Career strategy is not a numbers game. Oh, wait, it is….
‘Hi, tell me, how many people have you spoken to in the last year about your desire for a distinctively new role?’
- more than 100.
I’m pretty sure that if your answer is anything other than e. you’re frustrated with your progress.
A career strategy is not the same as looking for a job. It’s not about making applications and hoping one sticks. It’s about going deep, understanding your goals and desires, being realistic and informed about the market and taking control of the process. So it’s not just a numbers game. Or is it?
Well, I’m a big advocate for rising above the ‘job search’ mentality to executing a career strategy. I help make my client’s transition, which can be very rough, as controlled and effective as possible. This means knowing yourself and doing a lot of reflection, which feels like a slow private process. It means defining the value you offer and who you want to deliver it to. And it means understanding the key factors you’re seeking in a new role. All matters that don’t lend themselves well to casual chats.
When you combine this with a natural professional reticence to get too intimate about your goals and concerns, it’s easy to restrict your conversations to a few people that you know and trust. Surely a handful of close confidants is as useful as a thousand casual acquaintances?
The answer is no.
You need to cover the ground
With the best will in the world a few close friends will not cover what you need to explore. To be effective in a career transition, you need to be as complete as possible. What does this mean?
- Your next career is based on your past talents, but you will use them in a different way. People who have shared your past don’t necessarily see well into your future. You need the numbers – the numbers of people who are already familiar with your target role and whose combined input will build the picture you need for making a decision. In other words, you’re going to need a lot of high-disclosure conversations with strangers.
- The war for talent is volatile. The issues are changing rapidly and whole industries are rising and falling rapidly. To navigate this you’ll need a lot of information or you’ll be making big decisions based on small knowledge. You need to cover the issues, which means meeting people with many different perspectives.
- At senior level, it’s your reputation that gets you the role. At the same time as you are enquiring about possibilities, you’re making yourself visible to the community that holds the answer to your strategic intent. The more people (strangers) that know about you, the better. If you are making a big leap, you’ll need plenty of people in your new chosen community to welcome you and help you make the transition. So, again more is better.
Once out of the comfort zone of our historical career, it’s natural to feel exposed and to see mostly the potential for rejection. The bigger the leap, the more likely the rejection. Our natural reflex is to avoid rejection and limit the numbers of people we talk to. Face this reflex with logic. In order to find your new role, you’ll have to meet a lot of people. How many is ‘a lot’?
Do the calculation
Here’s a way to figure it out. This is just a possible way for the numbers to run, so do some conservative estimating given your own circumstances.
If you’re looking for a senior role, say, in a new industry, how many are available in any six-month period? Lets say there are 1000 possible companies of the right size in your locality. In the C-suite there’s only going to be one role for your career trajectory and these roles only come free about once every 3-5 years. So lets say 4 years on average: there are 250 roles vacated in a year.
Most organisations have a succession strategy since that’s the cheapest, swiftest, least risky way to fill a role. Lets say that’s 80%. So 50 roles a year left.
Now even if a role is vacated suddenly, the manager of the role, if they are worth their salt, will know who in their market (that is, amongst their industry competitors) could fill the role. So lets say about one third are filled through in-industry proven talent known to the hirer or to someone the hirer knows well – in their close community. This leaves 33 roles per annum, less than one a week.
Rather than split it further, lets look at how these 33 roles might be filled.
- Through advertised recruiting.
- Through executive search. *
- Through write-in CVs. *
- Through in-house search. *
- Through interim management.
- Through the hiring manager going beyond their close community.
Because of confidentiality (for example in the three processes with an asterisk), about half of these will not be publicly known, so you will only get to learn about them through personal contact.
Each of these approaches could overlap but lets say they are all run independently. That means on average each recruitment strategy fills 5 or 6 opportunities each year. To be involved in these recruitment processes, you need to be visible to either the decision maker, an agency or someone known to them.
If you are a possible for the role, it’s likely you’ll be one of six candidates on a short list. Conversely, you’ll likely need to be on six short lists to land a role. So that means you need to get onto the recruiting process for six relevant roles.
A hundred new friendly contacts
In the end you may become aware of 16 or 17 roles of which six might be relevant, to find one that is right. For each person aware of the role, you may need to be talking to another five or six, in order for your name to appear on any list. So 16×6 = 96. On a conservative basis, you’ll need to be in conversation with a hundred new people in the course of a year, to get directed towards, and land, the right role.
This is one way to get a handle on the real numbers game. This addresses the reality of the market, of the timing and of the information flow between you – the ideal person – and the hiring manager (or Board) whom you don’t know yet. Your task is to maximise the chance of being top of mind when someone, somewhere is making a decision about a role you could thrive in.
One role, but the right one
You only need one role. But to find the right role may mean talking to at least 100 new people in a year. I don’t mean in a scattergun way, but 100 people who are logically connected to the role you want and who understand your talents well enough to be able to assess your fit.
I know these numbers are rubbery; they are the numbers that one of my clients and I figured out for his situation, but with different ratios I always come back to 100/200/300 people that you need to know in order to assure success.
This is hard work! And urgent.
I don’t advocate random conversations. I strongly prefer seeing my clients have open, agenda-driven conversations that generate real market intelligence and personal insight. Quality is more powerful than quantity. But there’s still a basic numbers game that is just the reality of the task you’re undertaking.
Play the numbers game with insight and vigour and your career strategy will be successful. Don’t hold back if you want to accelerate!