How To: Make Your Job Work for You

As reported in the April 2008 edition of Transworld Business:

Tricks Of The Trade: Mastering the Key Elements of Career Management
By Rawn Johnson

Career management isn't something that comes naturally to many in the board sports industry. Usually people are drawn to this business because of the lifestyle and working in this niche is a passion—a chance to get up every day and go to work doing something you love. But what you get to do today and who is working with you isn't nearly as important as where you will be and what you will be doing in one, three, or ten years. Creating a plan to navigate your career in board sports feels, somehow, heretical.

Whether circumstances have you thinking about updating your resume or an intriguing new opportunity has you scrambling to prepare one, it is important to define in tangible terms (those that go beyond "vibe") exactly what you are looking for in a new position and even your current one.

Keeping the spirit of the lifestyle and enhancing your career path is possible. In the short term, this exercise will help you identify the right next position for you, even if you are already in it. Many individuals who have gone through this process have been able to objectively determine that they are already in the right place, and that knowledge has created a renewed enthusiasm for their current job and company. Long term, you will be able to avoid some of the "bad moves" that people make, too many of which will eventually earn you the label of a job-hopper and will impact both your prospects and your earnings.

Establish A Career Goal
You might define your goal by a position, or a series of positions within a timeframe. Identify mentors or people that inspire you that have those roles and drop an e-mail to identify the key factors that got them to that position. Look at multiple job descriptions for those positions to get an idea of the skills and experiences companies are looking for in candidates. Ask them great questions: When you were where I am today, what were you learning or experiencing that was most helpful in getting you to where you are now? What do you wish you had known or done before getting your job that would have made it easier? Was any luck involved—being right place at the right time? What are the three skills most important to you doing this successfully? (Prompt them with ideas like leadership, adaptability, work ethic, factory interaction, etc.)

You will find people are more helpful than you expect. They like to talk about themselves. Also, it never hurts to have a decision-maker aware of your goals. Those connections are critical. As Dennis Green, Hurley SVP of Merchandising and Product Development says, "Success in life, personal or business, is all about relationships."

Start A To-Do List

Build a list from your research of the things you need to add to your resume to achieve your goal. Under "experience" you might list years in position, trips overseas, categories supervised, teams managed. "Competencies" might include skills developed through experience such as leadership, as well as those developed through education such as foreign languages or software knowledge. "Successes" are the stories you get to tell in an interview. Perhaps you need to have brought a new line to market, have a track record of increasing market share or developing strong teams to successfully reach your goals. "Lucky circumstances" may seem to be those beyond your control, but many people will tell you that it was the result of astute planning, research, and interviewing that put them in the right place at the right time. Looking for companies that are planning growth and learning its history are often the precursors of "luck."

Create Strong Questions
When you sit down in an interview, keep in mind that this is a two-way street. You need to prove your qualifications for the position, but the company should be able to demonstrate the ability to help you reach your goals. Ask questions that will give you details. "Tell me about a person here that has been able to transition a career from design into merchandising? What kind of background did they have before they got here?" You can even screen for the luck factor. "When you launched your newest division, where did most of the new product development team come from? Were people inside the company encouraged to apply? What product categories could you see the company moving into next?"

To an inexperienced interviewee, questions like this might sound overly aggressive. But people at great companies will not be offended by these questions. "At Burton, we look for people who can ask the right questions and find ways to push the envelope. If someone takes things at face value without asking how or why, we probably won't be a fit for each other," says Jill Murray, HR Manager for Burton Snowboards. Ask questions that are designed to generate answers that address a specific need you have in developing your career. If a company gets defensive over them, it's likely that they aren't going to be able to meet those needs anyway. Wouldn't you rather know during the interview than six months later? "No company or person is perfect, so it all goes back to what we learned early on—honesty is the best policy," says Murray.

Execute
Don't wait until you need to find a job to start this process. If you can be assured that your confidentiality can be maintained, always listen. You shouldn't go around "kicking tires," applying and interviewing for a bunch of positions you will never accept. But if you've completed the exercise above, and are open to the possibility that some position might exist that could enhance your life personally, professionally, financially, spiritually—whatever makes you tick—then unless you listen, you will never know if someone is talking to you about just that job.

If you do find something that at first glance seems like it could be a match for your goals, interview! You are not committing to taking the job. Maybe it won't be the perfect job, but the one at that company that comes up six months down the road might be. Maybe the hiring manager will change jobs and have the perfect thing for you at his/her new company. You've interviewed and you've impressed them as a person of great talent with a clear vision of career path and mutual expectations from a company, they will remember you. An hour or two of your time to meet and impress key decision-makers in your industry is a solid investment, even if you professionally withdraw from the process at a later time.

Don't Disregard Your Instincts

Ultimately, most of us spend at least a third of our lives engaged in our work. It is impossible to put a value on truly enjoying that aspect of your life, and loving what you do needs to be an integral part of every equation. "I strategically pursued being in a place where I could inspire and promote change," Erik Joule, SVP of Merchandising and Design at Quiksilver, says. "My advice is to follow your passion."

Rawn Johnson is the team leader for the retail/wholesale practice at Kaye/Bassman, International. He leads executive search focused in merchandising and product development. Rawn can be reached at rjohnson@kbic.com or (972) 931-5242.

Kaye/Bassman is a top-ten nationally ranked executive search firm. It has won national awards for philanthropy and workplace flexibility and was named the best company to work for in Texas for three consecutive years. Kaye/Bassman's client-focused search methodology is being adopted by search firms worldwide through its next level training division.