Career change without going backward
Episode 71 - Moving lanes: How to make career changes without going backward, featuring Donna Burr
It's entirely possible to change lanes in your career, and you can and should consider changing sectors, industries and even transferring your skills to a completely different profession.
But how can you do that smartly? And when is the Right Time to do it? How do you position yourself for a significant change?
It's essential to be on the lookout when opportunities come knocking at your door. They may pass you by, and you won't even notice. Or
You need to want it and strategically prepare yourself for the move.
We address both of these strategies in this episode (number 71) of The Job Hunting Podcast. I interview Donna Burr, a Partner at Watermark Search International. In addition to being an experienced recruiter in the interim executive management practice helping professionals transition careers day in, day out, Donna herself has successfully changed lanes in her career a few times. Donna has cleverly used opportunities to springboard herself into different roles, sectors, and industries.
Listening to this episode, and reading the blog below, is an opportunity to learn from her experience. How did she transition from one profession to another? What tips can you get from her to help you do the same?
How did "Donna, the accountant" become "Donna, the human resources expert"?
She realized what she liked and what she didn't like to do. Donna realized that she was not passionate about accounting and auditing, and it was not something she wanted to pursue for the rest of her career. She realized she was more curious about other parts of the business.
She had a mentor. Donna had a mentor who identified her transferrable skills and pointed out that a world beyond accounting and auditing was within her reach if she was willing to make a move.
She found a stepping stone into her new area. Her step into human resources was through training and development: she was training accountants in the organization, which allowed her to transition into human resources smoothly. After that initial entry, she transitioned into other areas of human resources management.
How to identify your transferable skills?
In Donna's case, she had a mentor point out what her traits or superpowers were, which helped her transfer her skills and develop new expertise. But you don't need a mentor to do that. Here are her tips for other ways to find out what your superpowers are:
Ask the following question to friends and colleagues you trust, worked with, and who have known you for several years: What kind of problem or job would they immediately think of you to help them with?
Self-reflection: During your career, what type of problems are continually thrown your way to solve?
Once you get the answers to these two questions, look for patterns. Your superpowers will be in the answers. Then, you need to develop a narrative and understanding of what they mean in terms of skills you can transfer to a different workplace.
Be ready to accept the answers you will get. Those superpowers might not be what you expected or wanted to hear. Most likely, it will not be "leadership" or anything grandiose! It would be best if you took the feedback on with interest and curiosity.
Listen and spend time reflecting on it; it's what people have seen over a long time.
What to do when you don't have industry experience?
What happens when you have been working in an industry all your life, and now you find not many jobs advertised in that industry? You need to start looking for jobs in sectors and companies unfamiliar to you, but the job title and the responsibilities are within your skills and experience. How do you position yourself to compete with other candidates who have industry or sector experience?
Don't just send job applications anywhere are everywhere! Find out which industry or sector you want to work for, and focus on one or two only.
Once you have niched down, think about what problems that sector is facing. Do your research, read the news, ask your network, be informed.
Connect with professionals who work in the sector or industry you are targeting. Are there people in that sector that you can meet? Are there professional bodies that you should be connected to within that sector?
Now that you know the sector well, what skills can you use to help organizations solve their critical problems? Donna says, "You've got to take the time to understand and marry how your superpowers can come and support them."
Will you be comfortable helping this sector solve its problems? Is working for this sector aligned with your values? Your head may be in it, but if the heart's not in it, that will come through in your job application or interview.
Donna reminded us of something we have heard before in previous interviews of The Job Hunting Podcast "Never answer a prospective employer and tell them, 'I can do anything.' This is not helpful. The Tighter you can be about your strengths or superpowers, the more likely it is that people will be able to help you, and an employer will be able to see where you could potentially fit."
Parenthood and career transitions: finding the work-life balance through career changes
I asked Donna if some of her decisions to change lanes in her career were driven by a need to find a work-life balance, managing motherhood, and career progression. Her answer was yes: "Time is finite. When you're spending time on something, you're trading it off somewhere else. You need to be consciously aware that you're trading that off. Without a doubt, everybody needs to do their inventory with their partner around their energy and capacity for work."
Professional women often feel torn between making decisions about motherhood and career advancement. Many self-doubts and feelings or expectations that mothers need to step back when their kids are young. There's also a cultural belief and workplace assumption that they will not be able to manage motherhood and career progression.
"It's two separate conversations: a) whether you're capable for the senior role, and b) how much time, the working arrangement, and the flexibility you need to deliver to that role is a very different question. Work out the boundaries that work for you, be clear on them, and do not be apologetic for them," says Donna.
Dealing with ageism when job-hunting?
There are two ways to address ageism when job-hunting:
Stay current - Donna often hears a candidate that says, "I've been a CFO for 40 years. I've got 40 years of experience.' Although that shows extensive experience, it is important to showcase what you have been working on for the past three to five years. What are problems have you solved? How are you getting across digitization in your area of expertise? What are the fundamental changes you're seeing? In the example, Donna used above, "What are the global issues that are impacting CFOs these days?" Donna agrees that age gives you the war wounds: the experience and perspective to come into an organization and stay calm under pressure. But staying current and up to date will enable you to hit the ground running and blend it with the team. So how are you skilling, re-skilling, or cross-skilling? Are you involved in networking groups or professional organizations? How are you improving your digital literacy?
Network - According to Donna, your network's strength will be a lead indicator of your success in finding your next role. If you're in the market for a job, you need to let your network know. Therefore, it's important to keep your network current and connected, regularly engaging, not expecting it to be transactional, or only connecting with people when you need something from them. It's a two-way street. Make sure you're helping others as much as asking for their support.
What are the 2021 job market trends?
Donna believes the market has been slowly bouncing back since November of 2020. The disruption caused by the pandemic in 2020 showed organizations that they can rely on their technology, people, and systems to continue operating under extreme conditions. It wasn't perfect, but the changes we experienced at concise notice, such as a large proportion of the workforce working off-site, showed amazing strength and trust in the systems in place. Donna believes that in 2021, as we bring workers back to the office, we may be able to launch a different proposition in the way we work, operate, and service customers. There is cautious optimism in Melbourne at least, and this is good news for job-hunters.
The optimized job search schedule is gold dust
Donna and I discussed the importance of a tremendous job-hunting routine to speed up results. If you're an executive or a job hunter in transition, be disciplined about your week. You need a reason to get up in the morning, a rhythm to the week. It would be best to read the news, map out those sectors you're interested in and who you need to connect with. You should be looking at your digital profile, your resume and seeking the help that you need. If possible, you should be getting out and speaking to people, be it virtually or in person. Be disciplined about it. There's no short, quick, fast way to do this.
To help you understand what tasks you should be doing each week to optimize your job search and choose the best routine for you, download the Optimized Job Search Schedule for free.
For some, the job market is still very competitive. It can be frustrating and demoralizing when you're getting knock-backs or just feeling like you're not making progress. Still, be patient, keep the discipline, believe in yourself, surround yourself with people who will help and support you. Donna and I firmly believe that if you focus on all those things, you'll start seeing conversions, leads, and opportunities coming your way! You have to put in the hard work. No one's more interested in you finding a job than you. It's not the recruiter's job; it's not your friend's job; it's not your network's job to find you a role.
About our guest, Donna Burr
Donna's experience and passion for seeing businesses thrive have led her role at Watermark Search International, placing senior executives into interim assignments within companies which can benefit from their vast experience, professional guardianship, and excellent specialist skills.
Her background combines 25 years in chartered accounting, assurance & advisory, and human resources partnering with businesses. Early in her journey, she acquired local and global experience across financial services, manufacturing, utilities, and the not-for-profit sectors. She has curiosity, authenticity, and a passion for making things better, which has seen her involved in major transformational and performance work for many corporates. She advocates for purpose-led business management, well-being, and economic empowerment for women.
Donna has been a partner in Watermark's Interim Management Practice since 2018, deploying senior-level interim executives in both private and public sectors. She focuses on CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CIOs, change & turnaround professionals, senior Finance, HR, Operations, Legal & IT executives. She has completed interim management search assignments across various industries, including Financial Services, Government agencies, Peak Member and Regulatory bodies, Not-for-Profit, Healthcare, Energy, and Utilities.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Timestamps to guide your listening
08.24 - Donna's career journey
12.05 - Donna's career transitions
16.31 - How to identify your strengths and superpowers?
19.07 - Accepting your strengths.
21.29 - What is 'executive search'? Is it the same as recruitment?
25.22 - How Donna helps executives change sectors
30.25 - How to niche down into another sector
32.45 - Parenthood and career transitions
37.51 - Ageism and job-hunting: How to address it
43.46 - 2021 trends in the job market
50.26 - Optimized job search template is gold dust
Transcript of this episode
Renata: Donna Burr started her career as an accountant, working in assurance and advisory in a large consulting firm. And she used training and development and the opportunities that she had as an accountant to train other accountants as a stepping stone to change her career and move into human resource management. She then worked in human resources for many years and acquired a wide range of experiences nationally in Australia and globally. Working with financial services, manufacturing, utilities, the not-for-profit sector, and then eventually decided to make yet another career change. And today, Donna is a partner with Watermark interim management. She is a senior-level interim executive partner. And then Donna decided to make yet another change. She's a partner in an executive search firm, and she specialized in finding interim executives, executives that are keen to work for organizations for a short period of time. So it's a growing area, both in Australia and worldwide. There are parts of the world, especially in the UK, where interim executives are well-established, and that's her expertise.
Renata: But today, what we're going to talk about is Donna's ability and experience in not only personally having had those career changes but helping her job candidates go through career changes as well. We're going to talk about changing from sector to sector. We're going to talk about changing professions as she has done, and also changing lanes, speeding up your career at times, and slowing down at other times and why one would choose to do that. We talk about being women in the workforce with family and kids and how that has made us make different choices for ourselves that we're holistic and more in harmony with what was going on at home. And she will also talk about her experience right now in 2021 working with her clients, businesses in Australia, most importantly in Melbourne Victoria and what she sees in the market and what is her intelligence telling us that she can share with us about traits and talents that are being sought after.
Renata: So that's towards the end of our conversation. So I hope you enjoy this chat, as always. I think that this is important information coming from the horse's mouth about how to job hunt, how to plan your career well, and how to relate to potential recruiters, executive search personnel, like Donna, and mentors. We will discuss mentors as well and how they can help you. And of course, you have me where you have this podcast here to support you. And if you decide to take it a step further and speed up your results with a coach, you can get in touch with me. Go to my website, https://www.renatabernarde.com , finally, check out my services there. Or, if you want to do one-on-one coaching, get in touch, and let's have a discussion. But for now, enjoy this chat.
Donna: There we go. How are you?
Renata: I'm good. How are you?
Renata: You have a very nice painting behind you. Was that there before? I don’t remember it.
Donna: This was a bit of a COVID project to make the study a place where we wanted to come to. She's an artist down at Sandringham down your way. Kirsten Jackson.
Renata: You know I have seen her work around here now that you mentioned it. Like this is my kind of thing, very colorful.
Donna: It is very colorful. And it's a particular style. My husband would say it looks like a three-year-old has painted it. I would say he doesn't appreciate art.
Renata: Oh, let’s hope she doesn't listen to this podcast. No, I love it. And because we go to art galleries around here, I must have seen it.
Donna: Yeah. And she's very active on social media and all that sort of stuff. I think she's got quite a successful business.
Renata: It's a pity we're not doing a video today because we're both wearing the same earrings.
Donna: Oh yeah. Very similar style. It's funny. Now I'm a little bit casual today cause it's quite warm.
Renata: Too hot. And I was out and about, I had an osteo appointment this morning and clients calling, and I knew I was going to run late apologies for that.
Donna: No, it’s ok.
Renata: Friday afternoon, contracts to sign, and it's better to just, yeah.
Donna: You have to get them signed. We're in the same boat. It's been a really good start to February end year, with lots of contracts and back and forth and all the important stuff that's got to get signed off.
Renata: Yes. It's been busy. It's been good.
Donna: You've been well. And you always seem busy.
Renata: Well, the clients that signed up at the end of last year, which was a really big push, for some reason, it kind of coincided with lots of great new clients at the end of last year. They're all either getting jobs now or getting really good interviews now. So yeah, it's all happening.
Donna: That's good. That's good. And I'll become your advocates as well, and the cycle continues, doesn't it?
Renata: Yes. Yes. So I have a client who's sending me her sister, which is really cute.
Donna: Keeping it in the family.
Renata: It’s lovely. You've been well. You look well.
Donna: Yeah, no, we're all well. And despite the snap little lockdown we've had, that was, you know, that's fine. We'll just keep going on. Things are good.
Renata: That is good. But also, that keeps us on our toes. Doesn't it?
Donna: Yeah, this isn’t gone.
Renata: And I'm thinking of your clients, the employers, and the fact that they're trying to figure out, ‘are we ready to move on and take our plans forward?’ And then there's, snap lockdown like we had this week, and it just raises questions again, doesn't it?
Donna: I think I would have to say just the kind of overarching theme from our clients though is, by having a full-scale pandemic, the lockdown of Australia like we did last year, they know they can trust their systems, trust their people get on with things that might be perfect, but they prove to themselves last year that the system didn't break. Now, obviously, that's sector-dependent. There obviously were sectors hit, but for many of our clients, I think they've started the year with cautious optimism, but you know, they'll get on with some of these things that they put on hold last year.
Renata: Okay. Yes, I agree. One of the things that have been a challenge for the candidates who were made redundant either at the start of COVID or even before COVID is the sector transition. So that's why I thought it would be great to bring you on board because you've done that before, and you help people do it too. But why don't we start by telling the listeners about your career and your transitions? That will be a great way to start.
Donna: Oh, thank you. And thanks. It was such a great opportunity to do this, and I actually spent some time reflecting and thinking about the theme that sort of threaded throughout all of those moves. I guess the short summary of my background, I kind of see it in three parts, my professional background, firstly, in the professional services auditing kind of risk consulting space. Then transitioning to human resources if you like as a discipline, but more in the corporate sector. So out of professional services, and I'll talk about that transition. And then into executive interim recruitment, which is really a lot of problem-solving, and it's probably the problem-solving piece that, for me, it was at the heart of all of this. I love kind of understanding why, curious about what works, why things work.
Donna: As one too is probably a bit of a service mentality. So at service, really, they probably started when I was working part-time at a supermarket in high school. You kind of learned about those customer service skills there. And I think that partnering and service mentality has stood me in great stead through all of the transitions that I've made to really understand, accept. And then execution focus. I like getting stuff done and multitasking. What's that expression, ‘give a busy person the task, and they will get it done.’ That is certainly my focus. I love solving the problem and getting things done. And I think those three skills, themes, traits, if you like, were transferable across sector and across role. If I go back to professional services and auditing, it's such a privilege to be in a business, learn about risk process and how things worked, and you were constantly facing kind of problems there, and that sort of really piqued my interest.
Donna: The human resources piece again is, solving problems in a different way. But the grounding in professional services and the discipline for a chartered accountant has stood me well in making that I think in just really coming at those people problems from a business lens. And then, into the interim executive, again, it is all about problem solving and execution focus. And I think, having been in the business, in the roles, in the organizations, understanding the problems that senior executives are faced with serves me well on this side of the fence to actually help them. I understand it. I get it. I can talk their language, and we can find the right people to help them. So yeah, I feel very lucky with all of that. But preparing for today, I think it's those three things that were really the problem solving, the relationship client service focus, and then just execution getting on, getting it done.
Renata: So those are the strengths that took you from one sector to another, one industry to another. How did you actually do it? And what was behind the decision to take you from being an accountant to being an HR? That's a big jump, isn't it?
Donna: Yeah. Look, at face value, it sounds like it. At the time, not. I remember distinctly my last audit engagement was with Ansett, and it was at the time that the business closed. It really struck me that when businesses mismanage or don't address risks well, it actually affects the community, it affects people, and it affects families. And the impact of Ansett stopping as a business has obviously set many corporate closures and failures since, has a significant impact on the community. And so I think it was at that point that I knew that going forward from there, I wasn't passionate about auditing per se. I was curious about risks and businesses, but I knew that I needed to be working at a level to understand when executive teams were around the table looking at risks, how they were addressing them, how are they solving these problems?
Donna: What was the governance in place? So the skill set I learned there was a natural transition. My step into human resources was really through training and development, a passion for people. And that came about by having a mentor, who supported me, a partner at the professional services firm I was working with. Taking a chance on me calling out those three traits, saying, ‘Donna, these are the things I see in you. And so I think you can pick up the training and development we need to do here in Australia. I'll partner you with the executive who leads training for audit for Australia, she'll teach you the technical stuff, but it's your skillset around problem-solving, getting things done. And the relationships that I need to set up a national training curriculum.’ He became the Asia Pacific leader, and I rolled that in AsiaPac. So I think, it's just, that was the belief and backing.
Renata: So your role within the HR realm has always been within that training and development? Or was the training and development a stepping stone for you to move into more of a generalist HR position?
Donna: Purely a stepping stone. I think that gave me a taste of L and D is a very specific niche part of human resources. I was more interested in the business challenges. So, sitting around the table with the management teams, hearing the problems they were trying to solve, and casting the people lens on that. I think in changing roles in sectors that it does come back to understanding what those strengths are and really understanding problems in the context of who's around the table and the business. I think too often, and I see this in my role now; people come to those sort of conversations with, ‘well, I'm the HR person, and this is how we solve it.’ Without really kind of going, ‘we're a business, what are the risks we're managing?’
Donna: What are the people impacts? What are the customer impacts? And yes, you might have the kind of expertise in a particular area to then help solve that. But for me, the L and D was really just a step in. I think it was my curiosity around businesses worked, how they're managing risk and governance, that a number of senior HR people said to me, ‘Hey, Don, I actually think you could make the bridge from what you were doing to this because you get it. You speak the language of the business, you understand risks, the people stuff, and the people cycle, you know, you can learn that, but you naturally are actually focused around how businesses tick and work.’ And it was that probably was played back to me and felt like a natural move. So many people said, ‘gosh, how do you make the move?’ But actually, that was kind of a natural move of, again, that the problem solving the curiosity and really understanding kind of what made businesses tick.
Renata: This idea of playing it back to you and having that mentor then identified your superpowers. You say you like to use that word. Did it surprise you? Or was it something that you already knew about yourself? And it was just great to have that reinforced because not many people have the support of mentors. And one of the things that I want to empower professionals to do is to do that self-reflection where they can identify their super superpowers, their strengths and not rely on other people. Ideally, of course, we know that having mentors and great leaders in an organization correlates with career advancement, career promotions, and all of that. But it's not always there.
Donna: Yeah, I agree. I think at that particular time, I hadn't consciously thought about it that way until he articulated it so concisely. I thought, ‘yeah, that's exactly what I've intuitively been doing, but I just hadn't consciously put the words around that.’ And that thing gave me a frame as I was, you know, people would ask you what your strengths are, and so forth. It's a constant theme that's come through my career. What I would say to people who are trying to work out what their strengths are is - and we sort of say this to the executives that I work with - is pick two or three people who are, so you might not have the luxury of the mentor but pick two or three people who are your friends, people that you've worked with, that you've trust over a period of time who know you both as a person and actually have seen you in a professional context and ask them what they would see as your superpowers.
Donna: If they had a job, what is it that they'd pick up the phone and call you for? So that would be one. And the other thing is, if people are doing their own self-reflection if they think about their professional career, what is it, time and time again, that the businesses or the executives I've been working with, throw to them? What problems are continually thrown their way to solve? And I guarantee the combination of those two; there’ll be a theme there. Whether around the strengths of that individual, because it will have played out, we often find in potentially in large organizations, people often get moved around to different divisions to do the same thing. And so, I think that's a way that people can think about what their strengths are.
Renata: Yes. I think to add to that because I remember when I did that exercise for the first time, I was very young. And the words that people used to describe me or explain my strengths were - I didn't like them. And what you have to do is then unpack that for yourself. What does that actually mean? So I remember I was doing a United Nations program, and I had to ask ten people to use one word to describe me. Nine of them used organized, and my dad used stubborn.
Donna: Ah, as only those close to you can. [laugh]
Renata: And I’m like, ‘I want to be a leader. Those are two dumb words to use.’ And a few years later, I translated stubbornness to stamina and persistence, which is so important when you're running projects. When you're running businesses, you have to have that stubbornness. And organized is process-driven, continuous improvement. You know me, you have to be so organized to actually take up an organization from A to B and have almost like a General's mind. That's why I liked John Monash so much, you know?
Renata: You have to have that understanding of the battlefield. So, use that and if you're listening and people tell you funny things, go to my Facebook group, and I'll translate that to you.
Donna: It's so true, and sometimes it's hard to hear that information. Sometimes, what gets played back to you is the most obvious thing, and you kind of go, ‘of course, that's a strength. That's just what I do.’ And it's almost bringing what you unconsciously do into your kind of consciousness if you like. Sometimes it's not rocket science, and it's not leadership, and it's not all the grand things you'd like it to be, but I think you need to take that feedback on with interest and curiosity and listen. As you say, spend some time reflecting on it because it's telling, it's what people have seen over a long period of time. And if you are true to yourself and what your strengths are, those things will continue to sort of come out.
Renata: That's right. And then you made another transition from HR to executive search. Now explain the terminology ‘executive search’ for the listeners, because I like to use the word ‘head-hunter,’ but I think it's very nineties. I'm sure I have a feeling the executive search professionals don't like that word anymore. Do they?
Donna: Yeah, no, I mean, I think headhunting, I guess, is one approach you can take to executive search in terms of targeting and approaching particular people in roles for executive roles. But executive search businesses partner with organizations to, one, understand the strategy, business, state of play, what their needs are, and are engaged then to find executives to come into that organization. And the search process, if you like to find those people, is extensive for some search businesses. That’s a global search. They have research departments who are well-networked, and sometimes the roles and the asks are quite a niche, but executive searches are typically engaging a third party to go out and find you a diverse range of executive candidates.
Donna: And executives can look different in different organizations for us. It's typically a salary that's over the 200, 220K mark on a permanent basis. And find a diverse list, long list, shortlist, of candidates to present who would be open to a conversation with that organization and going forward. My particular passion is in the interim space. So actually, working with clients who call us typically in a crisis because they might be going to market for that permanent executive, but for whatever reason, there is a short-term need to fill the role while they do that. It could be that somebody left in a hurry, it could be a transformation project that's gone awry, and we need to turn those assignments around in three or four days. And hence, I guess to partly answer your question about the transition is the execution focus.
Donna: It's the catching the problem, the service to our client, and then quickly turning that around. It probably ticks off my three strengths, to be honest. So Jacinta, who I work with here in Melbourne, when we initially spoke about, we're talking early on and built a relationship there and talked about me joining her at Watermark, I sort of thought, ‘Oh, executive search, I don't have any experience in that. How could I be of any value?’ And she said, ‘are you kidding me?’ She said, ‘you're great at problem-solving. You’ve sat in the shoe of our clients that we're speaking with. So you get their problems, you get their language.’ And she said, ‘you're great at delivering. And we've got to turn these things around in three or four days.’
Donna: She said, ‘why do you think you couldn't do this?’ So I've joined, and here I am three years later, and I love it. And I think probably for the first time in all of my career, it really feels like the coming together of all the different experiences and those strengths really being able to come to play. And I think if I think about it from an energy effort, it just feels comfortable and easy, good use of my energy. I'm energized, it's probably the word, not energy-sapping.
Renata: Yeah. And Donna, now you see lots of professionals every day. Some of them are genuinely interested in the interim. Others are looking for whatever type of work they can find, and they see interim as a stepping stone, let's say. But regardless of that, because we have an interview on this podcast with Jacinta, where we talk about interim, I'm going to leave that on the side and let people know that the episode is there. They can search for it on the episode show notes. I’ll have a link below. But what I'm interested to know is how you and your peers support executives that have come to you, especially recently from sectors that have disappeared? Also, specific professions are not as much in high demand as they used to be because of the changes and the volatility and the uncertainty and the market. So we have the two things happening. We have sectors that feel the grunt, and we have professionals from specific expertise that are not in high demand. How do you help them?
Donna: Yeah, it's a really great question. And COVID certainly has really created divides for different sectors. So we often get asked, ‘how do I change sectors if I've been agnostic of COVID and sectors that are sort of come into demand and those that don't. But if I've been in the energy sector for all of my careers, and I want to move to financial services, or I want to move into a not-for-profit, how do I do that?’ Too often, we find executives fronting up to conversations in those sectors where they basically talk about, here's what I've got to offer. And we always say, think about a couple of things, think about the problems that that sector is facing. Do your research, understand what is going on. If it's aged care you’re going into, have you read some of the standards that have come down through assisting council around the recommendations to aged care? Think about the problems that they are facing and grappling with. For one, do your research around the sort of people in that sector, who are they, what's going on, who's moving? Are there people in that sector that you can meet with tap into? Are there professional bodies that you should be connected to within that sector to understand?
Donna: This is all building up to, ‘how do you build a new network in the sector you're trying to approach?’ It's partly the research, partly networking with people in that sector. And then I think it's coming down to, what are some of the problems they're solving and how are your skills transferable? So, yes, I'm big on superpowers and the way that we often take sector off the table, when we're having conversations with our clients and trying to introduce a candidate into an organization, is that what's at the heart of the problem that they're trying to solve? And what are the skills or superpowers they need to solve that? And in fact, if their clients have already been trying to solve that problem with skills in the sector, then wouldn't it actually be a smart thing to do to get a fresh perspective from somebody who solved a similar problem, different context, different sector, but has solved it over here to come in and give a different view.
Donna: Usually, we can make some progress on that front. But then to your point, what it comes down to, for people who have found themselves out of roles in a particular sector, is coming back to the conversation we started with, what are your strengths? What are your superpowers? Because when you can articulate one superpower, what your superpowers are, and you can assure a client or playback to a client the problems that they're facing or how you understand it. Again, you don't have to be an expert in the sector, but you've got to take the time to actually understand and marry how your superpowers can come and support them. Yeah, that problem sounds like when I was over here doing X; this is how we solve that. And I imagine, you know, you're probably grappling with A, B, and C. Clients listen, they've been heard, people want to be heard.
Donna: So, there's a couple of things in there, but I think around the sector that you're pursuing, pick the one that you're interested in. Do your research, understand the issues facing it, the people in there that you might be able to network with, professional bodies or networking groups you could get involved with to really open that connection there. And then, from a personal perspective, areal inventory of what your strengths and superpowers are. And then I think you're in a position to open up a conversation and get the sector piece off the table.
Renata: It's interesting what you're saying because what you're advising people to do is to, again, niche down into another sector. This idea that because you're out of work, you should be applying for a gazillion different industries, sectors is not going to pay dividends because it will never allow you to design a good job application. Am I right?
Donna: Yeah, absolutely. And I think ultimately, you need to be hungry for it. And it needs to be, come back to values alignment and, it's fine for the head to be in it; if the heart's not in it, that will come through as well. So I think I would always say, as scary as it probably feels for many executives, double down on a particular sector. Maybe it's two sectors that you are really, really passionate about. Both from a values perspective or have interests with the change that's going on in there, and really, really do your research. Do a market map of who some of the key companies are in there. Some of the growth businesses that are doing really well and doing some interesting change, and depending on what your superpowers are, you'll gravitate to certain companies.
Donna: But, you know, I think there's a discipline too. I think sometimes people say it's all a bit too hard. You have to put in the hard work. No, one's more interested in you finding a job than you. It's not a recruiter's job, and it’s not your friend's job. It's not your network's job to find you the role, and you need to do the hard work. And so, I just replay another comment that we often hear from executives when they front up, and I understand the place that this is coming from, but when I say to them, ‘tell me about your superpowers.’ They say, ‘well, I can do anything.’ And it's like, ‘well, you can't do anything.’ I have no doubt that you have burning ambitions and that you're highly capable in your area, but you can't do anything. And in fact, fronting up to a prospective employer, telling them that you can do anything is not helpful. The tighter you can be about your strengths, superpower, how you can help solve problems, the more likely it is that people will, one, your network will be able to help you, but two, an employer will be able to see where you could potentially fit.
Renata: Yeah. Donna, from a parent's perspective as well, how has changing professions, like you had affected that? Did you take that into account? Was it part of your career plan or a life plan to say, ‘okay, no, this is going to be more of a lifestyle change for me as well as a professional change? Or that didn't really matter to you? I'm saying this because I do have quite a lot of listeners female listeners. The podcast is 50 50, but the followers I have on social media tend to be more female than male. And that usually plays up, and they either are about to have kids or coming back from having kids. Or kids have grown up, and I have more time. I hope that in the future, it will be more of a problem for both parents, but for our generation, it has been more a women's issue. Did that play a part?
Donna: Yes. Yes, it did. I mean, of course, as I was moving into various roles and having children. I have one daughter; she’s 11 now. And I think throughout from the time that she was born, I'd worked everything from two days, two and a half, three days, job share, full time, remotely, in the office, you name the combination, I did it. And did that play a part? Yes, I think, if I'd be quite open, my last role prior to moving into what I'm doing now, I did take a six-month career break because I'd burnt out. I'd actually got the combination and balance wrong. So without a doubt, everybody needs to do their audit and inventory of if I can use that language, with their partner or significant other, or if they're a single parent, around what energy and capacity they've got for work? Time's finite.
Donna: And I always say, when you're spending time at something, you're trading it off somewhere else. And you need to consciously be aware that you're trading that off. And that was probably a hard lesson that I learned at one point, which had a health impact, but we recover from those things. I think to your point now, and I’m very grateful. This role that I'm in now gives me the flexibility and my husband and daughter, and I. Flexibility to manage all of life. I feel like a really sweet spot of being able to achieve my own health and fitness goals, support my daughter in all her endeavors. And my husband and I always say teamwork makes the dream work, and I appreciate everybody's circumstance is different. So absolutely different roles I took at times. It was more about the working arrangement.
Donna: It wasn't so much about the role. I'd always say to women, especially women who are about to have children. I don't know why we get hit with this self-doubt at that time and feel like we need to step back and feel like we were not going to manage it. If anything, lean in at that time and, you take the promotion. And I think it's two separate conversations. You’re capable, and you have the ability to do the senior role. How much time and the working arrangement, and the flexibility you need to deliver to that role is a very different question. And so, if you're only able to work three days a week for a point in time, I think clearly COVID taught us that balance of working remotely and in-office now. I think that really changes the dial on the conversation.
Donna: Work out the boundaries that work for you, be really clear on them, and do not be apologetic for them. I don't really have regrets, but if there's something I wish I'd done differently, it was not being so apologetic of wanting to work part-time and almost allowing the opportunity to step down a role or a level because I could only work part-time. In hindsight, I wish I had lent in and stayed. True, I was capable to do the role, but it was about at that point in time, and it's temporary. We know things change, right? Regardless of whether you have children, whether you've volunteered for a not-for-profit, or whether you coach a netball or football team, whatever your commitments are, children are certainly, um.
Renata: It's one of the variables. It doesn't have to be kids. It could be a health issue. It could be, you have elder care or whatever it is. You have to take that into account as you're developing your career plan.
Donna: Absolutely, definitely too. And I think it shouldn't be the thing that holds you back from leaning into a more senior, more significant opportunity. I think they're two separate conversations.
Renata: And then we reached the stage where I am now, where I have nothing to worry about. I think I don't, at least not for now. My kids are all grown up, and I have a lot of time, and I have a lot of energy to work as well. I have clients and people that I know that have reached that stage, and they have found it harder to look for work. They have found that they don't know how to place themselves. There are issues about ages that they have encountered. And as clients, we work very much to address them and build strategies around them. But at the same time, you have people that are ready to work pretty much full time. I see myself like I've never been. The last time I had this much energy was when I was in my twenties, and now I have all this energy and all this time. So, there is no need, and correct me if I'm wrong, to opt into interim work or portfolio work if you have the stamina and the energy, the time, and sometimes maybe the need financially or for another reason to have full-time employment if you are in your late forties, fifties, and even sixties. How do you support clients that are older? Because I'm assuming most of your candidates are of that age.
Donna: Yeah, absolutely. I think the average is certainly 50 plus, late fifties, coming into early sixties. I think the ageism is real for many people and experienced - often having conversations about that. Two ways or two things that come to mind to get that off the table or address it, and the one that I think is most important is currency. Often I hear someone meeting with the CFO, and they're like, ‘well, I've been a CFO for 40 years. I've got 40 years of experience.’ And I go, ‘That's great, that gives me your depth in your trade. But talk to me about the last three to five years, what are the problems you've solved? How are you getting across digitization in your area of expertise?’
Donna: What are some of the changes that are going on that you're seeing? What are some of the big organizations doing with their finance functions? What are the global issues that are impacting CFOs these days? And then, I hear nothing, or I hear bits and pieces. So you have to own that regardless of your age. Age gives you the war wounds, which actually, I think from a leadership perspective of being able to come into an organization and hold a level of calm around different things that are going on is a tick. But currency in what you do doesn't matter how long your career has been, but it's how you’re staying current. So how are you skilling, re-skilling, cross-skilling, involved in networking groups or professional organizations, understanding we live in a digital economy these days?
Donna: How are you improving your digital literacy? No use rocking up and fiddling around with zoom and not being able to connect to a meeting. You'll appear like an old fuddy-duddy. And again, it's not about being the expert in all of these things either, it's about literacy, and it's about showing curiosity and currency in doing that. I get really buoyed when I meet an executive who may not have been employed in a permanent role, but you know what, they are keeping their Monday to Friday busy and not busy for the sake of it. They’re very disciplined about two things. One is around that currency and being seen at particular events, speaking to particular people, so they've got something interesting to talk about and talk to when they're meeting with would-be employers. The other thing is networking. We always say to our executives, your networks and the strength of your networks will absolutely be a lead indicator of your success in finding your next role.
Donna: Today, more so than ever - I think for me, it feels like it's exponential - but those networks of your allies and your competitors are one or two degrees of separation. And so with the likes of LinkedIn, and I know you do some fabulous work there with people's digital presence and sort of networking through LinkedIn, Renata, it is absolutely key. And I think at an executive level, regardless if it's full-time or interim employment, whatever you're getting into, but your brand out to market is key. How you're keeping those networks current and keeping connected, it's that give and get relationship, it's not fronting up to your network expecting them to get you a job, but what can you give into that network? We always say, don't leave it on the table.
Donna: If you're in the market for a job, you need to let your network know that you're in the market for a job and what they can refer to you, or do they know others who might need your skillset? Like we always say, don't fan up to those networking conversations just for chit-chat, and then in the last five minutes, stumble over the fact that you really do need a job, and here's what you do. Go over there with a purpose. We always say, if someone's agreed to meet you, they probably genuinely want to help you. So, help them help you by letting them know what it is you need. So I think networks and leveraging those and the currency of your skills is key.
Renata: Donna, I think getting to the tail end of this chat, which is lovely. I love hearing you talk. You're so good. But I think we need to talk about the situation right now with the intelligence you can share with the listeners about the job market. We are in Melbourne, Australia, so of course, it's very specific, but I hope that people around Australia and in other parts of the world can use this as a sample of what's happening and what could happen in a country where COVID is more or less under control, vaccines are starting to roll out. We have been in very hard lockdown for most of 2020 here in Melbourne. What are you seeing now? What's trending now for your clients, the employers that are looking for workers in 2021?
Donna: So if I go broadly with some of the lead indicators that we would look at, and Renata, happy to share some research we sort of did recently a market update, and I guess we're only just into 2021, but certainly pulling on the McKinseys and others around their predictions for 2021. And then we sort of tied that into our anecdotal conversations with clients. So happy to share that as well.
Renata: Yeah. We can link that in the episode show notes, so people that have access to episode show notes look below. Now, this podcast is available on things like Audible and Siri, and Alexa. So I don't know if people actually look at the episode show notes, in which case just go to my blog on my website, https://www.renatabernarde.com , and you will find the links there. Okay. Go ahead. Tell me.
Donna: Yeah, but certainly in January and, actually I think it was from November last year, the number of roles that are being posted - job adverts through Seek, the Australian Bureau of statistics - if you follow that, it sort of crashed and fell off a cliff in March of 2020, not surprisingly and started to rebuild. But November, December, January, we saw a number of postings of roles go up. And, of course, it's not just at the executive end; that’s all end of employment. And I think it was November 2020 year I knew there was growth. So the market certainly bounced back. Now, clearly, there are sectors that, you know, hospitality, some of the entertainment sector, some of retail, some of retail's skyrocketed, education with international students is impacted, and of course those sectors will be a long time coming back.
Donna: But if you said to me, health, government, manufacturing, some of those that you've highlighted and many of your listeners will be in, they're bouncing back. And anecdotally, I think our clients’ conversations or the overarching themes coming from our clients’ conversations are that 2020 showed that they could rely on their technology, rely on their people, and rely on the systems. It wasn't perfect, but the things that they had to do at short notice and scale of the workforce off-site and bring people back in completely launch a different proposition to connect with their customer base of a very different experience in a world where we were in lockdown. They did it.
Donna: And so, if another whole scale lockdown in Australia, they'll be able to move forward on some of these projects. And yes, what it's probably taught them is resilience and being adaptable and flexible. So I know they're very broad comments, but certainly, there's cautious optimism. Certainly, in our client network, the plans they've had for acquisitions or divestments, or growth will continue. Of course, you know, cash is King, and monitoring cash flow obviously with job seeker payments finishing soon will be interesting to see what impact that has on certain organizations and sectors. But certainly cautious optimism. Our clients are looking forward. In terms of skillsets, now, I'm coming from the lens of executive interim search. Still, for our business, particularly the health sector, and some of those sectors that are dealing with the current issues of the day, world commissions and financial services, aged care, those sectors will continue to be busy. And I guess going back to our earlier conversation, pick up the paper on any given day, you'll see the sectors that are in the news. They are the ones that no doubt will be busy changing and looking for people. So, no magic science there, but certainly cautious optimism, I'd call it going forward.
Renata: You know, it's really funny because this week we're recording this when Facebook pulled out all the news from its platform, and I'm thinking, ‘who reads the news on Facebook anyway.’ I want the listeners of this podcast to bloody read the news where it bloody belongs. Do not read your news on Facebook. You shouldn't have done it before, and now in Australia, you won't be doing it apparently in the future. So that's actually very good. I’m actually very happy.
Donna: I would say to the listeners here, pick up the financial review and any of this is discipline. I think if you're an executive or a job hunter in transition, be disciplined about your week. You need a reason to get up in the morning, a rhythm to the week. You should be reading the paper, and you should be mapping out those sectors that you're interested in and who you need to connect with. It should be looking at your digital profile, your resume, and seeking the help that you need. It should be getting out and speaking to people, be it virtually on zoom or teams call or in-person where we can. Be disciplined about it. There's no short, quick, fast way to do this. And without a doubt, our executives, the people who I meet who do that and have a disciplined focus about it, it does pay back to you.
Renata: Have you downloaded my optimized job search template?
Donna: No, I have not.
Renata: Oh, I have to send it to you. I may need to pull that down because it's so good. They will not hire me after they have it. It is a freebie on my website. And last week, sorry, last month, over 600 people downloaded that optimized job search. It is so good. And it’s exactly that, and it creates an optimized job search routine for you. And I offer three different schedules. One, for people that are job searching full time, another one, if you're job searching part-time, or a light version. Let's say you have a full-time job, or you have kids, or you have something else on, and you can only do it a little bit during the week. And it kind of picks up on the best ways to do it, the best days to do it. So you don't,
Donna: That is gold dust. That really is, and it's such an important rythm And, of course, those sectors will be a long time coming back.
Renata: I will send you the link so that you can get it to your candidates.
Donna: Yeah, please. I absolutely will. I mean, in speaking to our executive network, when they've come out of a role and the emotion sometimes it's surrounded with that, they find it difficult to get back into a routine, when they haven't got that routine of getting up and going to work each day and finding those new patterns can be difficult. It's actually putting some structure around that I think is really helpful.
Renata: A lot of the people, not a lot cause it's not a big group, but the people that have signed up for the group coaching program that starts this week have downloaded this thing first, and they started working on it, and then they're like, okay, let's do the group coaching. So I'll send it to you. Anything else you would like to leave as the final thoughts or ideas for the listeners of this podcast?
Donna: Yeah. Look, I think for those who've been in the job hunt for a while, take a deep breath and surround yourself with some true partners and supporters to keep you buoyed up. Because I absolutely can empathize and compassionate towards them. It's tough, the market is competitive and, it can be very frustrating and demoralizing sometimes when you're either getting knock-backs or you just feel like you're not anchoring, but the things we've spoken about today, keep the discipline there, keep the pattern, believe in yourself, surround yourself with people who will prop you up when you need that propping. I strongly believe that if you focus on all those things, you'll start seeing the leads, and the conversations will absolutely happen.
Renata: Excellent. Donna, thank you so much for your time.
Donna: Thank you, Renata. Thank you for all the amazing work that you do. We love working with you. You've got your heart and passion squarely in the court of the executive job hunter. And I think you just do such an amazing job. So thank you for the opportunity to have a chat today.
Renata: My pleasure.
Renata: Hi, I'm popping in again to remind you that Donna and I spoke briefly about the optimized job search schedule. There's also a workshop. It's a two-part workshop that I recorded at the end of 2020. And it's available for you to watch on-demand. There's a link to it on the episode show notes. So go to the episode show notes here on wherever you found us iTunes, Spotify, or go to my blog, https://www.renatabernarde.com/blog search for this podcast, and all the links we discussed are in the blog. And you will then be able to access the optimized job search schedule. And if you want to go a step further, you can watch the workshop and make even more use of that schedule and get a bit more of me and my advice. Bye for now.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
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