Kellogg experts share their tips for uncovering opportunities in a challenging economy
By Deborah L. Cohen
More than 30 Kellogg alumni fill a conference room in Wieboldt Hall on Kellogg’s downtown Chicago campus. Most are over the age of 35, and all sport formidable résumés.
They have come to a workshop this fall evening to polish their elevator pitches and their ability to communicate their career achievements.
“In a very competitive process, whether it’s admissions, job applications or looking for investment, having qualifications isn’t enough,” workshop co-presenter Esther Choy ‘09 tells attendees. “It’s how you build up those connections with your audience that strikes an emotional response. That’s what leaves an imprint in their minds about who you are.”
Choy’s Leadership Story Lab (leadershipstorylab.com), which uses one-on-one presentation drills to help participants deliver their career histories with clarity and passion, is just one of several strategies being pursued by Kellogg MBAs as they seek a competitive advantage in today’s challenging job market. This and similar networking techniques are helping them to stand out among hoards of other job hunters — even if they are not actively pursuing a new position.
“The whole branding process is smart whether you’re looking for a job or not,” says workshop attendee Gina Rossi ‘01, director of planning for Jim Beam Brands.
The hidden job market
Despite recent improvement, the executive job market still finds an abundance of qualified candidates pursuing hyper-selective companies that are in no rush to fill open positions.
As a result, the ability to present well and uncover useful contacts through careful, well-honed strategies may now be as important as the skills a candidate brings to the table, says Roxanne Hori, assistant dean and director of Kellogg’s Career Management Center.
“The heavier emphasis on networking is really the most significant shift in a long time,” she says.
The glut of corporate data available on the Internet has leveled the playing field for all job applicants aiming to be well-versed on specific companies and industries, Hori says — making personal presentation an even more crucial differentiator.
Kellogg’s Career Management Center has renewed its emphasis on self-presentation, she says, adding that personal coaching strategies have emerged as an effective means of brushing up. That’s particularly helpful for those at the mid-career level and above, who may have gotten a bit rusty at making their personal pitch.
“Be prepared to make a ‘wow’ presentation on yourself,” Hori says. “In today’s world, having somebody who can coach you into doing that effectively is really important.”
Kellogg offers six professionals on the alumni-services side who provide career coaching, while a staff of five handles the needs for Part-Time and Executive MBA students.
Adnan Rukieh ‘85, director of career services for the Part-Time and Executive programs, says the demand for coaching has risen significantly in the past year, in part because candidates are striving to uncover unpublicized jobs through effective personal connections.
“It’s really what we define as the hidden job market,” says Rukieh, noting that Kellogg coaches also work closely with job candidates on strategies to identify and manage the development of appropriate contacts within targeted organizations.
“How do you define and build a network? Who do you talk to? How do you follow up?” says Rukieh, adding that job seekers typically undergo multiple coaching sessions to become comfortable with the process.
Surprisingly, candidates are often unaware of the breadth of networks readily available to them, he says. Besides tapping current and past career contacts, alumni and students, MBAs are encouraged to approach friends and family, their employer’s suppliers and clients, as well as church groups and volunteer organizations — even people they encounter at their children’s schools.
“The network is pretty broad and includes elements that people don’t currently think of,” he says.
A multi-pronged approach
To further differentiate themselves, many candidates are reaching beyond traditional methods of self-promotion and aggressively pursuing networking strategies that employ social media resources such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, says Susan Rosenstein ‘79, who runs a longstanding executive search firm in Chicago.
“Companies and recruiters are going on a site like LinkedIn and doing keyword searches,” she says. “You can get your name out there a lot more ways just by usingthe Internet.”
Corporations in the current economy are taking a stand-back approach to potential hires, looking for candidates who can fill highly specialized roles. That’s all the more reason to showcase a robust online career profile that details specific accomplishments, says Rosenstein, noting that the creation of personal blogs offering valuable industry insights can be a useful method to highlight expertise.
“They’re being a lot more specific about the kinds of companies somebody has worked for, the kinds of industries people have worked in, the assignments they’ve done,” she says, noting that the average mid-level search has been extended by several months. “They feel they can do this because there are so many people looking.”
Candidates who dedicate the time and effort to manage a diligent campaign are eventually rewarded. Such was the case with Sarah Gisser ‘98, who pursued aggressive networking tactics recently to secure an unadvertised position as group manager in the strategy division of Target Corp.
Gisser, whose background includes stints in consulting at McKinsey & Co., marketing with Procter & Gamble and MBA-student coaching at the University of Minnesota, had begun laying the groundwork long before securing her new post.
A family move to Nebraska required her to turn down an offer from the big-box retailer in 2006. But she stayed in touch with her initial contacts, and upon returning to Minneapolis, undertook a methodical plan to meet them informally for coffee and lunch — along the way developing new sources that eventually led to an offer.
“It was very much a networking search,” Gisser says. “This was much more about meeting people, getting to know people, trying to navigate things that way.”
The outcome comes as no surprise to Rukieh, as strategic networking has become the primary pathway for today’s job-seekers.
“It’s the general rule of thumb in this marketplace,” he says.