April 21, 2017 – Ted Pryor, managing director with Greenwich Harbor Partners, recently took a phone call from a young professional seeking career advice. She works at a major private equity group for its chief of staff. She told the recruiter she works nights and most weekends and was having a difficult time meeting her career goals.
She seemingly had it all, thought Mr. Pryor. A great education, solid work history, and she had striking command of three languages, including speaking fluently in Chinese. What on earth could be holding someone like this back?
As the recruiter pushed for more information, he discovered this young woman was feeling trapped in a highly demanding job that lacked any clear career path forward. She was beginning to think about a job hunt and wanted Mr. Pryor’s advice. He ascertained that the private equity firm might support her in job hunting internally and he advised starting there.
“It’s always better to find an alternative job at your current company if you can,” said Mr. Pryor. He suggested the following five golden rules of career advancement to the young woman, but they apply to just about everybody in the midst of considering a job or career transition.
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Golden Rule No. 1: Get Close to Customers
If you are not selling or servicing customers, then you should be supporting people who are. If you are not selling or servicing in general, you should be marketing, measuring results, developing products or solving client problems. If you are not facing customers or supporting people who are facing customers, then you are overhead and risk being expendable. A year or two working at headquarters or in the office of the chief of staff, as in this case, is great experience and can give a bird’s-eye view of the organization. But don’t get locked in there, said Mr. Pryor. “You should transition to a customer-facing function as soon as you can,” he added.
“If there was only one golden rule of career advancement, this would be it,” he said. “Progressive companies have 80 percent of their resources focused on serving customers or supporting the front line. Legacy companies are often inward-focused with lots of time spent crafting memos to ‘go up the line,'” he said. Ambitious professionals should work to be in customer-oriented functions.
Golden Rule No. 2: Become an Expert
The modern world pays for expertise. Someone who is well educated, well-traveled and speaks three languages has broad perspective, just like the young woman who phoned Mr. Pryor. But getting to be an expert, for example, on China, or Southern China or in an industry sector within China will make that same person invaluable. Get to be an expert in the politics, the people, the trends, the economic forces, and, most importantly, said Mr. Pryor, the culture. Read books on the subject. Attend lectures on the area. You may also be asked to work on other projects or client matters, but establish yourself as an expert in something relevant to your company.
“This comes straight from Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, who advises his team to ‘get to be an expert,'” said the recruiter. “You may have many duties in many areas, but if you are expert in a couple of subjects, you will get pulled in when that knowledge is crucial. A young person who has control of the facts is extremely useful.”
Parting Ways Is Getting Easier
The way companies and their employee’s part ways has completely changed. Although job-hopping is at an all-time high, employers today understand that loyalty doesn’t necessarily go away when employees walk out the door. In fact, when an employee leaves an organization, it is important they feel that the company is there to support and respect them through the transition. The best way to do this, according to Keith Mullin, CEO of global outplacement and redeployment firm Mullin International, is with rapid outreach and engagement, strong one-on-one consulting and a robust set of research tools. The effect: companies now encourage the concept of re-hiring former employees ….. Here’s some further reading from Hunt Scanlon Media.
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Companies continue to review talent and lines of business focused on the greatest return on investment. As a result, employees may lose jobs and either get redeployed internally or are encouraged to seek new and exciting careers.
Golden Rule No. 3: Manage People
You want to be headed in a direction where you will eventually be managing a group or a team. Organizations can only growth if good people are recruited, nurtured, trained, developed, and motivated to become leaders and contributors. But the most valuable employees are the ones that do a great job and can train other people to follow in their footsteps. If you are a solo producer by nature, then get into a position where you can manage, mentor and develop other solo producers. There are plenty of player-coaches who manage a team and focus their own time on larger projects, larger clients and developing new channels of opportunity.
“The point is not to empire-build, but to be fully committed to the future success of the company through developing people,” said Mr. Pryor. “Today’s best leaders are first class mentors and this should be part of your skill set.”
Golden Rule No. 4: Take On Tough Projects
Everyone always want to work on the most prestigious projects and the most prestigious clients, but that often means working in mature situations as the third, fourth or tenth person on the team. Many careers have been accelerated by taking on a product, division, geography or industry sector that noone else was eager to work on, that wasn’t as prestigious, or needed a turnaround. Maybe it is redesigning the sales incentive system, looking for a new warehouse location or oversight of a handful of small accounts.
Taking a problem off your boss’s desk and doing an excellent job with it is a good way to get noticed. You are likely to have more autonomy and freedom to try new things and pursue your own ideas. The experience will be much more powerful than documenting the ideas of your team leader on that ‘prestigious’ project. Sometimes this golden rule is written as ‘take risks,’ but that does not really provide much guidance when you are at a decision point. Taking on tough projects for your leaders is a much clearer lens.
“It is sometimes counter intuitive, but solving a tough problem that noone else wants, or taking on a losing region, or working on a declining product will be more satisfying and give you more visibility than being part of a large team on projects that everyone else wants,” said Mr. Pryor. “Many careers have been accelerated by solving a tough problem in a niche area.”
Golden Rule No. 5: Develop Your Personal Brand
It is said that a reputation takes a lifetime to build and only a few minutes to ruin. Your personal brand is built conversation-by-conversation, presentation-by-presentation, project-by-project, report-by-report. The amount of time your work is exposed to colleagues and superiors is surprisingly limited.
Your reputation is built on your personality, appearance and humor, your insights and results, but often these are measured in short bursts of exposure such as one-on-ones, group meetings, presentations and reports or analysis. You must obsess over your results, research, ideas and content, but for those few moments of exposure, you must also obsess over the quality of the presentation that may be the only thing your colleagues ever see. Re-read reports carefully and have someone proof-read them. Practice your presentations in front of the mirror or with a friend. Good content, poorly presented, loses almost all of its impact.
“Even though you are visible every day at a company, your personal brand and reputation are really made in a very limited number of touch points, including presentations and reports, so extra effort must be put into content, creativity, neatness and results for your highly visible work product,” said Mr. Pryor.
Contributed by Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief — Hunt Scanlon Media