Christmas 2021 is nearly upon us. Of course, Christmas is a Christian festival based on the story of the birth of Jesus in Nazareth, described in the biblical gospels of Luke and Matthew. One of the most famous elements of the story - which comes from an early English translation of the Gospel of Luke – is that Jesus was born in a stable, or animal shelter, “…because there was no room for them within the inn”. While the accuracy of this translation has been debated for some time – the message of having few choices because certain doors are closed is very clear.
And, while this is essentially a story about a mother running out of time to give birth, it nevertheless reminded me of a recent LinkedIn article I read by Ryan Holmes, co-founder of Hootsuite, which is also about doors closing – but this time on your career journey.
"If a door takes longer to open, soak up the challenge and get creative”, says Ryan; “The longer it takes, the better story it makes down the road."
Ryan certainly makes a good point here – that closed doors on your career path do not necessarily mean the end of the story - rather they should be seen as hurdles, or challenges, to overcome.
While we take time off to celebrate this festive season, the latest statistics suggest that a good number of us will be thinking about making the next move, with many looking to change careers – a process which traditionally presents many closed doors. So, I’ve taken some time here to look at why doors might be closed to you at first, and what measures you can take to prise them open.
Choose your door
Firstly, let’s think about what doors actually close to us during our career journey. These generally fall into three major categories:
The promotion door
The door to a new company
The door to a new career
The first thing to decide is whether these doors are ones that you really want to be going through. Will that promotion give you what you want as the next step in your career? Sometimes a promotion can come with quite a few strings attached such as more people management responsibilities and more time spent winning business for the company than actually spent implementing projects. Is that famous company that you’ve always wanted to work for going to give you a strong career path, or are you taking a pay cut simply to work for a big name? And will moving from, say, finance controllership into a business partnering focus present you with real opportunities to broaden your career, or are you steeping off an already great trajectory within finance controllership?
These are the kinds of questions we will all need to ask ourselves at some point in our careers. But if, after careful consideration, the answers are positive, then you want to commit to trying to open those doors.
Why doors close
Again, there are three main reasons why career path doors close:
You don’t have the skills
You don’t have the experience
Gaining the intel
It may not be immediately clear why a door has closed on you. It could be any of the three points above, or a combination of them, so gaining intelligence on this is the key. Always ask for feedback from interviews or from your application process – try to get to the core reasons you were rejected. Don’t settle for the usual throw-away reasons such as the role has been put on hold etc. Instead, try to get in touch with someone in the company who can give you advice and an impartial assessment. As a recruitment firm, we will always endeavour to get this feedback for you, but it never hurts to connect to people working in similar positions who can give you an opinion.
Skills – this is self-explanatory. If a role requires a Salesforce Admin certification and you don’t have it, your only way to open that door is to get one. You will need to find a way to achieve this, usually with a steeping stone in the form of a course or an interim job. However, if you are more concerned about a way in to the firm than the specific role that requires the Administrator qualification, then check other roles at the firm that may not require this as a work-around.
Experience – again, this is fairly straightforward. If the role requires team management and you don’t have this, then your mission is to acquire that experience. Is there a way in your current role you can work up to this? However, also think about other experiences you may have had – such as a sporting event where you had to manage a team, or even a specific project where you had to lead a team for a short period. Think again about whether you’ve presented your experience convincingly and in the right way – maybe you didn’t get it across clearly. Even tenuously-linked experiences can be enough to get you through the door if all the other major boxes are ticked, it was just this one the application reviewer had concerns over. Transferable experience is a major aspect to landing that career change role, so pay special attention this aspect if you’re trying to open the career change door.
Cultural fit – this one is less clear. See our previous post on cultural fit. In this case, you’ll need to find out some intelligence on what the culture in the new team/office/business is (as viewed by the current members) and work out, firstly, if that is something you want to be involved in and, secondly, how to demonstrate that in your application, on your CV and at interview stages.
Unlocking the doors
Thinking about gamification
When I think about closed doors, I’m reminded of various computer games my kids have played (of one form or another) where the plot centres around opening doors. Usually, they will be unable to access a particular door to a new level until they’ve found a key, or a key card. They don’t simply give up on the game at that point. Instead, they hunt around, usually solving various puzzles or gaining the skills through repetition to overcome certain obstacles to then find or retrieve that key. Then they can open the door and progress to the next stage in the game.
Looking at skills and experience, there are various way to acquire these – through moving on to certain projects at work, taking particular interim positions as a route through your chosen door, or doing some on-the-job, or extracurricular courses and training programs.
Even in terms of cultural fit – the hardest code to crack - there are ways you can move from one profile to another simply through experience. If you’ve been in a highly analytical team, for instance, and you want to move to a role in a team with more of a customer engagement and agile project delivery focus – then look at ways to gain more agile working, sales and account management experience and customer liaison time. This move may have to be very incremental, but it’s usually something you can speak to your manager about. You might also consider taking a customer experience or sales course to gain an understanding of behaviours that you’d be expected to exhibit in these situations.
Finally, there’s an aspect of experience that often gets overlooked – and that’s experience of the application process itself.
As an example, I have a friend who moved from a forensics job into management consultancy. The first consultancy they applied to, they were rejected at the first stage, mainly because they were faced with a competency-based application form for the first time and the case study examples they gave were weak, or at least weakly described.
Instead, they approached people who were working in the role, worked with their recruitment advisor and looked at a variety of examples of how to answer these questions. For the the second application, they were much more able to provide the expected answers in the expected format and were successful in that application.
Like my kids trying to complete a challenge over and over again in their computer games, until finally the muscle memory is there and they complete the task – sometimes repeating applications until you have the techniques dialled in is what it takes to open those doors.
We hope you find these ideas here thought provoking and useful. If so, don’t forget to subscribe to our mailer and connect with us on social media. Meanwhile, from all of us as Ellwood Consulting, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.