Career Meerkat Moments - Stand Up, Look Around and then Charge!

Despite my busy recruitment workload in the last few weeks I've taken time out to wear my other hat and offer some career advice and guidance to a handful of experienced director-level contacts requiring some help.

I'll get my apologies and excuses in early if you don't mind. I'm not a qualified career coach, counsellor or even a trained psychometric testing assessor. These contacts of mine have sought my help because I know their sectors and have been a senior level recruiter for some years. The format for the guidance sessions have been informal, usually over a shop bought coffee or two, and have focused on some practical steps they can take to move their careers forward. I also didn't charge for my time as I felt it was inappropriate and anyway I think what-goes-around-comes-around and the favour will be returned one day. So here are some of the areas we covered and I hope it helps:

Meerkat Moments: Ever watched a nature programme on meerkats and noticed how before they make a decisive move they stand tall, look around and then charge onwards head down tail up? Often in your career you need to do the same. Usually when people are in need of career help it's because they've failed to spot the dangers on the horizon or haven't taken the time out to consider their next path and have now found themselves stuck. It's really important to regularly stand-up, look away from your immediate workload demands and scan the horizon. In this way you'll hopefully have much more control over your career destiny.

Importance of Networking: I've lost count of how many MDs I've met who view networking as something they pay their Business Development or Sales Director to do for them. Yes of course networking is key to promoting a company's activities, products and services and quite rightly should be a cornerstone of any good BDD. However, it's also vital to your very own personal brand and career trajectory and should be embraced not delegated. Networking and being seen at national and regional events not only gets you noticed (and therefore on the radar of potential employers with new opportunities) but also gives you the chance to gather vital information on who's hot, who's not, and who's doing what. Hiding away focused on doing a good job may be great for your employer but isn't going to help you much if you suddenly decide to explore career options and your recognition level in the industry is zero and your sector awareness even less.

I'd also add that it's often also a good idea not to confine your networking to large formal events. Try a few informal coffee catch-ups with people you respect in the industry; you're much more likely to hear useful gossip or confidences.

Primed and Ready: Keep on top of two key items - your CV and your Linkedin profile (helpfully Linkedin now has a resume builder tool which can do both for you by formatting your profile into a pdf CV). It's quite a challenge to start a CV from scratch if you have 30 years of experience to squeeze in; much better to keep topping it up, reviewing and pruning as you go. Honing a CV is also often a good way to take time out and review your career achievements to date. This can build your confidence and boost your awareness of what you like to do, what you're good at and what you might like to do next. I won't go into CV writing techniques here (I've covered it elsewhere) but will say that it needs to be kept to 3 pages max and focus on achievements and not just responsibilities.

In regards to Linkedin I would urge everyone to ensure they have a comprehensive and professional looking profile with connections in the 100s and not the 10s. It's a great tool to explore potential career moves, research industries and companies, ask questions, self-promote and be found by hirers. When I get a new search project in my first step is to flick through my brain-box for people I know (or know of) who might be good for the job. But my second and more substantial action is to hit Linkedin for prospective talent. You not only need to be on Linkedin to be found by headhunters like me but you also need to interact with the community just as you would if you were attending an in-the-flesh networking event. Like cutting your lawn - little and often is best.

Internal Help: I've recently been working with a European based global company to secure them a MD for a UK based business. What struck me was the openness and equanimity with which they treated their internal applications that arrived from various global based businesses. The European MD and I interviewed two employees who were interested in the role as they felt they were currently "parked" in career terms. I'm not sure all companies treat their internal talent in such a fair way but if possible before you begin looking at external options maybe it might be a good idea to ensure your current employer can't meet your career development needs first. If you're really lucky they'll be a HR procedure or system that can assist you but if not try and think if there's a senior contact you can confide in for help.

Same Job, Different Badge over the Door: If you do decide to make a break and join a different company it's really important you examine the reasons for the move. When interviewing candidates I like to gauge their Push and Pull factors. What's pushing them out of the company at the moment - glass ceiling, lack of development, low salary, work/life balance? What's pulling them towards the opportunity I have - promotion, employer brand, bonus etc? This way I can try and work out how committed they are to leaving and how committed they are to joining my client. Too many push factors and I wonder if there's a backstory I'm missing. Too many pull factors and I know my client risks not landing them if the current employer ups their game and makes it hard to leave. I'd recommend any job seeker does the same. Ask "What is it that is pushing me to make a move and can my employer answer these issues? What is it that's attracting me towards a new opportunity and is it really going to answer my prayers?" Worse case scenario is that after day three in a new position you realise that you're in the same situation as you were before but with a different badge over the door and same frustrations (and even worse you're now the new boy or girl with less credit and lots to prove).

NED and Wider Community Alternatives: Sometimes changing jobs isn't the answer. I regularly handle Non-Executive Director roles (mainly for public sector organisations - charities, housing associations, education establishments, NHS trusts etc) and often my clients are seeking keen senior level operators who can inject certain skills and experiences into a board. I have no doubt that these appointments benefit both the board and the new board members. If you're looking for a new challenge then pursuing an involvement in a NED role or perhaps some sort of community involvement can be a great way to provide personal development without giving up the day job.

To find such opportunities scan the papers, network with movers and shakers in the community, talk to recruiters that handle such positions, make a list of potential public sector boards and read their papers to see when current posts will end and new ones have to be selected, identify companies in your area (but not sector) and get to know the chairman if you can (Linkedin can be useful for this - send an Inmail suggesting a coffee to share your thoughts with the Chair) or a good tip is to look at SMEs or small company start-ups on science and industry parks that might welcome input from an experienced director on a NED basis rather than commit to a business angel or receive fee-based advice from their bank, accountant or lawyer.

Anyway I hope all the above offers some help to anyone needing some career advice. You can see more about me at my Linkedin profile and email me at if have any questions.

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