June 23, 2018

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Grow Your Career by Going Sideways

Job seekers don’t always realize that the way in which they’re searching contributes to their lack of results. As we grow up, we’re often told to “shoot for the sky” or to “think big,” and so when it comes time to change jobs, we do. But sometimes that advice isn’t practical.

I see it most often when someone wants to make a change in industry or function, and their previous experience isn’t strong enough to get them noticed. A recent example of this is a client who had been progressing in finance, then realized that it bored her. Instead, she wanted the variety of consulting or project management, using analysis and numbers as her tools. So she began applying to the big, well-known consulting firms. And nothing happened.

It wasn’t that she wasn’t capable of analyzing a complex problem or creating a more productive way to handle a routine task. She had numerous examples of this on her resume. The trouble was that it hadn’t been her sole focus and responsibility. So her accomplishments were secondary to her primary job description.

There are always pieces of the puzzle, such as the resume and cover letter, which may contribute to the problem and corrected, can hasten results. But fixing those won’t address the primary problem, which is trying to run before you can walk. So success will be more likely if two components are shifted: one, altering the type of company to whom you’re applying, and two, recognizing the philosophy of the company with whom you interview,

Altering the companies to whom you’re applying means inserting an in-between step between where you are and where you want to go. If you want to refocus your career, you first need to look at the local and regional firms, not the brand name ones. Brand name firms can pick who they want and won’t train a high-risk person, no matter how capable you believe yourself to be.

But if working for a brand name company name is your most important factor, you should know that before you reach your desired level, you’ll be taking a significant cut in pay, in title, and in responsibilities. And even then your longevity will be questioned because of those very factors. Name brand companies can afford to be choosy. And they are.

There are principally three types of interviewers: those who use the resume as a crystal ball, those who use it as a guide, and those who are a bit of both. The first type wants a cookie cutter. In other words, if your resume has the same title and same job duties as what he wants, then he feels reasonably sure you’ll be a success there. He’s using the past as an indicator of the future, so the more alike they are, the safer he feels. Anyone outside the box is disregarded.

The second type sees a bigger picture. He looks at what you’ve done and extrapolates what you are perhaps able to do. He’s more theoretical. He asks questions that tell him who you are. The first type asks questions about what you’ve done.

If you’re going to step outside the box from what you’ve been doing, then you need to be looking for an interviewer who thinks outside the box. You can tell some of these companies from their ads because the qualifications tend to include descriptive adjectives instead of just skills.

The two strategies combined are almost guaranteed to get you the type of job for which you’re looking, even though the company might be less prestigious. But if you hang in the middle for a few years, and get some experience with which to beef up your resume, the next time you go hunting for a brand name firm, they’ll be much more receptive.

- Judi Perkins

Judi was a very successful recruiter for 22 years (15 contingency, 4 agency, 3 retained) and has now been a career coach for 3. The recruiter background, especially having been all three types, gives her deep insight into both sides of the hiring process. Now she teaches job seekers both the skill and psychological aspects of job hunting.

Judi has been interviewed as an expert for books at each author's request; has her own book, "How to Find Your Perfect Job;:and has been quoted in numerous on and offline articles. She's also done radio interviews and speaking gigs. Her clients find jobs quickly, ending their months of frustration!

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