Lateral Moves for Advancement

Sometimes the best way to advance your career in the long-run, is to take a lateral move in the short-run. Career advancement opportunities are frequently offered to those who have a broad base of knowledge within the company or industry and who have developed a critical skill set. Companies are looking for leaders who understand the business – not just singular functionality.

To be successful at this level, it is important to have a strong knowledge of the business and a broad understanding of the entire organization. While promotions are great for advancing your career, sometimes the most strategic career move is a lateral move to gain needed experience and skills that contribute toward the crucial understanding of the business and to prepare to claim a role in senior leadership. Often exposure to operations in another country or state adds perspective but so does time spent in another functional area. So, how does one determine if a lateral move is strategic?

To determine if a lateral move is right for you, it is important to consider your long term career goals and to honestly assess what skills and experience are critical to achieving those goals. What specific skills and experience are valued by the organization, and what is required for the future positions you aspire to hold? Assess your current skills and identify the gaps.  Develop a plan to fill those skills gaps in your resume. Do your homework. Talk to people who hold the positions you aspire to, and ask what skills and experiences they consider critical to success. The more networking you do in your field, the deeper understanding you will garner of the criterion needed to prepare you for the future roles of your choice and that make you stand out from the competition.

If this honest analysis identifies holes in your resume, this discovery is not a drawback but rather, an opportunity presented to you that can enable you to benefit significantly from a lateral assignment which offers that needed experience. In addition to making you better qualified for future opportunities, it also signals to management that you are committed to advancing in the organization by deepening your skill set and understanding the broader business. Your willingness to take a lateral move to intentionally develop needed skills and experience is a clear signal to senior management that you are serious about a successful career: you are willing to walk the walk.

 

When to consider a lateral move

If the lateral move provides an opportunity to build your experience, knowledge and exposure in an area that you are lacking, this could indeed be a wise investment in your future. Consider the added value of expanding your internal network – more people will know you and what you can do. If you are learning new things about the company and its products or services, that knowledge can be valuable to your longer term plans. You should take advantage of the lateral opportunity if it provides valuable skills and experience required for your longer term career goals.

Assess in what functions your experience lies.  If your experience has been exclusively a particular area, you should consider a move to another functional area in order to gain valuable new perspective and insights.  Identifying what you need to move forward regarding skills and seeking opportunities that provide that learning opportunity can significantly enhance your career.  It is important to build a strong foundation of key business skills in order to move successfully into the more strategic roles.

 

When not to consider a lateral move

If you are considering a lateral move because you are tired of what you are doing and want a change, it is not a strategic move. Unless you are going to learn new things and gain additional skills and experience, staying at the same level can be a career- limiting move. Do not accept a lateral move just for a change of pace. You owe it to yourself to be more strategic about your career. If your job is being eliminated and your only alternative is a lateral move, you may think about it differently but avoid the temptation to accept anything simply out of desperation.  The position needs to interest you and add value to your longer term career goals that you have identified.

What if the senior leader of the company asks you to do something specific in a different area for a defined period of time as a special favor? This is a win-win and will groom you in the manner of thinking at the senior level. Why? Helping out a colleague or senior manager can benefit your career. You may have been asked because your senior leaders want to gauge how well you perform in a different function. This may require stepping out of your comfort zone, but part of the career path, no matter what the course, usually involves taking another perspective. This cross-over, if you will, increases your value by exposing you to something new and different and this can set you apart from the pack. We’ve all known individuals who may have been reluctant to work as a team – and we likely remember how it felt on the other side. Being seen as a team player can be good for your career and it demonstrates versatility and a non-verbal way to communicate that success is often achieved by group effort. It is not unusual for temporary, at-the-same level moves, to result in significant new opportunities down the road if all goes well. Being open to new experiences is part of career growth.

 

Big Picture Exposure

Exposure to the various aspects of the business may not be enough to land in the corner office however. There are other tenets that come into play in achieving a senior position. Understanding and knowledge are two themes whose roads all point back to success. The most valued functional professionals also need to understand the business so they can effectively manage their functional organization or the overall company.  All managers benefit from some understanding of marketing, sales, finance, supply chain and product management

Soft skills are important for success in leadership as well. Managers must have the ability to communicate effectively, analyze data, persuade others when they have no authority over them, and work in cross-functional teams. With complex issues, managers need to understand the implications of human resources, risk, technology, legal, compliance and business continuity issues.

Successful managers do not need a detailed understanding of accounting since they won’t be booking the debits and credits; however, they must be able to read a balance sheet, income and cash flow statements while understanding the impact of business decisions on the company’s finances and business decisions. They must understand the internal financial system and be able to analyze and demonstrate knowledge of the data in the reports to help support future decisions that merit success.

When senior managers are looking to fill key strategic positions for the organization they are looking for individuals with the right skills and experience. A combination of lateral and promotion career moves can prepare for you for the next move in your career.   Managers will also look for candidates who have demonstrated leadership skills, an ability to work projects to successful and timely completion and a track record of generating solutions to business problems. This toolbox will help you develop as a proven senior leader over time.

 

Moving lateral to move up

The decision to invest in your career by accepting a strategic lateral move to expand your knowledge and experience can be the key to longer term success. Doing the homework – expanding your skills, helping other team members, crossing over into new territory even temporarily, and enhancing your resume are all components that will hasten your goals, short- and long-term to present yourself as a supply chain leader and stay competitive with other candidates. These efforts, over time, can enhance your career options and your personal fulfillment.

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Addressing Gaps in Your Resume

What is a job seeker to do if there are gaps in your resume? This occurs most often when there is a break between employers. Gaps often jump right out at the hiring manager reviewing the resume so prepare in advance to addresses these issues.

Honesty is always the best policy.  Honesty is not just the best policy but the only policy when it comes to your resume. It is a factual history of your employment and is subject to verification in background checks. Just the facts please. Do not embellish or leave things off because you’d rather not talk about them.

Years vs. months.  Job seekers often draw unwarranted attention to their gaps by listing each employment by month. It is perfectly acceptable on a resume to list years only.  This allows short gaps to go undetected. You may have to provide specific months on an application later in the process but you haven’t drawn undue attention to it early in the process.

Be prepared.  Be prepared with a response to the question about the gap. If it is there, someone will ask about it in an interview. Address the gap honestly without focusing on the negatives or being defensive. Talk about what you did during the gap. Did you volunteer? Enhance a skill? Take a class? Be prepared to address the issue head on.

Don’t rewrite history.  Because it is critical to be honest, don’t create an alternative universe where the situation was very different. It is what it is. It happened. Be honest but do so in a way that is positive, professional and forward focused. Do not be defensive. If you were laid off, do not blame others. Just state that the company was facing challenging times, reorganizing, etc. depending on the situation. Often less is more when it comes to explaining the speed bumps in your career.

Don’t be Left Out, Link In

LinkedIn is a valuable business networking tool and is critical to a successful job search. At Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business Graduate Career Center, we work with our students to help them maximize the value of LinkedIn. We are seeing an increasing number of employers using LinkedIn to find candidates to meet their needs.

There are key considerations for a successful LinkedIn strategy to support your job search.

Be Found – Build a powerful profile so employers searching for people like you can easily find you online. Make it easy for alumni, current students, and former business colleagues to find you.  The true power of your connections comes from the second and third level so work to build a strong first level of connections. Be sure to use important key words for your industry and functional area to help the right people find you.

Quality Not Quantify – There is no prize for having the most contacts but the right contacts are invaluable. Build a network of people you know to help you achieve your career goals.  Work to build connections in your target companies.

Seek Feedback – We review the students’ LinkedIn profiles with them and offer suggestions for improvements. Have someone else review your profile and share feedback. Another set of eyes can add valuable insight.

Alumni Connections – In additional to joining LinkedIn groups for alumni, utilize the alumni search to identify alumni connections in your target companies.

Regardless of what stage of your career you are currently in, Linked In is a powerful tool that you can leverage to increase your success in all that you do.

Alternatives to Summer Internship

2018 Alternatives to Summer Internships

College students look forward to the summer break as an escape from the classroom and often as an opportunity to earn money.  Finding a paid summer internship can be very competitive but don’t panic if you don’t land one.  There are other opportunities to add value to your resume and prepare for your future.

 

  • Gain Work Experience – Even if it isn’t paid.  Gaining experience is the most important goal, whether you are being paid or not. This also shows future employers that you are motivated and focused.  While it is ideal to gain some exposure to your field of choice, for this year, it is critical to be employed.  Doing most anything is better than doing nothing.  Retail or fast food experience at least exposes you to customer service skills and time management.  Before settling for those options reach out to non- profits organizations and offer your services.  They often need assistance but have no budget.  Ask your contacts if you can shadow them for a day or work on a project as a volunteer.  Be creative and find ways to build your work experience even if you are not receiving a pay check.

 

  • Networking – It is time to start seriously thinking about what you might want to do for your career.  You may have selected a major already or you may still be considering your options.  Either way, this is a critical time to begin networking.  Talk to people who work in fields that interest you or companies that interest you.  Start with the “low hanging fruit” – parents of your friends, people your parents know.  As you get comfortable with information interviews, reach out to alumni of your school.  Many people will make time to talk to a student and they often have some flexibility in their schedule in the summer.  Learn what skills are necessary for success in the field you are interested in.  Send a thank you note to each contact you meet.  Invite them to link with you on Linked In and ask if you can keep them posted throughout your next three years.

 

  • Informational Interviews– As you identify possible career options reach out to people in your field of interest and request an informational interview.  This extends your networking efforts but helps you gain valuable insights into your chose field.  What skills are critical>?  What does an employer expect from an entry level hire?  What is necessary to succeed longer term in this field?

 

  • Professional Associations – Identify a relevant professional association for your chose field and join as a student member. Attend meetings and start building your professional network.  During your informational interviews you can ask for recommendations of the best associations in your field.

 

  • Prepare Your Tools – Be ready. Sometimes companies have last minute summer needs due to students who changed their plans or unforeseen business needs.  Be sure you have your tools prepared so you can jump on those opportunities.   Update and edit your resume and ask several people to review it for you to ensure that it is flawless.  Practice writing cover letters to jobs in your field and ask for feedback to improve them.  Practice interviewing with a friend, colleague, family member or your career center.  Ask for feedback.  Anticipate frequently asked questions and consider your answers in advance.  Practice researching companies of interest to identify questions you can ask in your interview.  The more preparation you do now the easier the process will be.

 

  • Develop a Plan – Build a list of target companies you are most interested in working for.  Use your summer to research and identify alumni and other connections at those companies.  Prepare to maintain your networking even while you are back in school but get a good start during the summer.  Start reviewing job postings at your target companies to get a feel for the types of positions they post for entry level.  It is too early to apply but it gives you a better sense of what to watch for in the months ahead.  Commit to attending on campus career fairs, company recruiting events, etc. when you are back in school.  Manage your time wisely so you don’t miss these valuable opportunities.

 

Having your eye on the end goal throughout your four years in school increases the likelihood of employment at graduation but it also helps you focus on the best opportunities for you.

Summer Dress for Success

Many companies recognize that the pace changes a bit come summer and offer a summer dress code. While it is great be cool and comfortable in the hot, hazy days of summer it is important to protect your professional reputation.

Summer Dress Code Do’s

  • Know the Culture – It is critical to know the culture of your organization and to follow the lead of the managers in your group or division.  Some companies have no relaxation of the dress code in the summer and any attempt to be more casual would be frowned upon. In some companies summer casual means no neckties.  Before you head to the office in capris, shorts or a golf shirt, be sure you understand what the expectations are in your specific office. You do not want to stand out negatively from the crowd.
  • Stay Professional – Your goal should be to always appear professional while on the job. Even with a more relaxed summer dress code it is important that you still project a professional image. Focus on professional looking business casual attire.
  • Be Modest and Conservative – Think about whether you would want the president of the company or an important client to see you in that outfit. If the answer is no, don’t wear it to work. Think about whether it projects the image of the company or your own personal brand. Remember while it may be fashionable, it may not be appropriate for the office.

Summer Dress Code Don’ts

  • Forget the Beach Attire – If you would wear it to the beach, don’t wear it to work. Modesty and professionalism should be the determining factors in identifying attire for work.
  • Leave the Flip Flops at Home – The most frequent complaint I hear from employers is flip flops. They are very noisy in the office and most employers consider them unprofessional. Do not wear flip flips in the office if you want to be taken seriously. If you want to wear them for your walk to work fine, but be sure you have shoes in your bag to change into as soon as you reach the office.
  • Cover Up – Underwear is meant to be under your clothes at all times, not visible to your co-workers. Midriff baring attire or plunging necklines are also not appropriate for the office.

Protect Your Reputation

Your reputation at work is your personal brand. You work hard to known as a capable, competent professional who does great work in a timely manner. Do not ruin or at least tarnish that reputation by dressing unprofessionally in the workplace. It is not worth it. Stay professional this summer to ensure your future success.

Job Search Strategy #1-Building Your List of Target Companies

To effectively conduct a targeted job search, it is critical that you define a list of target companies.  To take a trip, you need a destination to enter in GPS.  You also need a target for your job search so you don’t expend valuable time and energy in unproductive aspects of your search.

Consider the Universe

Think about the types of companies you would hope to work for and start making a list.  Consider the industry and the products and services.  Think about location.  Consider size.  Do some initial brainstorming to capture a broad range of possibilities.  As you start to identify trends such as industry, do additional online research to identify other options.  You may not be aware of small to mid-sized companies in your desired industries without doing some online research.  At this stage, do not limit your thinking, just capture a broad list of possibilities.

Narrow the Focus

Now review your list and based on your very limited current knowledge, rank them based on your interest level as A – top priority, B – medium priority, and C – low priority.  You are not taking anything off the list at this point just focusing a bit for next steps.  I’d recommend capturing your data in a spreadsheet so you can continue to refine it as we move through the process.  For now, list companies and interest priority.  Sort by priority so your “A” companies are at the top.

Preliminary Research

For your “A” companies, do some quick research.  This is where you need to be careful not to fall into the trap of over-researching or getting distracted by online applications.  This is a quick review to further prioritize your list.  You need to do two things for each “A” company.  Check LinkedIn or your alumni database to see if there are alumni at that company.  Just yes or no on your spreadsheet in a column for alums.  Do not start looking up individuals, seeing what jobs they hold, etc.  Just yes or no, are there alums at the company.  Second lookup is on indeed.com.  Check to see if the company has posted positions in the last 2-3 months and if any were in your field.  Do not look up the jobs or apply right now.  Yes is the posted and Yes if there are jobs in your field.

Prioritize Your List and Start Networking

Now, resort your “A” companies so that companies with alumni connections and recent, relevant postings are now at the top of your list.  This helps you focus your search on the companies most important to you with the greatest opportunity to have an impact.  You will now work your way through your target companies in priority order looking to identify relevant alumni connections.  Ask for networking meetings and conduct informational interviews.  Learn all you can about those companies and their hiring processes.  Work to build strong relationships so you can an internal advocate when an appropriate position does post.  Keep track of your networking activity and what you learn about each company.  Make progress on networking in your target companies by setting weekly goals and holding yourself accountable.

Update and Refresh

As you work the process, it is likely that some “A” companies will drop lower on your list and you can repeat the process to move “B” companies further up the list.  Continue to use the same process to prioritize your list.  To effectively manage a job search, you should have between 30 and 50 target companies that you are working.

By prioritizing and monitoring your list you are focusing your networking on your top companies instead of random activities and this has a significant impact on your success.  Build a strong target list to lead you to success in your search.

2016 Customized Cover Letters – Top Ten Cover Letter Mistakes

A well-written, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile but common errors on your cover letter can result in a quick trip to the “no pile.”  To avoid the dreaded “no pile”, avoid these common cover letter mistakes.

  • Overuse of “I” and “my”— Resist the temptation to start every sentence with “I” or “My”. Your focus should be on meeting the employer’s need to address a business issue.  Vary your sentence structure and keep the focus on them.  Too many “I”s comes across as self-centered and cocky and demonstrates sub-standard communication skills.  Your cover letter is considered an example of your business writing so put your best foot forward.
  • Typos and Grammatical errors – Proofread your letter and least twice and have someone else read it for you as well. Do not rely on spell check to identify all the errors.  Hiring managers expect your cover letter to be error free and will often immediately move a candidate to the “no pile” if there are errors in the letter.  The worst is a sentence highlighting your attention to detail which contains errors.
  • Form Letters – To be effective, a cover letter must always be customized to the specific position and company. Hiring managers who read cover letters often can spot form letters very quickly.  Phrases such as “this position” and “your company” scream form letter.  Candidates often
  • Tentative Language – In your cover letter you want to be confident but not cocky. Avoid tentative language such as “I think”, “I feel”, “seems like” or “I had to.”  Be honest but always project confidence when sharing your experience.
  • Inconsistent Bullets—It is acceptable to use bullet points in your cover letter to highlight the experience you bring to the job. Ensure that bullets are consistent in format.  Don’t start some with verbs and others with nouns or mix tenses.  Consistency is important.  Also, don’t use the same bullet points as on your resume.
  • Arrogance—Avoid phrases such as “best candidate” and “perfect fit” when describing your capabilities. You are really not in a position to make that assessment and it comes across to the reader as arrogant.  You want to be positive and confident but cocky is a turn off.  It is best to demonstrate your capabilities with examples.
  • Lack of Professional Format—A cover letter is a formal business letter. It should have your contact information on the top with the same heading as your resume.  It should then have a date, an address block and a salutation.  “Dear Mary Jones” is not appropriate for a salutation.  It should read “Dear Ms. Jones”.  Failure to follow official business letter format gives the letter an inappropriate air of casualness.  Demonstrate that you are taking this seriously and that you can compose a proper business letter.  This is also a sample of your written communication skills for the hiring manager.
  • Failure to Connect the Dots—Hiring managers know what they are looking and for and you know what you have done. Don’t assume they will take the time to connect the dots.  Use your cover letter to clearly identify how your experience and skills meets their needs.
  • Limited Language – Do not use the same words repeatedly in your cover letter. Use a thesaurus if necessary.  Using the same words and phrases implies that you don’t know other words and that your communication skills are limited.
  • Use of Acronyms – The hiring manager does not know your hiring company. They will not have a clue what the XYZ project is for the ABC system.  Explain your responsibilities in clear language that anyone could understand.  Don’t let your accomplishments be lost in the acronyms that only insiders understand.

A carefully crafted, customized cover letter can move your resume to the top of the pile for consideration.  Avoid these common mistakes to stay out of the “no pile”.