Making career moves

By Michael Seaver, Director of Alumni Career Services & Engagement 

In a 2012 commencement address to the Harvard Business School, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg offered valuable career advice that rings blindingly true today. She said, “Careers… they’re not a ladder; they’re a jungle gym. As you start your career, look for opportunities, look for growth, look for impact, look for mission. Move sideways, move down, move on, move off. Build your skills, not your résumé.” Regardless of where you fall in your career, a newly minted master’s graduate or an experienced alumni professional, reimagining your approach to career growth will pay dividends in helping you maximize your potential and societal impact.

There are myriad reasons you may be disengaged in your job or career search. A 2013 Forbes article articulates the reasons succinctly. More than two million people quit their jobs each month and 74 percent of people would consider finding a new job because: 31 percent of respondents don’t like their boss, 31 percent lack empowerment, 35 percent dislike internal politics, and 43 percent don’t receive appropriate recognition for their effort. Sound familiar? 

If so, consider taking meaningful notes on the below steps to help you assess your readiness for making a career move.

1. Reflect – Truly take time to assess the emotional and technical competencies developed throughout your career. Write them down. Through evaluation of your accomplishments, you can identify patterns of when you were in a “flow” state – one where you lost track of time doing what you loved most. In those moments, your personal brand is more readily identifiable.

2. Update your résumé – Begin by using step one to represent past accomplishments. Then, review your personality assessments (e.g., DISC, CareerLeader, StrengthsFinder) for a current-state overview of your strengths and natural communication and behavioral profile. Third, find three job descriptions of your ideal employer and position. Search for commonalities in keyword usage that can bolster your résumé’s “findability” in applicant tracking systems, Google and LinkedIn. Lastly, utilize the résumé as the foundation of your LinkedIn profile. Leverage the website by requesting recommendations and using the “Find Alumni” tool to open doors in your target employers.

3. Build meaningful relationships – As I mentioned in a previous article, a small percentage of jobs are found via job boards. The vast majority of your career opportunities will come from “weak ties” – the friend of your friend. To access this hidden market, establish a process for connecting to people recurrently. Tap into your professional network: Thunderbird alumni, subject matter experts via professional associations, or even through volunteering your time with nonprofits with ties to your target organizations. It might take three or four touch points with someone before he trusts you enough to discuss advancing your career. 

4. Challenge yourself – T-bird Anna Shen’s recent article in the Huffington Post hit the nail on the head in that Thunderbirds inherently have an open spirit, curiosity, a global mindset, and a deep-seated love of diversity. Convert that unique value proposition into a different job search strategy where you proactively anticipate career change, continually improve the diversity measure of our stakeholder network, and are courageous enough to abandon career practices that made you successful yesterday. Intelligence today isn’t simply the accumulation of knowledge; it’s employing new practices that maximize future opportunity.

5. Consistency – You’ve developed your personal brand; you’ve updated your résumé and LinkedIn; you’re building lasting relationships; and, you’re challenging yourself to search for your next career differently… Now what? Through as many channels as possible, both online and in-person, generate thick value for others. Every interaction you have is a pseudo-interview. Do the actions you take allow your stakeholder network to continually build trust in your brand, your strengths, and what you could potentially do for them? If so, you’re headed down the correct fork in the road.

Being disengaged in your career or career search is actually quite normal. From the Forbes article, we know that most professionals want something new that will allow them to find autonomy in their daily tasks, the ability to master a chosen craft, and to feel a sense of purpose bettering the collective whole. Instead of focusing solely on a strategy that only allows you to climb the corporate ladder, employ a process that allows for lateral or backward moves where you’re developing your personal suite of skills. Taking a longer-term orientation with a defined plan will expose you to opportunities you may not previously have considered possible. 

If you have comments or questions, please contact me at or call +1 602 978-7080.

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