Ready For a Career Change? Here’s how I did it…
During both growing and contracting economic cycles, you’re only ever one email away from a restructure and potential redundancy. When those events occur, it is important to focus on several key elements to ensure you can effectively position your relevancy and capitalise on opportunities as they arise.
When I reflect on my career, largely surrounding 18 years at National Australia Bank, I feel lucky that I was afforded several fantastic opportunities to work across the finance function in various roles and product sets, both here and abroad. I always felt most motivated when I was making a tangible impact to the organisation. Be it through the production of the annual financial report, profit announcement or working through pricing of products as part of a go to market strategy, the ability to “touch, feel and smell” the outcome of my work was important to me.
Towards the end of my career at NAB, I moved within the business into a pricing & portfolio management role. Following my departure from NAB, I was keen to move outside of Banking as I was conscious of gaining industry diversity which I explored through an opportunity in the FMCG sector. It was a great role in an extraordinary organisation… but something was missing.
As my thoughts turned to careers outside of core financial services, I met with executive search firm Alex Kaar to explore an opportunity which could utilise my background, whilst affording me new skills and opportunities to expand my capability. It was through this process that I began to gain an understanding of the importance of articulating my previous experience as it related more broadly to the job market, outside of a purist financial services role. It required me to take a close look at the soft skills that I’d developed over the years, as it was those soft skills like negotiation, emotional intelligence and leadership that were relevant to almost any corporate role.
Before commencing on the quest to find a new role, it’s important to firstly understand your motivation, which organisations you are looking to add value to and how to articulate your personal value proposition.
What’s your Motivation?
It’s important to understand what motivates you to succeed.
1. What problems do you want to solve?
2. What types of people would you like to work with?
3. What legacy do you want to leave?
4. What’s lacking in your current role and how will you counter this in your new role?
5. What industries do you need to dedicate time to researching?
6. What are the sectors that have appeal and conversely, what sectors hold little or no appeal to you?
Factors to consider in a new role
When exploring how you might expand your core skill set, begin by exploring the key factors that will influence where that opportunity may lie. Take a step back and seek to gain a better understanding of the industry, organisational culture and people before you attempt to position yourself to them.
Industry: Consider the industry you are keen to move into and what external forces may impact it in the long term. Are there factors inhibiting its growth going forward? What does the competitive landscape look like? Is there any regulatory change that may impact the viability of the industry going forward? What are the opportunities for this sector to reinvent itself in the future to become a sustainable and robust industry?
Organisation: Does the organisation and its culture motivate you to work there? Does the organisation align to your values? Are you happy and proud to disclose you work there at a BBQ with your family and friends? Read their story, investor relations packs or annual financial reports to gain further insights into their strategy and roadmap for the future. Does their ambition align to your aspirations?
People: What is the composition the Board? What does the Executive Team look like? Do they inspire and motivate you to work for them and with them? Importantly, does your style, background and skill set complement and enhance the organisation’s future roadmap for success?
Articulating your Value Proposition
Providing a clear value proposition, which clearly conveys the value that you have delivered in the past and the type of positive impact you can make to the new organisation is essential. Your ability to know your audience and provide relevance and a common skill set from the previous organisation or industry to your new one will typically be the difference between reaching a successful outcome or not. To achieve this, you need to understand the issues facing the business (and specifically the role you are positioning yourself for) and articulate how you have solved similar issues at previous organisations.
The Power of Networking
In a competitive environment, where large scale redundancies occur weekly, your network acts as a safety net or job “insurance”, should you be caught up on the wrong side of a restructure. It is important to reach out to people who can comprehend your value proposition and are willing to act as an advocate for you in the market. These individuals know how you operate, they understand your style and appreciate the impact you can make to an organisation.
Providing your network with a clear, up to date summary of your background and your future aspirations provides you with two critical benefits:
It enables you to practice telling your story. In the absence of a live interview, talking to your network is the best way to refine the art of your pitch and clarity of future aspirations.
Your ability to understand organisational strategies and activity in various sectors allows you to refine the areas which you will continue to target or no longer pursue as part of a process of elimination.
The market can be biased to a specific background or skill set, especially when there is a perception of “over supply” in the market. Your ability to understand the key themes and what problems need to be solved, within the business you are seeking to join will help you structure your responses and provide relevance.
Regardless of your situation, be it happy and engaged, recently promoted or just missed out on one, your network can hold the key for your future success.
Your target network can be categorised in two sections;
“First ring” / circle of influence – These are the individuals who you know relatively well, they’ve worked with you, know how you operate and will advocate for you. They are an important group to continue to cultivate, not only because they can provide direct opportunities, but they can also provide referrals for you within their broader network.
“Second Ring” / circle of influence – These individuals represent the network of your “First ring”. This is where the real value lies. Your “first ring” will always be supporters, but the “second ring” offer you an opportunity to branch out past your comfort zone, refine your pitch and present a “quasi live interview” for you to again pitch your ideas, aspirations and value. It is important during this conversation that you are clear with respect to what types of opportunities are of interest to you and the individual you are seeing walks away from that discussion with a sound understanding of what your goals are. The clearer they understand where your interest lies, the more likely the will be able to represent your interests and value.
In both situations, having a clear action item at the end of the meeting (i.e. a referral, sending a CV or receiving a PD) provides another opportunity to reconnect in the future.
The above approach of:
Formulating a target organisation type and understanding the issues that affect that sector;
Formulating a clear value proposition, which emphasises your soft skills and how you can solve problems; and
Using your network to practice your pitch and increase your overall network is the most effective strategy to increase your chances of uncovering the next step opportunity in your career.
This approach requires a significant investment of time and you need to remain disciplined on your activity. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, and while changing industries is not without its challenges, the growth I’ve experienced both professionally and personally has been worth it.