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Read about top career advice articles, for how to paint your career out of a corner, selecting your interviews based on your career goals, and how writing a good resume could increase your career opportunities.
Career Advice
Career Advice

- Advice (1): How to Paint Your Career Out of a Corner
- Advice (2): Interviewing for a Lesser Job Could Be a Wise Career Move
- Advice (3) Writing an Effective Resume Is A Key Step in Your Career Path
- More Career Advice & Tips
- Common Careers
Advice (1): How to Paint Your Career Out of a Corner

Perhaps not too long ago, your skills were in high demand, your company was growing fast, your stock portfolio was hitting new highs daily and your options promised wealth in the years ahead. Today, things may be different. You may find yourself in a sector that showed enormous promise, but now offers dramatically less opportunity, specially in a recession.

To re-energize your career and apply your skills with greatest impact, you may need to change industries or find a very different position. Many senior executives face this challenge today. Easier said than done. To do so, you must jump two hurdles. You must first identify and assess which of your skills are most transferable to a new industry or function. Then, you must convince others that you can successfully apply these skills to their business challenges.

Transferable Executive Skills

Though most of us typically think of our careers in terms of industry knowledge or functional skills, a wide variety of executive competencies are transferable across industries, companies and roles. Consider the skills described in the next few paragraphs and think back to achievements that demonstrate which of these skills are your strongest.

  • Strategic thinking
  • Management skill
  • Operational expertise
  • Business development
  • Marketing

Context and Culture

Hiring managers and job seekers both often overestimate the commonality of experience that employees of different companies in the same industry will have. In fact, unless the position you seek calls for industry-specific technical knowledge or a network of industry contacts, other considerations can be better predictors of your ability to successfully contribute to a new industry or role.

A good executive recruiter will probe to understand the business environment in which you successfully applied key skills. The leadership required to help a small company build market share in a rapidly growing market, for example, is very different from the leadership required to help a market leader improve bottom-line growth in a mature, consolidating industry. There are many other environmental or cultural factors worth considering. Some include:

  • Was the primary challenge to achieve growth despite very limited resources or to allocate adequate resources most efficiently?
  • Did you have to fight an overreaching bureaucracy to be successful, or did you have to design and implement new processes and policies to sustain your business's growth?
  • Was your business highly complex, with multiple product lines and customer groups, or quite focused?

It's tempting during interviews to focus on explaining what you've accomplished and to assume that interviewers will be able to draw the parallels between the industries and companies you worked for and the industry and company they know well.

But reaching this understanding requires hard work and intense focus. Few interviewers have the patience or skill to do so without help. Unless you build a clear case that the business context in which you were successful is similar in important ways to that facing the company you hope to join, your interviewer is likely to seek candidates who built their skills within a familiar industry context.

Some of the best questions you can ask during an interview probe for context. "Ask the interviewer, 'What are the two or three challenges facing the successful candidate that worry you most?' " says Jim Boehmer, a Toronto-based executive coach. "This gives you an opportunity to talk about how you had previously faced these same issues successfully." A successful senior-level interview "often becomes a storytelling exercise," says Mr. Boehmer, who has worked as a career-transition consultant for more than 20 years. "It's important to develop some examples or war stories that demonstrate how you've applied your skills and strengths to similar situations."

A candidate interviewing for the CEO post at a midsize privately owned computer-component maker asked about the relationship between the company's founder and the board. He learned that the board had determined that the founder wasn't sufficiently strong as CEO to grow the company to the next level, yet the company needed the founder's continued leadership in research and development. The situation, though troubled, was similar to one the candidate had encountered several years earlier. He was able to describe his earlier success and demonstrate that he had the skill to resolve this situation in a way that would allow the company to prosper.

He was subsequently hired and succeeded in building a constructive working relationship with the founder, who proved to be an ally several months later when the new CEO sought to win the board's agreement to enter into an important business alliance.

Corporate Culture

Corporate culture can be as important as business context in determining your ability to succeed in a role. "Career-transition consultants have said for years that 90% of the reasons for job loss have to do with lack of 'fit,' " says Mr. Boehmer. "Competence is usually not the issue."

If your interviewer isn't probing for this depth of understanding, you should raise the issue. "An effective tactic can be to say: When my company was looking to fill my spot, this is what they were looking for and this is why I was hired," says Nancie Whitehouse, director of search strategies at General Atlantic Partners, a global private-equity firm.

Selling Yourself

Your challenge is to build a case that demonstrates you possess the relevant executive skills and have applied them successfully in relevant contexts.

The skills that you emphasize in your resume and interviews should reflect the industry and role you're targeting. "A lot of candidates sell skills that aren't necessarily relevant to what the company is recruiting for. In order to talk about their accomplishments, they sometimes tell [recruiters] things that don't apply," says Ms. Whitehouse.

So, while you may have extensive experience marketing products or services to consumers, if you're pursuing a senior role with a company whose revenues depend on strong long-term relationships with business customers, you may wish to emphasize your successes forging several business alliances instead.

A C-level executive at one of the leading advertising agencies assessed his career options while his firm underwent a merger. In examining his skills, he realized that while he'd spent several years as an account executive earlier in his career, his greatest strength was in building professional organizations that excelled at serving business customers. Highlighting this point, even if it meant de-emphasizing his skills as a consumer marketer, opened a whole new set of opportunities for him in his discussions with recruiters.

Highlighting Accomplishments

You should differentiate between activities in which you played a leading role and those in which you merely participated. Though it's human nature to exaggerate one's contributions somewhat, doing so to a degree that could be perceived as misleading will likely backfire, if not through a recruiter's questioning then through the reference-checking process. A better tactic is to be honest and clear about your contribution and emphasize what you learned from your experience.

One senior executive admitted that her role as her company's representative on a joint venture's board of directors was decidedly not a leadership role. The board was controlled by another strategic investor acting in concert with a savvy private-equity firm. But she was very clear about the high caliber of the other directors on the board, the challenges they discussed and how much she learned from those conversations. She did, however, make a point of highlighting the time the board adopted a recommendation she'd made to make a small acquisition and the resulting impact. While she wasn't selected for the position, her forthright style and description of her contribution made a positive impression on her recruiter.

Focus on your accomplishments, not your responsibilities. Says Ms. Whitehouse, "When I speak to executives who are seeking new roles, I advice them to be very specific in describing what they actually did: I grew, I built, I changed, I cut..."

Finally, if you're looking to switch industries or functions, avoid the jargon of your specialty. Describe your responsibilities and accomplishments in your resume and discussions in a way that can be broadly understood. At the same time, steer clear of grand yet empty phrases such as "strategic visionary with high-impact track record," however impressive and applicable these may seem.

Generic terms such as creativity, vision, business judgment, analytical skills, communication skills or people skills offer no information unless backed by clear examples of what you achieved and under what circumstances. Be as succinct as possible and use formatting in your resume to break up long text blocks that aren't easily skimmed.

A CFO's Story

Would it be hard to get re-employed if you lost your job or were dismissed? Says Mr. Boehmer, "Probably not, if your leaving story flies and you have the skills and abilities they are looking for."It also helps to emphasize what you did in response to the unexpected challenges you faced and to highlight any successes you were able to pull off.

One executive left his company of 20 years to become CFO of an early-stage e-commerce company. Like so many others, his company failed to get adequate funding after the market downturn and couldn't execute the original business plan. Subsequently when seeking a new position and talking to executive recruiters, the CFO explained how he quickly moved to conserve cash, while admitting his error in not doing so immediately upon joining the company. He said he specially regretted not reversing a decision made by his predecessor to implement expensive new customer-management software.

The CFO described the steps he and the management team took to transform the company's focus from e-commerce to software licensing and how that helped improve margins and cash flow. He described what he did to win support for this transformation from the company's board and investors. He also discussed his efforts to negotiate asset sales in order to minimize the investors' losses. And he was very clear about why joining this company was a smart decision at the time, how he'd hoped it would enhance his skills and what he'd learned. He's now a CFO at another early-stage company whose CEO admired his ability to make the best of a difficult situation and learn from mistakes.

Going Forward

The times ahead may force you to make a critical, honest examination of your contributions, strengths and developmental needs to successfully guide your career in new directions. Such an examination will help you clearly show interviewers your skills and how you can help them succeed.

Advice (2): Interviewing for a Lesser Job Could Be a Wise Career Move

Should you interview for a job that's beneath you? For most executives, there's no easy answer. While the decision should be based on your career goals, many candidates let emotional factors -- pride, greed or fear, for instance -- cloud their judgment.

They may worry about returning to square one, and feel silly interviewing for jobs they don't think they should consider, specially if they think it makes them look desperate. Ironically, what seems to be a no-win situation could be a golden opportunity, since a hiring manager or recruiter might view you as better suited to this different type of role.

A job can be beneath you in many ways, but a combination of less money, a lower-level title and reduced responsibilities are typical. Sometimes, only one or two of these cutbacks are necessary. When deciding whether you should consider moving down, the best advice is to be objective and keep an open mind. The following accounts from professionals who chose to interview for lesser positions may be helpful if you're faced with the same choice.

Doug Clark

interviewing for a lower-level job might be your chance to show an employer that you're qualified for a bigger job. A resident of Escondido, Calif., Doug Clark had worked his way up to director of development services for the city of Costa Mesa, Calif. He wanted to move higher, so he sent his resume to a recruiter for an opening as a city manager. He received a rejection letter.

He then sent his resume to the same recruiter expressing interest in a lower-level assistant city manager's job and was called for an interview. During the interview, the recruiter told Mr. Clark, "You would have been perfect for the position of city manager of Larkspur."

"I sent in my resume for that, but you rejected me," Mr. Clark replied.

"I guess I made a mistake," the recruiter responded.

The recruiter submitted Mr. Clark as a candidate for the Larkspur city manager's position, which he landed and held for three years. He then went on to become city manager of Escondido for eight years.

Mr. Clark has since parlayed his city experience into a position as vice president of PMW Associates, a consulting firm to local governments based in San Clemente, Calif.

Denise Stevens Panek

Relying on an employer's promise to transfer or promote you isn't always wise when considering lesser jobs. Denise Stevens Panek tried this approach and it backfired. Now job hunting, she thinks she may have to interview below her abilities again because she wants to stay in the small community that's become her home. She's also apprehensive because of a prior experience.

Ms. Panek was assistant vice president in institutional trust for a Monterey, Calif., bank until she left in March. Prior to her banking careers, she was a stockbroker. At that time, she decided to transfer her skills to personal trust administration, thinking it would be a natural transition.

Since no positions were available in personal trust at the time, she interviewed for an operations position, thinking it would give her "a foot in the door" at the bank. The hiring manager agreed that if she worked for him for a year, he'd help her move into another area. After that, the great bank merger mania of the mid-1990s hit. Ms. Panek ended up working for several different banks due to mergers. It took her three years to leave operations and enter the area she wanted originally.

Ms. Panek is now thinking of moving into consulting in banking or a related industry. She may even make a radical career change. This time, though, she's less willing to trust in employers' promises.

"Part of me is afraid, but part of me is much more savvy," she says. "If I do interview below myself I won't fall into these traps again. I had many promotions along the way, but the step I took at the beginning detoured my entire career path."

Vince Fraumeni

Taking a lesser job can provide experience necessary for a subsequent career move. Consider Vince Fraumeni, director of planned giving for a small college in Southern California. Mr. Fraumeni received a better title and a larger staff when he accepted another job as executive director of a foundation for a hospital. But while the job was a good career move because it broadened his background, it paid less than his previous position.

To supplement his income, Mr. Fraumeni asked for and received permission from the hospital's chief executive officer to consult on the side. "I knew that this experience would broaden my level of expertise," he says. "What I didn't know was that it would be a steppingstone to consulting."

Mr. Fraumeni is now principal of Fraumeni Fundraising Consulting in Hacienda Heights, Calif. It was the job that was "beneath" him that gave him the experience he needed to start his firm.

Sensible Reasons

What's the next best step for you to take in your career? The following can help you determine if interviewing for a lesser position is in your best interest.

You want more or different experience.

Do some self-assessment to decide where you want to go in your career. Then consider whether taking a lesser position will help you get there, says Janet Jones-Parker, managing director of Jones-Parker/Star, a Chapel Hill, N.C., search firm that finds recruiters for corporations and recruiting firms.

It doesn't matter if you're interviewing above or below yourself," she says. "It's important to [know] what's the next best step for you. Therefore, if moving laterally or stepping down will provide you with the opportunity to gain that skill base or knowledge, take it."

Now chief operating and chief financial officer of Access Communications, a public-relations firm in San Francisco, Colleen Brandon originally took a drop in pay and title to join the predecessor to Access. It took her two years to return to her former level. As her current titles show, her strategy was successful. SAs she says, "If you really and truly believe that this is the organization you want to be with for a long time, [taking a step back] is worth it."

Such a strategy also might make sense if you want to gain international experience or equity ownership, says Richard J. Pinola, chairman and CEO of Right Management Consultants, a human- resource consulting firm in Philadelphia. Some professionals forgo fancy titles to join biotech firms because of the equity ownership opportunity, while sales representatives often take less pay for a shot at management. What's important is the job's description and where it might lead you, he says.

"It all depends on where you're at," Mr. Pinola says. "You may be on a career track where interviewing below yourself solves a particular need. You may say, 'I really want international experience. [The job] may be below me, but it's in an industry that's really hot.' "

Patrick Cacho, president of Dunhill of North San Francisco Bay, a contingency search firm specializing in sales and marketing, says he asked an entrepreneur who had just sold his company to interview for a marketing vice president's job at a large organization.

When the candidate interviewed, he learned that the company's CEO might step aside. Within a few months, he was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing, and in nine months, he became president when the former president became chairman. The company has since been purchased and he's still moving up.

"It doesn't hurt to go and visit," says Mr. Cacho. "Take a couple of hours out of your day to understand the opportunity. There are things you find out in an interview that may not be told to the recruiter."

You need the money.

Suppose you were downsized or quit. interviewing below your capabilities might make sense to get cash flowing in again.

The key is to weigh your options. Don't take a job that's so far beneath you that it'll hold you back in the future. Consider mitigating issues, such as an opportunity to learn. If taking a lower-level job doesn't make sense, consider doing some consulting while you plan your next career move.

You're changing careers.

To Ms. Jones-Parker, making a career change is, by definition, a step down, no matter how far up the ladder you were in your last job. "Even if they've been a senior-level person, when they change careers, they're stepping down," she says. "The life experience they've gained will allow them to move up the ranks more quickly than a more junior person."

Mid- to senior-level executives usually make career changes through networking or answering ads. Except in rare cases, recruiters seldom submit candidates from unrelated fields for openings.

To improve your chances of being considered for a position, tailor your resume to emphasize your job functions and explain your reasons for wanting to change careers in the cover letter. You'll have another chance during the interview.

Be Clear About Your Goals

If a recruiter proposes an opportunity that seems beneath you, don't be afraid to explain why you think so, says Susan Roberts, executive director of the International Association of Executive Recruiters in Chicago.

"Clarify what your current job is and then restate the job they have open back to the recruiter," she says. "You need to state why you don't think the opportunity is of equal or better value than your current position and see what the recruiter says in response."

Recruiters shouldn't pressure you into interviewing for a position that isn't right for you. Mark Strom, president of Search Advisors International Corp., a search firm in Tampa, Fla., says that before considering an opening, you should ask a search executive these four questions:

  • How long have you worked with this client?
  • What kind of company is it in terms of culture, growth and sales revenues?
  • Why is this job open?
  • What are the responsibilities of the job? Look at the job content itself, not just its title.

Determine whether the position is open because of tactical needs, such as unfilled contracts and unmet deliverables, or because the organization is changing its business model and needs to make strategic decisions. Decide where you would fit.

"Once a dialogue has started, a lot of things can change," says Dave Opton, CEO of ExecuNet, a Norwalk, Conn.-based career-management organization for senior executives. "Dollars change. job titles change. Geography can change. Remember that job specifications are written in the abstract. They're a wish list."

Keep the wish-list perspective in mind when reading job ads. On the surface, an advertised position that seems below you may be worth considering. The worst that can happen is you won't hear back.

Access Communication once interviewed a woman candidate who applied for a human-relations generalist role after seeing it advertised, says Ms. Brandon. After meeting her, the company realized she was ideal for a management role and upgraded the position for her.

Advice (3) Writing an Effective Resume Is A Key Step in Your Career Path

Controversy and resumes go hand-in-hand. Should your resume be one page or two? Should your experience or education be listed first? Should you use the functional or chronological format? There's so much contradictory advice on how to write a resume, it's no wonder that executives often procrastinate before writing new ones.

Job hunting is hard enough without having to jump through a resume "obstacle course." In many cases, computer databases and voicemail have depersonalized the screening process and limited access to hiring managers.

Senior-level candidates face additional challenges. Many are rejected for being overqualified or too old, or they can't find jobs that pay as well as their prior positions. This leads to low self-esteem -- a curse for job hunters.

In the business world, meek candidates are eaten alive by the competition. Ironically, though, many executive job seekers lose their aggressiveness when it could most help them. Their phone calls, interviews and follow-up contacts may go well, but they often stall at the first step -- writing an effective resume.

If you're having trouble beginning your resume, review the following 10 steps. Then use the advice to make employers curious enough to call.

1. Reassess your job skills

If you held your last position longer than five years, spend time reviewing your skills and career goals before writing a new resume, says Eva Gabbe, a counselor with the career and training center at California State University in Sacramento.

You may not want to highlight your usual skills, specially if you're changing careers. Taking diagnostic tests will help you evaluate whether you're qualified and suited for other fields. Ask your local college or university if you can use its self-assessment resources. Remember, it's never too late to update professional skills, specially in computer technology. Moreover, many employers are impressed by candidates who continue their education.

2. Seek rewarding work.

You may want to consider a position that connects with a personal passion. Too many people stay in boring jobs because they have mortgages, college expenses and other bills to pay, says Ms. Gabbe. But career happiness has often-overlooked emotional and physical benefits. Decide what you can cut back on or delay financially so you can pursue a job you'll enjoy without worrying about the pay.

3. Target each position

Each resume you send should be customized to that specific job and employer. Use an objective or profile to keep the resume focused. If you lack time or motivation to customize your resume, don't send it.

4. Focus on experience

The experience section of a resume sets an executive resume apart from others, say Ms. Gabbe and Susan Moore, chapter liaison for the Sacramento Professional Network Job Club. Review your job history and select the skills needed to tailor your resume to an individual employer. Quantify whenever possible. The fact that you saved your company $2 million will attract attention. If you're concerned about age discrimination, highlight your achievements but don't include the dates you were employed, which could reveal your age.

5. Speak out

Modesty isn't an admirable trait in a job search. No one can explain your accomplishments as well as you. Candidates are often too shy to supply quantitative data that support their assertions, says Ms. Gabbe. They often end up with resumes that are too short and sparse, which prompts readers to doubt their qualifications.

6. Choose wisely

Beware of including too much information on your resume. One candidate hurt her prospects by mentioning membership in the local parent-teacher association on her resume, says Ms. Gabbe. "This woman could be eliminated from consideration because of an employer's fear that her children's issues might interfere with her work," she says.

7. Be honest

Don't inflate data or lie on a resume, since untruths can be easily checked with a call to former employers. Candidates who are caught lying are disqualified, so the risk is never worth it.

8. Create a pleasing format

If a resume's appearance isn't engaging, readers may never get to the content. The first 20 seconds of resume review are critical to your success. If your resume is cluttered or disorganized, it won't be read.

A resume is a snapshot of an individual

Says Ms. Moore. Neat and orderly resumes project the impression that you're organized. She recommends a one- to one-and-a-half-page resume, if it's well-supported.

"I don't care if you're the President. If it's longer than two pages, I won't read it," says Ms. Moore. "I don't want the employer to know everything about me on paper because I don't want them to prejudge me. I want the chance to explain myself in person."

9. Proofread

Mistakes on a resume can be deadly. A single error will outshadow the facts about you and leave a lasting, negative impression with employers. Therefore, it's vital that you, and someone who knows you, proofread your resume before it's sent out.

10. Know your resume

If you don't write your document, take an active role in its development, since whatever it includes could be the basis of an interview question. Be prepared to back up every statement with additional information. Only include positions that you can discuss positively. Never include negative experiences, no matter how impressive they may be. Review the final document carefully, since some professional resume-writers use outdated phrases that won't reflect your true personality.

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