Nine Career Planning Imperatives

The following Q&A was recently printed in The Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College’s MyTuck Newsletter in the Best Practices section.

The millennial generation may be familiar with the conventional wisdom of job searching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from an expert’s advice. That’s why Terri Tierney Clark T’86 drew on her more than 20 years of senior executive experience to launch a blog “The New Careerist” and a book, “Learn, Work, Lead: Things Your Mentor Won’t Tell You,” which was published on Oct. 7, and shot to the top of Amazon’s Business: Mentoring and Coaching bestseller list. “I’m trying to give young professional women more detailed advice beyond what they can get through other media,” she says. I found that many women know to find a mentor, to network, and to ask for what they want, but are often following the ‘Lean in’ mantra without much forethought. I wanted to bring a bit of the Tuck analysis culture to their career planning so that readers will know to go ahead and collect advice but then analyze all of the possible outcomes before acting.” Below are her tips for women who are looking to change careers.

1. Research.
A new industry may sound sexy on the surface, but start by investigating your new industry and the requirements of following a career in it. The more you find out now, the better chance you have of making sure it’s the right kind of fit.

2. Plan to lead.
A lot of people—especially women—are torn when it comes to formulating an ultimate career plan, but my advice is to go big. You don’t want to make decisions at the beginning of your career that diminish your future opportunities.

3. Determine what skills and experience the leaders in your new industry have.
That will tell you how far you can go and what specific experience you will need. Say, for instance, you’re in consumer package marketing where you don’t need to be a software engineer to reach the C-suite. But if you want to move into technology, you might find that the leaders in that sector all have software backgrounds and you’ll need that in your new career. By looking at the leaders’ backgrounds, you can see if you need more training and can weigh if you’re willing to do it.

4. Women should look for line jobs that give them P&L experience.
Right now, women only hold about one out of every 10 P&L jobs at Fortune 500 companies, but it’s those jobs that will get you to the C-suite and ultimately to CEO or to board positions. Early in your career, look into the path you need to take to get that line experience.

5. Connect in person.
It’s easy, especially for younger generations, to rely on email, but you need to actually call people, set up visits, and develop relationships face-to-face—the more the better. Continue to connect throughout your search process. You can cold call alumni or join women’s networking groups like Ellevate, women’s industry groups like Women 2.0, or groups for men and women in the industry you’re in as well as for the industry you want to be in.

6. Present yourself to your best advantage.
Tailor your resume and your whole presentation for the job you want, not the job you had. In your resume, bring out the portions that relate to your new industry. Set up discussions, informational interviews, and interviews through the connections you’ve made, and in them focus on how you can bring a unique set of skills to your new industry. Explain the problems you can solve for the company—recruiters like to hear the creative ideas you have that inspired you to want to move into that industry.

7. Consider a “midlife” internship.
This concept has become very popular with women re-entering the workforce after taking time off, but it’s actually catching on with all sorts of women and men. (It doesn’t have to be “midlife,” but it just means that you’ve had several years of your career.) Although you’re paid nothing or close to it, a midlife internship can bear fruit as a great way to get your foot in the door and gain experience. I have a Tuck classmate who ended up starting a new company with one of the colleagues she met during her midlife internship.

8. Be flexible when considering offers.
Advancing in any company is all about skill acquisition, so if you’re changing industries, sometimes you have to make a lateral or a slightly reverse move to get where you want. Another thing to consider is that, in most industries, it’s easier to go from a big company name to a small one. So if you have the opportunity, go big. It shouldn’t be that way, but oftentimes recruiters will be attracted to resumes featuring big names.

9. Get on a board.
This is a special note for women. Currently, about 45 percent of the current CEOs of Fortune 500 companies served as non-executive directors on other public company boards before being named CEO. That’s a shift. It used to be that you were a CEO and then a public company selected you for a board position, but now it’s being looked at as a steppingstone to a CEO position. If reaching the C-suite is part of your goal, look to serve on a non-executive board of another company. If your company doesn’t support your participation on outside boards, maybe you’re not with the right company because that’s very important for your own personal growth.