Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Archive for the ‘Job skills’ Category

Vault’ s Careers Blog is Moving

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An announcement: after almost a year on WordPress, we’re discontinuing Vault’s Careers Blog on WordPress. But don’t worry: you’ll still be able to get your fill of career information and advice on Vault.com–where our blogs are going from strength to strength.

Our full blog lineup on Vault.com is as follows:

Vault’s Careers Blog
Vault’s Law Blog
Consult THIS: Consulting Careers, News and Views
In Good Company: Vault’s CSR blog
In the Black: Vault’s Finance Careers Blog
Admit One: Vault’s MBA, Law School and College Blog
Insider Career Advice from SixFigureStart
Innovate with Influence: Global High Tech

Thanks for reading us on WordPress.

We hope to see you over on Vault.com soon!

–The Vault Editorial Team

3-Box Time Management: The Fourth Habit of Effective Intrapreneurs

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This is the fifth in a series of articles that describe the unique traits of a corporate intrapreneur.

The first three habits (productivity, initiative, and collaboration) are closely tied to idea generation.

The next three habits, when practiced properly at a corporation, can often lead to the successful delivery of ideas. Idea delivery is characterized by the creation of a product or service that provides value to a customer.

These first stages of delivery occur as part of a technique known as 3-box time management, which is depicted below.

Vijay Govindarajan (VG) is a Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College. He is the author and evangelist of the 3-box strategic approach to corporate innovation. Three-box innovation strategy dictates that the majority of corporate resources should be invested in the Box 1 diagram listed below: Manage the Present. This box represents the continued development of existing products to yield most of a corporation’s revenue. Employees supporting this box focus on existing customers and processes, and they continue to leverage their existing competencies. In essence, this box “funds” the development of innovation within a corporation. Some companies fall into the trap of spending close to 100 percent of their resources in this box.

Vijay advises corporations to allocate portions of their resources to Box 2 and Box 3 as well as tried-and-true Box 1. Box 2 selectively abandons the past by “forgetting” most of what is known about the products built in Box 1, including why they were built and whom they were built to satisfy. This break from tradition enables an innovator to take existing products into completely different markets.

Box 3 is a more radical approach to innovation. It completely ignores current processes and products and prominently targets the future.

The figure below applies this 3-box corporate framework to an intrapreneur’s use of his or her own time (note that the box titles change when applied to an individual).

Intrapreneurs can be most effective when they are delivering products as part of a business unit (as opposed to being a member of a research team in an ivory tower). Why? They often prefer to be in the trenches, where they can be highly productive, visiting customers, and collaborating with others. They are respected within their organizations for doing those very things.

Perhaps their most significant contribution to their business unit’s product line is funding their employment and that of their collaborators. They are squarely positioned in Box 1.

Spending all of their time in one area of expertise does not enable intrapreneurs to achieve success. Their natural curiosity and passion will not allow them to stay in only one place. They practice the discipline of limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1.

By limiting the amount of time they spend in Box 1, intrapreneurs make time for Box 2 and/or Box 3 activities. They set aside the time to learn about customer issues. They set aside the time to explore adjacent technologies. They regularly meet with experts in adjacent fields and collaborate to dream up ideas of what might be possible. Most importantly, they begin to build out their ideas.

It is worth pointing out the difference between Box 2 and Box 3 intrapreneurial behavior. Box 2 behavior is characterized by Venn diagram innovation. The intrapreneur collaborates in the context of a well-defined customer problem.

Box 3 behavior is characterized by blue sky innovation: taking the initiative to learn new technologies and collaborate without necessarily starting with the context of a defined customer problem. Blue sky innovators may ask themselves and others, “What might this capability be used to do?” Answers to this question can result in breakthrough innovation. It is often the case that breakthrough innovation can be applied to customer problems they don’t yet know they have!

It is a difficult balancing act to regularly spend time outside of Box 1. It takes passion and persistence. But it is the very first step that a new intrapreneur must take to prove his or her worth!

Subsequent steps build on the important ability to manage one’s time well. Please consider subscribing to this blog for a discussion of the next phase of idea delivery: managing one’s visibility.

Steve
http://stevetodd.typepad.com
Twitter: @SteveTodd
EMC Intrapreneur

Career Skills: How to Influence Your Colleagues

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“The most important capacity you possess is the capacity to influence other people to change their behavior.”—Joseph Grenny, addressing the 2010 World Business Forum at Radio City Music Hall. According to Grenny, all leaders face two key problems:

  1. What should we do? (A problem of leadership or strategy)
  2. How do I get everyone to do it? (A problem of influence)

Making the point that most businesses tend to focus on the first point—the strategy—Grenny pointed out the need to spend more time on the second, and devoted the bulk of his address to it. He explained his rationale via a concept he calls Grenny’s Law of Leadership: “There is no strategy so brilliant that people can’t render it worthless.”

While it provided a lighthearted moment, the law also encapsulates a serious reality: that the real challenge for leaders is not in devising strategies, but in influencing people to execute on them. Grenny points out that most people faced with a challenge of influence believe that “one thing will propel change”—whether that’s an incentive, a persuasive argument or simply an order. Throughout his years studying influencers, however—during which he co-authored the book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything—Grenny has identified six sources of influence that are crucial for anyone considering that question of how they can influence others to change their behavior. And he stresses that the best influencers manage to tap all six sources at some level:

  1. Make the undesirable desirable
  2. Surpass your limits
  3. Harness peer pressure
  4. Find strength in numbers
  5. Design rewards and demand accountability
  6. Change the environment

Unfortunately, Grenny had rather a lot of information to squeeze into the time allotted him, and he was only able to fully expand on a couple of the points above. Most notably, he suggested that a solution to overcoming the first influence is to “connect people with the human or moral consequences of their actions”—and to do so by “storytelling.” As an example, he pointed to New York uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose focus on customer service is fast becoming the stuff of legend. But Meyer didn’t get his thousands of employees to buy into the concept simply by decree, says Grenny. Rather, he tells stories at company meetings of how exceptional service profoundly impacted the experience of customers at his restaurants, and encourages other employees to make a similar difference.

Grenny also made an illuminating point about the power of social influence. Illustrating this, he discussed an experiment to get more people to pay their taxes in Minnesota. That experiment saw three different messages printed on the top of tax forms, encouraging people to pay—one threatening punishment for non-payment, one telling people where their tax dollars were being spent, and the other thanking people for joining the 80 percent of the population paying their taxes. The message that had the greatest effect? The one that placed a social pressure on people, by suggesting that if they didn’t pay, they’d be in the minority.

While he didn’t have time to focus on any of the other points he raised, Grenny did leave the audience with one striking stat: that those who use six sources of influence to change personal habits (to stop smoking, for example) are four times more likely to succeed. In a business setting—when using the tactics to effect changes at an organizational level—the level of success rises to ten times more likely.

Written by Phil Stott

October 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Accenture to Spend $100 Million on Skills Training

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Is $100 million the new threshold for signaling you’re serious about making a difference? Recently, it was Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pledging that amount to the Newark school district. Now we learn that consulting giant Accenture will be spending 100 (very) big ones over the next three years on its Skills to Succeed program.

The goal of Accenture’s program seems pretty straightforward: the company wants to equip 250,000 people around the world with the “skills that enable them to participate in and contribute to the economy and society.” And to do it by 2015

A few examples of the type of work the Skills to Succeed program does—and will continue to do in order to meet its targets:

  • Building the skills of young entrepreneurs in Africa
  • Offering free skills training for the unemployed in Brazil
  • Training disadvantage young people in business process outsourcing and technology skills in India
  • Helping underprivileged students in the Philippines and Cambodia to develop IT skills
  • Training migrant groups in specialized technology skills in Spain
  • Helping disadvantaged young people to become entrepreneurs in the U.K.
  • Teaching business preparedness skills to students in community colleges and providing IT training for disadvantaged youth in the U.S.

In each of the endeavors, the company is working with partner organizations—some local and some international.

Now all we need are some jobs for that quarter-million people to fill!

MBA Specialization vs. General Business Skills: Should You Specialize in Sustainability?

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Recently, Vault’s own Aman Singh asked a really interesting question: “does CSR require generic business skills or an MBA in sustainability?” In other words, is it worth specializing in sustainability as an MBA or are you more likely to get a job in CSR if you really have those managerial skills down pat? Her answer revolved around another question (and so the endless questions begin!), “Well, what do you mean by ‘require’?”

Should you get an MBA in sustainability in business school?

The oddity [in the data] is that sustainability solutions like energy efficiency, LEED and HVAC require specialized knowledge and highly technical skill sets. Executives, however, seem to be placing a premium on more generic business skills such as increased knowledge and awareness of sustainability efforts, the ability to think systemically, the ability to understand complex legislation around sustainability, and financial analytic skills.

Basically, even though you need a very specific skill set in order to do good CSR work, companies esteem generic business skills instead. This contradiction led me to a whole slew of questions, with which I promptly started pestered my colleagues.

First, I went to Aman herself, to figure out what this means for MBA students who hope to find jobs in CSR. She explained it to me from the company’s perspective:

The reality of the current market is that an MBA is good for generic management skills, not specialization, when it comes to sustainability and CSR…. Companies say they don’t necessarily need someone who has done two years in-depth study on CSR guidelines and regulations. They have more value for someone who has managerial skills–someone who can lead departments and work sustainability into their role as an accountant, an analyst, etc. And unfortunately this is where the paradox remains: They like sustainability on the graduates’ resume, but they don’t want it to be the main focus. Even employers who started out looking for candidates with sustainability concentrations aren’t really looking for that as much. They want to talk about it and ensure corporate responsibility, but they don’t expect this dialogue from job candidates.

So, what if you still want to specialize in sustainability? How can you avoid getting pigeon-holed and weakening your job prospects?

Well, I think it depends on how you brand yourself. You can have the specialization, but you can also make sure your resume talks about more generic management skills and say, consulting or financing skills, depending on where you want to go with your MBA. The graduates I spoke to really emphasize all their CSR work on their resumes–they have a blog where they talk about CSR; they’re active on Twitter; they’re volunteering and doing some nonprofit work as well; their internship was focused on sustainability–so in the end, their resume is really a full page of sustainability credentials. And if the company does not want you to focus on that, it could work against you.

Last, but not least, I was curious about her predictions of the future. Do you think, I asked, that as the market rebounds, more of those pure CSR jobs will start to emerge, or do you think that people are going to get accustomed to this integration of CSR with other general business skills?

I think it’s going to be the latter. They’re going to say, “Come in as an analyst and do your job responsibly and remain ethical within the company’s values.” A lot of companies don’t even have CSR-focused departments; they understand that corporate responsibility is a cultural thing and not just the responsibility of one department, but they’re not quite sure how to make that happen.

Craft your resume around your MBA specialization to get the most 

job offersThen, I started in on Carolyn C. Wise, to get a better idea of whether or not it was worthwhile to specialize at all.

When it comes to specializing, it’s very much about what you’re going to do with it afterwards. You hire someone with an MBA rather than someone who got, for instance, an MA in Environmental Studies because you want those general management skills. You want someone who has taken finance classes, who is going to be really good as a manager, an accountant, a brand manager. But if you want them in a sustainability role or to create a sustainability strategic plan, you’ll want the sustainability skills as well.

The other thing I always say when it comes to MBA specializations is that you don’t want to close yourself off. One of the fears is that if you specialize in sports management or marketing or any of the other specialties offered by your business school, that you won’t be able to get other jobs. If you’re totally set on one type of job, then absolutely specialize–particularly if you worked in that industry before. For instance, if you worked in the business development department for an NBA team and your plan is to return to that team after you complete your MBA, then specializing in sports management makes a lot of sense for you. But if you are a career-changer, and you don’t know precisely where you want to go, specializations can sometimes hurt rather than help.

As it turns out, the institution from which you receive your MBA makes also makes a huge difference when it comes time to decide whether or not you want to specialize.

Job prospects and employment opportunities after your MBA very much depend on prestige. If you go to Harvard Business School, you have much more flexibility in the area in which you focus most of your electives. This applies for Columbia, Booth, Wharton, Tuck, Hass, all the top schools. If you’re going to a smaller or less prestigious or regional MBA program, then what electives you take, what grades you get, and how applicable the skills you learned in a specialization are will have much more impact after you graduate.

And finally, a bit of advice:

If you’re considering specializing and you’re a first-year student, you should definitely check out the professional and student clubs associated with that specialization. Talk to those MBA students, particularly the second-years, about what they studied, how they’re applying it, what jobs they’re looking at, and what the recruiting process is like for them. You should check out all the professional clubs of all of the specializations that you’re considering, because that will really give you a sense of what it means to specialize in that arena, and what the experience is going to be like when you’re looking for a job.

–Written by Madison Priest, Admit One</em

How BMW is Dealing with an Aging Workforce

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It’s no secret that the population—and therefore the workforce—in many countries is aging, and that companies are struggling to adapt to some of the changes that reality necessitates. And those changes are likely to have a particular effect on companies that have traditionally relied on being able to replace aging workers with younger models.

One such company is German auto giant BMW, which is facing a particularly acute age-related crisis in its home country in the coming years.

BMW responded to this by experimenting with one of its production lines—typically places that require more youthful workers who can withstand the rigors of the workplace. The experiment: the firm raised the average age of one line to 47, and then asked the workers what the company could do to tailor the working environment to better suit their needs.

Based on that feedback, the company made around 70 improvements, including improving some of its tools and processes, installing extra furniture—particularly chairs and stretching areas—and even provided an industrial-sized magnifying glass.

While it’s not surprising that the experiment produced results–what employees can’t suggest ways to improve their workplace?)—there were still a couple of eye-opening findings. Attendance and sickness rates improved—likely a result of the increase in comfort—while productivity rose and the rate of defects “dropped to zero” (emphasis added). That’s right: it turns out that by considering the employee experience in the workplace, the company improved the performance of its employees. Even more surprising: the cost of the experiment was the relatively small sum of $50,000—a drop in the bucket for a firm the size of BMW, especially if it results in increased productivity and cost savings through defect reduction.

Watch the full video on BMW, courtesy CBS’ Sunday Morning.

–Phil Stott, Vault.com

Law Careers: Do You Have to Be a Lawyer If You Go to Law School?

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Whenever I talk about law school, I feel like a broken record. I cycle among three stock sentiments: it’s difficult for recent law school graduates, especially those who attended third or fourth tier schools, to find jobs as practicing lawyers; it’s a darn shame; and maybe a law degree just isn’t worth it right now. I’ve developed so many different ways of saying “bummer, dude” that I worry I’ll explode by sheer force of being so bummed out. And I doubt I’m the only one to feel this way.

Graduating from law school means you have to be a lawyer--or does it?My new approach is the following. It’s sad (unfortunate, distressing, lamentable) that the state of affairs is what it is, but I reject the inside of the box! There are things to do with a law degree that don’t include being a lawyer. Not that it’s entirely advisable to decide to attend law school on the basis of such thinking (see Jessica S.’ response to the second question), but if you have already gotten your JD and don’t know what to do next, the range of options is not so narrow as you might think.

To that end, I interviewed two non-practicing JDs, both of whom work in legal publishing agencies, about the paths that led them to their current careers. In the interest of garnering candid answers, names have been changed.

Vault: So tell me about how you decided to attend law school in the first place.

Roger M.: Well, I was working as an editorial lackey at a large trade publishing house, and one of my jobs was to shuttle manuscripts between editorial and the legal department for basically libel vetting. There were a couple of lawyers employed by the publishing house whose job was to do nothing but read manuscripts, try to spot libelous passages, and make recommendations about how to work around them or cut them out. I thought that they had the greatest jobs in the world, and I didn’t feel like I wanted to stay at a publishing house, so I went to law school–where I immediately forgot why I went there in the first place.

Jessica S.: There were probably two factors that went into the decision. The most immediate was that when I neared the end of college, I knew I wasn’t ready to enter the working world. So I went through the list of grad school options: PhD, business school, law school. The MBA I ruled out right away. I debated a bit about the PhD. But in the end I decided on law school, in part because it revived a vague childhood dream of being a lawyer.

Vault: As a 1L, what trajectory did you envision for your career?

Jessica S.: This is where I made a mistake that I would recommend others not emulate. You shouldn’t choose law school just because you don’t know what else to do, and that was really how I ended up there. So, when I was a 1L and discovered how little I was inspired by the study of contracts and torts and civil procedure, I thought, “Well, I’m going to get a law degree, but I’m not going to become a lawyer. There are so many things you can do with a law degree!” And there are, but law school itself doesn’t really train you for anything else. I had studied some languages, so I developed this vague idea of doing something international.

Roger M.: I knew that the publishing lawyers had all come there from other jobs where they were established, experienced lawyers; it wasn’t their first job out of school. I was just really naive. I didn’t have any sense of what kind of jobs those were and I was either incurious or lazy enough not to ask them about it. Not that I didn’t know them–I talked to them and they even wrote me recommendations–but I didn’t realize that they were coming out of really top-flight, blue chip law firms before they landed at the publishing house. I didn’t really get that connection; I thought you could sort of do anything. So as a 1L, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer focusing on the classroom subject areas that I liked, which were criminal and con law. I thought that I might want to be a criminal lawyer–a public defender, something like that–as a 1L. I wasn’t someone who spent a lot of time at career services. I wasn’t plugged into the grapevine or conveyor belt or whatever it was that funneled people into firm jobs, with on-campus interviewing and maxing out your GPA and all that. Basically, I didn’t appreciate the make-or-break nature of the first year in terms of landing a law firm job. I’m sure people told me; I just wasn’t listening.

Vault: How and when did that change?

Roger M.: The summer after my 1L year, I ended up salmon fishing in Alaska. I had an old friend who lives up there and does that for a living. I didn’t know I was ever going to have another chance to go live there, and I also expected to make about $25 or $30 grand–and I didn’t have any money at all–which would have taken care of my housing and other expenses. As it turns out, though, that summer was the worst salmon season Alaska had ever seen since they started to keep records. I had to borrow money to get home. And now I was really broke, so I had to transfer to the night program of my law school because I worked during the day. And in effect, that gave me another bite at the apple because I did realize what I didn’t realize as a 1L, and I went out and I got all A’s. Then, when on-campus interviews came around again, I had a much more attractive resume–because it’s all just two piles based on grades; I mean, there’s no real analysis–with a plausible GPA to get hired by a good, high-paying firm. Also, this was right at the absolute peak of the internet bubble, so there were the Silicon Valley companies and all these new start-ups, all of whom were trying to compete for law school talent. So, all the sudden in the year 2000, you had the chance of making $125,000 for your first job. Obviously I had money on my mind, and I decided that I was getting one of those jobs and do it as long as I can stand it, and then I was going to get out and I’d be in the clear. So all these public defender notions just evaporated; all I could see was the number. That’s how I ended up in a law firm.

Jessica S.: In my second and third years, I started taking international law courses, focusing on public international law, and decided that was what I wanted to do. I got an internship to study abroad with a humanitarian agency for the summer of my second year, which was a really great experience. One thing I discovered, though, in talking to people in that field was that most of them either do this work on the side or they come to it after an initial career in private practice. When I asked for advice, it was suggested was that I work for a few years at a law firm, get some private practice experience behind me, and then see about getting a position in the public arena. It was good advice, which I didn’t follow because I just didn’t want to practice in a law firm.

Use your law school legal knowledge in your career without being a lawyer

Vault: What made you decide to take your current job?

Jessica S.: I knew I wanted to do something other than work in a firm, but I didn’t know what that something else was. I hadn’t gone through on-campus recruiting; I didn’t work on a journal; I didn’t do moot court; I didn’t do any of the things that are traditionally helpful in terms of getting a law firm job. So I graduated without a job and without an idea of what to do. It was a little bit of a scramble, to be honest, at first, because even though I’d gone to a good school and had decent grades, my unconventional situation was (understandably) off-putting to most employers. But then I found a job with a small litigation practice through a listing at my law school. I worked there for a few years, and I hated it. I disliked being paid to take a legal position that I didn’t necessarily agree with; I hated the hours and stress; and I wasn’t comfortable with the constant confrontations inherent in an adversarial process. I realized there was a reason I didn’t want to be a lawyer, and I quit.

I took some time off, traveled and, when I came back, landed a job in publishing. It was a little bit roundabout, really, since I first took a temp job at the company, but then it turned out they were expanding into a new area for which they needed an editor with a legal background, and they offered me that position. There was something satisfying in finding that I could still use my law degree without having to practice.

Roger M.: I practiced in the firm setting for about two years. I hated it. It was an ill fit for me: I hated billable hours; the clients’ problems bored me (I mean, that’s a problem, right?). And I didn’t like the climate of fear. The junior associates were afraid of the senior associates who were afraid of the partners. The partners were afraid of the powerful partners, and it was just crazy. I have a lot of respect for people who do well in such a setting–maybe it was just my particular circumstances–but I realized I had to get the hell out of there. Somebody sent me a Media Bistro ad for a law editor type of position at a legal publishing company, and by this time I was kicking myself for having left publishing in the first place, so it seemed like a way to justify having a JD and doing something I would find a little more agreeable.

Vault: How do you use what you learned in law school in your current position?

Roger M.: A lot of what I do in the course of my day-to-day job consists of translating legalease into something like laymen’s terms. I mean, we’re still an industry publication and the audience is pretty sophisticated, but they might not be specialty practitioners. So, I have to sift through the language to get what is useful or interesting to an informed but not necessarily specialist audience.

Jessica S.: I think you can certainly be a legal journalist without a law degree, but it’s really helpful to have one. It helps you understand and convey to readers what’s going on in the profession, with respect to both legal issues and the day-to-day practice of law. It also lends you a certain amount of credibility, especially if you’re dealing with law firms, the courts or corporate counsel. There are also practical skills law school develops that are valuable in fields like publishing–for example, learning how to make cogent, well-supported arguments, and to distill often very dense and diffuse information into something persuasive and easy to understand.

–Written by Madison Priest, Admit One</em