Land the Job with a Solid 90-Day Plan

Landing a new job requires not only demonstrating that you’ve got the required skills, but also convincing the hiring manager that you’re a great fit for his or her organization. Once hired, you typically have about 90-days grace period to establish yourself. This first three months in any new role or company is crucial. It’s a time to build credibility, get traction and assimilate.

Creating a detailed plan for your first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job can increase your chances to shine in interviews. In fact, for senior management roles, it’s increasingly common for the prospective employer to ask for a plan as part of their evaluation. Even if you aren’t asked to formally create a 90-day plan, it’s an excellent way to prepare for late-stage interviews or start in a new position.

By taking the time to build a specific plan, you’ll demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and that you take personal responsibility for being effective and productive as you on-board. A plan will reveal your ability to think strategically about the company. It also ensures the hiring manager that you understand the role and are ready to tackle any challenges it presents. As you communicate your ideas about a smooth transition, you’ll help the hiring team envision you in the role.

So, how do you go about creating an effective 30-60-90 day plan? To be sure, there are challenges — you may face time pressures, lack of visibility into the organization, or uncertainty about specific goals. But remember, making a plan at this stage isn’t about getting everything right, it’s more about asking good questions during initial discussions and researching to develop an informed point of view.

The plan itself is simply an outline of how you’ll approach the first three months on the job; it should be both detailed and customized to the specific employer. The information you need for building your plan can be found in a variety of ways:

  • Job description and discussions with recruiter — be sure to delve deeper into specific pain points and what’s driving the need to hire for this role
  • Interviewing — asking pertinent questions in the early rounds of interviews
  • Networking — gathering details from both current and former employees; look to public profiles (e.g., LinkedIn) of peer or related positions
  • Company’s public presence — checking multiple sources including the company’s own website, social media presence (Twitter, Instagram), investor and analyst reports, etc.

As you construct a plan, consider these key aspects of each phase:


Proactive planning is a great preparation aid for late-stage interviews or getting off on the right foot in a new position. Leadership guide and author Michael Watkins points out in The First 90 Days, “Your day-to-day actions during your transition will establish the pattern for all that follows, not just for the organization, but also for your personal efficacy and ultimately your well-being.” Check out his book if you’re interested in a deeper look at transition challenges.

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Coming to a Chapter Near You…

Alumni Career Services is excited to announce that we are going on the road this year! Been thinking about a career change? Want some networking tips or feedback on your LinkedIn profile? Seeking a promotion? Considering reaching out to Alumni Career Services but haven’t picked up the phone? Well, we are going to come to you!

Starting in September, we will be visiting one Chapter a month to host an informal networking gathering and invite alumni to sign up for a one-on-one session with a Career Coach.

Click here for our coach bios and sample coaching topics.

Click here to learn what career coaching is all about.

We will be kicking off the road show in Richmond on Friday, September 16th, followed by Atlanta on October 28th and Seattle on November 11th. More locations and dates to follow. Look for details via your Chapter email listserv and social media.

We are looking forward to meeting you!

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What a Career Coach Can Do For You

What exactly do Alumni Career Services (ACS) coaches do?

This is the question that starts many of my coaching sessions. In my first eight months at Darden, it has been my privilege to meet with many Darden alumni who are pursuing change and advancement in their careers. I am hopeful that an explanation of our career coaching might encourage more of you to take advantage of our services.

In thinking about my role as a career coach and what ACS coaches can mean to you, I can’t help but draw on parallels from my coachee experience. Some of you know that I am an avid triathlete. (Avid, not elite!) Since 2011, I have competed in about a dozen triathlons including one full and four half Ironman races. I am currently training for the Louisville Ironman and am working with a seasoned and certified triathlon coach. While I can download hundreds of training plans off the internet for free, I extract notable value from working with a professional. A coach holds you accountable, shares knowledge and offers perspective.

Every day, I log my workouts online for my coach’s review. This accountability can be the difference between me running on a cold, dark winter morning and staying in bed. You don’t graduate from a top program like Darden without exceptional personal accountability, discipline and achievement orientation. However, when you are juggling work, family, hobbies, volunteering and life, career management might slip off the radar screen. Partnering with a coach to set goals can provide the extra motivation you need to turn goals into accomplishments.

ACS coaches can work with you to establish goals, a framework, a timeline and deliverables.

A great coach is not always a great athlete, but should possess great knowledge of her sport. My triathlon coach happens to be a great athlete, but that is not what makes her valuable to me. First, it is her understanding of the science and the techniques of triathlon that help me make the most of my abilities. In ACS, we do not know your business better than you do. In most cases, you are the industry or functional expert. We are here to help you recognize, measure and articulate your expertise, talent and value to an organization. We know the questions to ask and the techniques to share so that you can showcase your unique abilities.

What I value most about my coach is her perspective. She has competed herself and trained other athletes for many years. She has seen everything on the success-failure spectrum. She helps me to benchmark and set my own expectations. As achievement-oriented, highly successful people, you are likely to be your own harshest critics. Career management, especially job search, can be humbling and tiring. Networking can be intimidating. As career coaches, we in ACS have “seen it all.” Let us help you to reflect on what is possible, to remind you how talented you are and to give you that boost of energy to keep you moving forward.

ACS coaching can be a one-off conversation or a series of sessions — the frequency and duration of your relationship with ACS is driven by you and your particular needs. Whether you are actively seeking change or simply trying to position yourself for advancement, we are here to be your sounding board, your knowledge resource and your advocate.

And unlike my triathlon coach, we are free of charge to Darden alums!

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Increasing Interview Confidence

“When I get to the interview, my brain just goes blank.  What can I do?”

This is one of the most common issues we hear in Alumni Career Services. While at Darden, you were most likely interviewing and networking with more regularity than you are now. As alums, it is not unusual to go many years without an interview, so feeling nervous and unprepared is quite normal. There are both tactical and strategic things you can do to increase your interviewing confidence.

One of the more energizing ways to gain confidence is to do a two-minute power pose before your next job interview (in your car or in the bathroom). Of course, you are wondering, “What in the world is a power pose?” Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy conducted extensive social science research on how to “fake it until you become it” and then unveiled her research in 2012 in the second most popular TED talk (33+ million views) of all time. She explains how body language affects how others perceive us, but also how our own body language affects our personal testosterone and cortisol levels, thereby affecting our performance. She has discovered that doing a two-minute power pose before something stressful like a job interview can lead to much better results. Watch the video to see exactly the pose you need to make and then find a quiet place before your next interview to do this power pose to increase your confidence.

Of course, doing a power pose doesn’t solve the problem of what to talk about once the interview begins. We find that having seven to nine prepared stories in your arsenal makes a huge difference in being able to answer most behavioral interview questions. To come up with the stories, you can use the  STAR chart (yes, a very similar chart to the one used while at Darden with the Career Development Center). Try to pick stories across a range of your professional experience, though concentrate most of them around your most recent positions. In addition, when you are filling out the STAR chart, remember that the interviewer is most interested in your analysis and results and less interested in the situation and task. The chart already has six categories built in, but we recommend adding two or three more based on the job description for which you are interviewing.

In addition to the STAR chart, it’s also very helpful to go over common interview questions. Glassdoor published a good list recently of the top 50 most common interview questions.

After you get your STAR chart ready, your confidence will continue to grow if you can do a few mock interviews prior to the big day. The coaches in Alumni Career Services are always willing to do a mock interview and your former Darden classmates are also incredibly rich resources for preparation.

Approach the mock interviews like a real interview as much as you can so that you can identify areas of improvement. Generally, two or three 45-minute mock interviews will be enough to help you practice your stories, increase your confidence and tweak anything that needs fine tuning.

As always, we are here in Alumni Career Services to help you be successful. Please feel free to contact us to set up a one on one coaching session, and review our job search toolkit for templates, tools and advice on approaching your next search.

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Negotiating for Your Best Job Offer

It’s the time of year for a few of my favorite things: warmer weather, March Madness (how are your brackets?), and … job offers! We’ve seen a marked uptick in promotions and new job offers lately, so it seems a good time to review the topic “how to negotiate.” Here are some common questions and scenarios we field when coaching alumni.

How do I know my real worth in the market?

First, understand that any job opening has market value based on the hiring company’s health, growth, and history, as well as the relative scarcity of skills and requirements needed to succeed in the job.  Most companies have a base salary range for a role. If salary isn’t revealed up front you might ask, “Can you give me an idea of the salary range for this position?” On the Compensation page of our Alumni Career Services Job Search Toolkit, we recommend a variety of research tools, noting that Glassdoor has become an essential resource for most. Be sure to look at a wide range of reported salaries, different companies within an industry, and variations of job title and location. Tapping into your Darden network can be helpful as well, asking industry insiders broadly, “What level of salary is expected in this role?”

Do I have to reveal my current salary when asked?

Job candidates are often asked early in the screening process, “What are your salary requirements?” or “What do you currently make?” Most candidates balk at revealing their salaries, thinking that will give away leverage they might need if they ultimately get an offer. However, recruiters use current salary not to anchor a negotiation, but to ensure that they can afford you. Candidates should never lie about salaries because some companies ask candidates for past paystubs as part of the background check.

You may be able to deflect this question by demonstrating that you’ve done your homework with a statement like: “My read of the market leads me to believe that this job should have a base pay between $X and $Y, and I’m comfortable in that range. I’m confident that if you decide to offer, we can come to an agreement.” However, we advise mentally separating this question from a negotiation later in the process. It is possible to achieve large compensation jumps.

Who should I negotiate with?

Once you’ve landed an offer, the next important element to consider is who you’ll negotiate with.  Offers are often presented by a recruiter or HR representative, but rarely does that person have the power to negotiate. That person may act as an intermediary, but only you can best represent your interests. If the offer is presented by someone other than the hiring manager, ask for time to consider, then reach out to the hiring manager with a gracious thank you and request to discuss your questions and concerns directly.

How do I negotiate higher compensation?

Start by prioritizing which aspects of the offer you value the most. Total compensation has a number of financial components — base salary, annual bonus, signing and/or relocation bonus, and equity. Any up-front bonus will not be a part of the equation in a future salary increase discussion, so it’s usually to your advantage to gain more on the base than the other components. Also, ensure that you understand when and how future salary increases will take place, as well as the specific hurdles that must be met in order to earn a bonus. Our Job Search Toolkit’s section on Negotiating includes a set of guidelines as well as a checklist of compensation and benefits.

When making your counter-offer to the key decision-maker, state your expectation, make a brief case that you believe your experience deserves this higher number, and ask simply, “What can you do for me?” Building your case should always focus on your skills and potential, never on your personal financial wants and needs.

The job I’m being considered for is structured very differently than my current role and the pay isn’t comparable; how can I convey this to the hiring company?

You may be leaving a higher paying industry or city for a job that promises a more favorable lifestyle. Conversely, maybe you are moving from an early stage startup to a more traditional corporate position. In either case, it’s equally important to do compensation research around your target role.  Acknowledge to a recruiter early in the screening that you’re aware of the gap and describe why you’re still a great fit for the job.

I’m in late stage interviews with two different potential employers and expect offers from both; how do I deal with the timing of the offers? Can I share the offer terms from one employer to leverage the other?”

It’s exciting to get two or more offers, but also daunting because you can’t control the timing of each offer, and you may be pressured to give a quick answer before you have the information you need to make an informed decision. In this scenario, think carefully about the possibilities. Compensation aside, which company is the best overall fit in terms of role, industry, growth, culture and personal factors?

When you get the first offer, express your enthusiasm and ask for time to consider. Immediately let the other organization know that you have an offer in-hand, but you are still very interested. Ask for their decision timeline. If they tell you, for example, “two weeks,” then you know how much time to request from the first employer. If the first employer insists on an answer before the second employer will decide, you have three choices:

  1. If the first employer is your first choice, negotiate the offer independently and move forward.
  2. If the first employer is your second choice, think about why. What would the offer need to be to make it more desirable? Higher comp? Better title? Flexible work arrangement? What would make you comfortable accepting before you know the outcome of the second employer? See if they will meet your needs.
  3. Politely explain that you are not prepared to accept at this time, but you remain interested. Ask to keep communication open in case the position is still available when you are ready to decide.

I’m considering joining an early stage startup; how do I value a possible equity stake?

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward way to value an equity stake in an early stage startup. Many important but obscure factors influence equity valuations: number of current equity holders, current shares outstanding and granted, methodology for internal values of each share or stake, vesting time-frames, number of outside investors (now and potentially needed in the future), and how the founders envision growth and ownership going forward. Often, senior candidates considering joining a startup will be asked to make a trade-off in cash compensation for some portion of equity, knowing that the liquidity of the equity is usually pure conjecture. It’s best to have a detailed dialog about all these factors when possible and, ultimately, know that your personal sense of risk tolerance is the most important factor to consider.

The hiring company has specified a start date that conflicts with my current plans; can I ask for something different?

Many companies have a provision for the term needed to work before becoming eligible for benefits, so it’s important to understand the effect of your start date on that eligibility. Most companies will be flexible on this date given your need to give notice and transition. Most companies’ health care coverage extends through the end of your month of resignation and begins on the first of the month after you start. Therefore, it can be ideal to end and start a job within the same calendar month so you don’t have a gap in coverage.

And after you’ve sealed the deal, be sure to review our tips for Starting a New Job!

Of course, each person’s situation is very unique; if you find yourself facing a tough salary negotiation, call on Darden’s Alumni Career Services for support.

Marty Speight ‘96, Career Consultant for The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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Alumni Spotlight: Successful Transition After 11 Years

This month we congratulate ’89 alum, Lance Hack, for landing an exciting new role. In the following Q&A, Lance describes his search and the ways in which he utilized Alumni Career Services to assist him on his journey.

How did you hear about ACS?  Had you always known of its existence?

I had read about ACS in the Darden Alumni Magazine. The first thing I did when I started my job search was to log on to the Darden alumni portal and look at what was available under the tab marked “Alumni Career Services”.

What were your expectations when you first reached out? 

I suspected that my job search skills were out of date when I started my job search. I had been at the same company 11 years, and I had not had to actively search for a job (or update my resume) in over 15 years. The job market evolves continually, and it had changed a lot over those 15 years. Not only that, but I had changed a lot over those years, too. I had C-Level experience, I had different income objectives and I was over 50.

So I knew that I needed some one-on-one coaching to help me understand the job search process today. More importantly, I needed some help understanding how my approach to the job search process needed to change. I went to ACS hoping to find that advice.

In what ways did ACS help you achieve your objectives?

My background is in working as CFO of small, private, technology-enabled service companies. My objective was to find a similar job. Given that objective, my coach and I spent a lot of time discussing (i) the qualities that my target market segment is looking for in a CFO today and (ii) ways I could use the components in my background to maximize my appeal to that market segment.

I was really impressed by the breadth of my coach’s knowledge of the job market. She provided insights on a really wide range of employers — from VC-backed software startups in Silicon Valley to hedge funds in New York and everything in between. I think that the team at ACS talks to a lot of different people every day, so they are very current on what employers are looking for in a wide range of jobs, from finance to sales and operations. That market perspective was exceptionally helpful.

In what ways did the Darden network help you achieve your objectives?

I reached out to a lot of old Darden contacts during the 4 months I was searching for a job. I got several really good leads from fellow alumni. Also, it was a great excuse to catch up with some people I hadn’t talked to in a long while. This being Darden, everyone I spoke to was friendly, interested and helpful.

What was the hardest part of your job search?

My coach cold-called me one day on lease cost recognition. I totally confused the difference between Type A and Type B leases under the proposed new standard. I felt like a deer in the headlights. I spent the next 3 days on My girlfriend just didn’t understand.

Where did you finally end up?

I recently started as CFO of Innovapptive, a software company in Houston, Texas. Innovapptive’s software allows mobile devices to communicate with SAP systems. We have some great products and, as a result, a really healthy sales pipeline of Global 200 companies. It’s a great fit because the company is just at the stage where they need some help raising outside capital and building the infrastructure to expand sales. Those are two things I like doing, so I am happily busy every day.

What advice would you give your fellow alums that might be considering reaching out to ACS?

I believe that a successful job search is a result of having a productive dialogue with a prospective employer. I also believe that one way to maximize your probability of success is to practice that dialogue with people who have a really great understanding of what your prospective employers are looking for. ACS is a great place to go to find those people. The ACS team is experienced, knowledgeable and up to date. ACS is a really great resource for anyone.

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When it’s Time to Change

In November 2015 I had the good fortune of becoming the new Executive Director of The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services (ACS).  After receiving my MBA from Kellogg , I joined the Equities division at Goldman Sachs where I spent the next nine years in sales and trading. I left Goldman in 2008 for a stint on the buy-side, but after a clean decade in the business I decided to make a major career and life change. It was the hardest, the easiest, and the best decision of my life all rolled into one. I am an MBA alumna, a two-time industry and function career switcher, and for the last 7 years, a career coach. For obvious reasons, the concept of ACS means a great deal to me both personally and professionally. In my first Career Corner Blog entry, I’d like to offer my hope for what ACS means to you.

In my first few months at Darden, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the mission of ACS: to provide quality career management services to all Darden School alumni throughout their lives. As I read and re-read that statement, the one word that keeps popping in my head is change. To provide career management services throughout one’s life is to essentially help one manage inevitable change.

There are two kinds of change. There is the kind of change that you drive, that you initiate, that you control. This is arguably the desirable kind of change. It is certainly the type of change you feel best about, even if it is a little scary. For many of us, the decision to go to business school is the first significant change we initiate in our careers. The second kind of change is change that you cannot control, change that is driven by external forces – market crashes, competition, reorganizations, unplanned life events, etc. This is the kind of change that makes most of us uneasy, especially when it comes to our careers. The good news is that even unplanned change can lead to enormously positive results.

As alumni  of Darden, you are leaders and managers of change. As entrepreneurs, consultants, bankers, product managers, etc., you are helping your organizations, or other organizations, to both initiate positive change and mitigate the detriments of unexpected change. As MBAs, this is our sweet spot. This is what we get paid to do. However, for many MBAs, we manage change so well for our employers that we neglect change management for ourselves. Some of us work for or lead companies that do a superb job of career management – setting goals, rewarding performance, encouraging learning and development, and providing lateral and upward mobility. Most of us, on the other hand, need to take these matters into our own hands. Enter ACS.

Whether you have experienced unplanned change or you are looking to create change in your career, ACS strives to be your change management consultant. We aim to support you as you make the absolute most of your career, regardless of industry, function, employment status or life-stage. We want to be another reason that you engage with Darden and leverage its vast resources.

Darden’s alumni are its most prized asset. You are benefactors, mentors, leaders, volunteers, and protectors of the Darden brand. You comprise the network that makes the Darden MBA so highly valued. Thanks to the leadership and generosity of alums that fit this very description, ACS exists free of charge …and we are humbly at your service.

If you are interested in learning more about ACS, please visit the ACS web site and feel free to reach out for an appointment:

Wishing you the very best in 2016 and looking forward to hearing from you soon.


Jen Coleman

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Relaunching Your Career in the New World of Work

For all of the competitive realities in today’s world of work, paradoxically there are a few silver linings when it comes to reclaiming one’s foothold on the rugged “career jungle gym.” One of these is a growing acceptance and formalization of programs and opportunities around career “relaunching”—the term for resuming one’s career following an extended break from the workforce.

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending The iRelaunch Return-to-Work Conference at Columbia University in NYC on behalf of Darden’s Alumni Career Services. This full day program was attended by several hundred prospective relaunchers, many of whom were just beginning to consider the big step of returning to work. The content rich program featured Jeffrey S. Brodsky, CHRO, from Morgan Stanley as the opening speaker, Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch as the keynote speaker, a morning panel discussion on “Relaunching Outside of Corporate: Social Enterprise, Education, Startups, Angel Investing, and as an Entrepreneur,” as well as a lunch panel discussion on the topic of returning professional internship programs and an afternoon panel of employers sharing job search advice.

As I talked with conference attendees throughout the day, I listened to their personal stories and was struck by some common threads. Most were women, and many had stepped out of the workforce for family related reasons—usually to care for their young children or a relative when juggling the demands of family and a challenging career were no longer a tenable situation. For many, the decision to step out of their careers was emotional and not lightly made. Most exuded an intensity for approaching whatever they do—whether being fully present for their family or making contributions in their professional work—with focus and excellence. I am pleased to note that Darden and other UVa alumni were among the conference attendees.

As a career and executive coach I have been an advisor in many relaunching journeys. From early-2008 through 2010 when the vagaries of the Great Recession were wreaking havoc on the careers of millions of Americans, many of my clients included senior level financial services and corporate staff professionals who experienced protracted job searches of up to two years. As the end of their unemployment and health benefits loomed, I sometimes found myself also sitting across the counseling table from their spouse. She typically had earned a graduate degree and had several years of earlier professional work experience and had stopped out for many years to raise children. In several of these scenarios, it would be her return to work that would recover the much needed family health benefits and keep the family financially buoyed while her partner hit the re-set button on his own career.

It was sometime in mid-2008 when I happened across the book, “Back on the Career Track: A Guide for Stay-at-Home Moms Who Want to Return to Work,” by Carol Fishman Cohen and iRelaunch co-founder, Vivian Steir Rabin, in the career section of my local Barnes & Noble. Since then, it has been a part of my resource library of career coaching staples. In particular, Chapter 8, “Inspirational Relaunchers” (by now dog-eared), has been a tremendous resource for my relaunching clients. Who cannot be imbued with a renewed sense of possibility after reading the relaunch journey of retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor? Since then, Carol has continued to contribute thought leadership to the career management field and has grown iRelaunch to new heights. Among other initiatives, iRelaunch has cultivated partnerships with premier employers across several business sectors that now offer formal “returnship” programs for qualified relaunchers. As the relaunching movement has gained momentum, iRelaunch has also developed in-person and virtual “return-to-work” boot camps that address strategy, marketing materials and technical upskilling.

For Darden alumni who find themselves ready to return to work after a gap of a few to several years, the following advice will be helpful:

  • Get clear on your value proposition. This is the intersection of where your background (experience+ability+skills) overlaps with your interests. Discovering this may be aided by taking some assessments and getting guidance from an experienced career coach. This step is critical to developing clear messaging for your search.
  • Focus on intersections where your value propositions will solve employers’ problems. If what you currently have to offer is not in demand, your career relaunch will be frustrating. Educate yourself on marketplace trends and emerging jobs in your target industry by reading professional journals, business publications and attending professional meetings. Have frequent informational conversations with your network contacts to help you identify opportunities.
  • Address any skill gaps that might become obstacles. The technical skills needed to compete in today’s world of work continue to evolve at a dizzying pace. Assess technical skills and knowledge you need to update, and seek training and credentialing to close those gaps.
  • Develop your personal board of job search advisors. This will increase your accountability and keep you moving forward. Choose advisors whose advice you respect and who will be honest with you.
  • Be realistic and stay resilient! Develop realistic expectations. It is rare that I have coached a relauncher who hasn’t had to take a step back to restart her career. The good news is that most relaunchers are so energized by their return to work, that they quickly succeed in regaining momentum in their career trajectory.

Shelby Olson, Interim Director of Alumni Career Services, The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

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Career Management Perspectives on Garnering a Board Seat

Many mid- to later-career stage business leaders are interested in what it takes to be invited to serve on a corporate board. As members of the Baby Boomer generation — a significant number of whom are now in senior level roles within their organizations — move into the final years of their careers, many find themselves reflecting on what is next in the grand scheme of life. In keeping with this generation’s place in history and the world of work, there is a collective yearning to continue to “make a difference.”

As a career and executive coach, I have worked with many clients who have confided a deep desire to continue to “give back” in their later career stages. They want to engage their expertise and experience in capacities that tap their passions and values. It is typical to dedicate several meetings working with a senior level client to explore a combination of life options and a strategy that will lead toward a fulfilling combination of activities. Frequently, the options in the mix that we explore include serving on at least one board, and can include public corporate, nonprofit, advisory private company or community level boards.

On 29 September, Darden alumni attended a reception and panel discussion event at the UVA Club of New York on the topic of corporate board membership. This event, put together by Darden Alumni Career Services and Strategic Relations, featured Dean Scott Beardsley as the panel moderator and three distinguished panelists with substantive board experience: John A. Luke Jr., chairman of the board of directors of WestRock; Martina Hund-Mejean (MBA ’88), CFO of MasterCard and a member of the board of directors of Prudential Financial Inc. and the Darden Foundation Board of Trustees; and David Kelso (MBA ’82), managing director of Kelso Advisory Services as well as board member for numerous private and non-profit organizations. The rich discussion revealed many nuggets of wisdom for alumni interested in board membership. Each panelist talked about why they became interested in board membership as well as how their own journey unfolded, and each spoke about the biggest challenges and rewards in serving on boards. In addition to listening to the panelists’ shared insights (available via podcast), the following suggestions will be helpful for those exploring board membership:

  • Give intentional thought to board roles and types of companies where you can add the most value. Assess your competencies and passions and look for company boards where your core value propositions are in alignment with the organization’s current needs. Current challenges of boards include: regulatory and financial pressures that inhibit focusing on real strategy, risk management, executive compensation, leadership succession planning, and pressure for short-term thinking and practicing tactical measures in response to external environmental pressures.
  • Identify organizations that are of interest to you and research them. In much the same way we encourage alumni who are searching for a new job opportunity to research and develop a target list of companies to help guide their search strategy, we recommend becoming educated about the financial performance and strategic priorities for companies whose boards are of interest to you. Review their annual reports and proxy statements. Research the backgrounds of target company leaders. Search and read their media releases, follow them on LinkedIn and other social media, and become familiar with the profiles of current board members.
  • Network! Put yourself “out there” in places where you will meet and interact with a network that could lead you to relationships with people who will think of you when a board seat becomes available. Join and become active in professional organizations, attend and present at conferences and be visible! Consider joining the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD). Develop and showcase your thought leadership through social media channels. Keep your personal brand relevant and your marketing collateral (e.g., LinkedIn profile, resume, biography, marketing brief, etc.) polished. Contact an ACS coach if you would like assistance with these tasks.
  • Consider starting with positions on nonprofit boards, community level leadership boards or advisory private company boards. These positions are generally easier to garner and will give you good experience in learning the dynamics of board membership. The journey to membership on a publically held corporate board can be much more challenging, so starting smaller, while never guaranteeing an invitation to a big public board seat, provides relevant experience.
  • Think about the answers to questions every new board member should ask. Key questions relate to board roles and relationships, industry and company context, strategic direction, organizational health, and researching the answers to them will position you to be better informed.

Proactively managing your career and life direction is every bit as important from mid-career onward as it was when you were starting your career, and requires the same intentional planning. As the recent Darden panel discussion on corporate board membership revealed, if you are interested in a seat on a board, it is not too early to start thinking about your strategy now!

Shelby Olson, Interim Director of Alumni Career Services, Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business.


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Navigating the “Career Jungle Gym” – Managing Your Career in the New World of Work

As many current mid- to late-career professionals will testify, proactively managing one’s career in today’s world of work is challenging. And, in these post-Great Recession years, recent graduates of undergraduate and graduate programs—even from top MBA schools like Darden—will readily recount the anxieties and challenges of landing that first job. It is old news that job security is a thing of the past and no secret that today’s labor market holds some harsh realities. The traditional “career ladder” of the Corporate Man era morphed into the “career lattice” of the 1980s through the early 2000s, and in the most recent decade has evolved into a “career jungle gym.” To add to the career challenges of professionals, today’s managers operate in thinly staffed and highly matrixed organizations that focus on short term financial results and allow them little time or budget to offer career coaching or professional development to their reports.

The jungle gym metaphor was referenced by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook in her 2013 book, Lean In, when she described her own career, “A jungle gym scramble is the best description of my career. I could never have connected the dots from where I started to where I am today.” Experienced career consultants who have coached professionals from all career stages can easily relate to the jungle gym metaphor. The climber my go up a few rungs initially, and then find it easier to move laterally, and at times necessary to move down a few rungs in order to get to the desired position. The mental image of this metaphor conjured for those in the career management business will likely not resemble the newer, safety-proofed jungle gyms with the synthetic soft-landing underground surface, but rather the monkey bars of yesteryear, constructed of solid metal that stood on blacktop playgrounds and were much more unforgiving when the climber lost his footing.  A fall from the old-fashioned monkey bars likely guaranteed that the displaced climber would arise bruised, dazed and unsure of where to get back on. This powerful metaphor is illustrative of how the generations in today’s workforce will experience their careers throughout their work lifespan.

Career obstacles and setbacks are frustrating, and require resilience to rebound and tenacity to get back in and stay in the game. Today, no combination of education, experience and natural ability can ensure an obstacle-free navigation through the career jungle gym. That is why many professionals find the need to reach out to a career coach for guidance at some point in their trajectory. Absent of a career development initiative or a mentor within one’s organization, seeking outside advice can offer the safe harbor of confidentiality for exploration without worry about repercussions from self-disclosure. Counsel from a competent career coach can illuminate possibilities and remove the emotional logjams that people face when they try to go it alone. Progressing to the next appropriate step in one’s career takes self-awareness, knowledge of the labor market, employing focused job search techniques and the execution of a strategic search plan. Of course, these efforts must be supported by the willingness to be accountable to one’s coach and invest sustained energy in the process.

Darden Alumni are fortunate to have access to the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services which offers them free career consulting services for life.  This incredible resource was made possible by the establishment of the Alumni Career Services fund in 1998 and was developed with the inspiration and vision of Mr. Armstrong, a Darden School Foundation trustee and lead donor at the time of its founding. As the summer months come to a close and the final quarter of the year approaches, there often comes a time of reckoning for professionals impacted by the year’s corporate events or who feel the need to make a change. We thought it timely to reach out to our alumni as we enter into the fourth quarter of 2015 as a reminder of the value that the ACS can provide when you get “stuck” in your career.

Here are some examples of a few of the recent inquiries that have come into our ACS coaches:

  • I was just laid off—where do I begin in ramping up a job search?
  • I’ve been in my role in this company a year now and I’m miserable—I can’t figure out if I chose the wrong career path, or this is just the wrong company for me….”
  • We just learned that our company is divesting my business in the coming months, so I need to update my resume
  • I just found out that I am a final candidate and have a face-to-face, on-site panel interview scheduled —how should I prepare?
  • I did not get the final offer—can you help me rekindle my search?
  • I’ve been at this search for several months and I’m not getting any traction—what am I doing wrong?
  • Can you look at my LinkedIn profile and help me improve it so I that get more interest?
  • I know that networking is the key, but I am very reluctant about reaching out to people in my network—can you help me get past this?
  • I am stuck at my current company—it is evident that there are no more growth opportunities for me —what should I do?
  • I am trying to “re-launch” my career after being out for several years to attend to family matters. My confidence is ebbing—can you give me some advice on things I should do to increase my chances of success?

Do any of these issues sound familiar?  If the answer is “yes” or you could use support with navigating your own “career jungle gym,” consider reaching out to the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services to schedule an appointment  with a career coach.

Shelby Olson, Interim Director of Alumni Career Services, The Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, University of Virginia Darden School of Business

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