Personal Positioning for Your Search

by Mitch Wienick, President, Kelleher Associates – February 16, 2015

Without thinking much about it, all of us are exposed to product or service choices that are positioned to appeal to one type of audience or another. Automobiles are luxurious or practical, gas powered or electric, SUVs or sedans. Soaps are fragrant or creamy, soft on the skin or effective on hard to remove soils. Hotels are simple, self-serve and inexpensive or elegant, exclusive and self-contained.

In looking for a new role, job seekers also need to carefully position themselves in terms of what they emphasize about their experience, skills, talents, abilities and passions, and what sort of role in what type of business situation are they seeking to secure.

Let me illustrate with an example – Steve Jobs as CEO of Apple and Jack Welch as CEO of GE are two former executives most people of a certain age recognize by name. Both executives were very successful (Jobs twice at Apple). Each of the companies under their leadership reached the top of the S&P 500 in terms of market capitalization (stock price multiplied by the number of shares outstanding).

Yet nobody would classify them as being clones of each other in terms of leadership style and on-the-job attributes. Jobs was described as an industry visionary and a marketing genius, but also a mean spirited micro-manager who threw tantrums and often harshly criticized rather than motivated the employees closest to him.

Welch has often been described as strategic, process driven, hyper-competitive and capable of managing enormous complexity and scale. At the same time, he was seen as ruthless (“Neutron Jack”), impersonal, and provocative.

While they were both highly successful at what they did, and had some similarities in personality, nobody would confuse one with the other. I would assert that Jobs would not have fared very well as the CEO of GE, an industrial and financial services colossus, and Welch would have struggled to lead an inventive, groundbreaking technology company. The point of this comparison is to reinforce the idea that to do a successful search, you need to appropriately position yourself to networking contacts, executive recruiters, and hiring company executives.

At Kelleher Associates we employ what we call a SARs (Situation-Action-Result) exercise to help clients shape their positioning. The exercise consists of the client looking back at the last ten to twelve years of his career and summarizing, in writing, the most significant ten or more achievements that they either drove or with which they were associated. Invariably, when we review these stories with clients (and they are real stories with a beginning, middle, and end which become essential ingredients for a successful interview), we can pick out what a client likes to do on the job because she’s good at it. And she’s good at it because she has identifiable skills, experience, talents, and passions that we can capture and help her package into an accurate self-description which, applied repeatedly in the right circumstances, becomes a powerful positioning.

So, as one example, we might determine that a client with a financial background can and should be positioned as a CFO whose best fit is one where accounting, receivables management, and cost control are paramount rather than a position where M&A experience and analyst and investor presentations are especially prized.

We also help clients think through, based on their strengths and backgrounds, what type of situation is the best match for them. Are they better at working in startups or early stage companies; do they thrive in high pressure, turnaround situations where the risks of failure are high but the potential rewards for success are outsized; do they do best in large companies with a global footprint where change is more incremental and less sudden; or are they best suited for situations where technical expertise is essential and a generalist background is less essential.

We may also have an even more extreme situation where a client wants to completely reinvent himself in terms of his next position. This requires going through all of the steps noted above along with an intense discovery and exploration process that entails conceptualizing, examining and assessing a variety of possible career paths and seeking outside validation from professionals who are already working in those types of positions and may have made the same career journey themselves.

There are rarely “right” answers to any of these questions at the outset of a client engagement, but we do know that at Kelleher Associates, following these steps and engaging deeply and interactively with our clients, we can develop a clear positioning that strongly matches our client’s interests, skills, and experience and resonates well in the marketplace.