Anita is Swedish, and a chemical engineer by training – she had to be an engineer to get into industry at all in Sweden. But how is she now a headhunter and coach in London? She took opportunities that were offered – and planned where she wanted to go.
After 18 years in the chemical industry, she was stuck. If she was going to get on in that industry, she would be doing more of the same – but she asked herself “How good am I really? Let me change into something else and I’ll find out”. Without the support of the company and network she’d been in for years, could she re-invent herself?
She had been in the chemical practice at Accenture just pre the Andersen’s split, she’d been in the Deloitte consulting arm for the oil industry just pre the world oil crisis – she had big ticket names and big industry moments under her belt but now she wanted suddenly to be a professional services person.
Anita took a year off – she had done how things work as an engineer, then how business works at Deloittes, but realised that she cared more about how people work. She was talking to leading headhunter Heidrick & Struggles while looking for her next move, when they offered her partnership at their own firm – she took it, and suddenly she was a people person. She then combined her current interests with her past experience by starting their renewable energy practice. This was not at all popular at H&S until it started making a lot of money for them!
Anita left H&S at the end of 2010 and had a further year off through illness. But then had to decide what to do next. Did she need one more good company t-shirt? Decided no. Could she do it on her own – how tricky could it be to bring in 5 searches to earn the same as doing 35 for H&S?
Since then, Anita has combined her headhunting practice, and other activities with research conducted through Cranfield on the intersection of longevity and careers. She also works with the Institute of Business Ethics and coaches refugee academics to find work.
But to her research and new book: Purpose & Impact: How Executives are Creating Meaningful Second Careers. This looks at a key point of change in professional careers – the mid 50s – people often don’t want to do the same thing for the next for 25/30 years, but don’t want to do nothing either. This is universal and a huge topic. Anita found and interviewed 92 executives from around the world, who had already changed careers successfully – 46 of these agreed to be named in the book and have their stories told.
So what’s the meaning of this human journey? She discovered it is the same everywhere around the world – pupil, householder, forest dweller (learn wisdom), then wisdom sharer.
Once there was a business with a purpose, which happened to create profit – then gradually the profit motive came to the top. People want to go back to finding and living their purpose. Don’t feel a failure if you don’t feel you have it right, if you don’t know your purpose – don’t feel pressured – it will come.
Can you have impact – yes, but not alone – don’t take that responsibility on by yourself – that’s too much pressure. In the last couple of years there have been good examples where different sectors have worked together to a common goal – businesses, NGOs and governments and social enterprises. They have come together to tackle areas such as the social economy around fast fashion – eg new areas at the intersection of all the sectors where at the outset, there are no answers and no specialists. THAT’s where you can position yourself – but they have to know you exist – and you have to keep track of what is happening out there, and who do you need to know to get in on the act. It can take time to figure it out.
Do you need to adopt the approach in stages? The stages of a human being do come in stages, but that doesn’t mean you have to treat each stage as a different type of life – you can keep the breadth and development all the way through – job crafting!
The Start up of You – by Reid Hoffman, co-founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and author Ben Casnocha – says that every stage of your career should be data tested regularly. You use this data to adapt what you are doing to develop your career in the way you choose.
All her successful transitioned executives found something they were really passionate about, found a benefit from taking it on to the company they were already working for, as well as the community as well as themselves, and then went about changing their existing work-place to accommodate their passion. The real pattern to emerge from all the studies was that they nearly all started Career 2 during Career 1.
First case: Deputy CEO at Schlumberger, wanted a 5 year exit plan for himself. In the meantime he was president of Africa at Schlumberger – he wanted to make an impact for the company, building its network and brand so he started the Schlumberger Foundation. He was president of that Foundation, investigating problems and giving women scholarships to succeed, then became president of sustainability and gave the women small loans – what was good for the company, was good for the community and ultimately for himself as he built his knowledge and reputation in the development arena.
Second case: Richard Gillies was high up in M&S procurement. He ended up signing payment authorisations for thousands of pounds worth of power. He asked himself why are we doing it this way? Why not get green electricity? He went and did some work on it, and M&S went 100% renewable energy which changed M&S first and others followed. Richard himself had moved from procurement into sustainability. A transformed career. The move will always need a business case for the firm as well as for himself – and in this particular case, the change took just 5% of Richard’s time and made plenty of money for the company, great PR and changed his personal profile.
So ask yourself “What has my career today given me to prepare me for my next role?”. Don’t think you need to jump off a cliff – it is a continuum.
Career and identity is one part. A good financial runway is another part. Money lasts a lot longer than you think if you prepare for it. If you pace yourself, and practice living on a significantly smaller sum, you will have a better idea of what you need to have financially before you take a significant pay cut, if that’s what is to follow. This gives you the confidence to take the cut in the first place, and gives you more of a cushion if things go wrong.
Working at career transformation requires:
- A new network – dynamic and diverse – you can’t change things radically only talking to your existing circle
Networking is meeting and contacting other people who are interested in solving the same things as you are – it then becomes pleasurable and not intimidating. All are happy to share common interests over a cup of coffee – ask for advice, it is within everybody’s gift to give – don’t ask for a job.
Don’t be shy – start with old colleagues, what’s the worst that can happen? Old colleagues, peers at university etc will be willing to act as the network starter, even if you haven’t seen them for years.
Process: ending the current role is an unknown zone. It can be uncomfortable if you don’t know what you’re looking for but it’s a lot easier if you’ve already tried some of it while in your current job – whether as part of or alongside that job.
Anita believes there are several questions to cover in considering career change.
What are you good at?
What are you interested in?
Take time, it’s not always obvious – start to narrow it down by meeting people to help you gradually learn about what’s out there and about yourself. Networking is an adventure which is so much fun – it’s part of giving – the people you meet will introduce you to others and it becomes much more comfortable. Networking allows you to meet confident kind people who do genuinely want to help you.
Think too about what you really do not want to do.
Headhunters – these are not career coaches. They are working on behalf of clients to fill roles in accordance with a spec. Headhunters are not there to figure out what you should do next. They can be helpful in understanding the process and explain the role but they can’t help you change career – you have to produce the evidence of that yourself.
Headhunters hire based on the last 5 years on a CV – it is all about perception of risk – the headhunters can push the boundary only so far – but that explains the tricky task of getting the first role. In talking to the big ones, you have to know what you want, and give them three good reasons for why you should have it. Headhunters speak to 2000 senior people a year so they forget you. Research assistants speak to even more. The assessment written at first meeting will go into a system and cannot be changed – it’s the start of your record. Learning and practicing matters.
Headhunters ask themselves who do we know who can do this job – who’s in the database who can do this job. The assessment from the database has to be recognisable as you to remind people who have met you who you are – it needs to be a human thing when they present to a client. Your very first contact with the headhunter should say, in the preview, in the very opening of the email, the one good reason why they should talk to you.
Be kind to yourself – be open to the ideas for your own future that are bubbling away and put steps in place to follow through with them. Start now!