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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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

When you contemplate accepting a new friend request on Facebook, or perhaps a connection on LinkedIn, what is the first thing you look at?  I’d venture to say most people look at the profile picture first.  Why? We want to see who we’re linking with to establish a human connection, before allowing a person into our network.  As professionals, it’s especially important to have a good profile picture on LinkedIn.  Take a look at our Top 10 LinkedIn Photo Do’s and Don’ts for tips on how to make sure you’re putting your best face forward.

Top 10 LinkedIn Photo Do’s and Don’ts:

  1. DO use a photo of YOU in your profile.  But please, no selfies (self-portraits).  Photos that obviously look like self-portraits come off as unprofessional.  Instead of awkwardly reaching out your arm to take a photo or using your computer’s webcam, use the self-timer function on your camera, ask a friend to take the shot, or even hire a photographer.  Many companies take a professional headshot, so ask to use that one if you like it.
  2. DON’T include others in your profile picture.  And don’t crop others out of your shot…no errant body parts allowed!
  3. DO smile!  You want to appear approachable and warm.
  4. DON’T use an old photo.  Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be if you met someone for the first time and they didn’t recognize you?
  5. DO dress professionally.  LinkedIn is a professional networking site – make sure that you are representing your firm and industry appropriately.  Women should avoid wearing a strapless dress or top; if your shoulders are bare in the picture, it will make you look way too casual and unprofessional!  Men should avoid wearing Hawaiian shirts, or t-shirts in general.  Choose clothes you’d wear to a job interview or an important meeting.
  6. DON’T put up a picture that is grainy or pixelated – you want the picture to be completely clear.  Make sure you use a high resolution photo, at least 200×200 pixels in size.
  7. DO use a headshot!  Your LinkedIn photo appears as a thumbnail; if you use a picture of your entire body, you may be unrecognizable.  Use the upload editor to crop the photo to appropriately frame your face; don’t let the background be a distraction.
  8. DON’T use a party pic!  Everyone likes to have fun, but be careful to not use a photo of you holding an adult beverage, smoking a stogie, or amongst a large crowd.  Likewise, avoid using a vacation shot, for example you on the ski slopes.  Unless your job is to sell slope side properties or you’re Bode Miller’s agent, this may not send the right message.  There’s a time and place for everything, so only use professional images on your LinkedIn profile.
  9. DO be consistent with your professional image.  Try and use the same photo for all of your professional and social networking profile pictures.
  10. DO upload a picture!  According to LinkedIn, your profile is 7 times more likely to be viewed if you have a profile photo.

John Benner, Darden 2010, recently updated his LinkedIn content and decided it was time for a fresh face on his profile.  A friend helped him get the shot he wanted; check out how great the end result looks!

John’s Before:

John’s After:
Benner - after

Helpful tips:

  1. Take several photos and ask family or friends to help you choose your best shot.
  2. Wear your most complementary color.  Avoid wearing white, it may make you appear washed out.
  3. Keep it simple, avoid busy backgrounds.  You want the focus to be on YOU.
  4. Use a setting with good natural light and avoid a stark white background which can give the picture a “mug shot” feel.
  5. Look directly at the camera and relax.

We hope you take the time to follow our advice, so you can put your best face forward.

Cathryn Davis, Associate, Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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MBA’s in High Tech

MBA’s in High Tech

We are constantly reminded of Darden’s awesome alumni community.  Whether it be talking with prospective students to share their own student memories and experiences or giving advice about breaking into an industry to a fellow alumnus, Darden alumni always amaze us with their generosity and willingness to help fellow graduates of this great institution.  Subha Shetty, MBA ’06, is one such helpful and loyal alumna.  Even as a student Second Year Coach she helped fellow Dardenites with job search.  Having been a software engineer in India pre-Darden, Subha’s illustrious product management career in the Bay Area started at eBay, and  included stints at Walmart International and ODesk.  She is now Director of Product Marketing at  Simply Hired, a vertical search engine and aggregator for jobs and career opportunities.  Subha has been an incredible resource for Darden students and alumni looking to find their way into or around high tech companies on the US West Coast.  We were thrilled that Subha agreed to document some of her knowledge about MBA careers high tech.   This “guest blog” will be supplemented by more of Subha’s insights on the Alumni Career Services website.


I am honored to have this opportunity to share my humble opinions and knowledge of high tech hiring in the San Francisco bay area gathered from working here since 2006.

The San Francisco bay area is a unique job market known equally for its innovation and its elitism. It is also coming into focus for Darden as a key strategic location and this development will help demystify the region and strengthen corporate relationships. Regardless, it’s a vibrant and growing market, which has withstood many economic downturns – plus you can’t beat the weather!

Typical MBA Roles

MBA roles in high-tech are broadly of two types – corporate roles and entrepreneurial roles.

Corporate:   To understand typical corporate MBA roles, let’s start with how technology companies are organized. Broadly speaking, technology companies have the following groups

  • Engineering
  • Sales (also Business Development)
  • Finance (also Corporate Development)
  • Product (includes Product Marketing, Program management)
  • Marketing
  • Operations
  • Human Resource Management

A variety of MBA roles at all levels are available in all of the above groups with the exception of the Engineering groups that tend to hire mostly technical folks. Here are some sample entry-level (0-3 years post MBA) job titles and a brief on the job responsibilities.

Product Manager

  • Lead small to medium sized product area in the company. In technology companies, products can either be an actual physical product (eg. Cisco router), a software solution (eg. Microsoft Office) or an online service (eg. LinkedIn).
  • Work alongside cross-functional teams to gather market requirements, plan the product direction and investment priorities

Marketing Manager

  • Responsible for messaging, campaigns, promotions and events
  • Work with media and public relations teams to communicate the right message

Financial Analyst

  • Perform financial forecasting and analysis and typically support a functional or business unit in the company

Here are some sample experienced (~8+ years post MBA) job titles and their job descriptions that explain the responsibilities and skills required to perform the job.

Senior Director of Product Marketing

  • Responsible for business planning and marketing for a large and/or complex product suite
  • Create and manage the go-to-market strategy across all channels of how the product is sold to the customer
  • Manage a team of marketing, product marketing and content managers to create the right messaging across the product suite

Business Development Leader

  • Provide subject matter expertise
  • Support a business’ key goals such as sales efficiency, customer support or any other customer facing function
  • Manage teams and/or partnerships with key clients


To understand entrepreneurial roles, let’s start with understanding the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Broadly speaking, the stakeholders in an entrepreneurial ecosystem are the entrepreneurs themselves and the investors.

An entrepreneur’s job description is self-explanatory. As the founding member of a company, they wear many hats and steer the company in the direction of growth and profitability.

As an investor, most jobs are available at Venture Capital firms. Some sample job titles and responsibilities in these Venture Capital firms:

Entry Level – Analyst or Associate

  • Perform due diligence on companies that the firm is interested in
  • Prepare financial analyses, projections and memos that determine decision of the firm to invest

Experienced – Principal/ Partner

  • Invest capital directly in firms
  • Sit on boards of companies they have invested in to provide guidance and direction
  • Typically VC firms do not advertise partner jobs, therefore it is difficult to come across a job description link. These jobs are mainly filled through networking.

Career Paths

Similar to the MBA roles explained earlier, career paths in the corporate or entrepreneurial world are also distinct.


Corporate career paths typically culminate in heading a function (CFO), a business unit (General Manager of Americas) or the company itself (CEO).

The career path of a functional head is obtained by gaining additional responsibility within that function with time. For example:

Financial Analyst –> Senior Finance Manager –>Director of Finance –>     Vice President of Finance –> CFO

The career path of a business unit head is typically through gaining experience in Sales, Product or Marketing functions. For example:

Product Manager –>Director of Product –> Vice-President of Product –>   GM of Americas

CEOs in technology companies have a wide variety of backgrounds and can rise from within any of the functional groups in the organization.


In the entrepreneurial world, a career path is either on the operating side or investing side. On the operating side, the typical path is to be an entrepreneur/founder of a company and that is a career in itself.

In the investing side, a career path is usually working in a venture capital firm to collaborate and support entrepreneurs.  An investing career path typically follows two routes:

Those with a financial/investment banking background. For example:

I-Banking associate –> Analyst –> Principal –> Partner  OR

Those with an entrepreneurial or executive corporate background. For example:

Entrepreneur –> Principal –> Partner or Functional or business head at a corporate company –> Principal –> Partner

Subha is writing and sharing more about MBA jobs and Darden alumni in high tech careers in the Bay area.  Look for the information on the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services’ website.

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Mythbusters: The Career Management Edition

I love the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters where the co-hosts “debunk curious notions and old wives tales”.  As a career coach I talk with hundreds of Darden alumni and I often must dispel false notions about career progression or conducting a job search.  Here are some common myths and why they aren’t necessarily true:

Myth:  You must hide your age when job searching.
The real issue is whether employers blatantly discriminate based on age. Knowing that employers will eventually find out your age anyway, figure out ways to debunk their myths about your age! Recruiters cite a variety of concerns about older candidates including higher pay requirements, ability to learn new things, physical stamina, and longevity in the position.  Older professionals must work harder to show they have the relevant skills, energy, and cultural fit to win a job.  Steve Hoard MBA ’74 faced a job search in 2011 and rather than covering up his age, he embraced it.  He showed potential employers the many ways he had kept his skills and attitude fresh over the years, including continuous learning, getting professional certifications, and embracing social media.  All that combined with a clear objective, solid research and persistent networking landed Steve a new job in record time.

Myth:  LinkedIn is only for job seekers.
LinkedIn’s 250 million members can stay in touch with their professional network, participate in affinity groups (like the Darden group), prospect for new business (especially good for sales professionals and entrepreneurs), conduct basic company research and more.  Do you know you can easily find your fellow Darden alumni using LinkedIn’s Network->FindAlumni feature?  As long as we’re debunking myths… no, you don’t need to pay for the premium version of LinkedIn for the service to be useful, and yes, you can control the access around your network (read LinkedIn’s Official blog to see how to control your privacy).

Myth:  You need to hire a professional resume writer.
I have yet to meet a Darden grad who could not craft an excellent and well-targeted resume with a bit of coaching and the benefit of a few good samples.  Before you spend the money, check out the detailed Resume section of our Job Search Toolkit.

Myth:  You can never return to a company you left.
It is possible to return, if, a few conditions are met.  First, consider your motivations for leaving in the first place.  If you’re positive about the company’s prospects, you know you have the skills to do the job and you liked the culture the first time around, it’s worth investigating.  If you left on good terms with the manager and team, and if you’ve kept in contact with the right colleagues you’ll have a better chance of opening the door for a return.

Myth:  You will have to relocate to land your next big job.
Job-related relocation can be daunting for both the candidate and the employer.   Ted Bills MBA ’06 turned down a number of interesting internal job opportunities at GE over the last five years because they required him to move cities.  While he did aspire to a higher-level role, he had already made a decision to stay put in Minneapolis where he wants to raise his family.   The expertise he developed in pricing at GE made him a good candidate for a large local firm, Boston Scientific.  He landed a job as Pricing Manager with increased responsibility and the move sets him on a path in the fast-paced healthcare industry.    Geography can be one of the more puzzling aspects of career management… whether to seek a better job that is located elsewhere, or maximize job options in one’s current location.  Where you want/need to live is a very personal decision that should be considered as part of your short and long term career goals…read more about geography in our ACS blog from last July.

Myth:  You must find your own mentor.
Finding a mentor is more a function of being ready for the right learning relationship at the right time in your career.  In other words, you can’t force the fit and it takes more than a simple request to engage in a meaningful mentor partnership.  Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has a great chapter (‘Are You My Mentor?’) on the do’s and don’ts of seeking a mentor.

Myth:  Landing a new job will take a few weeks.
Myth:  You can’t land a job during the holidays.
Based on feedback from hundreds of alumni and ACS Survey data we know a realistic timeframe for job search is at least 6 months.  Before you land you’ll need a thoughtful plan, a set of well-researched target companies, persistent networking, and typically weeks of interviewing, follow-ups and finally negotiations.  This process can sometimes slow during the holidays, but hiring doesn’t stop.  We’ve seen plenty of alumni land in December after several months of effort, or, land in March or April having started outreach during the holiday stretch between November and the New Year.

Myth:  Headhunters are the key to getting hired.
Myth:  You have to apply to LOTS of online job openings to get a new job.
The real key to job search success is not the volume of opportunities you pursue, or answering a headhunter’s call.  Rather, it’s having a clear objective, defining and researching a set of target companies, networking effectively, and nailing the interviews.   Consult our Job Search Toolkit for resources on all aspects of the search process, follow us on twitter, and contact us us for free one-on-one counseling.  We’ll help you uncover the myths in your plan and set a successful course of action.

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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“It seems like hiring is picking up…” Cautiously Optimistic for 2014

I just got a message from Brian, an unemployed alumnus who, for the last six months, has been diligently looking for a full-time job while he works on projects to pay the bills and keep his skills (and mind) fresh.  In his email, he says “I have three final round interviews in the next two weeks … it seems like hiring is picking up.”  I hope that Brian is right,  as he’s not alone in his long quest for a mid-level job.  During this first week of the new  year, lots of labor analysts, recruiters and career advisors have been speculating about what the labor market is going to do in 2014 – here’s what I have surmised from reading and studying the trends as well as observing hundreds of job searches in 2013.

Over the last few months, labor statistics in the United States have shown growth in employment and have signaled a job recovery.  But, expansion in management and executive employment is not as apparent.  Execunet’s Recruiter Confidence Index reveals  expected growth in hiring at the upper levels to be slow, at best.

Companies continue to hoard cash, and are still not investing in growth.  It seems that aspirations of stability and strength are trumping growth – evident in how very cautious and careful companies have become in making executive hiring decisions.  Employer interest is less about finding good people and more about finding people who have experience doing exactly what the job entails.  The propensity to take a risk on a promising, yet green,  new hire is much lower than it used to be.

Cautious hiring managers favor the candidate who comes with a personal introduction and/or endorsement from a colleague, classmate or friend.  It’s less risky.  Also, recruiters are seeking the “perfect” candidate — someone who already has experience in what the job requires.  Being focused in what you are looking for will allow you to highlight the right skills, traits and experiences to portray you as that “perfect” candidate to recruiters.  If you are looking to change jobs, it will help immensely to tap into the people who surround the hiring managers.  And, acting quickly when you hear of an opportunity, being first to the hiring manager if possible, could even help bypass the formal recruiting process.

Once you are in the recruiting process though, don’t be surprised if the company seems to take forever.   Employers are treading carefully these days and the hiring process has lengthened.  Our 2012 alumni survey indicated that the average job search for Darden alumni was 6.8 months.  So, patience and persistence in job search are key.

Another trend being reported by is that more people are looking for jobs in 2014.  They are looking because they are unhappy with their jobs, their pay, and their prospects for advancement.  Many are unhappy with their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated and are not feeling challenged.  Over 2/3 of alumni working with career coaches at Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services in the last quarter were currently employed.  Many of them are looking for better fitting jobs, having “stuck it out” through the recession in positions that weren’t exactly right for them.   Perhaps confidence in the economy has provided the impetus to make a change.  If employed managers make moves, their positions will open up and employers will presumably become more active in recruiting too.

Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about the management job market for the coming year.  Candidates that know what they are looking for, understand what their target employers need, and focus on how they can make a difference for those employers and get their network energized to connect them with hiring managers, will have a better time in the search.  Patience, persistence and dedication will pay off — let’s hope it does for Brian in the next few weeks!

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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The Twelve Days of Career Management

The holiday season is upon us!  Accordingly, we suspect that many of you will be partaking in feasting, last-minute shopping, family get-togethers with your nearest and dearest, general merriment and mirth, and of course, career management.  That’s right:  job search doesn’t take a break during the holidays.  In fact, if our schedules are any indication, job search is ramping up for many Darden alumni who are presumably looking toward the coming New Year, reflecting on their career goals and determining “what’s next.”

The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services is here to help you with your career management needs, offering our take on The Twelve Days of Christmas:

On the Twelve Days of Career Management my Career Coach gave to me:

12 LinkedIn Connections

11 Targeted Opportunities

10 Employer Research Links

9 Networking Calls

8 Professional Goals

7 Resume Edits

6 Recruiter Tips

5 Books to Read

4 Interviews

3 Negotiation Tips

2 Career Coaching Calls

1 Promotion or Awesome New Job!

If you have a few spare moments over the holidays, we encourage you to dig deeper into the Job Search Toolkit and Career Management sections of our website.  As always, we are here to support you and your career goals and we encourage you to contact us to schedule a one-on-one appointment.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or perhaps even Festivus, all of us at the Armstrong Center hope you have a happy holiday season and a prosperous New Year.

Cathryn Davis, Associate, Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Interviewing: The Secrets of Success

There I was sitting across the little table facing a 10 year old boy who was nervously struggling to answer a simple question – “why do you want to work here?”  I was an interviewer for the 5th grade Junior Achievement BizTown, a full-day business simulation where the kids take on jobs in a make-believe town to learn about careers.  Interviewing this young man brought to mind the many mock interviews I’ve done with Darden alumni.  Everyone dreads the mock interview, yet invariably alumni who mock get vital feedback and tips to help them land their next job.

Preparation and practice are the real secrets to interview success, but how do you accomplish this effectively? Our ACS website has a detailed interview section which addresses issues such as interview formats, timelines, and the people involved.  The heart of interview preparations should involve preparing your answers.  It’s best to tackle this by dividing your efforts into three distinct components of the interview – background, qualifications and research – each requiring its own unique planning.

Most interviewers start by asking some kind of introductory question about your background.  The typical prompt is “tell me about yourself” or “walk me through your resume,” which is ultimately your chance to tell your story.  Your answer should not be a literal point by point walk-through of your resume, as the interviewer can see this for herself.  Rather, the best answer is a well-crafted one, spanning about two to three minutes, highlighting your key accomplishments while addressing how well-suited you are for the job opening.

A good introduction technique is to write a script of your talking points.  The idea is not to memorize the script, but rather it is to think carefully about which moments to highlight, to polish the transitions, and to ensure that you cover some of the ‘why’s’, e.g. why you chose certain roles or jobs and why are you seeking this position.  Practice telling your story out loud in front of a mirror to watch your delivery, and time it to ensure it is the right length.  Scripting and practicing will help you construct a powerful introduction that will start the interview strong.

The second step of interview preparation gets you ready for the myriad of questions that may be asked of you that will judge your skills and qualifications for the job.  These questions typically start with “tell me about a time when…” or “give me an example of…” and may also include hypothetical situations like “what would you change about…”  Rather than trying to guess what the specific questions may be, your time is better spent using the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) method to develop background stories.   To utilize the STAR method: (1) create a list of skills and traits necessary to land the job (ideally gleaned from the job description); (2) map each skill back to the evidence found in your background that supports how you can succeed in the position.  The best answers give a very brief synopsis of the situation/task and focus more on the action, your role in that situation, and the result or outcome: what you delivered or accomplished.  If the question involves a ‘negative’, like “tell me about a project that failed,” you’ll still follow this format, focusing on the result of what you learned and how you plan to react differently in the future.  Be sure to think about how to bring each answer back to the interviewer’s specific needs and job opening.

The notable and dreaded question “what are your salary requirements?” requires a different approach.  This often comes early in screening and can throw you off.  Most people don’t want to reveal their current salary for fear of losing later negotiating power.  Dealing with this question is actually easier than it might seem.  First, use online services such as to research a variety of salary data around similar roles and job titles in the geographic location in which you are interviewing.   Prepare a short statement such as “my research reveals that this kind of role commands a range of about $125-$150 thousand in your market which is on target with my current level of compensation, so I’m sure we can agree on compensation if the match is right.”  See our Compensation page for more resources and talking points.

The third aspect of preparations is focused on your ability to ask the right questions at the right time.  Being asked “what questions do you have for me?” is your chance to show that you’ve researched the role, company, and industry and understand their business challenges.  Don’t waste the interviewer’s time by asking questions that you could easily research yourself.  Do ask questions that are suited to the role of the interviewer.  If it’s HR conducting the screening interview, ask “what is your process and timeline for hiring?”  If it’s a senior executive, ask a macro question about the firm’s strategy.  See our Questions to Ask page for more examples.

This kind of detailed preparation, along with some deliberate practice will give you the confidence to face most any conversation.  Contact us to schedule a mock interview or other free career counseling services at Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services.

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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