The Success of Your Career Transition May Depend on Three Factors

The PE-Backed Executives Group on LinkedIn and TheOperators.pe hosted a meeting last week of The Career Transition Council for current and former PE-Backed Operators. Our guest speaker was Marsha Muawwad, a leadership coach, expert on career search preparation and an executive recruiter.

During the discussion, which included 15 Operators, we socialized some of the difficulties and frustrations associated with career transitions in the private equity ecosystem. Some executives in attendance voiced concerns with the short (36 month) average tenure of PE-backed executive roles. We talked about the downturn in M&A and its impact on hiring at portfolio companies. Some executives expressed concern at the difficulties of transitioning from one primary role or an industry to another. Other frustrations involved the processes to create visible representations (LinkedIn profile and resumes) as well as the physical outreach and cold calling. We talked about the importance of personal brand (and the ambiguity behind developing, maintaining, and improving it). Those were some of the concerns shared at the outset.

In addition, though, Marsha aired some words of optimism, advice, and hope – in the sense that there is a formula for success. Its three ingredients are strategy, process and demonstrated outcomes.

A Career Transition Strategy

Strategy starts with ideation. We envision the desired end point, whether it is your corporate growth strategy or your job search strategy. When I describe corporate strategy to neophytes, I typically say it is a way to codify the who, what, when, where, why and how of getting from Point A to Point B (your next desired point).

Envision yourself working in the absolute perfect next role for yourself. What industry are you in? What is your role? Where are you located? What is the corporate culture? What type of PE group are you working with? How are you being compensated? Until you can articulate precisely what the perfect next role looks like, how can you sell yourself effectively if it happens to land in your lap? More importantly, with the desired end point in mind, you can begin to craft an effective process to get from Point A (where you are today) to the desired end point (your next role).

Your Career Transition Process

There are four Ps to the process of finding a next role in private equity: planning/preparation; points of contact; persistence; people person. It all starts with planning/preparation. And one of the first items to prepare is your personal story. In other words, rather than selling someone strictly, literally on your accomplishments and experiences (which they can easily see in your resume), try selling them on your unique story. A story is typical about a main character (you) whom the audience wants to cheer for, whofaces a major obstacle. The story is resolved by explaining how the hero resolves their dilemma or challenge. Everyone has had a crucible moment — a time when you are in the hot seat, facing heat, pressure, stress. Perhaps your crucible moment had a fantastically successful result. Or, more likely, you got burned. However, the lessons that you learned from that experience are valuable because they serve as opportunities for you to be vulnerable and establish connections with other human beings, and also allow you to say how you grew as a person from the experience. It is important to have a LinkedIn profile and an elevator pitch that enables recruiters to see you, in all your unique, quirky, root-for-you ways. Be authentic – be yourself!

Planning and preparation also involve knowing precisely what the ideal next job looks like and feels like, and why. You will need to be able to articulate why you want it, why you are a better fit than anyone else, and what you will do with it, if given the opportunity.

Points of contact (and a CRM of sorts). In order to be as efficient and effective as possible in your job search, you will need your own version of a CRM to keep you organized in terms of outreach. You will be developing a list of many different types of contacts (influencers, sponsors, portfolio company executives, etc.) and you will need different forms of messaging for each. You might also need a different pace of outreach, different forms of communication and slightly different objectives of each. You will develop verbiage/content or entire letters that make sense for one group, but not another. You will learn something about a particular contact that you might want to follow up on. All of this takes time and energy, and is greatly helped by your own personal CRM to manage your outreach to your points of contact.

Persistence has to be part of the process. In other words, if you are not naturally persistent, you will need to bake it into the formula, especially today when hiring demand across private equity portfolio companies is down. Lack of response, requests to reschedule, responses that put the onus on the other party (who fails to follow through) are all inevitable. You have to be ready with a confident, persistent follow-up approach.

People persons are rarer than you might think. Even extroverts, from time to time, admit to having difficulty connecting, maintaining connections, following up with connections and making these connections worthwhile. If you are not a natural people person, you will need to become one for the period of the job search. Fake it until you make it! But, there are expectations involved in networking and outreach. For example, try to be helpful first. Perhaps share content that might be valuable. Offer a connection that would be interesting for them. Then, and only then, ask for assistance.

Demonstrated Outcomes

When the rubber hits the road and you have the right person, with the right job opportunity for you who is looking over your resume or LinkedIn profile, you will want them to immediately see your accomplishments before almost any other content.

You will also need to tailor your outcomes, capabilities, competencies to your ideal next role. As you think about your ideal next job, what are your top five competencies? What are some uniqueaccomplishments that might make you more interesting, relatable, admirable, or unforgettable, even if (to you) they are not that unusual? Your intention should be to impress, to make yourself relatable and interesting, and to demonstrate a good fit. And, you will need to do so quickly, at the top of your resume or profile.

In summary, Marsha Muawwad led the discussion for this group of Operators, who found the meeting energizing and full or hope (and also with the awareness that others are struggling with similar frustrations)! The Career Transition Council meets every two weeks. Let us know if you would like to learn more!

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