Preparation and Focus Pay Off
Like many people, Samantha found herself “floundering around a bit” when she lost her job handling mergers and acquisitions and partnership alliances for a large publishing company. “I sort of knew I didn’t want to do what I’d been doing for 12 years. I wanted to do something different,” she says. But before she’d had a chance to outline her goals, she fumbled a valuable opportunity. “I was set up on a networking call with an amazing person – smart, connected, influential – and I screwed it up,” she recalls. “I was unprepared and unfocused, and I knew it.” Still, Samantha had the presence of mind to ask for feedback at the end of the call and was advised not to ramble. “That’s exactly what I’d been doing, and it was a big wake-up call.”
What she wanted to do next. In the meantime, Samantha was contacted by a headhunter for a job doing what she’d done before. “I needed a job, so I followed up with him,” she says. But by then, she’d determined that the role of “big fish in a small pond” was more to her liking, and let the headhunter know that she was seeking a position as VP of finance for a small company, perhaps working in product management. “Within ten minutes, he called me back, asking if I’d be willing to relocate outside of Boston for a position as CFO of a small, non-for-profit publishing company. I asked him the salary, and he told me and I said yes. It was the perfect fit for me. I had never been CFO before, but I have finance experience and an MBA, so I knew I could do it.”
Like 58% of Five O’Clock Clubbers, Samantha changed careers. She went from handling mergers and acquisitions for a publishing company to being a CFO in a not-for-profit, and moved 350 miles away.
This time, Samantha knew that preparation for the phone interview was key. She turned to the nonprofit website Guidestar.com for details about the company’s size, officers, and value of their investment portfolio. “I knew that things had changed at the organization, because the CEO I was going to interview with had been there only 10 months, but I found out a lot,” she points out. She also sat down with a friend and prepared two pages of questions. “When I got on the call, he spent several minutes outlining what he wanted to do with the company. He didn’t ask me a single question about myself. But I was prepared when he asked if I had any questions for him, and we talked for 40 minutes,” even though the headhunter had advised her the call would probably only last for 15. “At the end, he asked me to come meet the team and interview in person.”
Samantha had made such an impression that the CEO didn’t even want to set up a phone interview with another candidate until he had met her. The two-hour, in-person interview with four different people “ended up being three hours,” she says. “I fell in love with the company, with its locale in Massachusetts, and they fell in love with me, too. They asked for references, and the next day I got an offer and I accepted.”
She hasn’t let go of her apartment in the city yet, but she’s renting a house “up there” near her job. “A house?” Samantha marvels. “I haven’t lived in a house since high school!”
Self-Assessment For a Lifetime
Kelly found her new entry level writing jobs online to top writers and high-end restaurants in New York City after only three sessions with the Five O’Clock Club. “But I say that it really took five years, because I came in 2005 and did all of my assessment and work then,” she says with a laugh. “I’ll just tell you, whatever you’re working on now [at the Five O’Clock Club], you’ll have these skills and the assessment work done for the rest of your life. It was so much easier to come back when I needed to look for a job again. That’s one of the reasons I moved through the process so quickly.”
“What I do is unique,” says Kelly, “and I know that my coach, Nancy Deering, was scared to death when I first showed up in her small group, because my industry is this small,” she says, holding up two fingers within an inch of each other. “And how was I ever going to find another job?”
With a background in sales and culinary education, Kelly had been working for a company that was “not doing the job very well. They were disappointing customers. The person I was working for had no heart. I was frustrated, and I could just see the writing on the wall.” But as much as she hated the company, she loved the work. As an aside, she adds: “When I did my assessment, I made a list of all the tasks I’ve done in any job I ever had. It’s just a little different way of going through Seven Stories, but you go on an interview and can say ‘I’m good at that,’ because it’s on the Seven Stories list.”
Mine is a very small field.
People don’t know what you want until you tell them, so you have to let them know.
A visit from one of her suppliers was always a high point for Kelly. “He would come to New York and I would take him around to different customers. We’d have a great time out in the field and I loved selling his product, which was dear to my heart.” But eventually she found herself having to postpone calls on customers, but without being able to reveal what was going on at her company. “I left this really strange message that it’s the holidays and I didn’t think it was the best time to go visit people,” she recalls. “I wanted to be part of his team, but I couldn’t bad-mouth where I was working. I knew he was going to find out eventually, but it couldn’t come from me.”
Once the truth had become evident, Kelly could be frank about her own career goals. She told her supplier, “I don’t know what’s going to happen with your product, but I want to continue selling it.” That was the second time in her career, Kelly points out, that she “told someone exactly what I wanted to do, and the job has come through for me.”
Now an account executive for a bakery supply company with more than 80 years in the business, Kelly has brought them into new markets and is advising them how to build their business. “I love my job, and I go around and walk in and out of kitchens every day,” she says. “I get to teach people about my product and talk about protein levels. I’m knowledgeable about all sorts of things that are relevant to just this little industry.” She can also see herself serving as manager at some point in the future, “if we grow so much that I can bring people in under me.”
Coach Nancy Deering credits Kelly’s success in landing the job she wanted to her “stick-to-it-ive-ness” and dedication to the search. “Her market was very small, but she knew who the players were. She knew how to deal with them and how to network.”
“The universe doesn’t know what you want until you say it,” Kelly points out. “So you have to go out there and ask for what you want.”
Networking Toward a New Career
Steve had been working in financial services and banking for more than 20 years when a bank merger and department downsize brought about the end of his job. As he watched his industry implode due to the financial crisis, Steve realized he now had the opportunity to explore an interest he’d never pursued, financial planning, because “life had just kind of gotten in the way. If I’m ever going to have the chance to do this, I’ve gotta do this now. But I didn’t really know where to start,” he says.
His company had sent Steve to the Five O’Clock Club for outplacement, where his small group coach put the brakes on Steve’s ambition just a bit. “When I said financial planning, the coach asked, ‘What does that really mean? Tell me what you want to do.’” So one of the first things I did was set up informational interviews with people to learn about the different areas. In financial planning, you can be a stockbroker, or somebody who sells life insurance, or a registered investment adviser. It can mean a whole lot of different things.
As he gathered information, Steve used his small group to obtain feedback and crystallize the areas he really wanted to target. “The group was very helpful in getting me to translate my skills from my career in banking to a resume that made sense for financial planning.” He found a job search buddy, in order to stay motivated. “We’d talk twice a week about what we were going to do, and then you basically had to do it, in order to show you’d kept your promises.” A mock interview also helped Steve refine his approach.
I talked twice a week with my job-search buddy about what we were going to do, and then you had to do it.
Making a career change often requires developing a whole new network, and Steve faced that challenge head-on. “I had a network of people in my prior career, but not in the industry I wanted to get into. So I joined the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Personal Finance Advisers. And at the FPA, I joined the committee that did pro bono work, which was really important to have on the resume and also provided a good talking point on informational interviews.”
Steve also decided that passing the certified planner exam would demonstrate his commitment to a career change. “Fortunately, I’d taken all the prerequisite courses ten years before, but I’d just never moved forward with the exam. So all I really needed to do was study for it … and I passed the exam last March.”
At each informational meeting, Steve asked for names of two more people to contact. He also began reaching out to members of the organizations he’d joined. One of the first people he contacted happened to be looking for somebody and brought Steve in on a consulting basis, which turned into full-time employment a few months later. “It’s a totally different situation. Before, I worked for a large bank with 40,000-plus employees. Now, it’s just the two of us,” says Steve of the small wealth management firm he works for. “I don’t really have a title, because you have to do a little bit of everything when it’s a two-person firm. It’s not exactly what I expected in the beginning, but it’s turned out to be great. I got a lot of responsibility early on, and I think there’s a lot of growth opportunity.” Working from his home has also enabled Steve to ditch the three-hour commute he had before. “I want to thank the Five O’Clock Club,” he says, “because I’d never actively looked for another job before and had no idea what I was doing. I needed a methodology, a system and a plan to make it work.”
“Steve was nothing less than systematic in managing the structure of his job search from the very beginning,” observes his coach. “He’s a gatherer and processor of information, and it really worked for him. We used the assessment to establish all his targets, and networking to increasingly clarify them. He became a meeting maniac. Being accountable to a job buddy who’s familiar with the methodologies is also a powerful tool. Steve increasingly refined a message, a very powerful one – and that’s what you all have to do as well. Do it with a sense of urgency and passion.”