Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Posts Tagged ‘Career Management

Career Moves to Make Before Year-End

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We have two months to go before 2011. You might be tempted to ease into the holidays and push into the New Year your work on landing a new job, starting a business, making a career change, or getting a promotion. But there are certain things you should do now to take advantage of the remaining days of 2010.

Prepare for end of year discussions. If your company pays bonuses or determines promotions at year end, this might be the time that decisions are made. Make sure people are aware of your contributions. If you have any emails from colleagues thanking you for a job well done, forward these to your manager. (If you have none of these, you should, so start collecting them for 2011!) If there is no formal review process, schedule a meeting proactively, so you can discuss in detail your contributions and your expectations going forward.

Use the holiday festivities to step up your networking. Many professional associations have holiday mixers, so if you haven’t kept up with your industry colleagues, now is a good time to play catch-up. If you have extra bandwidth, volunteer to assist at the mixer. You will make deeper connections with the group, and it’s a great way to ensure you meet with most of the attendees. Sending holiday cards is an easy but thoughtful way to build in a hello each year.

Plan and organize for next year. Clear out your office files. Mark your 2011 calendar for key meetings and appointments. Look at your company’s training calendar, and sign up now so you prioritize your professional development before your schedule gets too crazy. Think of your big career goals for 2011, and schedule your calendar now for reminders throughout the year. For example, if expanding your network is a goal, then schedule a weekly reminder to reach out to several contacts.

Finally, if there is a career goal you know you want now (e.g., land a new job, start a business, make a career change, or get a promotion), then start now. It’s a myth that hiring stops near the holidays. It’s also dangerous to wait for that perfect time to start. The above checklist of items are still good ideas, but should not displace efforts you make towards bigger career goals.
— Caroline Ceniza-Levine

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Career Path Q&A: Legal Recruiting

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It’s no secret that the law sector has taken its share of blows amid the economic uncertainty of recent years. Yet, the industry remains on its toes due in part to its multifaceted range of services, and the expansion of recruitment and guidance resources. One professional familiar with this is Jennifer Bird, who has seen both sides of the industry as an attorney and a legal search consultant. Bird, a graduate of Yale Law School, practiced law at White & Case‘s New York headquarters before transitioning to a career in recruitment. As vice president of Empire Search Partners, she now advises attorneys at all levels and conducts workshops for candidates exploring their career options. In an interview with Vault, Ms. Bird discussed the route that brought her to her present position, the challenges facing law professionals in the current economy, and much more.

VAULT: Prior to entering the legal search field, you were a tax and trust and estates attorney at White & Case. What prompted your shift from practicing law to recruiting?

JENNIFER BIRD: I really enjoyed the practice and the people I worked with at White & Case, but over time I found myself drawn to the relationship-building aspect of the business. When I left the firm, I took some time off to explore other options and was attracted to recruiting because it allowed me to utilize my knowledge of the law and law firms while focusing on relationship-building and career advising which I love. At the same time, I get to continue to work with lawyers, which is a lot of fun for me and also very rewarding.

V: In addition to direct consultation, you lead workshops for legal professionals. As the industry undergoes a period of instability, what are some of the frequent concerns you address for attendees?

JB: The workshops I have led with good friend and career coach, Suzanne Grossman, have primarily been for attorneys who are thinking about the next steps in their careers, whether it be moving to another firm, the government, the nonprofit sector, going in-house or leaving the law altogether to pursue another path. A common concern for attendees is “how do I figure out what I want to do next?” In the workshops we encourage attorneys to explore internally and externally, examining who they are and what they want out of life and identifying possible career paths by networking and talking to professionals in different industries. We also spend time advising attorneys on how to position themselves to get the careers they want once they figure out where they want to go. The current economic climate has made transitioning more difficult, but at the same time has provided a great opportunity for attorneys to take the time to explore and figure out what they really want.

V: Your background includes experience in legislation, social aid and even the Australian judicial system. Did you approach each of these ventures with the expectation of launching a career, or with intent to broaden your skill set for an eventual career elsewhere?

JB: I’m not sure if I was entirely aware of the benefit that the array of experiences would eventually have on my career. I adopted a sort of trial and error method in terms of trying on different kinds of jobs, with law as a common thread among them along with a desire to help others and have an impact. With each position, I was able to explore a different aspect of the law and to both learn more about the field and whether it might be a good fit for me long-term. What I’ve found through all of these experiences is that finding a good career fit is definitely a long-term process. I often advise candidates that although a position may not be perfect, every experience, every interview, provides an opportunity to learn more about what you like and don’t like, eventually helping you get to where you want to go.
Read the full interview here.

Down in the Valley: How Tech Leader Policies Limited Recruiting

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Google. Apple. Intel. Adobe. Intuit. Pixar. Each of these names is known to elicit superlatives for innovation and leadership. Each is also counted among the most desirable employers of Silicon Valley. And yet, as a U.S. Justice Department investigation has revealed, working for one of them could mean your career prospects could be severely limited for the rest.

On Friday, the aforementioned gang of six collectively consented to a Justice Department order to cease a series of clandestine no-poaching pacts. The department alleges that, through much of the past decade, the implicated parties kept do-not-call lists to mark each other’s staff as off-limits for job offer solicitation. In turn, those recruitment restrictions hampered opportunities for rising talent at top companies.

As the government’s resulting settlement describes, “The agreements eliminated a significant form of competition to attract highly skilled employees, and overall diminished competition to the detriment of affected employees.”

For tech professionals, the existence of such policies can only be disheartening. It’s difficult enough to soldier on in the IT field’s current state, as the rise of mergers and acquisitions threatens to consolidate the industry—and squeeze out workers in the ensuing layoffs. To know that employers actively avoid certain candidates can quash not just advancement or competitive salaries, but the perceived value of one’s own accrued skills and experience.

Moreover, Silicon Valley is a climate that thrives on migration. For decades, the industry has been characterized by the ability of its workforce to roam amongst market leaders and scrappy startups alike. It is this viral spreading of knowledge and talent that bolsters progress. The actions of Google et al risked stifling that dynamic, at a time when new ideas were so vital to the market amid a dire recession.

But even after striking a blow against the major players, this may only scratch the surface. In announcing its settlement with the six conspirators, the D.O.J. said it “continues to investigate other similar no solicitation agreements,” raising questions as to the scope of this practice. It may be minimal: while leaders such as Microsoft and IBM were implicated at the investigation’s inception, they were ultimately omitted from the settlement. But given the industry’s interwoven dependencies among firms, it’s not hard to suspect that many alliances have included deals to prevent poaching.

A statement by Google (thus far the only party to publicly respond) bodes particular ill: Assistant counsel Amy Lambert assures on its Public Policy Blog that Google “abandoned our ‘no cold calling’ policy in late 2009.” But by acknowledging “a number of other tech companies had similar ‘no cold call’ policies,” she seems to imply that the company followed an established trend, rather than marching to its own drummer. That’s not what you come to expect of an innovator.
— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

What’s Your Breaking Point?

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A rocky job market affects more than just the unemployed and recent graduates—even those still employed are feeling the sting. With little certainty of finding placement elsewhere, labor statistics show that few professionals are willing to leave their jobs, despite a rise in reported employee dissatisfaction and especially dispiriting working conditions recently seen in the news. To gauge this sense of career confinement, in a recent poll Vault asked its readers “What would be the last straw to make you quit your job?”

One workplace issue which held the collective attention this past summer was the threat of bedbug infestations in New York City—and it would be hard to blame anyone who runs screaming from an office crawling with them. However, just 2 percent of Vault readers said these vermin would prompt them to resign. But quitting may not be necessary: Bedbug infestations have thus far resulted in complete shutdowns of a Victoria’s Secret, Manhattan offices for Google and Cadwalader, and most recently the flagship Niketown store. And you can’t quit if there’s no job to go to.

Fewer still indicated that they would pack it in for an impending company merger. Yet, if we’ve learned anything from the year’s rash of buyouts, industry consolidation doesn’t leave much room for staff: The merger of Pfizer and Wyeth, for instance, resulted in thousands losing their jobs and facilities shutting down around the globe. Now, with the completion of United and Continental Airlines’ amalgamation, another drastic round of layoffs won’t be far off.

The prospect of benefit reductions also failed to influence resignation decisions, with just 5 percent stating that would be their breaking point. Sadly, this has been reflected in practice: One of last year’s more shocking developments was the news that insurance company WellPoint reduced its own employee health benefits, even while encouraging staff to protest health care reform. In spite of that, there was no surge of people lining up to leave Wellpoint in response.

The point at which respondents begin to rankle, it seems, is the prospect of outright mistreatment. While toxic offices have inspired some of our favorite films, from Office Space to The Devil Wears Prada, they remain a professional hazard. Abuse can take different forms at different levels: Some superiors will demoralize staff to the extremes seen in the tragic suicides at Foxconn, while sexual harassment may (allegedly) come from such diverse figures as the New York Jets or the CEO of Hewlett-Packard. That kind of treatment would apparently cause 31 percent of respondents to move on.

And then there’s the suffering endured at the hands of customers and clients. By now we’re all familiar with one such incident, when an allegedly unruly passenger prompted the abrupt resignation and emergency chute escape of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater. And he’s likely not alone in his frustration: some 9 percent of respondents to the poll said they’d have likely done the same.

Ultimately, however, stability rules the day: Nearly half of our respondents confirmed the notion that the only way they’d quit is with a new job waiting for them. But even if that seems the safe bet, it’s not always the wisest—by continuing at a job that doesn’t meet your standards, not only do you risk stagnating but your industry does as well. As posited by author AnnaLee Saxenian in a Wired article, “Job-hopping, rather than climbing the career ladder within a corporation, facilitates flows of information and know-how between individuals, firms, and industries.” When the workforce is able to distribute its talents effectively to where they are required, that’s when growth becomes possible.

While one hopes that a healthy dose of self-esteem should sufficiently compel disenchanted employees to say enough is enough, the viral popularity of “folk heroes” like Steven Slater and TheChive.com’s fictional “Jenny” still indicates a sense of powerlessness in the workforce. Their exploits, real or not, reflect what many wish they could do themselves—throw caution to the wind, and “deploy the slide” as a defiant act of personal satisfaction. But without dramatic improvements in the rate of job creation, most will remain in a holding pattern.

— Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Did Goldman Break Its Diversity Policy?

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For the 11th straight year, industry insiders named Goldman Sachs the most prestigious bank in North America in Vault’s latest ranking. In hindsight then, all the public mudslinging of recent years has done little to upset the bank whether it’s in attracting the biggest deals or the best talent. And according to our survey, bankers continue to want Goldman on their resume.

Ironically, a day after the rankings debuted, the bank’s prestige is under attack by three former female employees who charge, according to The Wall Street Journal, that “The investment bank practices a system in which women are paid less, promoted less and ‘systematically circumvented and excluded.'”

Jobs, Careers and Reviews at Goldman SachsWhat’s astounding about the allegation is the repeated emphasis on intent, i.e., that the bank has a system that almost formulaically excludes women from getting promoted and compensated on par with their male counterparts. While the bank has called the suit without merit, stating that, “People are critical to our business, and we make extraordinary efforts to recruit, develop and retain outstanding women professionals,” it seems it is yet again in the red with the public.

Comments from our Banking 50 survey—culled from responses submitted by over 1,300 banking professionals earlier this year—provide further perspective:

“Supportive and respectful management”

“They could do a better job of promotion as well as placement into areas that are a good fit and utilize skill sets…”

“Having come up through the ranks, from a junior trader to now an experienced one in fixed income products, I must say that I’ve been very pleased with the level of training, support and guidance that I’ve received over the years from the firm…”

“I’m a firm believer in the culture at Goldman Sachs. The firm is team-focused, emphasizing integrity and personal development within the industry.”

“I think we do a good job at getting women and diversity candidates in the door, but for real success we need to work on better retention.”

And, finally a snippet of their Diversity Mission Statement from Vault’s Annual Diversity Survey:

“The firm’s commitment to diversity is evident at the most senior levels and is driven down through the firm by way of our seventh business principle: “We offer our people the opportunity to move ahead more rapidly than is possible at most other places. Advancement depends on merit and we have yet to find the limits to the responsibility our best people are able to assume. For us to be successful, our men and women must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate. That means we must attract, retain and motivate people from many backgrounds and perspectives. Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be.”

So where does this leave the banking king: A chauvinistic boys club, truly diverse with a few unintentional victims, or the victim of a ploy to take advantage of its current poor reputation? Weigh in by leaving a comment, emailing In Good Company or connecting on Twitter @VaultCSR.

More reading: The complete WSJ report.

What other banks made the Top 10 most prestigious banks in North America this year?

What’s Keeping You From Getting Hired?

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If there was one thing that stood out from Vault’s recent Job Hunting in CSR series, it was the disconnect between candidates and employers. A recent survey by Towers Watson further indicates that this disconnect might be much more widespread because of a difference in priorities for employers and employees.

Job Skills

A survey released by TalentDrive, the team behind online resume aggregation search engine TalentFilter, now adds yet another layer to the troubling scenario. The report suggests a widening gap between current employers’ expectations and job seekers’ actual skill sets.

In a month-long survey, 79,000 job seekers (86 percent actively seeking employment) were asked to assess their personal skill set and attitude toward the current job market. Additionally, 20,000 hiring managers from Fortune 1000 companies were asked if they had noticed a change in the quality of candidates since the recession’s start.

The results of the survey are unnerving:

Almost three-quarters of the job seekers surveyed were pessimistic about their career search: that’s the number of respondents who indicated that they possessed the required skill set for positions, but were not getting hired. Little wonder, then, that 37 percent of respondents expressed no hope that things would improve.

However, 42 percent of the employers surveyed indicated that the recession had not only increased the quantity of candidates, but that they were finding more qualified candidates than in years past.

So where is the disconnect? When candidates believe they possess the required skill sets, why are they not getting hired? Take into account that 67 percent of those surveyed reported having between one and five interviews per month since the beginning of their job search, and that 75 percent of those had not received a single job offer.

Specialization or general business skills?

Since your company started hiring, how many interviewed candidates on average would you consider

Could the disconnect come down to a question of specialized vs. general business skills? According to the report, 71% percent of HR representatives reported that more than half of their open positions were specialized.

Comparatively, 61% of the job seekers’ group considered themselves to be “professionals with broad skill sets.”

Interestingly, my interviews with MBA graduates Ashley Jablow and Geet Singh reveal a flipside to the specialization picture. Having focused on CSR and sustainability at business school, both Jablow and Singh confessed that their job hunts weren’t exactly working out to be walks in the park. However, in their case, partial blame goes to a lack of demand for CSR work. For the respondents of the TalentDrive survey, specialized skills leaned toward more traditional fields like IT and technology.

Job Search Destinations

What source has recently delivered/uncovered the most quality candidates?

If there is one area where the TalentDrive survey shows job seekers and employers in agreement, it is where they are finding each other. The winner: Social Media.

An overwhelming 74% of job seekers said the most beneficial job search method was posting a resume on job boards followed by 27% picking social media, for the first time surpassing traditional methods like classified ads, professional recruiters and networking events.

Agreement was mutual with 27% of employers saying the highest response for most effective search method was social networks, followed by resume sourcing technologies.

Other highlights:

For the types of positions your company fills, what skills/activities make an applicant stand out?

Differs for each position: 55%
Longevity with past employers: 21%
Certification: 16%
Advanced degrees/MBA: 5%
Extracurricular work/Volunteer work: 3%

What category would the majority of your open positions fall under?

Mid level/management positions: 67%
Entry level: 16%
Director/Executive positions: 14%

Since beginning your active job search, how many interviews have resulted in an offer?

No offers: 75%
Less than half: 21%
More than half: 3%
All interviews resulted in an offer: 1%

Given the current job market, how willing are you to transfer fields or change your skill set to adapt to a new work environment or industry?

Not willing or interested: 11%
Somewhat willing, depending on the opportunity: 44%
Very willing: 45%

Does your experience relate to these results? Do you have a story to add to these numbers? Leave a comment, email us In Good Company or connect on Twitter @VaultCSR!

Be a Twitter Genius: Lessons from John McCain

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Senator John McCain

AP Photo/Matt York

Although he came up short on votes in 2008, Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain isn’t lacking in “Digital IQ” points. As reported by Politico, a joint study of politicians’ “online competence” by George Washington University and NYU ranked McCain as a “Twitter Genius,” scoring significantly higher than fellow senators at utilizing the social tool. This may surprise some, given criticism of the septuagenarian from some quarters as being “out of touch;” yet, as he faces a tough reelection bid, McCain is relying on social networking to preserve his career. In doing so, this “genius” offers a model for professional advancement in 140 characters or less.

Establish yourself quickly. Following his 2008 defeat to Barack Obama (and candidate Obama’s superior command of social networking), McCain wasted little time adopting the format himself. Since 2009, he has tweeted frequently, drawing more than 1.7 million followers. Of course, those weren’t as hard to muster for someone who was already a prominent public figure, but the beauty of Twitter is that anyone can generate a sizeable following if they have something interesting to say. To get noticed, don’t be shy—alert friends and coworkers to your account’s existence, follow them, and branch out to their followers. As you build a network, maintain a steady stream of relevant content that invites discussion, spreads ideas, and shares your skills and accomplishments. Just describing your lunch probably won’t cut it.

Tweet outside the box. Anyone can tweet a few thoughts; it takes a genius to explore the potential of the format. John McCain exemplified this when he and George Stephanopoulos conducted an interview entirely via Twitter—the imposed character limit stripped down the political dialogue, allowing direct questions to be met with unadorned answers transmitted live to the world. With today’s workforce using social applications for job hunting and self-promotion, standing out from the crowd comes down to uniquely interacting with the community. For instance, try reaching out to fellow professionals about their careers and accomplishments, or asking for details of their company’s recruitment process—the discourse can be invaluable, both for the knowledge shared and the initiative displayed.

Attract powerful followers. The axiom “it’s who you know” is as true in politics as it is in business. But for an elected official, the goal is staying relevant. So when John McCain began exchanging tweets with Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” it was an unexpected twist that won him regard for connecting with a younger generation. For the rest of us, however, being followed by Kanye West might not grant a desired status boost. Instead, aim for the attention of leaders—buddying up with top brass or being retweeted by the likes of Richard Branson or Michael Dell will earn you notice as someone with eye-catching ideas.

It remains uncertain whether the displayed mastery of next-generation campaigning by Senator McCain (and, to be fair, his staff) will pay off in this election cycle. But regardless of one’s own political beliefs, the elder statesman’s resourceful embrace of technology is admirable and inspiring. As workers of all stripes wrestle with new challenges presented by an uncertain economy, it’s imperative to remain open to new venues for networking and seeking opportunity. Senator McCain, once thought to be down for the count, is an example of someone even late in their career finding a way to stay relevant in the information age.

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