Dealing with Non-Compete Agreements

“I have an incredible offer, but they want me to sign an aggressive non-compete agreement, what should I do?”  “I was just let go and now the company wants to prohibit me from getting a job anywhere else, is this legal?”  With a great deal of movement in today’s executive labor market, we are getting many questions about non-compete agreements.

Non-compete agreements (NCAs) can bewilder even experienced executives.  Sometimes eager new hires sign NCAs along with an offer letter without any thought, only to be forgotten until a great opportunity elsewhere comes along later. There are so many variations and issues around NCAs, and laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (countries and states).  I‘ll cover some of the basics here, but it is always best to consult an employment lawyer if you are confronted with an agreement that makes you uncomfortable or that may limit your career options.

Generally, a non-compete agreement or clause is a contract entered into between two parties (usually an employer and an employee or a buyer and a seller) that restricts one party from doing business with or going to work for the competition. According to US law, since an NCA is a contract, some kind of “consideration” must be provided in exchange for the promise not to compete. That consideration might be a bonus paid at the time the agreement is signed or a payment (sometimes in the form of a severance payment) at the time the agreement goes into effect.

Sometimes companies require employees to sign an NCA as part of the initial employment agreement – the consideration, therefore, is employment.  In other instances, due to increased threats by competitors or to a change in leadership of the company, NCAs are presented after an employee has been at the company awhile.  Another tactic is for companies to request a promise to not compete when an employee is leaving their employer.

We have seen recent graduates through top level executives encounter NCAs, and more frequently with business development or sales professionals.  Logicallly, non-compete requirements vary with a person’s access to sensitive data and exposure to clients.  Companies invoking NCAs typically limit competition by geography, by scope/industry/market and by duration.  If you are asked to sign an NCA, ensure that it covers a very specifically defined set of  limitations. If the contract is too broad or vague it can lead to an unfair situation if /when invoked.  It is true that the more general an NCA is, the harder it is to enforce, but to dispute a contract can be a costly legal battle that you probably won’t want to endure.

Like any contract, an NCA also requires “agreement” to be legally binding. I recently worked with an alumnus who, as part of a reduction in forces, was being let go from a small division of a very large diversified company. He was asked, as a condition of receiving a generous severance package, to sign an NCA that would preclude him from doing business with any competitor of the larger organization. As offered, the agreement would have prohibited him from working with any food, beverage or related CPG company, the exact markets where our graduate had built his reputation throughout his entire post-MBA career. Clearly, the terms of the agreement were unduly restrictive and would have severely limited his career options. He negotiated the terms of the agreement and ended up signing a more reasonable contract – one that ensured that he would not be in a position to use trade secrets against his former employer, yet allowed him to seek employment with companies outside the small segment that the division with which he worked for the last two years was competing.

It may feel awkward to question the terms of a non-compete agreement when you are just joining a company, but it is smart to review the agreement carefully. Ensure that the agreement provides for adequate severance pay in the case of separation – suggest payment for the same duration of the non-compete. If you are asked to sign an agreement after you are already employed, don’t take it lightly. Even if you can’t imagine ever working for a competitor, know it could happen. Be sure the terms of the agreement won’t leave you unable to get a job or preclude you from later accepting the “dream job” you’ve been coveting for years. Don’t be afraid to find an attorney specializing in the corporate laws in the state where the company is based, to get well informed advice.

If you have signed an NCA and you are laid off, ask to be released from the agreement and if they agree, get the release in writing. If you are considering an opportunity with another employer it is important to let the potential employer know that you are under an NCA. Carefully choose the timing of this disclosure. Typically, I would advise that you give a company the chance to absorb your value proposition and become sufficiently interested in bringing you on their team before you bring up the possible hassle of getting you onboard.  The new company’s legal department might be helpful in evaluating the limitation of the NCA in reference to the new opportunity.  Of course, in a small industry where a company knows they are “stealing” away talent from their competitor, it might be the first thing you talk about with them.  A good rule of thumb is to be upfront and honest and apply the “assume it will be published on the front page of the newspaper” saying.

If you are dealing with a non-compete situation (and you are an alumnus of a Darden degree program) and would like to talk it through with a career advisor from the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, please contact us to schedule an appointment.  We also have a website that includes resources for those negotiating a job offer, starting a new job, resigning and being terminated.

Connie Dato English, Executive Director of Alumni Career Services, The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

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Healthcare Calling: An Alumna’s Successful Career Transition

There’s no disputing that Healthcare is a hot sector.  These days we see an increasing number of Darden students with healthcare experience and more alumni want to move into the field of management in this interesting, challenging and growing field.  One such alumna, Anna Maria Anthony from the Darden Class of 1996, graciously shared her experiences as part of a panel of Healthcare MBAs at Darden last spring and we asked her to share her story as a Career Corner guest blogger.  Anna Maria now manages client relationships for athenahealth  and her journey to this point highlights many of the concepts and skills needed to successfully navigate an evolving MBA career:  the need for resiliency and flexibility in the face of mergers and acquisitions, the power of a strong and well-tended network, a logical progression that aligns with personal interests, and a commitment to continuously apply training and learning to grow deeper skills and knowledge in a field.   

I’d always planned on transitioning careers at 40. However, two weeks before my 39th birthday, the fates (read, “the banking crisis”) intervened, and my hand was called a year early.  Lehman Brothers collapsed, the DJIA dropped more than 1800 points in a week, and it seemed that U.S. economy came to a complete and abrupt stop. My employer—a $600M IT consultancy– eliminated its entire strategy group.  After consulting for about 15 years, I was out of work, and needed to find something quickly in a very bleak job market.

As much as I wanted to think I would now switch careers, I had no idea how to make it a reality—especially on such short notice, and in that climate. First, there was the financial aspect. Stepping back from 15 years in consulting meant starting over in a potentially big way.  Not so appealing.  Second, my family needed to get new healthcare insurance quickly, as my son had just been diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. Three, I had no idea where to focus. After Darden, I had joined a boutique strategy consulting firm that was eventually acquired by an IT services firm. During the dot-com boom, I jumped to an Internet strategy firm…acquired by, you guessed it, an IT consulting firm.  The firm that had just laid me off was the third IT consultancy I had worked at after being acquired. I had this very odd mix of market research, product strategy, organization strategy and program management experience.  I’d been successful in all these roles, enjoyed all of them and had proven myself as the consummate generalist when no one wanted generalists.

The first thing I (in this case “we”) addressed was finding new healthcare insurance.  Since my husband was a small business owner, I had always carried the health insurance. The timing turned out to be great—Massachusetts had just launched universal coverage, and he was able to find an affordable plan.  Next I called the founder of the last strategy firm I worked at and asked for help; he couldn’t believe I didn’t want to stay in consulting. “What do you want to do?” he asked. “I want a position in marketing at a venture backed firm,” I said. I had made a decision, just like that.

Within three weeks, a company funded by one of the country’s leading venture capitalist firms called me. No joke.   (Yes, David has an amazing network).  In another three weeks I had a consulting gig at a firm repositioning itself as a provider of healthcare IT (HIT) services. They were “hot,” had great backing, and didn’t require me to relocate.  Unfortunately, I hated it. Marketing was not my thing.  I didn’t love the culture at this particular company.  Going to the same small office every day made me feel claustrophobic.

However, a couple of interesting things happened.   Former clients and colleagues started calling me for consulting projects.  And I discovered that HIT was really, really interesting– especially given my experience caring for my son.   My career transition started in earnest. I decided that I would consult independently until I found a full time position in HIT at a company I loved.

It took four years, and was probably one of the best professional experiences I had. While selling and managing my own work, I improved my sales, negotiating, client management, and yes, marketing skills. Many of my clients understood where I was going, and found ways to connect me to the healthcare sector.  To accelerate my ramp up on HIT, I took a class at Harvard, where we evaluated changes in the healthcare sector from multiple stakeholder perspectives.  Class readings and discussions offered me an opportunity to develop well-articulated views of the most significant challenges each sector was facing, and their approaches in addressing those challenges. Of course, I focused on issues associated with IT. Ultimately, this research served as the foundation for my employer research.  At events hosted by the Mass Technology Council and the Massachusetts Hospital Association I learned how providers were deploying the latest technologies, broadened my network, and increased my ability to speak like a HIT native.

For a couple of years, (yes, years) one of my mentors had been suggesting I look at athenahealth, a provider of cloud-based services and mobile tools for medical groups and health systems.  Four years after she initially made the suggestion I took her up on her offer. She introduced me to a former colleague who worked there, and in 2013, I started in account management. Professionally, I’ve never been happier. My search took a while, but making the transition was completely worth it.

Anna Maria’s path from strategy consultant to successful Healthcare IT account executive shows how career transitions require planning, networking and knowledge growth.  If you’re in transition, call Alumni Career Services for guidance and resources to support your career journey. 

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Drop Me a Line or Give Me a Ring

With all the choices of correspondence methods today, it is not always clear how to best communicate.

I so enjoy receiving traditional holiday greetings from friends near and far.  Beautiful cards, photos, updates, stories, contact information and sometimes entertaining prose often serve as a lifeline to friendships made through many moves over the last 30 years.  There’s something heartwarming about receiving snail mail; whether it be a thank you note, a greeting card or an old fashioned letter, postal correspondence (other than marketing clutter) really grabs a person’s attention.  I know I’m not alone in that sentiment because, just in our Darden community we have at least two alumni working on ventures dedicated to the art: Alexandria Drohobyczer ’07 started and Nathan Tau ’09 runs Forgetful Gentleman, a company that was incubated in the iLab while he was at Darden.

Before 1993, people simply chose between a phone call or a written letter to connect on a business matter. Email then entered the scene and the prevalence of the digital note completely changed the way people conduct business and the way they communicate with each other.  With the number of mailed letters in the U.S. down 25% from 2007 to 2013, it is no secret that written correspondence is rarely used for business correspondence. Like the letters of yore, business emails project one’s professional image.  Proper punctuation, grammar and capitalization are always appropriate for business correspondence.

When choosing email to communicate, realize that your message likely will be read on a phone screen, perhaps while someone is multi-tasking.  Keep your message short and ask for specific action to allow for an easy answer from the other party.  If an unsolicited email requires a time consuming response, the chances are high that you will get no response.  The recipient may have good intentions of getting back to you when s/he has more time… only to end up buried beneath thousands of other emails.

People 40 and younger seem to avoid verbal communication for business, whether by phone or in person, all together.  Last month, I was coaching an alumna of the Class of 2011 through a job offer negotiation.  She had a position of power – the company really wanted her and she had other options.  As we talked about her desired outcomes, she started to draft an email.  I suggested she ditch the email and negotiate either in person or on the phone.  She was, quite frankly, stunned and thought that would be very “awkward.”  My response was that in a discussion, you are able to hear (and see, if in person) the tone of voice and the reaction of the other person to what you say.  In negotiating, that knowledge can allow you to adapt to the reaction and/or strengthen your position.  Also, the other person will need to respond, in the moment, to your requests.  In a discussion, you are able to build rapport and make a positive impression – that is very difficult to do in a back and forth email exchange.  She ended up picking up the phone and both parties were happy with the outcome.

People often avoid phoning as they don’t want to disturb the other party in the middle of something.  Keep in mind that if someone is unable to talk, they probably will not pick up the ringing phone.  Be ready for voice mail, prepare to leave a crisp, articulate message that will entice the receiver to call you back.  If a live person does answer, be courteous and ask if this is a good time to talk or would it be better to call back at an alternate time.  Most people 50 and older grew up doing business by phone, so they may be more comfortable with this interaction than with extended email threads.

With the onset of free video conferencing capability on computers or mobile devices, people are using Skype (or other application) to connect. For pre-arranged meetings, video enables people to see body language and facial expressions while exchanging information and building rapport. For this reason, more and more companies are conducting video job interviews.  Many of our career coaching sessions with alumni are conducted using Skype.  For tips on how to make a good impression in a video business meeting or interview check out the tips provided in the Interview section of our website.

As we all learned in FY Management Communication, at the core of good communication is understanding your audience.  Always consider which medium would be most comfortable, effective and appropriate for the person you are trying to influence.  It might be a LinkedIn message to someone you know through a mutual friend that will get the notice, or it might be a personal visit to a skeptical potential client that will get the job done.

I would so enjoy a personal visit with each of you to wish you a wonderful holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.  Since that is not possible, my heartfelt message is relegated to this less personal forum.  With this wish please also accept an invitation to come see us back in Charlottesville, we’d love to connect in person!  If that is not possible, give us a call (+1-434-924-4876) or send us an email ( to set an appointment.

All the best for a happy holiday and a wonderful 2015!


Connie Dato English, MBA ’91  Director of the Armstrong Center of Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Putting You to the Test:  Trends in Candidate Assessments

We are an increasingly data-rich, data-driven society. Although “big data” is garnering most of the media hype these days, using personal data to drive hiring decisions is on the rise. If you have pursued a new job in recent years, chances are you’ve encountered some kind of pre-employment test. Also known as psychometric tests, most pre-employment tests are developed by behavioral psychologists to apply standard scientific measurements for individuals’ cognitive abilities and personality traits to help identify how well a candidate can perform in a given job. In addition, employers collect data from some psychometric tests to reveal hidden characteristics of an applicant that face-to-face interviews might miss and to screen out unqualified applicants while seeking out those most likely to succeed.

It makes sense that we are seeing a rise in pre-employment testing. The relative ease of developing secure, online testing software coupled with advanced data analytics have given rise to a number of outsource testing providers. Test makers pitch their approach as a way to gather more relevant candidate data and improve the odds of hiring the right person. Cloud-based software makes the use of these tests practical and easy for nearly all job candidates. Indeed, the Washington Post reported earlier this year that two of the larger providers in the testing market, IBM and CEB, each administer over 30 million pre-employment tests each year. Researchers also reported in the Harvard Business Review that service firms are spending over $750 million a year globally on assessments, with potential for much more testing and a push to use them earlier the hiring process.

In Alumni Career Services we are hearing about more frequent use of screening tests for Darden alumni job-seekers.  This includes assessments at every stage of the interview process and at all levels of management hiring.  C-suite candidates are not exempt from screening tests, and in fact the pressure for executive hires to have the right “fit” is even greater. In my alumni coaching, I’ve seen a marked increase in testing, but no precedent for the type of test or timing. Some have been required to test as an early screen in the process; others have had assessments added to the line-up of formal on-site interview days.  One recent alum encountered multiple tests for a single job opportunity.

What exactly are these tests measuring?  There are myriad tests with different perspectives, assessing job skills, critical thinking, personality, emotional intelligence, language proficiency, and even integrity. Most tests fall into three broad categories:  1) Cognitive Abilities – these include problem solving, reasoning, writing samples, mathematical calculations, etc.  2) Personality or Behavioral Tests – these might assess interpersonal or leadership characteristics, motivations, ability to work in teams, and other personal traits, and 3) Dependability Tests – these are meant to predict things like honesty, reliability, impulsiveness, work ethic, etc.

How do you prepare for pre-employment tests? Generally speaking you can’t study for these type tests, but it does help to approach them with the right attitude.  Don’t be intimidated, or irritated, and follow these tips to be prepared:

  • Understand the Purpose – ask the employer about the type of testing and how they plan to use the results.
  • Take it seriously – even if you feel the test isn’t necessary, show respect for this part of the employer’s evaluation.
  • Anticipate the time and place – some tests are administered at the employer’s office during the course an interview schedule; more commonly tests are taken on-line as the candidate’s schedule allows. Either way, it helps to anticipate the length of the test, and whether you’re expected to finish. Taking an assessment independently, you’ll want to set aside the appropriate length of time, without distractions, and try to take the test when you have your peak mental energy.
  • Practice – most psychometric tests don’t have ‘right or wrong’ answers, so studying isn’t really necessary; however, some of the larger vendors, like CEB and Criteria, do offer ways to practice tests;  practicing will get you used to answering questions under time pressure, and can familiarize you with various testing approaches.
  • Relax – it’s in your best interest to be open and honest; trust your instincts, give difficult questions your best shot and move on.
  • Request Feedback – ask the recruiter whether, how and when the company will share results of your tests.

Remember that pre-employment testing is only one element of the complex hiring process.  Consult our Job Search Toolkit for more information on how to succeed in interviewing and landing a new job.

Marty Speight MBA ‘96, Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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A Season of Change – Contemplating Why You Work

Fall is here – that means the leaves change colors and begin to gather on the ground.  Days are shorter and darkness comes earlier.  For many, it also means the beginning of the school year and the change that comes with a new school, a new grade, a new teacher and a new schedule.  Fall represents, for many, a time of change.

The onset of autumn often prompts people to contemplate their current career situation and to consider change.  In the past week, I have spoken with an entrepreneur who is trying to figure out what new venture he should go after,  a mother who has been on hiatus for over ten years and is looking to reenter the paid workforce, two people who have each decided to escape the long hours and demanding lifestyle of a top tier consultant, as well as a corporate executive looking for a new challenge.  In fact, during the last month over 70% of the career conversations that Darden Alumni Career Services had were with employed individuals thinking about change.

People are often sure of what they don’t want to do next, but they struggle to figure out what they want to do.  When working with this situation, I usually ask the question “Why do you work?”  Seems like that should be a straight forward question.  After all, we don’t usually start a project or make an investment without first contemplating what we are striving to accomplish.  So, why is this question often received with surprise?

For many, the question may never come up as it is simply an expectation of society: you are smart, educated and capable – you will work.  Many of us work to earn money to support our desired lifestyle.  But that isn’t always the driving reason to work.  And even if it is a major reason to work, it is rarely the only reason.  Taking time to contemplate what you want out of work and determine what purpose you are seeking will help direct you in your efforts.

A couple of weeks ago I worked with an alumnus who determined that he sought work that allowed him to feel the satisfaction of helping a particular social cause move forward.  He had also determined that, in terms of compensation, he only needed to make about $35,000 to live the lifestyle he desired.  Answering the question “why work?” allowed him to go after a job that would make him happy without the societal presumptions placed on someone with his level of education.

When an employed alumnus is seeking change it is usually because something is missing from their current situation.  It might be fair compensation or it might be the lifestyle demands (schedule, travel, lack of flexibility, location) or it might be the actual content of the job.  I look at this as a “three legged stool” which is most steady when all three legs are solid but, with careful attention to positioning and balance, could remain upright with two legs.  You can sacrifice compensation to achieve lifestyle and content, but it is near impossible to be “happy” with only one “leg” in place.  For instance, the validity of the mantra “Money isn’t everything” becomes very evident when a person lacks job satisfaction (content) and control over their lifestyle demands.

Priorities are important and change with stages of life.  Mary Burton and Richard Wedemeyer wrote In Transition over 20 years ago.  While much has changed in that score, their approach to “Getting to Know You – the Product” is as relevant today as it was in 1991.  The book includes a discussion of Life Mission, Priorities and Tradeoffs including some very practical exercise.  Likewise, our own Jim Clawson has taught and advocated a thorough self-assessment process to inform one’s career decision making.  In fact, his process can be followed using the Darden interactive learning tool Finding Fit.

If you have graduated from Darden, Alumni Career Services can help you think through career changes as well.  Email us to set up an appointment.

May all your changes lead to wonderful beginnings!

 Connie Dato English, MBA ’91  Director of the Armstrong Center of Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Bridging the Gap: When Temporary Work Makes Sense

Job transitions are common – most professionals will face a lay-off, leave a bad-fit job or take a hiatus for personal reasons at some point in their career. A gap in employment can be a good opportunity to pursue temporary or project-based work. Even if you’re conducting an active full-time job search there are many advantages for balancing that quest with some kind of flexible interim work.

In 2012 I coached an alumna, Julie, MBA ’08, who found herself out of work and frustrated as the search seemed to drag on. She knew that patience and persistence in her job search was necessary, but also that it wasn’t productive to spend 40+ hours a week on search tactics.  She decided to seek out temporary projects to occupy some of her free time, to keep her management skills fresh, and to shore-up her confidence in the face of an unknown length of unemployment.

Julie landed her full-time job after about six months of searching, and in the gap, two projects became very rewarding. She looked for things that used her MBA talents – one project was very analytical and numbers oriented, the other focused on developing a strategy, structure and training plan for a service-based philanthropic concern.  She listed the work at the top of her resume and on her LinkedIn profile, so hiring managers could see that she was active and engaged in the community.   It also allowed her to demonstrate to hiring managers that although she’d been laid off, someone else was impressed enough with her skills to engage. In interviews she talked about the initiative she took to find projects and how she was using her time to contribute to the welfare of other organizations. She stretched her skills in new and exciting ways but later realized that the real satisfaction was seeing her recommendations have a positive impact.

Freelance work can give you some flexibility while you search or even if you want to delay returning to a permanent post. Julie’s work was strictly volunteer, as her immigration status restricted her from being paid in temp positions. Some alumni have pursed paid projects in order to take the pressure off of accepting the first offer of permanent employment. Others have used project work to try out new interests or deepen their experience in a particular area.

Here are some tips for finding meaningful temporary work:

Be Curious, Stay Local.  Julie’s first project evolved out a comment she overheard from the owner of a local food truck, “there are too many French fries left over at the end of the day.” That got Julie thinking about how a food truck could operate profitably, so she sent him an email with some thoughts about how to solve that French fry problem. A few weeks later he reached out with a request to analyze his operation.  She jumped at the chance to dig into his data, and she used her knowledge of the food industry gained in her Darden summer internship to guide the analysis and recommendations.

Contribute to a Cause.  Julie’s second project came through an organization where she was already a volunteer and passionate about the mission. Helping solve thorny staffing and strategy issues gave her a hands-on perspective about managing people. Another alumna who served on the board of a non-profit conservation agency was able to step into the vacant Executive Director role during her job search; acting as interim Executive Director lent credibility to her bid for a job in a related industry.

Use Unique Expertise.  Some alumni recognize that they have reached a milestone in their careers where their deep industry or functional expertise makes them ready to become a freelance consultant.  Our ACS webpage on Independent Consulting digs into this topic and gives plenty of resources. Work/Life Balance has additional resources for alumni who want to consult without setting up their own business.

Pursue Fledgling Ideas.  A break from full-time work can open up the time to flesh out your own ideas for a product or service start-up.  Our page on Entrepreneurship has more tips for researching, writing a business plan and seeking funding. Not everyone becomes an entrepreneur but the experience of pursuing your own interests as a business can be enlightening in many ways.

Use a Match-maker.  A recent WSJ articled outlined how MBA-level project matching sites are gaining momentum (“For Smaller Projects, Try Renting an M.B.A.” Feb 5, 2014). Sites like ExconsultantsAgency, HourlyNerd, MBA&Co, and SkillBridge attempt to pair projects to talent.

Notice that most of these tips require a clear objective, networking and self-promotion – the very same elements of a solid job search. Temporary work can bridge the time till you return as well as build momentum in your career.

Marty Speight MBA ‘96, Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Starting Early — Setting Up for Success

On vacation last week, I had to start early in the day to get my run in and avoid the extreme heat.   I woke at 6am and got to watch the sunrise over the ocean as I ran on the secluded beach.  Hmm, starting early certainly has benefits! 2014-07-26 06.35.15 In the quiet of the morning,  I followed my own advice (from last month’s blog entry) and did some reflection before anyone else woke up.  I read an intriguing blog about how people ask great questions in exit interviews  and how, at that point, it’s a bit too late.   The author was suggesting that managers would be more effective starting earlier …  if they conducted more “stay interviews,” they would be able to act on issues and make corrections before losing an employee. Stay interviews can help you understand what motivates employees and keeps them invested in the firm.   Don’t wait until your valued employees are out the door to ask them what’s wrong.  Seems obvious, but somehow we tend to get caught up in the urgency of the day-to-day business that we neglect our most precious resources.

I also read an article from PBS’ Next Avenue about how to recover from getting a late start in saving for retirement.  I remembered, with gratitude, the sage of advice I received  from a friend’s father about saving for retirement.  He showed us a chart (similar to this retirement fund growth calculator) illustrating how putting $500 a month starting at age 25 would grow to $1,000,000 by the time we were 65.  Another example of how starting early pays off.

As MBA’s, we all know you can’t wait to start saving until you need it… so it should be a no-brainer that career development works the same way.   Starting early in nurturing your network sets you up for opportunities down the road.   Last December, Evan Powers (MBA’09) opened a new office for Cypress Financial Planning, a business his classmate, Ben Pitts (MBA’09), started with a former Goldman Sachs colleague. Countless other stories have been shared about how staying in touch with the people you meet along the way opens unexpected opportunities and can be crucial to your ultimate business success.

The key is not to wait until you are out of a job or need a favor to engage your network.  Start early!  No matter how well you are performing in your current job, it is always beneficial to nurture your network and project your desired brand both internally and externally.   With LinkedIn as the “go to” database of professionals, people will go there to find someone they know (or don’t know) who has a particular set of skills or experience.  So, it’s important to contemplate what image you want to put out there.  Everything from the picture, to the headline, to the experiences and the skills you list will make an impression on those who look you up or who find you in a search.

Developing a powerful profile on LinkedIn isn’t difficult, but is very important.  Check out the video tutorial we have created to help you in this endeavor.  Do it now, even if you don’t think you “need” it right now, starting early could pay off…who knows who might find you or what great business deal might result!

August tends to be a month of “starting early” — why not add nurturing your network to the list and set yourself up for success!?!

Connie Dato English (MBA ’91), director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Summer R&R: Managing Your Career

Working at the University people often assume that I get the summer “off”… ironically, summer is the busiest time of year at Alumni Career Services.  Why? Since we were schoolchildren, most of us equate summer with relaxation.  As adults, many of us find the season to be a time for many other R’s – and I’m not talking about Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic … A good number of business people use the summer to reflect on their situations and decide to make subtle or sometimes drastic changes in their situations.

In the midst of busy daily routines we often don’t make time to REFLECT about where we are in life, personally and professionally. A little down time at the beach or in the mountains can lead to contemplating things like: Are you happy with what you are doing and accomplishing?  Are you still learning?  Are you making the difference you want to make?  Are you spending your time the way you want to spend it?  If so, how can you ensure that you continue on a positive path?    If not, what can you do about it?  It is healthy to take time to reflect periodically. And, it often leads to a call to us to help with adjustments.

You may realize that it’s time to REBOOT/RESET because you seem to be “stuck” in an attitude or routine that isn’t productive and isn’t making you happy.  The disruption of normal routines in summer can provide a chance to start anew.  Sometimes it helps to have a coach to listen, ask questions and brainstorm with you to help get unstuck.  ACS can help in that way, perhaps it’s just a nudge to help reframe your situation.

Watching the USA soccer team in the Group Stage of the World Cup, it occurred to me that a change in perspective can help us REFRAME.  When Portugal scored in the last seconds of the game that the USA team had been winning 2-1, the ensuing tie felt much more like a loss; yet not a week later when USA lost to Germany by one goal  and advanced to the Knock Out Stage, the loss actually felt like a win.  Sometimes looking at things in context or stepping away from the situation (as a week on the beach can do) helps us reframe a situation. If you are struggling with a difficult co-worker or despising an assignment,  a new look can help you reframe the situation and find ways to make things better.

Sometimes, a week with the family uncovers the need to REINVENT one’s career.  Perhaps you took a job in marketing to assist in a move to your spouse’s hometown yet you’d much rather be doing the finance you enjoy so much more.  This reinvention is not impossible but it will take some effort, RE-BRANDING and networking to make it happen.  Again, ACS can help get you on the right path toward reinvention.

Maybe you’re spending your summer RENOVATING or REFURBISHING your home, rather than RELAXING on the beach.  But whatever you do, I hope you will take time to REFLECT as well.  And if you find the need or desire to RENEW, know that the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services team at Darden is ready and willing to assist you.  To make an appointment to talk with one of our career advisors, simply email us and we’ll be happy to REACT ;-).

Oh, and if you find that you have an opening that needs to be RE-FILLED, please let us know – we have new grads READY to start!

Here’s to a REFRESHING summer!

Connie Dato English (MBA ’91), director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Targeting 101: A Tale of Sweet Success

What do the game of Lacrosse and Hershey’s chocolate have in common?  Everything, it seems, for Mike Rabinovitz, MBA ‘98.  Mike recently landed a new job as Brand Manager for Hershey’s Chocolate Bars at The Hershey Company in Pennsylvania.  Mike’s successful search highlights one of the fundamental keys to successful job search:  targeting.

Most alumni believe that having great marketing materials is the key to launching a job search.  While a solid resume is fundamental, there’s another crucial element – marketing yourself to specifically identified target companies.   Many job-seekers make the mistake of not explicitly defining their targets which can lead to wasted effort and frustration.

Mike’s story and his lessons learned illustrate the importance of targeting.  First, a bit about Mike’s background:  he spent 3+ years in CPG brand management, and then a few years ago a headhunter search lead him join a sports products company.  Since he had been the captain of his Division 1 Lacrosse team in college; sports marketing was a logical and fun next career move.  Mike was successful in this marketing role, but earlier this year he found the strategic direction of his firm had shifted and he had to go.

Facing the first real job search of his career, he was fearful at the outset, but then grew excited about the potential for change.  He began searching postings on a variety of websites and applying to jobs he found interesting.  After two months and lots of online applications, his efforts hadn’t yielded a single call of interest.  Looking back, Mike realized a tough lesson.  “I was letting the Internet tell me where I should get a job” he said when he turned to Alumni Career Services (ACS) for advice.  It was clear that Mike was marketable, but he lacked direction.  He needed to avoid job postings and change his tactics.

He re-started his search, focusing first on fit.  Finding fit means a careful evaluation of goals, priorities and skills, then turning that into a simple job objective statement.  Mike asked himself “what do I want to do?  What am I qualified to do?  And where do I really want to live?”  He had begun his post-Darden career at General Mills and was still interested in food marketing.  He had added plenty of new skills by marketing sports products, and he’d discovered the importance of company culture.  He had applied to some long-shot jobs located on the west coast thinking that a “dream job” would be worth that move.  But looking objectively he realized what he and his family ultimately wanted was to relocate from the Midwest back to the mid-Atlantic region.  Setting a clear objective would now serve as the backdrop to finding good target companies.

Armed with his goal of food and/or sports marketing in the Mid-Atlantic States, Mike set out to build a list of target companies.  This step is unique to each person and involves market research using a variety of resources.  You want to find the companies that match your best fit industry, sector and geography.  You must iterate until a robust set of viable targets is identified.  Mike first used LinkedIn to figure out where industry contacts and former colleagues were working that might have relevance for him.  He used a geographic constraint of anything within a hundred mile radius of Baltimore, MD.   He sought out niche industry publications to learn more.  His initial list had only seven companies, but through his research knew each company met his specific objectives.

As he continued his research he drafted a Profile Statement to help direct his networking efforts.  His research began to incorporate personal calls to dig deeper into his knowledge about his targets. One of those calls was to a recruiter he met early in his career.  Making that call, Mike wished he’d taken more of those past recruiter calls so he’d have better connections.  If you talk to recruiters along the way, even if you’re not searching, you can develop understanding of how Executive Search works and build relationships you might one day need.

It was a personal connection that had kept this recruiter on Mike’s radar, and as it turned out, this recruiter was now sourcing jobs for Hershey’s.  At first Mike wasn’t sure Hershey’s fit his objectives so he turned to more research.  LinkedIn helped reveal that a former General Mills colleague was now at Hershey’s, and the LinkedIn Find Alumni feature showed him that a few Darden alumni held key roles there.  He was able to leverage all those contacts to learn more about the company, land an interview, and ultimately get the offer.

“It’s all about the story you can tell” he told me as we debriefed.  Focusing on a set of target companies had propelled him to do better and deeper research and compelled him to make the networking contacts he needed.  Targeting also helped him tell a convincing interview story because he was sure about his past choices and his future fit.  We wish Mike much success with his move and new job, and encourage you to reach out to ACS when looking to make your next career move.

Marty Speight MBA ‘96, Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Careers in Full Bloom : Successful Alumni Transitions


Ahh, spring in Charlottesville!  The flowers are abloom, students have reappeared on the benches in Flagler Courtyard and, as the trees re-leaf, everything has come back to life … after a cold, relentless winter.  Spring has also brought a fresh start for many of my alumni clients all over the world!  Let me share the stories of some of the successful transitions that our fellow Dardenites completed over the last several weeks.

Christian (MBA ’12) had been doing Real Estate work in Belgium since graduation.  When he called me in January, he said he had quit his job to make time to look for more strategic work that fit his strengths and interests.  He worked on his resume, his LinkedIn profile, we talked about the value of developing a target list of employers and we discussed the process of networking.   We also talked (via Skype) about an opportunity that was a bit out of the scope of his objective and I connected him with an alumnus who might provide deeper perspective on the industry he was considering.  Just two months later, on the first day of spring (!), he wrote to tell me “I have accepted a job offer. I will be part of the Management Consultancy division that provides strategic consulting to all the banks/businesses of the [company] in 20 countries. It’s a very interesting job and I am really happy about it!”  His hard work and diligence paid off!

Simultaneously, I was meeting with another alumnus, Taylor*,  who also decided to quit his  job to make time to find a more satisfying job closer to family.  I don’t usually recommend this “quitting” strategy, but in some cases there is no other way to get out of a demanding and unfulfilling job.  Taylor wanted to to get closer to family – looking to move to a different city with a company that represented a better fit for him.    Because he had a clear focus and he was seeking work in the same industry and function,  Taylor was able to put together a pretty compelling story and resume which we reviewed over the phone and via email.  He researched his target market and set out to network.  Amazingly, he landed in less than two months, just in time for the Cherry Blossoms in DC!

It’s not always that quick.  In fact, more senior roles typically require longer searches.  There aren’t as many appropriate opportunities available and the competition is stiff.  Alumnus Paul (MBA ’86) had done such a great job, he made himself obsolete as CFO job with a small food business.  When we first spoke back in August of 2013, he was considering several possible routes:  Interim CFO roles, CFO of another small company, FP&A director for a larger company or even a role with a franchise company or a private equity firm.  We talked through his marketing plan, worked on his resume revision and developed a job search plan. I showed him LinkedIn and how to use it for research.   Over the next eight months, Paul uncovered numerous opportunities through his diligent networking and his relationships with executive recruiters.  He prepared for several interviews – a couple for which I was able to suggest Darden alumni with connections to the company so he could learn more before his visits.   His own industry contacts were extremely helpful too.  I enjoyed our conversations and each time he had an interview I anxiously awaited the outcome.  So, I was thrilled to learn that his first day as CFO with a growing specialty food company was on April 5th!

There have been several other landings including the 2009 grad who successfully landed  a finance position with a portfolio company of a Private Equity firm after working for the same bank since college graduation and a 2011 grad in Mexico City with whom I Skyped eight times during his three month job search.  The latter made a successful transition from consulting to the energy industry with a brand name firm.  He was a diligent networker “All the work is now giving lots of results,” he wrote as he described the three options from which he had to choose.

Perhaps the most gratifying news I had this spring was when Charles (MBA’12) reported that he was staying in the organization he’s been with since graduation.  We started working on his potential transition back in the fall.  Although he enjoyed the job he was doing and believed in the organization, he was under-employed, having taken a job to be in the same city where his wife was finishing her schooling. While he had performed well and his boss had indicated how happy he was with his work, Charles did not think there was a chance for promotion.  We discussed his priorities and constraints as well as the possibilities. He set his job search in motion, but also set the stage for serious conversations with his boss.  As those conversations ensued, Charles and I discussed what he needed to make him happy to get his career on track.  On March 26 (7 months after our first call), Charles wrote “It’s official!… I’m in a better place than I ever imagined I could pull off – that mythical solid income together with a great work-life balance while doing work that I really enjoy.”  Ahh… that is like springtime in Charlottesville, just perfect!

I hope you can learn from these successful transitions.  Know that the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services is here to help you through whatever career challenge you face.  Set up an appointment at  Happy Spring!

Connie Dato English (MBA ’91), Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business  

*not his real name

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