Podcast

Episode: 194 |
Spish Rurak:
Career Transition:
Episode
194

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Spish Rurak

Career Transition

Show Notes

Our guest today is Zbigniew “Spish” Rurak, who has served as a career transition coach to several thousand management consultants as they left top-tier global firms.

In this episode, Spish shares observations on how to best prepare to transition out of a big firm and how to manage a successful job search.

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Hello, Spish. Welcome to the show.
Spish Rurak: Thank you very much, Will. Pleasure to be here.
Will Bachman: Spish, you have worked with hundreds, I think thousands of …
Spish Rurak: That’s right.
Will Bachman: … consultants that are leaving top tier consulting firms. Tell us how you help them think about their next steps.
Spish Rurak: It’s very straightforward, Will. Since we’re talking about consultants, the entire act, or the planning, preparation for what I call a transition, or what some people might call leaving, or pursuing a career step outside of or beyond consulting, can be organized like a project.
Spish Rurak: So, there’s essentially three elements. And so, one of the points I make to the individual who’s about to leave consulting is to think of it as a project. Organize it like a consulting project. That’s the first point.
Spish Rurak: The second point is that individuals choosing to leave consulting have got to figure or address a very simple question at the very outset, which is, do they wish to continue in consulting, although not in the model or the environment in which they’re currently working, or do they want to change?
Spish Rurak: Now, a change means leaving consulting. In most cases, it means entering the industrial sector or the corporate sector. But then they have to figure out whether it’s going to be for-profit, not for profit, is it going to be large, small? So, the first thing we do is talk about what the individual’s thoughts are. What are the plans?
Spish Rurak: Some people, I’ll give you the statistic. I’ve worked with about 3,000 consultants who have embarked on career changes, job changes, which were predicated on leaving consulting. You won’t be surprised at these statistics, given the sample size. One third have absolutely no idea what they want to do. Another third have, to borrow from the jargon of consulting, three to five working hypotheses. So, “Maybe I can do this. Maybe I can go with a client.” They have to go back, they have to look at the world retrospectively. That’s not always the best solution. But that’s the, the second cohort, one third, are working on vague ideas, each of which is built on a different experience, draws on something they either liked, didn’t like, did well, have aspirations for.
Spish Rurak: And then, the third are very focused. They, for example, may have worked for 10 years in telecoms. They’ve worked for five or six years in a consulting firm, and then they’re going off and continuing their career. So, they know exactly what to do.
Spish Rurak: The reason I’m going into this statistic is that the first thing you have to do is figure out who you are, what do you want do? Why? What for? And, given the statistical breakdown I just gave you, that’s not an easy answer for about half of the people.
Spish Rurak: So, one has to do a lot of thinking, talking, almost like therapy. Trying to discuss with the individual, “Why are you leaving?” Some people are leaving because they’re told to leave. Others are leaving because they’re happy but not really doing well. Others are not doing well, but are happy. You have to disengage, you have to disaggregate that.
Spish Rurak: The other thing is the personal situation. To be blunt about it, I’m dealing, especially with the consulting world, with a lot of individuals who literally can do just about anything they want to do. That means, in some cases, they can do the thing very easily. But in other cases, if they really have a passion and they want to do, they’ll figure it out.
Spish Rurak: So, the question is prioritization and preparation. Why do you want to do this? If the thing is going to take a very long time, then they have to be prepared for it. If you want to join a client, that’s one path. If you want to set up an Ashram in Bangkok, you can probably do it. If you really then pursue the second of these two examples, then you’ve got to figure out, why are you going to do it? How are you going to get to it? You can put together a business case.
Spish Rurak: So, many individuals have got to figure out, and this is, in fact, a fantastic opportunity for many people because the act of leaving opens up an entire vista of opportunities, of things that the individual can do that he or she otherwise couldn’t have done in the consulting paradigm. So, it’s question, to answer your … the first thing is figuring out who you are, why you want to do something. And if you settle on what it is you want to do, whether it’s one, two, or three things, setting up the metrics and the structure in which you can prioritize and explore. Now, not everybody is ready to explore. But that’s another thing we can go into later.
Will Bachman: Spish, you mentioned preparation. Let’s talk about that a little bit, and then we’ll get into the three phases of the actual project.
Will Bachman: What are some things that consultants should start doing, you know, T-minus two years, T-minus one year, T-minus six months? If you’re thinking that you might want to leave a big consulting firm, what are the things that you should start doing to prepare?
Spish Rurak: One of the most frequently asked questions with individuals who start what I call the transition process, or leaving, is the question, “What’s out there?” So, if by definition you’re doing a good job in consulting, you are probably more myopic, more confined, more narrow, in terms of your perspective of the outside world than you think.
Spish Rurak: Exposure to clients, the diversity of tasks, practices, businesses, business lines that one gets exposed to in consulting is a little illusory. It’s defined, really, by the consulting firm. So, to answer your question, whether it’s two years, 18 months, 12 months before, start talking to people outside of consulting and start looking at, what are opportunities out there? Job boards, sending your CV or resume out to headhunting firms to, so to speak, stoke the market. Let headhunters call you. Find out what’s out there. Talk to former colleagues who have left consulting. Where have they gone? Do they enjoy it? How did they come to get to it?
Spish Rurak: I’m not suggesting a full-scale structured exploration of the market, but there are, let’s say, one can do this if one has the discipline, because time is always scarce, in a structured way, one to two hours a month, just to peek outside of the world in which you are so intensely absorbed and committed. That will help you. When the time comes to leave, you will have at least some partial answers to what’s out there. So, that’s one thing.
Will Bachman: All right. So, a lot of folks probably went to a graduate school. Maybe business school, law school, medical school. So, you know, spend at least one or two hours a month, and if you’re really getting serious about it, maybe even an hour a week. Reach out to some former classmate, someone who left the firm two years before you, and just check in with them. Just see how they’re doing and figure out, you know, hear about their role.
Spish Rurak: And you can structure it in one of two ways. You can be very direct. If the individual is someone who is what I call friends and family, a trusted former colleague, you can say you’d like to talk to that individual about the job, or the company, or the sector because you’re interested in eventually moving into it.
Spish Rurak: Or, you can come about it in an indirect way. You can also practice this, in fact, with some client executives. By definition, clients, in most cases, are members of the world into which you, as the consultant and soon to be former consultant wish to enter. If you get to know them on a personal level, find out how they came to be where they are. Get to know people on an honest, personal level to understand them and the world they inhabit, because that’s the world you want to enter.
Spish Rurak: That will largely, if consistently executed, it will largely minimize the quandary that everyone faces with, what’s out there?
Will Bachman: Okay. So, just kind of find out what’s out there, reach out, have conversations. What are some other things people should be doing to prepare? Maybe kind of building skills, or other than relationships, would it be things just, like, your profile, your visibility, trying to get known in a certain industry?
Spish Rurak: You touched on a very good phrase. Visibility. Once again, most consulting firms, especially the prestigious ones, create a sort of illusory world in which exposure, at the very highest levels to the most serious problems that they’re helping solve or address, distracts away from the bigger world. You’re more likely, in leaving a consulting firm, to take a job with a company that you don’t know anything about.
Spish Rurak: So, what you have to do is step outside of the channel, the track, the world practice, and get exposure to communities, to constituencies outside of the client base or the target client base. So, what do I mean by that? Going into conferences. Attending alumni of your graduate school or business school. Giving speeches. Most consulting firms with advocate and encourage individuals to do that. But I’ve found that most individuals in consulting who are focused on advancing their career will usually look at steps they can take to maximize their exposure internally, within the constituencies of the consulting firm or its client base, and not outside.
Spish Rurak: So, anything you can do to be seen outside of the immediately available path and platform in consulting will enable you to be seen by outsiders. Just a simple arithmetic calculation. If you go to a conference, let’s say it’s hosted by the Financial Times, or Bloomberg, about the state of the industry or challenges to a particular function or industry. If you go there and you sit on a panel, white tablecloth panel discussion, your name will be on a list of attendees. Headhunters pick up those lists. You will meet individuals outside of consulting who represent other aspects, other approaches, perspectives to the same issues which you’re dealing.
Spish Rurak: That kind of exposure is what will get you calls, interest. So, in addition to getting smart about what’s out there, making sure that what’s out there also sees you, is a very important step.
Spish Rurak: I find, when I debrief the consultants who have completed their successful transitions out of whatever firm they’ve been working in, one of the most frequently encountered comments, retrospectively, what did they get … is that they’ve learned, “Wow, there’s so much out there that I didn’t know about.” And even very successful partners who have had machines under them, developing clients and developing revenues, recognize that their networks, the people who knew about them, was a very small number. Very small number. It’s only when they actually start exploring the market that they discover how many other people there were that they should have known.
Will Bachman: A lot of people in the universe. So, what are some mistakes that people make when they embark on this process? You’ve seen 3,000, so you have a pretty good sense of what works and what doesn’t.
Spish Rurak: First mistake they make is not to factor in that, I would say, in about 95% of the cases, the search process for the next career step or the next job is going to take you longer that you think it should. So, admitting that this is a process … unless you know exactly what you want to do, or you want to join a company that knows about you already, or you want to join a client, or you want to start your own business … the act of finding a job and leaving a … and sorry, one other exception is joining another consulting firm.
Spish Rurak: With those singular exceptions, starting your own company, joining a client, joining someone who already knows you, a former colleague, or joining another consulting firm, you’re always going to face an exploration process, and that takes time. Recognizing that any experience that you’ve had in joining the consulting firm in which you’re working and you’re leaving, that the recruiting process, the way in which you were treated as a candidate for that, is absolutely irrelevant to the way in which corporate industry is going to look at you.
Spish Rurak: Meaning it’s going to take three to four or five rounds of interviews, each of which will be interspersed with a waiting period of two to three weeks. You’re not the only game in town. Your candidacy for a particular position may be proceeded with alacrity and then suddenly suspended in so-called radio silence because, guess what? There are other candidates being interviewed for the same position.
Spish Rurak: To state an obvious point, most consulting firms truly value talent, so that if you’re one of five candidates and there’s only one position in the office you’re interviewing, if the other four are really good, they’ll put you into that office. Or they’ll, if you can’t, someone else is hired, they’ll put you in another office.
Spish Rurak: The other problem is that when you’ve been recruited into a consulting firm, it’s, frankly speaking, actually a very homogenous market. When you’re being recruited for a position outside of consulting, you will probably be one of only two consulting profiles that they’re looking at, and they’re looking at individuals who have already exp- … a completely different set of skills.
Spish Rurak: So, the decision making process, the evaluation process around the job for which you’re being interviewed can become very complex on the side of the employer. All of this translates into agonizingly longer for them to decide, longer for you to wait. So, that’s problem number one, is conditioning a set of expectations and the timing.
Spish Rurak: The other thing that I think you have to learn to accept at the very outset is that, again, with the exceptions that I mentioned at the very outset, the amount of work that you have to put in, the time you spend, the number of employers that you’re exploring, the number of candidacies, is a larger set than you really think, that you’re really prepared for.
Spish Rurak: So, the amount of work you put in, how long it takes to get a result, is going to be more than you want.
Will Bachman: When you say more than you want …
Spish Rurak: More than you expect.
Will Bachman: Yeah. More than you expect.
Spish Rurak: Yeah.
Will Bachman: What’s sort of the, I’m sure there’s a big range, but if we think sort of the 25th to the 75th percentile range of time for someone who’s not doing just going to another consulting firm or starting their own business, for that kind of search, where you’re trying to become vice president of X, Y, Z somewhere, how long do those searches typically take?
Spish Rurak: I’ll give you a couple of benchmarks. Before I started focusing on what I transition counseling or outplacement, I had spent 26 years as a headhunter. Most conventionally defined, retained executive searches take five to seven months to complete. That’s a very good starting point, I think, because that is what I would call a slightly artificial condition. It’s the ideal. In this case, the employer is committed, knows exactly what job needs to be filled, and has invested, let’s say, the fees for the headhunter.
Spish Rurak: Most opportunities that consultants are examining are either ill-defined or not defined at all. There is perhaps a demand for talent, but it’s not been distilled into the precise details that I’ve just described in the case of …
Spish Rurak: So, what you have to anticipate, I’ll give you a couple of benchmarks from my own experience, my sample. If you’re effectively a project manager, in other words, you’re not just the consultant producing a work stream, but you’re managing a group of consultants, then that search will take anywhere from three to five months to complete.
Spish Rurak: If you are a junior partner developing business but don’t have your own self-standing practice, that could take anywhere from four to six months. If you are a partner who already has a business, could take five to seven. And very senior partners can take as much as, believe it or not, nine to 12 months to complete.
Spish Rurak: Because why? The more senior you are as a consultant, the more company will have to pay to hire you. The number of opportunities that you will have available in a large company, the more senior you are as a consultant, is a lesser number. You’re looking at that top of the pyramid as opposed to the bottom. And there will be a certain unconventionality. Those positions will presumably be held by individuals who have already, quote, been there and done it. They don’t have a consulting profile. You’ll have a huge gulf to overcome in terms of the perception among most employers that consultants are really bright, fast studies, highly intelligent, but they don’t know how to lead people and they don’t have management or responsibility for a large body count or PNL.
Spish Rurak: So, if you’re going after that kind of job, it’s going to take most employers much longer to figure out how they’re going to recruit you, even though they want you. That’s the problem.
Will Bachman: You mentioned you can treat the search like a project with three elements. What are those three elements? Tell us a little bit about that.
Spish Rurak: Phase one is what I call toolkit preparation. Let me just list off a number of things that comprise the tool set. So, you need a resume. Concomitantly, you need a LinkedIn profile. For every five people that you ask about what’s a good resume, you’ll get seven opinions. There are different ways of saying, “What’s the right resume?” Basically, I espouse a short resume. One page is better than two pages, and if you really have so much experience, then two pages is a lot better than three.
Spish Rurak: So, you need a resume. You need an appropriately LinkedIn profile. More importantly, you need to explain yourself. You have to have a storyline. Why are you leaving consulting? Why are you leaving now? What are you looking for? The obverse of that. You have to be prepared to answer questions about compensation.
Spish Rurak: Depending upon the degree of experience you’ve had before you entered consulting, many of the questions that I’ve just articulated about, “What’s your storyline? Why are you leaving?” Are not that easy to answer. And in most consulting cases, they’re surrounded by what I call emotional complications. People are leaving, even if they’re at the top of their form, they may be leaving with mixed emotions.
Spish Rurak: I’ve worked with a very successful senior partner at a firm 23 years. Built like a rugby player. And when we addressed the issue of, “Why are you leaving and why now?” The individual broke down into tears. It was like a divorce. He was leaving an identity of 23 years, and he wasn’t quite sure what the new world, what the new identity would be.
Spish Rurak: So, it’s what I call exorcizing the devils around the actual first issues or questions that you will face.
Spish Rurak: These can be handled, by the way, what I’ve just mentioned, the resume and LinkedIn profile, preparing for the inevitable first questions, in some cases, can be tackled in half a day. In other cases, take up to two months to exorcize. Example. I worked with a successful partner who, in addressing and preparing the, “Why are you leaving? Why now?” Wrote a nine page memo. I’m sure he never did that for any of his clients. But it took almost two months of whittling that nine page memo down to about five or six basic sentences. That was the devil that we had to exorcize.
Spish Rurak: So, purging the past. You can’t do it entirely, but it has to be started right away. Because it’s there. It’s under-recognized. It exists with all of us, because we’re all very ambitious, driven collectors of achievements.
Spish Rurak: Let me get down to the last points of the toolkit. There are two things that really take more time than the half day or two months that I’ve just described. You’ve got to know where you’re going, however provisionally. So, my advice to everyone is, think through which companies you’re interested in exploring. Now, as I said earlier, in the sample of the one third, one third, and one third breakdown, some individuals don’t have an idea. So, that takes a lot of time to figure out, on what basis, what criteria am I going to come up with a tentative provisional set of companies I’m interested in?
Spish Rurak: Other individuals come up with five or six immediately. My advice is come up with 20 what I call beautiful companies. The definition of a beautiful company is good answers to two questions. First question, the easier of the two, why do I want to work for them? Everyone employer will want to know why any candidate they’re about to hire is interested in that company. Is it because his or her upward mobility is frustrated, not getting paid enough? An opportunity to drive through a project to fruition was denied? Maybe a geographic relocation. Maybe work/life balance. All sorts of things. There is a good answer to the, “Why am I interested you?” And there are some bad answers. And each company-
Will Bachman: What are the bad answers?
Spish Rurak: Bad answers. Work/life balance. Although, occasionally, what can be slipped in is, “I don’t want to travel as much.” But work/life balance is an absolutely no-no. Never talk about that. Because however supposedly understanding an employer is, they will always, and they’ll understand why you’re leaving a consulting firm where you work 120 hours a week, they’re going to get into what I call the mensuration complex, which is, “Well, will you work 100?” Or, “Will you come in on Saturday night if you have a real project?”
Spish Rurak: So, that’s a bad answer. Also, bad answers are, “I’d like to make more money.” They want you to join for the mission, for the team. To do something. So, those are, relatively speaking, easier questions to answer. And it’s important to recognize that answers to that question can differ from company to company.
Spish Rurak: The more difficult of the two questions for selecting a so-called beautiful company is, why would they want to hire me? The ugly secret in a successful job search is, frankly, that employers, with very few exceptions, don’t really know why they want to hire you. There may be a job. It’s described. Maybe a specification, job description with 15 to 20 selection criteria. But what makes one candidate look better or beat the other two, to three, to four, is going to be the individual who helps the employer visualize what the successful candidate is going to do.
Spish Rurak: In other words, for every job, there will be five or six candidates. They’re all going to be different. They will all have comparable skill sets, intellectual acuity. Maybe relevant experience. How does an employer make a decision? This candidate is 10 years older. This candidate is $10,000 less expensive. Which one is going to get the job?
Spish Rurak: The way in which you can really help an employer move on your candidacy is to start talking to the employer about what it is that you will do, what you need, how will it look if you join? And back to the question of, why would they want to hire me? In some cases, an employer would want you because of some work you’ve done on mergers and acquisitions. Another part of your background may be more relevant to another employer because of what you’ve done on digitalization.
Spish Rurak: So, it’s important to recognize, now, I think the message should be clear … and this is a complicating factor, but after all, consultants can manage complexity … is to determine that you will be a different solution for a different problem. A big fallacy of many job-seekers is to memorize a so-called 30-second commercial and say, “This is my skill set,” And expect the market to respond accordingly. It won’t. Unless the market is described as a rival consulting firm, who will easily not care about anything and take you just because of what you’ve been doing yesterday.
Spish Rurak: So, you can see that coming up with the good answers to the second question, “Why would employer A as opposed to employer B want to hire me?” Will require, one, a lot of research, which is easily done if it’s a publicly traded company. A little more research if it’s a privately traded company. Access to research can be online, public annual reports, analyst reports. But also, talking to a lot of friends who may work or are consulting to it.
Spish Rurak: My [inaudible 00:25:47] advice to most individuals who embark on this hit list of 20 companies is, choose 20. Not everybody can do that. The range I’ve worked with is three and up to 40. And it’s important to recognize that this is your first roadmap. You need to have an initial direction. You have to recognize that if you take 20 or you start with 12, within 30 days of exploring the market, some are going to fall out, others are going to come in. It’s a living list.
Spish Rurak: But it’s also a governor in measuring how well you’re doing in your own job search. If you start with 20 and you’re down to only six after two months, that’s a little risky. So, my advice is, keep it always at the 20 level.
Spish Rurak: So, that’s the penultimate aspect of the toolkit. The final point is coming up with a channel strategy. There are essentially, in my experience, three roads or channels from job A to job B. I’ll list them quickly. Headhunters. Call them low-cost, low-yield. Job boards or advertisements. They can be online. Advertised positions. And the two channels that I’ve just mentioned, headhunters and job boards, have a lot in common. But let me tell you, statistically, for most consultants and a lot of non-consulting profiles, those two channels will account from anywhere from five to 25% of the yield in a job search.
Spish Rurak: Which takes me to the final element of the toolkit preparation, which is coming up with a network list. Networking is talking to people, some of whom you know, many of whom you may not know, who will either tell you something about a company or a sector you’re interested in, or help you get introduced to it.
Spish Rurak: Every one of us has a network. Not all of us like networking. We don’t always think about it, and when we do, most of the time we have a very what I would call irrelevant or unrealistic [inaudible 00:27:51] idea about networking. My advice to anyone embarking on a search is to come up with 100 networking names. It my experience, every individual, whether it’s in consulting or a corporate counterpart, can usually come up with 30 executives or colleagues, former colleagues, whom he or she knows that will help them advance their job search.
Spish Rurak: Now, we all have huge networks. We may have 7,000 links on LinkedIn. What I’m talking about is an individual who is either in a company that the transitioning consultant is interested in, or near it, knows something about it. Consulting to it, written about it, formally worked in it. Most individuals come up with about 30. In my experience, it’s risky to embark on a job search and play out the networking channel with 30 or less. In my experience, most people end up conducting a successful job search having spoken to about 70 to 80 individuals.
Spish Rurak: So, it’s useful to get 100 because you might not get the right job. You will get offers. You will get offers. You will get opportunities. But it’s important to recognize that every job is imperfect, and at this point, you actually have, surprisingly enough, a lot of latitude, and I think the foundation to make a good decision. So, you shouldn’t be pressed by taking the first offer. Therefore, you will go through several offers. But that’s, again, talking about scale. Talking about a lot of explorations, a lot of dialogues.
Spish Rurak: So, preparing a network list of, let’s say, 100. If you don’t want, maybe start with 50. It can grow. And coming up with the hit list of 20 beautiful companies, whether it’s 12 or 20. That comprises the toolkit. You need to start with that.
Will Bachman: So, a question on that. That starts to be getting a pretty large number of names of companies and names of people to keep track of. One way would be to use a spreadsheet, Excel or something.
Spish Rurak: Yes.
Will Bachman: Are there technology solutions now that you recommend that job seekers use, kind of like a CRM system, to track, when is the last time you touched this person? Do you need to follow up with them? All of the companies, all the opportunities that you’re pursuing across these different companies. I can imagine some kind of CRM type of tool might make sense. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.
Spish Rurak: You’re right, except I don’t know about it. What I find, interestingly enough, is everyone with whom I’ve worked, because I’ve worked with 3,000 consultants and about 1,000 corporate counterpart executives, every one of them uses a spreadsheet. But I’m sure there’s an app. I’m sure there’s a CRM. And I’m sure many of the CRMs that many of these executives or consultants use internally, within their own company, for tracking clients or even projects, lend themselves to this. But, frankly speaking, an Excel spreadsheet is enough. What’s important is to capture of all this and to maintain the discipline to keep everything updated.
Spish Rurak: I will tell you, I’ve worked, surprisingly enough, there are a number of individuals at various senior levels in consulting, for example, partners, who will tell me, when I get into this kind of conversation at the very beginning of the search, they hate spreadsheets. They do it on paper.
Will Bachman: Okay.
Spish Rurak: But it doesn’t have to be anything very sophisticated. On the other hand, you’re absolutely right that if there were a structure, format that was easily available and manageable through a smartphone, that’s the way to go. But I don’t know of one.
Will Bachman: All right. Cool. Well, for my own business, I use Pipedrive. And I can imagine, if I were about to do a job search, that’s probably what I would use to track both people that I have talked to as well as companies and specific job opportunities at those. But, listeners, if there’s a better solution out there, I’d love to hear about it. Let me know, and I’ll add it to the show notes if I get some recommendations.
Spish Rurak: And I would ask that you let me know of them.
Will Bachman: And I’ll let Spish know.
Spish Rurak: Okay.
Will Bachman: So, we talked through, only phase one.
Spish Rurak: That’s phase-
Will Bachman: So, now, let’s talk through the toolkit. So, you’ve got the toolkit in place. And some of that, you could probably start that in advance. Preparing your resume and your LinkedIn profile.
Spish Rurak: Absolutely. That’s a very important point. That is not the beginning of a job search. The advantages of phase one are, one, it can be done completely confidentially. You don’t have to go into the market at all, which is important, because a lot of individuals are deliberating about whether they should leave the firm. So, there’s absolutely no risk of compromise.
Spish Rurak: The second point is that you have complete control over the timing, whether you spend six months working on phase one or six hours. Where the real search starts is phase two.
Will Bachman: So, let’s talk about that.
Spish Rurak: Right. So, phase two, you take the sheet of 100 or 50 networking names and you write e-mails to them. It’s like any outreach in a marketing campaign. You can segment that into, by seniority, by sector. Example. You may be interested in looking at three different sectors, one of which is not-for-profit. The other one may be in high tech. And a third one may be in traditional corporate conglomerates or industrials.
Spish Rurak: The beauty is that your background as a consultant makes it entirely feasible and realistic that you could be a viable candidate in any one of those. So, reaching out to different individuals, adjusting the message both by virtue of the sector or the geography, but equally by seniority. Some individuals will be information givers. There’s a lot written about job search books and so on. You will go into the market and ask people for information. You want to find out, what’s it like to work? If it’s not the right job or it’s not the right company, do you know of another one in your space or in your sector?
Spish Rurak: The other one is what I call door openers. Now, there, you have to change the message because you’re essentially trying to persuade, even someone who very well knows you and trusts you, why it is that he or she should take some active step, sometimes maybe stepping out beyond their reach in order to do you a favor. You don’t really want to ask people to do you a favor. You want them to look good when they do something good for you.
Spish Rurak: So, there’s, again, a lot of preparation so you can make a, call it a value proposition statement that empowers the individual that you’ve reached out to to make the introduction so that then you can get into the person.
Spish Rurak: And then, there’s a decision maker. Those individuals are very senior. You don’t want to reach out to them early. And you want to be very focused and specific in terms of what it is you ask that individual.
Spish Rurak: So, there’s a segmentation and an adjusting to the message. But the point is, you should blast it out into the market as quickly as possible. That is the start of a job search.
Spish Rurak: Now, back to my earlier comments, not all of these people are going to respond early. Some of them may be the best intentioned and they may owe you favors, however, they’ve got crises and emergencies that they’ve got to handle. And within hours of receiving your e-mail, they’ve received five others that take priority over you. So, it’s a question of adjusting your expectations and factoring in the very real and common probability that you’re going to have to send a very polite reminder. A lot of individuals are not used to doing that.
Will Bachman: What’s kind of a good thumb rule on how long to wait before you send a follow-up note? Like, “Hey, just wanted to follow up.”
Spish Rurak: Two weeks.
Will Bachman: Two weeks. Really? That long.
Spish Rurak: Yeah.
Will Bachman: Okay.
Spish Rurak: Yeah. I’d say two weeks, and you write an e-mail saying, “I don’t know whether you received this. It may have been buried in your inbox, or this could have been spammed, so, if you don’t mind, I’m just re-transmitting. Would love to spend a few minutes on the phone with you.”
Will Bachman: Okay. All right.
Spish Rurak: My advice is, wait two weeks. If you haven’t, on the second attempt, four weeks, give it one last. If the individual has not responded after three reminders, then it’s very likely that person’s not going to respond at all. Although, to prove the rule, I’ve seen exceptions where somebody writes back three months afterwards and says, “I’ve only had a chance to look at this,” Or, “This got buried.” So, it’s important, as a side note, it’s very important not to take the absence of a response personally. That’s very important.
Spish Rurak: There are some, I would call almost, there are ubiquitous good explanations why people don’t respond to you when you want them to. There’s, in fact, a cruel inversion of priorities. That individual to whom you’ve just sent an e-mail is, for you, very important. Your e-mail received in his or her inbox is not as important. It’s supplanted, immediately, by five or 10 other priorities that take precedence. So, reminders, important. Every two weeks.
Will Bachman: You recommend phone calls?
Spish Rurak: Yeah. In all cases, obviously, we live in a world in which more and more of our communications is centered in the online and text. I believe that, especially since so much of this is surrounded by intangibles and incomplete information, that what you write in this outreach that we’ve been talking about is asking to get some time on the telephone.
Will Bachman: Okay. So, now we’re in phase two.
Spish Rurak: You can phrase it as just five or 10 minutes.
Will Bachman: So, now we’re in phase two. So, you’re sending out e-mails, and then, I’m sorry. What’s the rest of phase and two and what’s …
Spish Rurak: So, I mentioned earlier, there are two other channels. There is a lot of tactics that you can start implementing with respect to headhunters. Headhunters, a vastly overestimated, much misunderstood channel. But with, as I suggested earlier, with limited results. But nonetheless valuable, if not in the immediate term, meaning for the current job search you’re conducting, then as part of a longer term what I call exposure strategy.
Spish Rurak: So, collecting a list of headhunters. I think, in the United States, there are, by last count, something like 15,000 search firms and probably 100,000 practitioners in that field. Everybody knows a few headhunters. The reality is that those whom you know are literally the snowflake on the iceberg. So, maximizing your exposure to headhunters. Collectings lists. Tactic that I recommend to everyone is an organic collection of headhunters.
Spish Rurak: Once you start, back to the example of networking, if you reach out to 30 individuals and you’re talking to them about jobs, abstracting away from the awkward situation where you do not wish to ask your employer about headhunters he or she may know, but if you’re talking to former colleagues, alumni, you can always ask, “Hey, do you know any headhunters who deal in this space?” And you’ll be told, “Yeah. I know these two to three.” Then you send your resume to that headhunter and you say, “Jack or Jill recommended me that I should reach out to you.”
Spish Rurak: So, launching phase two is triggering an outreach to the headhunter community, and then factoring in channel two, which is job boards, online. The seductive simplicity of that is occasionally misplaced. I mean, you can do searches for jobs through the job board channel in an airport lounge. You can do it on the beach. It’s more useful to most consultants as an indirect way of collecting intelligence about what’s out there. The likelihood that you’re the right fit for an advertised position is, frankly, very low. However, if you find that an employer is advertising for a position, then one, you may have discovered a company that you never thought about and you’re interested in. You found that company through the job board. Or, if the job is either too senior or too junior for you, that means there’s possible an unadvertised position in that company you can reach out to without responding to that job board application.
Spish Rurak: So, I advise a multi-path strategy. Each element is distinct, but they feed on each other and they help you appreciate each of the channels more as you push down them.
Will Bachman: I’m a little bit surprised about the advice around headhunters. In my limited exposure to that world, my understanding was that headhunters basically don’t want to get inbound resumes. That they have a specific mandate, and they typically like to kind of go out and search the universe, and find people in those roles, at certain companies, and try to find them, as opposed to getting inbound resumes. You know better than I do, so I’m hearing that I was a little bit mistaken. So, what’s the best way to interact with executive recruiters? My understanding is that they never want to talk to you unless you’re relevant to an existing search they have. Should you just kind of upload your resume to their site or e-mail it to them? Should you ever expect them to talk to you? Tell us a little bit about how to interact with headhunters.
Spish Rurak: Yeah. You’ve answered the question, actually. It’s correct. There is no headhunter who thrives on expecting an inflow of resume to his or her office. They have their own databases. They have their own networks. But some offices of some of the bigger, global firms receive up to 1,000 resumes a day. Not all of them are deleted. Some of them are stored and, agonizingly, acted on three years later. After you’ve succeeded in your job search.
Spish Rurak: So, the reality is that the yield on sending a resume, that’s why I said it’s only 5% to 10%, is abysmally low. The only reason I mention it is that it’s low cost. If you find 100 headhunters and all you have to do is prepare a skeletally simple cover letter, append or attach your resume to it, reality is, you may get three responses. But it will have cost you maybe two hours to do that, and you’ll get three responses.
Spish Rurak: So, it’s a question of recognizing that this is something that isn’t, managing your expectations, but basically getting more exposure in the marketplace. Where the real yield comes from headhunters is two to three years later, when you have already credentialized yourself on the corporate side, and you will be a much more attractive candidate for them. The reality is, very few headhunters are interested in consulting resumes because consulting resumes, almost by definition, inappropriate for most corporate positions that they fill. The employer would retain them to fill it because they’re looking for someone who has already been there and done it. The consultant is not going to be a good candidate for a controller. They’re looking for someone who is a junior controller or manager of budgets and planning.
Spish Rurak: Nonetheless, if you have, as an example, sent your resume to 100 search firms, when you’ve done your search, when you’re leaving consulting, and then you send that same set of 100, your resume, after you’ve taken the next job, you will probably be getting five to 10 calls from them after you’ve taken the new job.
Spish Rurak: So, it’s a combination of very low expectations and results in the short term, and an incremental investment in the longer term. There are two types of headhunters. I don’t know whether it’s worth explaining. I think it is, actually, because, to your point, not all of them want resumes. It’s not entirely true.
Spish Rurak: There are two types of headhunters. There’s the so-called retain side, where, I’m simplifying here, the search firm has been hired by the employer. In many cases, paid literally upfront, independent of result. And is looking at a specifically defined position and literally functioning as the clearing house. They will consider anyone, whether that is someone from inside the employer’s organization, from the outside, their own database, their own networks, or something that’s come in over the so-called [inaudible 00:45:20], meaning you could have sent them the resume, and they’re looking, and it’s exactly right. They’ve been paid. They have no ego. If it solves the problem, they’ll do it. And basically, at this stage, I think retain search firms work for employers or positions that are compensated annually at $200,000 or more.
Spish Rurak: Below that are so-called …
Will Bachman: Contingent.
Spish Rurak: … contingent recruiters. Contingent recruiters don’t have an exclusive relationship. They don’t function as a clearing house. They’re effectively a distribution channel for you. If you send them your resume and they like it, and they deal with five to 10 employers who might be interested in it, it’s important to recognize that that contingent recruiter is going to take that resume, without your knowledge. Sometimes they’ll be courteous enough and professional enough to let you know to whom they’re going to be sending it. But in most cases, they’ll put a stamp, and I’m obviously exaggerating here for some dramatic effect, they’ll put a stamp on it that says, “It belongs to me,” And they’ll send it to five companies.
Spish Rurak: And if the company buys it, meaning they want to interview you and they hire you, then the search firm will be paid. And that leads, occasionally, to channel conflicts. Meaning you may have been already talking to that employer. HR department received your resume. Offer time is coming, and they discover that, HR says, as they’re processing, that they’ve already got you in the files. That will not, by the way, hurt your candidacy. It simply means that the poor contingent recruiter is going to have the employer knock their fee down a little more.
Spish Rurak: But those recruiters, and obviously, with the $200,000 threshold that I mentioned, because many consultants operate at levels at which they’re going to be looking for jobs that pay in excess of that, but if you’re a one, two, or three year consultant and you’re being paid less than that, then there are many headhunters who will pick that up and live with it.
Spish Rurak: And there are many search firms, contingent ones, who thrive off the consulting marketplace, and fill positions, again, at the lower, more junior levels, where the employers are interested in bringing in the analytical talent that a consultant resume suggests.
Will Bachman: You’ve been doing this awhile.
Spish Rurak: Yeah.
Will Bachman: I’m curious to hear about trends that you’ve seen over the last couple of years. Anything currently picking up in interest among consultants that are leaving firms? Do you see any trends?
Spish Rurak: Several impressions. First, I’m amazed, especially in the last three to four years, at what jobs consultants are taking in companies that I’ve never heard about. So, the disruptions in the market. It’s not just high tech startups in Silicon Valley, or biomedical in Route 128. Almost every industrial sector, consumer packaged goods, even industrial, is having a lot of small companies. And consultants are actually being scooped up by them. Whereas in the past, if somebody were skilled in financial services, I would have expected the top 10 household names, the usual suspects, so to speak. Now, what’s available is the heady world and the large, and very volatile, constantly changing fintech. And there are, call it consumer tech. There’s a lot out there.
Spish Rurak: So, more and more consultants are going into small companies. Before this recognition on my part, meaning three to four years ago, I found that, one, small companies had trouble recruiting consultants. It wasn’t easier for a startup to say, “I’m enamored of this kind of background.” There’s now enough in the marketplace where, and a lot, frankly, of the startup companies, and the, let’s say, let’s talk fintech, are defectors from large banks who have seen consultants in their ranks, or themselves have been former consultants and are now starting companies.
Spish Rurak: So, as a percentage, the total number of consultants, the share of consultants who are joining very small companies is expanding. Continues to expand. I’m amazed by that.
Spish Rurak: The second point is, the traditional landing pad of consultants in most corporate environments encompass the following titles. Strategy, planning, business development, corporate development. In some cases, internal facsimiles or imitations of consulting. Problem solving, brain trusts, and so on. And they drew on the analytical talent.
Spish Rurak: Because consulting itself has changed over the last several, let’s say within the last decade, and gone much more into implementation, many consultants are now moving into, call it transformation roles. They may be managing a project office. So, one consulting firm has not finished an enterprise-wide transformation. They need to complete it. So, they’ll hire consultants into, a lot of CTOs, chief transformation officer. Not technical officer. And a lot of them are actually penetrating the world of private equity.
Spish Rurak: Private equity has traditionally been a very difficult sector for most consultants to crack. Related to my earlier remark about joining small companies, I’ve also seen an increase in the number of consultants who are joining private equity firms. Several reasons for that. I think private equity is recognizing that they’ve just about done everything they can by hiring out of investment banks, and that some of their relationships and some of the problems they face in managing their portfolio, it’s not acquiring the portfolios, but managing the portfolios, will be better served by having consultants onboard.
Spish Rurak: So, they’re not going to be hiring a consultant to be an analyst. They’re not going to be hiring a consultant to be a deal-maker. By definition, the skills do not reside in the experience that most consultants have for deal-making. They exist in the analytics, but you can get by with a first-year post-MBA to solve that for the private equity firm.
Spish Rurak: But I’m seeing more and more insertion of consultants at the side of a portfolio company president. Most classically, most often, CEO of a portfolio and operating company has to be there, but doesn’t have the entire perspective or the experience to transform the company. He or she will have a side gig. It’s going to be the consultant who’s hired by the PE house.
Spish Rurak: So, a lot more penetration of private equity. A lot more adapting to the change. And it seems like almost every company I’ve run into in the last 18 months is transforming itself in one degree or another. Fewer, therefore, planning and strategy roles. More implementation, transformation. Now, these are not PNL. These are not running a cost or a profit center. They are still using the skill sit inherent in a consulting profile, which is traversing all of the different organizations, getting a corporate- or enterprise-wide initiative in place.
Spish Rurak: But the advantage, I think, for many consultants is, if that is the first position they take when they join, their chances of moving into the operating line, which is the dream of most consultants when they leave consulting, are much better than if they had been in a traditional strategy or planning role, which is further divorced from the operating line.
Spish Rurak: So, those are several trends. I think, also, another one is, I would say, mobility. I’ve seen, in most of the geographies I operate in, a readiness to take a job elsewhere. It’s complicated. Spousal, dual career issues, and so on. But nonetheless, I’m seeing people looking outside of the geography in which they’ve developed their career. A greater openness and recognition that it would be good for them to work somewhere else, physically. Locationally.
Will Bachman: Different country?
Spish Rurak: Different country. And that’s sometimes driven by the fact, and it’s not just an indirect comment on, they call it the psychology of the consultant profile, it’s driven by the globalization. The fact that I’m working right now with a, call it a senior, you know, in the Kinsey terms, an AP, who is European by background and interested in sustainability and environment. And he’s looking for a job in the United States, but many of the companies that he is interviewing with are in Europe, and they’re trying to move into the United States. He could have opportunities both in Europe, as well as in the West Coast, as well as in the East Coast.
Spish Rurak: So, there’s a spreading, a pan, call it, geography of companies. And not necessarily just big ones. Small companies are distributed.
Will Bachman: Spish, we’ve mainly been talking about folks that are directly leaving a consulting firm. Any advice for consultants who have now spent two, or three, or four, or five years at a firm and like the role, but maybe they’re thinking about, “Hey, I want to try something new in a year or two”? For someone in that role, who has done consulting, is now an executive somewhere, but thinking about making a transition in a year or two. Anything different that that person should be doing to build relationships outside the company, or raise their visibility, or any other recommendations you have for someone in that position?
Spish Rurak: Well, some of the points you just mentioned, if the individual still has time before the actual act of leaving, clearly maximizing your exposure on the outside. So, without any seditious or treasonous behavior, for any given activity that you’re doing for your current employer, I advise, see if you can, on that business trip, meet a former colleague. Go attend a conference. Go talk to some blogger who writes about your company or your industry.
Spish Rurak: The ugly secret in, not job searches, but career development, I find, is that any individual executive, and this holds true for a consultant, or maybe, you know, SVP of something or other in a large company … at any one moment, that person can visualize probably one to four different career steps in that company. You can maybe succeed your boss, or maybe if you complete this particular initiative or project, the internal customer might want to take you in and make you their number two in marketing or distribution.
Spish Rurak: But it’s a small, single-digit number. Whereas, outside of your current employer, and this is the, what some people … you can find 10 competitors and 10 potential entrances into that space, each of whom will have three to … so, the under-recognized secret in career development is that you have more opportunities outside of your current employer to advance your career than you do in.
Spish Rurak: Now, human nature being what it is, you default into doing everything that’s possible within the current employer, and for very good reason. You know the inner workings. You know the processes. It’s finite. It’s predictable. It’s controllable. But, reality is, you can do better for yourself, probably, outside.
Spish Rurak: So, back to your question. If you’re going to be making a change, it’s important to recognize that you should start doing what we’ve been talking about, for most consultants. Maximizing exposure outside. Going through many of these issues. By the way, also, thinking through, what’s your storyline? Why are you leaving? What are you looking for? If you’re a former consultant, spent three years, let’s say, first in planning and then moved into the operating line, how are you going to explain your interest in leaving? What are you looking for?
Spish Rurak: It’s also important to cobble together your storyline. What have you really done in that company? You see, consultants, when they go into the market, are defined essentially by the projects they’ve done for their clients. And you can then take a look at, if you’ve worked on 15 projects or whether you’ve worked on 150, you can more or less segment that or organize it around what I would call three to four significant differentiators that define you.
Spish Rurak: The same issue holds true, however, for the corporate world. So, don’t let yourself be just identified by the title. The great advantage in corporate life is that, if you’ve joined, and you’re the vice president of strategy, and then you become the vice president of marketing, it is a very simple, call it lingua franca. You’re a marketing executive, therefore you will be a fine candidate for marketing. That may not be the best thing for you. And in fact, what you’ve been doing in marketing may not fit in the next employer for marketing. So, it’s a question of stepping back and examining what it is you’ve been doing for those two, three, four, or five years, and developing a story about what it is you know, what you’re the go-to guy for, or gal. And then, putting together that toolkit.
Spish Rurak: Also, asking yourself, why are you making the change? We can all assume why people leave consulting. But why are you leaving? Is it that you’re frustrated? Upward mobility? The company is going south? It’s not working out? You’re not happy, and that’s a very important point. It’s fine not to be happy. But you’ve got to have a very legitimate explanation for why you’re not happy and get away from the negative. And instead of talking about why you’re frustrated or why you’re blocked, is what it is you’re looking for, to take the next step. The positive thing. “I am looking at this company because I want to do certain things that I can’t do here.”
Will Bachman: Any books, or tools, or other resources that you recommend to your clients?
Spish Rurak: There are two that come, off-hand. I recommend these all the time. One is a book called Who. Titled Who. Written by two individuals associated with the company ghSMART. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It depicts or presents a branded approach developed by this company about A-level recruiting. It’s a useful book for most individuals to understand the recruiting process. How do employers behave? What are they looking for? How do they organize a recruiting process? What do they derive from an interview? Where does the interview fit into the overall decision-making process? What can you do before and after the interview? So, getting into the mind of the employers’ recruiting criteria system and process.
Spish Rurak: There’s another book. I’ve forgotten the author at the moment. It’s entitled Hire with Your Head. That, also, is very good. It’s almost a manual for the employer. So, if you’re going to be trying to win an employer, get into the enemy camp for the moment and find out how it is that they work. So, that’s one.
Spish Rurak: Another one is a book called The First 90 Days. It’s written by, he’s no longer at Harvard Business School. I think he’s at IMD now, in Switzerland. His name is Michael Walters, or Waters. He’s written two books. I’ve forgotten the title of the second. I recommend to everybody that they read The First 90 Days. It’s a fantastic, simple read. Like most business school professors’ books, it refers to a lot of what I call war stories. Hopefully they’re all true. But they will enable you to figure out what to expect in most corporate environments. 70% of it will be evident. The beauty about it is that it presents it in a holistic, comprehensive structure, organized by effort, initiative, and evidenced by lots and lots of stories.
Spish Rurak: And, by the way, it’s an easy read because, like most of these books, the first two pages will tell you what’s in the chapter. The last two pages will summarize it. And there are three checklists inside so you can [inaudible 01:03:17]. But, invaluable. Everyone I’ve recommended that book to gets something out of it.
Will Bachman: And that one is, and I just looked it up, The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, by Michael D. Watkins.
Spish Rurak: Watkins.
Will Bachman: And we’ll include a link to that one in the show notes. And Who, that you mentioned, by Geoff Smart. I guess he founded ghSMART.
Spish Rurak: Yeah.
Will Bachman: And Randy Street. So, we’ll include those links …
Spish Rurak: Right. Street and Smart.
Will Bachman: … in the show notes. Street smarts, I guess.
Spish Rurak: Yeah.
Will Bachman: Spish, this has been an incredibly valuable discussion. I can’t thank you enough for being on the show.
Spish Rurak: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

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