The career challenges we face during an economic slow-down can be overwhelming. There are steps, however, one can take to improve an otherwise unsatisfactory career situation. A sure fire way to uncover new opportunities is marketing yourself. Although not an easy task, marketing yourself can be extremely effective if we keep in mind it’s a numbers game. For those executives seeking a better career opportunity, and especially for those whom have been laid off due to corporate downsizing, merger, or acquisition redundancy, it’s important to realize the direct relation between a successful career search and the law of probability.
A proactive approach to positioning or marketing ourselves is our best strategy.
During everyone’s career, there are occasional growth opportunities that arise. If maximized, these opportunities not only permit us to grow professionally, they can also facilitate our ability to avoid potential career disasters. Therefore, it is imperative to maintain an awareness that allows us to recognize these opportunities as they develop. This career awareness is critical especially during tough times. As we all know it is easier to find a qualified position while we are employed than it is when we are unemployed.
Most financial leaders take pride in their efforts to maintain the overall financial health and stability of their organizations. Depending upon the corporate structure and their role within the organization, financial officers may not always have the ability to keep the ship on a steady course or for that matter, keep it afloat. In these cases, it may be a good time to evaluate other options and possibly put together an exit strategy. Contrary to a few corporate idealists, there’s no shame in protecting your career. It’s irrational to assume you must go down with the ship. As professionals, we should always be conscious of the financial growth and stability of our organizations as well as those companies we are looking to join. A little due diligence goes a long way.
For those shall we say – less opportunistic individuals, that let the market manipulate their careers, a sluggish economy will inevitably yield little or no growth, a potentially volatile career path and in many cases multiple periods of unemployment. Finding ourselves on a perpetual career roller coaster, continually reacting to unstable market conditions can be frustrating and detrimental. In a volatile market, senior executives must always be prepared for a worst-case scenario and assume a proactive posture. I’m not advocating pulling the plug every time we experience a quarter of negative growth. However, there are circumstances when poorly managed businesses, overly leveraged companies, and unethical business practices only delay the inevitable. These companies are walking time bombs, jeopardizing people’s careers. Surprisingly, we’ve seen our share of these most recently.
Once you’ve determined it’s time to begin evaluating other career opportunities, it is essential to follow a marketing plan. This plan will determine your effectiveness and is directly proportionate to your success.
The first step in the process is to create a corporate target list. This target list will encompass six characteristics. These characteristics or qualities will provide a direct or indirect relationship with the preferred industries, and the present, last or other previous positions where lengthy tenure was established. Reference companies should include the most recent companies and those companies exhibiting both a strong market presence and good name or brand recognition. These reference companies will qualify our target list by sharing one or more of the following relationships with potential target organizations. Target companies will usually be; competitors, venders, strategic partners, clients, joint venture participants, and/or industry service companies.
Some people would argue that financial executives are able to effectively work in different industries. It has further been debated that macro financial skills are easily transferred from one industry to the next as well as crossing over into various geographic markets. Although this argument has merit, the fact remains many corporations prefer their financial executives to have both industry specialization and local market experience.
Now that we have our working target list of companies, we should perform due diligence on each organization. Evaluate each company by size, corporate structure, and our ability to blend in easily. The closer these companies are in structure and size to the companies we have previously worked for, the more easily we will integrate into these organizations making us a more effective leader. Additionally, evaluating corporate culture, and assimilating applicable experience versus the organization?s current needs is equally valuable. Delete companies that would not accommodate your level of experience, or offer the challenges you desire and expect.
It would be unlikely that a $5 million privately held company would be able to meet the job expectations of a former CFO of a $500 million publicly traded corporation, not to mention the expected level of compensation. In the event there are companies that meet the target profile but for whatever reason, do not spark sufficient interest, it is still a good idea to make contact. These contacts can and will provide additional information or referral sources that may lead to more desirable opportunities. Remember, we are building a network.
To further refine the list, we should arrange these target companies in order from most to least desirable. Using Kennedy’s, Moody’s, Hoover’s, Dun & Bradstreet or any other corporate information directories, identify the top executives or board members of each organization. These individuals are whom we want to present ourselves. Never pass on an opportunity to meet with a decision maker at a company that is related in some way to your preferred industry. Although they may not appear desirable, they may provide valuable leads and possibly the very opportunity you seek.
Ok, we have our contacts and our target company list; it’s time to create our list of exceptional quantifiable career achievements. These achievements have made a substantial impact on our current or previous employers. Below are some example achievements that directly impact an organization and are typical of what companies look for.
- Increased profitability
- Decreased costs
- Increased efficiency
- Increased production
- Decreased waste
- Increased growth or market share
- Increased total revenue
- Public offering
- Raised capital
Prepare a brief intro that creates interest, illustrates your ability to speak with confidence and provides value to the organization, division, department or team. Provide examples of how you can help a prospective company achieve various financial objectives. Be sure to include specific achievements that resulted in one or more of the above listed items. If aware of a particular objective or obstacle a company is contemplating, making specific reference to your ability to develop and implement a solution can provide a perceived value and may lead to an interview. Keep in mind, the presentation should be brief and to the point but should be specific enough to provide value and create interest. This is not a time to be modest.
Below is an example of a brief presentation utilizing quantifiable achievements to get the attention of the employer and motivate them to set a meeting/interview. This example can be used either when talking directly to the hiring authority or as a voice mail message:
Hello, Mr. Thomas, My name is Hank Rennar; I am the former/current Director of Finance for a Fortune 500 company here in Houston. Although we have not met, our companies are direct competitors. I am aware that your organization reported a significant reduction in profitability last quarter.
While working as the number two corporate executive for my company, I was able to increase our company’s profits by 24% while maintaining a full staff and no reduction in head count.
Additionally, we reduced our corporate debt by 22% with only a 17% increase in total revenue over a two-year period. I would be interested in discussing any potential career opportunities with your company. When would be a good time for us to meet?
Although you may not have an open position at this time, it would be an honor to meet with you to discuss any future career opportunities your company may develop. Please call me at your earliest convenience. My home/office number is: 713-961-7666. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Practice the presentation until it comes across smooth and flowing. It should be sincere and concise. If presented correctly, it will sound natural and unrehearsed. It should be dynamic but truthful. Preparation is the key to our success. If we are prepared, we are confident. When we’re confident, our voice is an extension of that confidence and it motivates those we contact. Now, we’re ready to start making our calls.
Remember, this is where the numbers work for us. The more calls we make, the more contacts we make. Contacts equate to referrals. The more referrals we get, the more opportunities we have to land an interview. Obviously, the more interviews we engage, the better our odds of getting an offer and ultimately landing our next career position. This is a process that equates to numbers. The greater our numbers the greater our chances for success.
The next step to the marketing process is the follow-up. It is perhaps the most critical and it’s where many executives fall short. Follow up is essential to keeping the referral chain from breaking and can net multiple opportunities if accomplished properly. A simple hand written note, card, letter or email message can be very effective. These follow-up messages should accomplish two objectives.
- Thanking the individual for talking to you and considering you for a position with their organization after you have actually made contact and presented yourself.
- Requesting a return call, in the event you have not made contact and you have left them a voice mail, but they have not responded. Or, you have spoken to them and they did not express an interest. Either way, you want to talk with them once more in order to demonstrate your persistence in wanting to join their team. This also provides one more opportunity for you to get additional referrals. This is the time to put aside your pride. Persistence pays, and it is always a respected attribute.
In today’s market economy, successful companies realize they must be proactive in identifying future executive talent if they are to remain competitive. Most hiring authorities empathize with your desire to find and secure a new position. It’s likely they have been in a similar situation at some time during their career. Therefore, even if they have no present opening, executive employers are often eager to recommend other potential hiring authorities that may be seeking good financial talent. These valuable referrals can open doors and provide unexpected opportunities. Follow up is essential to keeping the referral chain from breaking and it is one way we can position ourselves to succeed.
The last step in the process is contacting and working with a professional recruiter. These individuals know the players in various markets and can provide vital information as well as additional contacts. The good ones will provide coaching, resume counseling and interview prep advice. Choosing the right executive recruiter is a process in itself and should not be taken lightly. There are literally volumes written on this topic and could easily be the subject of an entire article. For the time being, keep in mind your recruiter should be a direct extension of you, and should be someone you trust without reservation.
This is your career; no one can manage it better than you. After interviewing with a company and you sense you are getting close to an offer, thorough research of the organization is critical. Although there is never a guarantee a career change will yield positive results over time, you can reduce your exposure by understanding a company’s history, objectives, strengths and weaknesses as well as recognizing potential red herrings. Conduct your due diligence as if you were an investor. After all, when taking a new position, we are in essence investing our time, money, reputation and our career’s.
Marketing yourself is one effective way of controlling your career path and making a conscience decision to stay ahead of the game during a tight economy. Not everyone has the determination to succeed in this market; those that do, will continue to lead the way.