Be the speedster in the career-change velodrome. The up-and-coming company star knows how to identify a growth sector, hoard skills, target an internship, reverse mentor, blog to win and be an ‘intrapreneur’ into the bargain.
1. Reverse mentor
Previously, the young sought business wisdom and advice from older colleagues, but increasingly now it’s vice versa. Reverse mentoring is helpful for understanding what young customers think, from digital to behavioural. Canny business veterans have long been on to it. Just as the legendary Jack Welch – chairman of General Electric for 20 years from 1981 – ordered his top 600 managers to reach down into the ranks to find internet junkies and become their students, today’s big companies, such as IBM, actively promote communicating between the ranks. On his blog, self-confessed “noob” Mark Willson, the technology behemoth’s director of marketing and communications, details how Jana Fielke, from the company’s graduate program, guided him through his first tentative social media steps.
2. Talent pipeline
Major employers have streams of smart individuals – popularly known as HIPOs (high potentials) – who not only are anointed for rapid progression through the corporate ranks, but also receive special opportunities. HIPO selection, therefore, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The chosen ones have performed well across a range of roles rather than in one spot, tips Andrew Hagger, Group Executive, People Marketing Communication at NAB, where 600 of the bank’s 28,000 Australian employees are currently in the Group Talent Pool. These high achievers enjoy targeted development and support through mentoring from senior executives, networking, masterclasses and secondments, says Hagger. “Typically, they push up against the organisation, driving their own acceleration. We want our people to be ambitious about their careers. Their hands are on the steering wheel.”
It’s not an elite tribe, he says. Everyone in the bank is offered development. Membership of the Group Talent Pool lasts for 12 months only. Besides, these days seniority is not necessarily a precursor for who gets ahead and whose voice is heard in one of Australia’s biggest financial institutions. The bank’s recent high-profile “Break Up” ad campaign, launched initially on Twitter last year, had significant input from relatively new hirings whose expertise in social media far outstripped that of their bosses.
3. Become an intrapreneur
Entrepreneurs start standalone enterprises, but “intrapreneurs” stand out by starting new lines of business within organisations. Dan Godamunne is an example. He kicked off Fuji Xerox’s eco-manufacturing initiative (and is now its general manager) after joining the tech company in 1993. Rather than churning out new products, Godamunne used his background in research and development to devise a way to remanufacture faulty components – an initiative that has proved highly profitable for the company. His impressively prescient sustainability focus is now part of a permanent exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum.
Other companies also value “intrapreneurialism”. Vodafone employees can bid for innovation funds internally. Google gives employees a day a week to work on their own projects. The Commonwealth Bank runs IdeasBank, where bright sparks can float fresh concepts. Information Technology company Atlassian offers employees the latitude to do their own thing at work via FedEx Days (24 hours in which developers can work on whatever they want) and 20 Per Cent Time, which allows engineers to devote a fifth of their working time to developing their own innovations.
It’s “dedicated slack time” from which Atlassian bosses Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar hope employees’ creativity will permeate their company’s core products. So everyone’s a winner.
4. Take risks
Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new, said Albert Einstein. Today’s innovators can learn from others’ mistakes from the comfort of home. A recent offering from the University of Adelaide is the online Master of Applied Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is drawing students (from Australia and offshore) with disparate interests.
“The program offers everything from food production to biofuels and apps,” says course director Allan O’Connor.
Entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st century is boundless, according to O’Connor, who says enrolments encompass start-up aspirants, those who may have already made a mistake or two and want to improve, people who just want to add some extra skills, and others who are funding or consulting on ventures. It’s a course whose time seems to have come, as O’Connor notes a distinct trend towards independence among “millennials” keen to be “their own bosses rather than work for a firm”.
5. Cash in on growth sectors
Smooth operators set their sights on growth sectors. Phil Ruthven of international research house IBISWorld tips the services sector as a safe bet. Hot fields include eHealth, aged care and – boosted by Australia’s new carbon tax – environmental sustainability. Digital media marketing is also sizzling.
Instant gratification in dollar terms comes from the headline talent shortage fields, though. The average weekly wage in Australia’s mining industry last year was more than $2018, with utilities – electricity, gas and water – a distant second with $1407, according to the IBISWorld Business Environment Report. Don’t want to get your hands dirty? Delivering professional services to these industries also adds up, says Ruthven.
The best way to check out career possibilities without overcommitting is through an internship. In Australia, most are available through organised corporate programs that take on students in the final years of tertiary programs.
Interning opportunities abound in fields such as engineering and accounting, says Dave Jenkins, one of the co-founders of Grad Connection, Australia’s most frequently visited graduate site that provides links to positions in more than 140 companies. Be warned, though, so do those ready to leap into them.
Each July – which is the peak month for applications from soon-to-be graduates – about 100,000 hopefuls apply, Jenkins says. The good news is that in Australia, all internships and summer placements offered through Grad Connection are
So what happens to career switchers who want to try a new direction, but are not studying? The insider advice from Jenkins is to apply directly to a prospective employer and think laterally. “Human resources departments tend to have strict rules about how they hire – and they have plenty of choice.”
On the other hand, line managers in operational roles are constantly being asked to do more with less and this could well mean that they may be delighted to share the ropes with a hardworking intern.
7. Education edge
The post-GFC business world is more complex than ever. People think being busy is a good sign, but it may mean they’re overwhelmed and not being effective,” says Rosemary Howard, head of AGSM Executive Education. “Take time out. Get out of the workplace and get some new ideas!”
Short courses are one solution. The current trend is for one-week programs with a residential component so people can fully immerse themselves in learning new approaches. The “evergreen” pick at AGSM is the General Manager’s Program where participants live in for five-and-a-half days in order to learn behavioural leadership – “to know themselves better and how to manage others”. Those who are less-experienced can sign up for a Foundations of Management course, while those on the way to big boss status undertake the Advanced Leadership program (five days, plus three residential). All participants work on real-time projects for their organisations along the way.
The most time-constrained businesspeople are often women who are juggling family commitments while trying to keep – or put – their careers on an upward trajectory. “While the number of women on boards is increasing, just 10 to 15 per cent of senior executives and less than three per cent of CEOs are women,” says Howard.
The Women in Leadership Program has been put in place to help women address gender-specific issues, such as unconscious bias and transitioning back to work, or fast-tracking a career while also on the mummy track. The high-fliers at Chief Executive Women consider this so important they’re funding scholarships for talented women as they return to work after career breaks.
8. Hoard skills
An emerging trend is the four-year career (four years is the average length of time that an American employee spends in a job). Human resource managers these days admit they’re looking for growth on a CV rather than lineal progression. One way of tackling this is to become a “skills hoarder” by adopting a ceaseless, wide-ranging approach to learning new tricks. Lifelong learning is not a new concept, says AGSM’s Executive Education chief Rosemary Howard, but there is a need for greater breadth today.
“Knowing what’s going on in different disciplines is very important. You want to be good at everything. The upside is that you can start anywhere.”
9. “Me” marketing
There’s a paradigm shift in marketing, says Natalie Lovett, who has spent three years at its cutting edge as a client manager at Facebook Australia. She helps big brands such as Commonwealth Bank Australia, Pepsico, Diageo, Vodafone and Arnott’s build their social media presences. But the marketing shift is not confined to the big end of town; it is made for personal brands, too, says Lovett, a guest lecturer at the University of NSW School of Marketing.
Recruiters are forever trawling for talent on social media sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – but be warned that employers and their agencies also screen avidly via those digital spaces, Lovett advises, so keep online profiles presentable. How did she become a leader of the new marketing revolution? When she heard the world’s most popular social media site was setting up shop in Australia, Lovett simply “Facebooked” the company’s vice president.
10. Think global
Overseas experience – exotic or high-flying – adds allure to CVs. Working for an organisation that offers the option is just one way to go. Big consulting firms – think McKinsey & Co or PricewaterhouseCoopers – satisfy an employee’s wanderlust with offshore placements that are part of a continuous organisational diaspora. Postgraduates can apply for international exchange to study or conduct research. The Federal Government has funded collaboration between Australian and European universities on hot issues such as sustainable water management (www.icewarm.com.au).
Or, take the direct approach. Anna Shepherd, CEO of Sydney-based home nursing service Regal Health Services, says her business perspective shifted significantly after she enrolled in Harvard Business School’s Owner/ President program that brings together entrepreneurs from across the world for one month annually over three years.
11. Mind the cultural fit
In the increasingly borderless world of business, “global literacy” is in high demand, and cross-cultural trainers are proliferating. Culturally enlightened employees help things run smoothly in Australia’s multicultural workplaces – and provide strategic advantage in trans-national operations. What’s more, they’re nice to have around.
“Cross-culturally trained people don’t use stereotypes and are not judgmental – they’re more tolerant and curious when they look at different behaviour because they seek to understand it better,” says Dr Dan Caprar, a lecturer in cross-cultural management at the Australian School of Business.
With so much talk about “the Asian century”, zooming in for a regional fine focus makes sense. The University of Melbourne’s nine-month Asialink program delivers cultural intelligence skills to more than 50 business and social leaders annually.
12. Be a blog star
Spruiking expertise in a blog is a great idea, but remember the number-one blogosphere rule: don’t be boring. The deadliest sin of bloggers is just talking about themselves, says Steven Lewis, who teaches Blogging for Business at Sydney Writers’ Centre. “Think about what people want to know rather than boasting about your achievements, and forget about rehashing news or other general information. Don’t be afraid to have an opinion.” Many bloggers work on the principle: if I write it they will come, says Lewis. But the pressing question is: will they return or be able to find that blog they casually encountered in a search last week? Clever bloggers capture email addresses and regularly update readers on new posts. Lewis practises what he teaches and for online guidance about better blogging, recommends www.copyblogger.com
13. Be informed
In the age of relentless “ego casting”, truly mind-boggling information sources are invaluable. By the end of 2012, one billion people are predicted to have experienced what Chris Anderson, founder of the TED phenomenon, refers to as “crowd-accelerated learning”. TED began as a technology, education and design conference devoted to “ideas worth spreading” in the US in 1984, and is a regular hangout for Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Al Gore, etc.
There’s also a hectic round of global events and salons, with local TED communities worldwide. Insights from TED are most accessible and affordable on the web where experts in their fields deliver 18-minute dissertations on pretty much everything from neuroscience to creativity.
14. Think laterally
Career mobility and agility are vital attributes for fast-trackers. However, reinvention requires the right attitude and hard work. “It may be a grind, but it also brings great rewards,” says Leo Grogan, career development manager of Melbourne Business School.
Grogan sometimes sees amazing transformations. From the current cohort of 100 students in the school’s MBA program, he mentions a choir manager who has just finished an internship working on strategy for a major supermarket group and is now considering an offer to develop market penetration for an IT consulting firm; and a marketer of mobile phone devices who interned in a veterinary hospital and is about to join an international consulting firm.
“People look for shortcuts in a career change,” Grogan says. But the 2012 version of offline networking – pulling on lycra to cycle with the decision-makers – goes only so far.
In the “discovery” (“What should I do?”) phase of a career switch, some “retooling” is required. An MBA course not only offers new skills and insights into different industries, but also delivers introductions to ambitious fellow students, influential alumni and major employers intent on cherry-picking the smartest.
For those who think an MBA is too much of a commitment, MBS now concentrates its full-time program into 12 months as opposed to 16.
However, cautions Grogan, no higher education program is a guarantee of success in a new industry or organisation. Speedsters in the career-change velodrome tend to be, Grogan points out, “futurists who communicate insights on new technologies, products and trends and have the ability to see over the horizon”.
15. Lose the rough edges
Employers complain that even the best graduates emerge “raw”, minus basic social and people skills such as how to dress for business, meeting behaviour, time management and understanding how to work in a team – “even how to shake hands and greet someone”, says Sacha Koffman. That’s why he set up Upskill courses for his employer, global recruitment firm Talent2. Rough edges can be quickly smoothed, while other frequently missing skills – such as spreadsheet fundamentals, text documents, creating presentations and communicating electronically – can easily be added.
16. Speak up
Surveys seeking information on greatest fears invariably come up with public speaking. Innate genius has its limits when required to impress the executive team with a presentation or, perhaps, address a crowd of doubters about a company merger.
Thousands of businesspeople and professionals have learned to silence their fears with public speaking and presentation skills courses at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. Core acting skills – vocal technique, physical presence and the ability to “move” an audience – are also useful in business, according to Sean Hall, NIDA’s
corporate course manager.
Everyone has some natural ability for being calm and collected. Breathing – in particular the deep diaphragmatic kind – slows the heart rate and gives the momentary pause that allows a nervous speaker to collect his or her thoughts, Hall maintains.
17. Take a leap
Fast-tracking a career requires more than a fresh mindset, says John Rawlinson, Group CEO of Talent2. Those who feel stuck in an area of technical expertise should remember that competencies are not job-specific. “In a job search, highlight exactly what you can do, not just what you have done,” advises Rawlinson, who is a living example of what he preaches. Years ago, he leapt from being a PE teacher to become a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. “I had an outgoing personality and was used to communicating with a variety of people. I also had knowledge of how the human body worked, which relates to the medical field.” The people skills also came in handy for his later shift to the recruitment industry where he has since interviewed thousands of candidates for jobs.
Self-awareness is critical, according to Rawlinson. “An important simple question that bamboozles many in job interviews is: ‘What do you like doing?’ It’s amazing how many people can’t answer it.”
For relatively instantaneous career “pop”, “take on a big project and deliver on it successfully,” Rawlinson suggests.
18. Win an award
Obviously, winning an award is a major profile-raising exercise. The sideline benefits that awards program entrants gain from participating are less blatant. Professional navel-gazing and the discipline of documenting and explaining achievements often astound the judges and others – and the entrants themselves. Catherine Burn, Deputy Commissioner for Corporate Services in the NSW Police Force, who collected the top gong at last year’s Telstra Business Women’s Awards, says that apart from interesting introductions, winning the award has also boosted her self-confidence and made her more effective on the job.
Burn hopes, too, that it will encourage more women to take up policing.
Pro bono work and volunteering is another way to acquire new skills or flex previously untested work muscles. Research by online professional network LinkedIn shows that one out of every five hiring managers in Australia has employed a candidate because of his or her volunteer work experience. In the survey of 1000 Australian professionals, 77 per cent of respondents had volunteered, but only 46 per cent included the experience on their résumés.
20. More to know?
Those who want to impress the board of directors, or anyone else, with know-ledge on a specific topic, might look to the teachings of former US hedge fund manager Sal Khan on YouTube. Khan – whose operation is now funded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and search giant Google – set up the not-for-profit initiative, after posting a video explaining algebra for his niece, in 2008. It’s often easier to learn by video than traditional teaching methods, says Khan, who says the “pause” button proves handy.
The MIT graduate, who also has a Harvard MBA, has a global following, creating 3200 videos and delivering more than 155 million lessons on topics from arbitraging futures contracts to likely GMAT test questions – the entrance exam for the world’s top MBA programs – understanding yield curves and debt vs. equity. Browse the Khan Academy’s entire library here.
Source Qantas The Australian Way August 2012