The holidays are a time to remember the needy–those who are struggling to pay for basic necessities. We are all compelled to do what we can to help those less fortunate than us and the holiday season is a good reminder to act. Whether that means volunteering in a homeless shelter or simply writing a check to our favorite causes, there is a lot we can do to help others.
But what about the professionals in our lives who have a different kind of need. What about the many individuals who won’t go hungry or homeless because they have family resources to fall back on. Instead, these are the people who are unemployed, underemployed or simply unhappy professionally. Are you doing everything we can to help those individuals?
It is easy to ignore networking requests from people who we don’t think we can help. If we are busy in our own lives and jobs, then those obligations need to take priority. On the other hand, people who are out of work are feeling particularly vulnerable this time of year. And with minimal effort, we can all do our share to help elevate the spirits of these individuals. Maybe we can actually offer valuable feedback or other contacts who might be able to help that individual.
I have to remind myself to do this because it is the right thing to do. But the truth is that at different times, we all need help. As Mark Knopfler of the 80’s and 90’s band Dire Straits once sang “Sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”.
So in the holiday season, make time to help those in professional need. Your willingness to give your time will be greatly appreciated and some day, you may be on the other side of the desk.
In my last post, I suggested that changing industries is easier said than done for many professionals. I also suggested 2 ways to overcome industry bias: 1) find opportunities through networking and 2) when it is feasible, accept positions on a contract basis.
For attorneys who work in a law firm environment, there are several additional options to consider.
If you have established yourself as one of the “keepers”, then it may be possible to shift your work assignments within your firm. If you are more interested in biotechnology than financial services, for example, see if you can be proactive about getting work from partners who service those clients. If your firm serves both industries and partners serving the biotechnology clients are busy, your firm may let you make an internal move rather than lose you.
I’ve even seen law firm associates make complete practice area changes (i.e. not just a change in the industries that the associate is serving). During the dot.com boom, for example, I counseled an environmental associate to ask to be moved into the corporate department at his firm. The firm was happy to keep this individual and he was able to retool, despite his lack of corporate experience.
If making a change internally is not feasible (either because your firm is not busy enough in that department or the firm doesn’t have clients in the industry that interests you, then it may be time to consider a lateral move. Mid-level corporate and real estate associates with large law firm experience are in great demand right now so take advantage of the market conditions to get your career moving in the direction you want. It will only get harder as you get more senior.
I’m starting to get into my year end marketing mode. December tends to be a slower month for hiring simply because it is harder to get hiring managers to focus. But as I’ve said before, the holidays are a good time for relationship building and a good time to queue things up for the New Year. This is true for job hunting and for business development.
If you are actually looking to hire talent for your company, the same is true. December may not be the easiest time to assemble hiring managers and get them to schedule interviews; but in a tight job market, you want to be ahead of the curve. December can be a good month to use creative ways to fill your pipeline with talent or strengthen your bonds with good prospects.
With a tight job market, one area where recruiters can be creative is to look more actively at talent without industry experience. There are clear instances where this is not a good strategy (Think “Heck of a job Brownie” after Hurricane Katrina). There are many jobs where industry experience is clearly important (e.g. I recently worked on 2 searches for lawyers with licensing experience in the life sciences but steered clear of lawyers who only had licensing experience in the software industry–the business terms in each industry are very different). But in many other instances, a smart person has transferable skills which could easily be applied to a different industry.
On top of this, there are some fallacies about hiring from within your industry. Industry experience may translate into a deeper understanding of the particular problems that your industry faces. At the same time, the mere fact that someone has been doing a particular job for a long time does not mean they have been doing the job well.
In addition, someone who has done the same thing for the same industry for 20 years may be bored.
In contrast, hire someone who is coming from outside the industry and you may end up with a superstar who is much more motivated to learn and much more excited to be there.
Hiring managers are always going to display some conservatism when considering talent from outside of their industry. As I said in an post last week, no one wants to be blamed for making a bad hiring decision. But a tight job market will give you some cover. And maybe you’ll be responsible for recruiting the next superstar.
Right now, many parts of the country are enjoying relatively low unemployment rates. In my home state Massachusetts, for example, the rate is 3.3 percent, the lowest in 15 years.
For anyone contemplating a career move, this should come as good news. As workers get harder to find, employers need to be more creative in hiring talent. We counsel our clients all the time to consider candidates who have transferable skills from another industry and this should be a good time for anyone hoping to make this kind of move.
The reality, however, is that industry barriers persist. In much professional hiring (certainly in hiring legal talent where I spend most of my time), hiring managers have a strong preference for seeing resumes of candidates who have industry experience. This is particularly true in the bio/pharma space, an important sector in my region.
For highly technical jobs, the barriers are not simply arbitrary. Having a good understanding of how a particular business functions can be critical to doing an effective job. But for many job functions, the particulars of the industry are relatively easy to pick up.
So why do so many employers insist on industry experience? In my opinion, it has to do with managing risk. No one wants to be responsible for making a bad hire. If you hire someone and they prove ineffective in their role, the last thing you want to have to do is justify that you hired someone who had never worked in the industry.
Does this mean we are all forever stuck with whatever industry hires us in our first job? Of course not. Many people change industries (including lawyers and other professionals). But what are some of the things you can do to increase your chances of making the move?
Probably the most important thing you can do in trying to make an industry change is to network effectively. If you rely only on posted jobs and submit resumes and cover letters without any follow up, you are limiting your chances of breaking through the “noise”. Instead, if you want to switch from financial services to the life sciences, for example, find people you know who work in life sciences. Use your network to get introductions. Connect with people who already know the quality of your work and your reputation. Leverage your contacts to get in front of hiring managers who are in a position to hire you. If you get introductions from people who can vouch for you, the hiring manager will be more likely to overlook the fact that you have not worked in their space.
While it may not be feasible for everyone, filling a role as an independent contractor is another way to gain industry experience. Employers tend to be much less strict about requiring industry experience when they hire on a contract basis. Find a good contract role at a good company and suddenly you become someone with industry experience.
Relatively speaking, times are good now. If you are thinking about shifting gears, take advantage of the economy. But don’t just fire off resumes. That may not be enough to get you in the door.
LinkedIn is a great tool for networking. Every day, I use it to identify talent when I am recruiting. Frequently, I use it to generate business leads (i.e. individuals who can introduce me to companies where I would like to do business; or individuals who are connected to people at those companies).
LinkedIn also helps me keep up on trends that interest me in HR, employment, hiring, the law, etc. and it gives me a way to remind my network that these are areas of expertise for me.
While LinkedIn should not be a substitute for live networking and phone calls, it is an important way that a professional can stay visible within their professional networks. It is an effective way to reinforce your reputation in a particular field.
When it comes to the personal or political, Facebook is usually my “go to” platform. Conventional wisdom suggests that LinkedIn is more of a forum for the exchange of professional ideas.
But this morning, a General Counsel in my network posted an article on food allergies and it reminded me that sometimes, sharing more personal content on LinkedIn is a nice way to go. The article she linked to was about food allergies and the struggles that she and her husband have had in dealing with two daughters who have had these issues. Aside from being interested in the subject, I was happy to click on the link and get more insight into the life of someone in my network (and what they may be dealing with outside of the workplace.)
In the coming months, I plan to return to more active blogging. The Election of 2016 has inspired me to put more energy into sharing my career and recruiting advice. But don’t worry. I will reserve my more partisan opinions for my Facebook friends.
We can all learn a lot about our own careers by watching the smart moves (and missteps) of those who are in the public eye. This year, surrogates for both campaigns have given us a lot of food for thought.
One thought that came to me over the weekend is the importance of “hitching your wagon to the right horse”. Clearly, Trump’s most vocal supporters (e.g. Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Stephen Bannon, Chris Christie, etc.) will benefit a lot having supported the winner.
We should all take heed that our careers can rise or fall depending on who we choose to “follow”.
For associates in a professional services firm, for example, the path to partnership can be paved by a partner with a strong and growing practice. If that partner becomes your ally, your chances of elevation to partnership can grow significantly.
Similarly, spend most of your time working for a partner who is disliked, not respected or whose practice is not growing, and you may find yourself out of a job when it is time for the partnership decision.
Of course as Election 2016 has clearly demonstrated, “picking the winning horse” is not so easy. Even if you think you have aligned yourself with winners in your firm, their fortunes may change unexpectedly and so too will yours.
Furthermore, while in our democracy, everyone gets to decide which candidate he or she will support, many of us often don’t have the chance to choose our superiors in the workplace.
So even if you are getting good work (working for the types of clients you like), at some point, you may want to think about making a job move. It is important to get good work experience in an industry that interests you; but having the “right” experience may not be enough if you want your career to advance.
I’m not suggesting that professionals should blindly follow successful partners in their firm. Try to choose “winners”; but be sure that the winners you choose share your values. If you don’t, then you may end up a winner in the short run, but feeling a profound lack of career satisfaction in the long fun.