Black Enterprise — August 2012
Change Language:
Reshaping Your Career
Brittany Hutson

Two professionals learn that a strong network and a willingness to take risks can lead to stellar career opportunities

What does it take to recharge your career?

A big part of it is re-evaluating where you fit in the job market. There are strategies that can be implemented, but for many professionals it also requires being less rigid and less timid in their perspectives around finding work. “Reinventing yourself is about going out there and getting new sets of skills that companies need, such as healthcare analytics,” says Marlon Cousin, managing partner of The Marquin Group, a boutique executive search firm in Atlanta. But reinvention also forces you to consider other questions:

Do you need to start checking in regularly with your network?

Do you need to get out of your comfort zone and take a risk?

“People are fearful and exhausted because they don’t know what the process of transition looks like today, and that’s why they aren’t getting results,” says Cousin.

Based on their training and backgrounds Derrick Godfrey and Heather Shaw would have never predicted that they would have ended up in their current positions. But during one of the worst economic periods in recent history, with millions of professionals unemployed, they didn't just land jobs, they found exciting opportunities.

I needed to step outside of my comfort zone.” Shaw initially had little interest in vacationing in the Middle East, but friends living in Dubai encouraged her to visit. When she arrived, Shaw was surprised “by how easy it was to meet people even though I didn’t know Arabic.” She returned to New York wanting to relocate, but her company’s overseas

A Risky Move Works Out

A seven-day vacation to Dubai in October 2007 changed Heather Shaw’s life. At the time, Shaw was living and working in New York City as director of corporate responsibility for Time Warner Inc. Content with her job, she still yearned for change. “I felt as if there was something missing,” she says. “My entire life I had been comfortable.

I needed to step outside of my comfort zone.” Shaw initially had little interest in vacationing in the Middle East, but friends living in Dubai encouraged her to visit. When she arrived, Shaw was surprised “by how easy it was to meet people even though I didn’t know Arabic.” She returned to New York wanting to relocate, but her company’s overseas positions didn’t match her skill set. “I decided that this was something I was going to do myself.” Afer researching potential opportunities at a variety of companies and connecting with women on LinkedIn to gauge their experiences, Shaw returned to Dubai for three weeks in June 2008 to set up informational interviews. One company showed tentative interest: Limitless, a global real estate developer within the Dubai World group. But Shaw was told that no positions would be available until the following year. “I was trying to be extremely confident,” Shaw recalls. “I told him that it was no problem—I would be in Dubai by that time and we could talk then.” A month later, Shaw received an offer to come to Dubai and serve as the director of global public relations, communications, and corporate social responsibility for Limitless. She moved and began working there in September 2008.

Her employment with Limitless lasted about a year. “I had to make a decision; do I go back to the States? I decided to stay and see what would happen,” she says. Within weeks, Shaw learned through a neighbor about an opening at Zayed University. She was soon hired as an adjunct professor to teach public relations to young Emirati women. In June 2010, Shaw landed a position at Barclays Bank PLC as head of communications for corporate affairs for Barclays Africa. Shaw lef Barclays in November 2011 and started the following month with the position she holds today: senior director of corporate communications, Middle East & Africa for Hilton Worldwide.

Shaw recognized that globalization isn’t just a corporate function, it’s an individual one. She found a fulfilling opportunity by taking initiative.

Finding Work after a Layoff

Since the start of the Great Recession in December 2007, more than 8 million American jobs have been lost—roughly 500,000 in the financial industry alone. Despite the 8.2% unemployment rate, Cousin says there are plenty of jobs available, but the problem is that job hunters are using the old model of sending out résumés and waiting for a response.

Derrick Godfrey worked in the financial industry. He joined Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. as a vice president and worked with the Partnership Solutions Group, an initiative that developed business opportunities with women- and minority-owned firms that served as broker dealers, hedge funds, private equity, commercial banks, real estate, and asset management. Godfrey, a former vice president of business development at black enterprise, hoped to eventually join Lehman’s wealth management group. But then the financial powerhouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2008.
Godfrey quickly began working his network and contacted former colleagues and classmates, including those from Colgate University and Georgetown University Law Center. “I told people what I could do and asked if there were any opportunities within their organization that would allow me to be successful and productive,” he says.

A mentor and former colleague from a law firm told him about a position with MLB Advanced Media L.P. Godfrey contacted people within the organization, including the CEO, to learn more about what the company needed. Five months after leaving Lehman, Godfrey became vice president of international business development for MLB Advanced Media.

It’s important, Godfrey emphasizes, to have ongoing conversations with friends, colleagues, and associates so that you’re not only contacting them in times of crisis. “People were familiar with me in a number of different industries, so it was a little easier for me to transition based on the networking I had done prior to [leaving] Lehman,” he says.

When Godfrey set out for his next opportunity, he worked with search firms and professionals within the sports industry and shared his aspiration to run an organization. In May 2012, Godfrey was appointed CEO of iHoops, the youth basketball organization of the NCAA and the NBA. It provides programs to improve the quality of youth basketball in the United States.

Godfrey, like Shaw, believes self-confidence is essential, but that a certain degree of risk is required to pursue your career goals. “It’s also about having a certain aggressiveness in terms of going out and saying, ‘I’m not going to fall down,’” he says. “I think failure is OK, but being afraid to fail is not.”

There are a number of ways to recharge or reset your career.

Career experts offer the following advice to steer you in the right direction:

Do a self-assessment.

“Most job hunters are going in the wrong direction because they don’t know what they really want,” says Cousin. Once you do a self-assessment you can begin to network with those who are doing what you want to do. “You’ll have a better return on investment in this process.”

Update your skills.

Volunteering is a great way to develop the skills you will need for your next opportunity. For example, if you are looking for a position with a company whose mission is in education, then carve out time to help your local school or church develop its current program, suggests Marsha Haygood, founder of StepWise Associates L.L.C., a career and professional development consultancy. Teaching is also a good way to stay relevant in an industry. In-between jobs, Shaw taught at a university. If you are unsure about the requirements of a specific industry, consult job boards or, like Shaw, speak to recruiters and set up informational interviews. “They will tell you what you’re missing,” says Cousin.

Keep your network fresh.

Shaw and Godfrey both relied on their networks as they searched and prepared for their next opportunity. Haygood emphasizes the importance of regularly staying in touch with people, when you don’t need anything. “You can send a quick text or e-mail to say, ‘Hey, just thinking of you. Hope all is well. Have a great summer. Let’s touch base soon.’”

Do your research.

“Come up with five to 10 companies that you really want to work for,” says Haygood. “Find out if you know anyone who knows someone at the company. Learn as much about the company culture as you can.” Research should include using LinkedIn to identify employees who work at these companies and who could offer more insight on company culture as well as opportunities and challenges.
You should also know the company’s competition to stay abreast of what’s happening in the industry.

Speak the company’s language.

Make sure your résumé and cover letter establish a clear match between your skills and the needs of the organization.

“It’s not all about what you’ve done in the past, but what you can do for the organization in the future,” says Haygood.

Find out what the gaps are in the organization and speak to how you can help fill them.

Explore beyond your comfort zone.

Finding the right opportunity may require changing industries or locations. Godfrey moved from finance to sports, and from New York to Indianapolis. Shaw changed industries several times and moved to a foreign country.

Remain confident.

Suffering from an unexpected blow to your career can be devastating. As you move forward to your next opportunity, remember to maintain a positive attitude. Haygood recommends writing down all your accomplishments, professional and personal. “You need to be able to articulate them when you talk to people.”