Navigating the job market during these uncertain times is a unique challenge. Chief spoke with Crenshaw Associates CEO Barb Bridendolph and executive search expert Chris Nadherny about how to successfully manage our careers and navigate career transitions. This conversation was moderated by Chief Member Peggy Sousa, Chief Customer Officer at Crenshaw Associates.

Q. Why is proactive career management so important, especially amidst this crisis?

Chris Nadherny: Most executives under-manage their careers, but strategic and proactive career management produces enhanced job satisfaction, more rapid advancement, and a higher return on your time, energy, and money. You need to be thoughtful about the skills you develop, the industries you decide to work in, and the variety of the decisions you make. Strategically managing your career means building an executive profile that is relevant, differentiated, and in demand. It's the strength of your executive profile that's going to determine your attractiveness and value in the job market.

Your executive profile consists of hard skills, soft skills, employment stability, track record, and learning agility. I can't tell you how many times I’ve met people who are successful to a point, but still relying on their book smarts or academic record. Beyond that, they haven’t learned how to evolve in new situations or environments. It’s helpful to stick around in an organization long enough to build your team, put your plan in place, and show results. But if you’re not continuing to grow, you need to look for new opportunities. The good news is that executives who are consistently able to transition across industries have a greater array of opportunities in the long run. These executives broaden their profiles, build career versatility, and reposition themselves into a more promising supply and demand quadrant.

Q. Once you decide to begin the career transition process, how can you strategically approach the job market?

Barb Bridendolph: Right now, many people are making transitions out of necessity, and frankly, it feels different. There’s less control. So it's really important to structure your work, create a plan, track yourself, and feel progress from that alone. This process is built on the notion of reverse engineering a successful landing. You’re launching a new product (you are the product) and you have to get the product fully ready before you introduce it to the marketplace. You should not jump into the market with your own candidacy until you are fully prepared to succinctly answer this question: "So, what are you looking for?"

Phase one is self-assessment. This is when you create your Personal Marketing Plan (PMP). Your PMP includes your value proposition, companies you’re targeting, must haves, and knockout factors. In this phase you need a sounding board to help you start making moves. You can also tap into your network to learn about sectors or functions you don't have direct visibility into. People tend to get impatient as the search continues, and that’s when they make poor decisions. Having this criteria defined in advance sets you up for success. The time invested upfront to become smooth, polished, and focused is well worth the effort.

Q. What comes after the self-assessment phase?

BB: Phase two is product development and campaigning. This is when you start to publicly articulate your value proposition through your resume, LinkedIn, and other platforms — it comes together as a strategically consistent campaign. This is also when you need to stay away from “gobbledygook.” I recently saw a resume where someone described themselves as a “passionate, accomplished global leader for high change growth oriented people-centered enterprises.” That could be anybody. Proper nouns are your friend in this stage. Be forward thinking. If you’re looking for a CEO role, market yourself as a CEO. You need metrics and strategy and all of the things that a board is looking for a CEO to deliver. Use data to show your results and tell a story. We use the acronym OAR — what's the Opportunity you saw, the Action you took, and the Results you achieved?

When you launch your campaign, cast the widest net possible, and expect disappointment. Don’t quit prospecting if you have a few great conversations. Those possibilities could go away in a heartbeat. We have clients who look at 30 or 40 situations before they land the opportunity that’s best for them. You’ll feel more prepared if you recognize that there will be peaks and valleys ahead of time. The bottom line is that this is a project — and you’re great at running projects. Keep your powder dry until the product is ready, and then launch it to the marketplace. Get your goals and your positioning right. Work at it consistently. Keep track of your progress. Use support when you need it, and you will transition well.

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Originally Published: August 17, 2020