Focus on Your Goals to Boost
Even the best credentials can be
overlooked if employers don't know how you would fit in
I recently received a letter that
began: "When I graduated from MIT in 1974 with an electrical
engineering degree, my future appeared secure. Forecasters were
predicting a strong demand for electrical engineers, managers and
executives far into the future. I never would have expected,
especially after obtaining a master's degree in management from MIT,
that, at age 39, I would have been out of work for over a year and
employable only at a wage substantially below that of new graduates
with no work experience."
Jim started his career in 1974 as a
"shirt-sleeve, ·plant floor" process engineer with an optical fiber
manufacturer, and was promoted to manager of the process engineering
department. Seven years later, he returned to MIT for his M.B.A.
because he felt it would improve his career prospects.
After completing his degree, Jim was
hired as a product engineering manager at a substantial in crease
in salary by a battery manufacturer with annual sales of $1 billion.
Eighteen months later, the company told him he would never make vice
president. So he decided to look for a company that would reward his
hard work with positions of greater responsibility.
Late in 1985, Jim helped structure a
leveraged buy-out of a $15 million educational science supply
company, and became its vice president of operations and a board
member. During his tenure, the firm's annual revenues swelled to $48
million, but Jim was fired after questioning some large payments to
the president and certain board members.
In May 1989 he began his job search,
concentrating on opportunities within 100 miles of his home. (His
wife has an excellent position as a vice president of marketing.) In
January 1990 he broadened his search to include a triangle from
Chicago to Atlanta to Boston. All told, Jim has sent letters to 200
retained search firms that concentrate on positions that best fit
his work experience; sent resumes to 70 major venture capitalists in
an effort to reach the almost 700 companies they invest in,
networked with other MIT alumni and former business associates; and
mailed an average of five to 10 resumes a week in response to ads in
The Wall Street Journal and major metropolitan Sunday editions.
Responses have included: "Your 1983
master's degree is obsolete," "We promote all our managers from
within ... if you want a job with our company you'll have to start
at the entry- level. How ever, we don't hire people with your
experience at the entry level," "Your experience isn't in our
industry," and "We get a lot of resumes from bright engineers, but
we just don't hire them."
He also applied for a federal
government position, but was passed over for a candidate with more
government experience. Deciding the best way to obtain government
experience was through a lower level job, Jim interviewed for
several positions paying $15,000 to $40,000 annually. No one would
Recently, General Motors Corp.
offered Jim an entry-level position paying $45,000 annually. When GM
offers new M.B.A.'s $50,000 to $55,000 a year to start, Jim can't
help but wonder why his 13 years of experience is worth less.
Jim's career counselor says it may
take another year before he finds work at his previous level. The
counselor has advised him to make his resume more technically
oriented by deleting his master's degree and eliminating some
managerial job titles.
While Jim's story is pretty
disheartening, I can't agree with his counselor. Even· if he
convinces an employer that he wants a "focused" technical position,
this course is fraught with peril. For instance, there's a good
chance he might get in over his head technically. Engineers must
stay current with state of-the-art developments. As a vice
president, Jim wasn't concerned with nuts-and-bolts technology.
Further, a potential employer would
be skeptical that an MIT graduate with 13 years of experience would
still be at an entry level. Even if he were hired, he'd never be
placed on a management track. Jim's self-esteem would suffer and so
would his career in the long-term. It's highly unlikely he'd make
vice president at a firm he entered this way.
One of the fastest ways for
professionals to derail their careers is to settle for less than
they're worth. In fact, "settling" can prolong reaching your goals
and destroy your self-esteem as well. Companies are smart to reject
overqualified 18 wheelers when all they need is a pick-up truck.
They realize that hiring a manager for a technician's role is a poor
use of resources and a bad match for both parties.
While Jim may understandably feel
rejected, he's discovered some universal truths. Large corporations
rarely hire managers from the outside unless they're starting a new
project or (shame on them) haven't cultivated in-house talent. If
Jim wants a management position, small- to mid-sized growth
companies are his best bets.
Consider Smaller Firms
Large companies, especially
technically oriented ones, want to hire specialists. Smaller firms,
how ever, need management generalists who can fill a variety of
roles, see the big picture and enjoy overseeing a multitude of
projects. Small companies also don't care as much about credentials.
Instead, they're interested in your track record and ability to do
the job. Collectively, they employ many more people than the Fortune
Sending resumes blind to search
firms, potential employers and in response to ads rarely helps job
hunters. Networking is far more effective, leading to 60% to 70% of
available positions, most of which are never advertised.
By contacting fellow alumni and
business colleagues, Jim has made a good start. He should increase
this activity to include college professors, health club buddies,
fellow parishioners, professional management societies, attendees at
conventions and continuing education workshops, volunteer colleagues
and anyone else who seems appropriate. Finding a position is a
numbers game, but the numbers work best when you deal with people,
Jim also may have to think beyond
Chicago, Atlanta and Boston to find what he's looking for. The New
England states are in the doldrums, while Texas has become a magnet
for high-tech business. Silicon Valley and the North Carolina
Research Triangle also are faring well.
Positions at Jim's level are more
difficult to find because they're at the top of the pyramid. To
increase his chances, Jim needs to focus on his goal, then
concentrate on creating a niche for himself. So far, he's looked for
positions ranging from operations vice president and PC supervisor
to physics lab manager and teacher. What does he really want? Until
he figures this out and is prepared to confidently sell his unique
talents and experience, he won't have many buyers. People don't
trust or know what to do with chameleons. Which would you prefer? A
high-tech generalist with a B.S.E.E. and M.B.A. from MIT and 13
years of on-line and managerial experience in high-growth, small- to
mid-sized firms, or someone who says he can be whatever you need him
Once Jim establishes his goals, he
should research specific companies that might need his expertise.
This can be accomplished through networking and reviewing
professional journals, industry publications, local newspapers and
so on. With his credentials and background he may even be able to
create a job for himself.
Given that Jim's most recent
experience was with a smaller firm, major corporations and the
federal government may question his loyalty and fit in a large, less
entrepreneurial environment. Movers and shakers aren't usually
welcomed at GM. (Remember Ross Perot?) However, consulting firms
that specialize in helping high-growth companies, business
incubators and venture capital firms might value his unique
combination of shirt-sleeve supervision and strategic planning
I hate mentioning it, but another
universal truth is that the private sector doesn't have much
confidence in government experience. If Jim takes a federal job, he
should probably plan on staying there. Fair or not, many business
people believe that federal employees only know how to operate on a
Jim has· much to offer, but he's been
running around the forest and missing the tree. If he focuses on
what he wants and changes his approach, he'll make some small- to
mid-sized high-tech firm an excellent general manager