation plan, or caught between opportunities for multiple reasons. Career management isn’t always easy, companies and bosses are not always loyal (nor should anyone count on it), and blindsides can and do happen frequently.
I’d really like to speak with every person that took the time to reach out, but client companies pay us to identify, compel, and secure right-fit and right-time leaders at their companies. That’s what retained recruiters do – help build companies. With daily double-digit pings from people in some state of transition, I cannot possibly spend time with every single person or I’d never accomplish my more immediate tasks, which include several active retained searches with specialized criteria. That said I place tremendous value on the candidate community and I respect the great majority of people that are in my industry ecosystem so I wanted to provide a few thoughts for those at an “inflection point” in their career. In geometric terms, an inflection point is the position on a curve that begins a significant positive (or negative) run. In business, per Kauffman Fellow Bill Tobin, “inflection points are infrequent events that result in a significant change in the current developmental course of a person, company, or even an entire industry”. So, consider these thoughts if you’re at a current inflection point or if you’ll ever approach one in the future.
Seek excellence but stay grounded.
Entitlement is not a fine quality and nobody owes you anything. Just because you were a CEO of your last company doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be CEO of your next company. Confidence is needed, but arrogance and delusion are wholly unmarketable. Find the balance between exceptional opportunities that can get you where you want to ultimately be without settling too much today.
Listen to (some) others.
This is another fine line suggestion. Seek out mentors and influences of people whom are already highly successful and ask for their counsel. Soundboarding with your friends and many of your peers seems intuitive, but is often detrimental. When it comes to career advice, make it a point to seek the wisdom of people who’ve already done it and who don’t want anything in return other than to help you succeed. Discerning the difference between these different circles is a bigger challenge than it needs to be for many people.
Shift the trajectory.
Even if you’ve been in the “actively looking” camp, you have options. Options sometimes require change and most people, deep down, really don’t embrace true change very well. Are your skills transferable to another industry? Would you be happier consulting vs. permanent employment? Is the time right to start your own business (ironically can be less risky than corporate America in some settings)? Define your forward marketability, which is not necessarily dictated by your cumulative work history to date. Never let yourself believe that there is only one route to your dreams.
There are out-placement consultants that aim to assist senior career professionals at said inflection point. The design of these consulting strategies is for the professional to effectively identify the sectors and specific companies they desire to work for, more narrowly identify the C-level decision-makers or key hiring authorities, and artfully approach them with professional and articulate introductions. Then build a campaign and design a systematic follow up approach. If this sounds like sales or consulting, it is. When you’re seeking out what’s next, you’re 10000% selling professional services – your value. Get comfortable with this and don’t cut corners.
I know I said I can’t invest time with every single inquiry, but the approach is welcome and it’s the right move for the transitional candidate. If you’re motivated to find your next move then meet with people and let them know. A lot of it is top of mind exposure and indirect introductions that come from having coffee with someone, letting them know what you’ve been doing and want to do moving forward. The people you meet with might meet with someone else a week later where an opportunity manifests and they suggest your candidacy. Get out and connect with people of influence in your ecosystem. It only takes one great opportunity and you’re flying high again.
I hope these simple insights help a few of you in your career journey.
Side Note for Hiring Executives:
I spoke to someone the other day who hadn’t worked in a year and of course I qualified why that was the case. He was transparent and I learned that his wife had been diagnosed with cancer and would need extensive chemo treatments which would make it difficult to impossible to care for their young toddlers let alone herself for several months. This guy had a successfully ascending career and he chose to prioritize his family, sacrificing his professional ambition and income for an extended period of time. It immediately hit me that this guy’s human decency made him MORE MARKETABLE despite the optics of being out of work for a year. Don’t immediately judge a person by their paper, you might just find a strong performer with even stronger character beneath the surface optics.