Career Spotting

As experts in careers, those of us involved in human capital are well aware that most people usually change careers several times over their lifetimes. That’s a given. This applies to candidates as well as the people who recruit them because we, too, are counted among those with multiple careers. But the really cool thing is that each of those changes presents an opportunity for even greater success.

That’s why I am here today to build on the theme from my article about candidate spotting. Today, we’re focusing on career spotting, or scanning the horizon for changes in your environment that will lead you to that next better thing, while at the same time scanning your history for unique experiences and insights that give you a competitive advantage.

I am a “woman with a past.” I find a certain delicious humor in the phrase as it implies, well, I won’t go there. Let us just say that I have lived, and thankfully, it has been an interesting life. One reader, aware of my former career as an award-winning investigative reporter and television journalist, asked me to talk about how I came to change careers.

While I could say I laid out a tidy career plan and that my move to executive search was exactly what I had planned, that would be untrue.

Rather, I had invested every ounce of my being into become the best reporter a reporter could be, and I woke up one day and discovered the industry had changed. I spotted a trend (someone had moved my cheese). In response, I made an adjustment that ultimately allowed me to capitalize on the opportunity.

I started my news career shortly after Watergate, inspired by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. At the time, there was nothing cooler than extracting information from highly placed sources in secret meetings in a darkened parking garage. But by 1997, television news had become a shadow of its former self. Investigative reporting was a costly, highly litigious pastime, prone, if not designed, to upset the powers-that-be.

Moreover, television news had seen a fragmenting of its audience from the days when the triptych television networks of ABC, CBS, and NBC dominated the news. By then, with the advent of cable, the audience had been scattered like buckshot across 200 channels.

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In response, producers no longer decided to lead the news with the most important story of the day, but rather with the story they felt you most wanted to hear. That was so not what I had envisioned and while I could argue on behalf of journalism and the better story, it was an argument I wasn’t going to win.

So I left, went back to college, and ended up at Columbia University surrounded by kids who were born around the time Reagan was elected president. I had a blast. Ultimately I had to return to work and so a friend suggested I assist her with candidate development in recruiting. I had no idea that there was research aimed at recruiting. I was delighted to learn about something I could do from the comfort of my own home.

Moreover, much of the work seemed easy in comparison to what I used to do. It is far, far easier to call someone to offer them a job than to explain you are investigating them. Then I started applying my investigative expertise to identifying and ultimately recruiting executives and technologists, spinning in my computer-assisted research acumen, and my business was born.

One might say I fell into recruiting. But rather, I practiced the art of career spotting, which involves the following steps:

  1. See career change as opportunity: capitalize on it. Everyone gets downsized, even recruiters. Industries contract and expand. Markets have up and down cycles. What worked yesterday doesn’t always work today. Instead of focusing on what you have lost, focus on what you stand to gain. It doesn’t happen overnight. You may have to mourn the loss of a former career, workplace, and co-workers, if not the loss of a former identity. For the longest time, it felt weird to tell people I worked in executive search. Now it feels weird to say I was a TV journalist, though that investigative background gives our practice a competitive advantage.
  2. Read the tea leaves: read the newspapers. To career spot, you must be aware of the business world’s ever-shifting sands. Industries expand and contract, markets have up cycles and down, and what worked yesterday doesn’t always work today. You must be ever-vigilant and anticipate where things are headed. When you see a critical mass coalesce, or spot a pattern that resonates, it’s time to take action. For our business, it may mean realizing when we’re entering an economic downturn and refocusing or repositioning business in much the same way investors rebalance their portfolios.
  3. Realize that you are your own competitive advantage. Everyone is an individual. Everyone has their own special set of strengths and weaknesses. The trick is to capitalize on your strengths by aligning them with the trends you’ve observed in Step 2. I’m not saying this as a general platitude, as a generic warm-fuzzy, or as a Hallmark card bon mot. Rather, I’m suggesting you go beyond resume text and consider themes that have emerged over the course of your career. Examine your successes as well as the flip-side of your failures for the hidden strengths you may have embedded in them. During my journalism career, I was extraordinarily idealistic about the Fourth Estate and frequently jousted with my superiors, advocating for a great story and for the greater good. Was I a total pain in the derri?re? Definitely. Would I do it differently if I had it to do over again? Definitely. But the passion, determination, idealism, and depth of concern I had about advocating for doing the right thing were simply building blocks that were in their formative stages. Years later, it all came together when I rebranded our search firm and human capital intelligence practice “The Good Search,” the first search practice committed to serving employers-of-choice.
  4. Blink. Trust your instinct: use it to guide your innovation. Trust your gut. The older I get, the more I realize that if something feels wrong, it probably is. Moreover, we may be hard-wired for intuition, for profound knowledge and intelligence on a subconscious level. You still need to be educated, and to advance your training through conventional means. Often the thing that makes the difference between success and failure or between success and blow-the-roof-off super-stardom is trusting your inner wisdom.
  5. Spark a revolution: become more evolved. If you haven’t failed lately, then you may have gotten too content operating in your safe zone. If you find yourself blaming others, circumstance, or other outside factors, you’re wasting energy and valuable time. Instead, capture the lesson contained in every challenge you encounter. Not to go all New Age on you, but increasingly business people are turning to meditation as a way to become more present and aware as they engage in business. Being fully present and devoid of distraction makes you more successful. You don’t have to do yoga to get there. Other forms of exercise can put you into a meditative state, and biofeedback devices can as well.

Honor one’s past and use every lesson contained therein as recruiters. The lessons might come from childhood as an extension on the thesis, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. (Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people.) The lessons can come from relationships with significant others or from raising children. They can come from failure and loss as much as they come from success and acquisition.

The secret to career spotting is developing symphonic awareness by noticing emerging and repeating patterns, the themes and counter-themes, the harmony as well as the dissonance. In the end, it empowers each of us to serve as conductor of one’s vocation and avocation.

Krista Bradford (krista.bradford@tgsus.com) is the founder and CEO of The Good Search, an innovative retained executive search firm that delivers top talent clients never dreamed existed. Bradford also leads the firm's talent acquisition research and intelligence division, Intellerati, which offers services in support of corporate executive search and recruiting teams as well as diversity talent pools, succession benches, and custom intelligence that gleans competitive insights from the talent ecosystem. Prior to founding her firm more than a decade ago, Bradford served as an Emmy Award- winning investigative reporter and television journalist. She studied at Harvard University and Columbia University, ultimately obtaining her BA at The New School. Bradford is a noted recruiting industry expert, national speaker, and columnist. Her blog "The Investigative Recruiter" is counted among the recruiting industry’s Top 20 blogs.

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11 Comments on “Career Spotting

  1. I know Krista Bradford, and she’s a great example of a successful career change. Her 5 tips in this recruiting ‘career spotting’ article are solid. In turn, aspiring recruiting researchers would do well for themselves by trying to set up an informational interview with Krista… maybe it would land some project work or an eventual job with her growing firm!

  2. Glenn, you are far too kind. But thank you! I know you innovate on a daily basis in sourcing (we should talk! I still would love a copy of your amazing search strings.) Because people, including recruiters, change jobs, if not careers, more frequently than they did a decade or two ago, career spotting opens the door to innovating one’s self.

    Let’s talk this coming week . . .

  3. Excellent article, Krista. There’s no such thing as luck. In everybody’s life all of the time there’s just stuff happening and there’s what you actually do about it. Everything else is interpretation. Unfortunately most people’s interpretation of ‘stuff happening’ is ‘woe is me’. What a great attitude to life, Krista. I hope you speak regularly at schools and communicate your message to young people who desperately need your view on life at the beginning of their career, not the end.

  4. OK, let me say it; I love Krisa.

    Her thoughts are so well articulated; her ideas so fresh and her perspective is so spot-on.

    Krista; an article a day would be just perfect for me taste.

  5. Kristin-
    Great article, once I got past the 1st sentence: (Facts of that survey as I remember them): You said, ‘Most (58%) people usually (50% of the 58%) change their careers several (2x or more) over their lifetimes. i.e. 58% change careers, but only 29% do it twice or more. Jon

  6. Krista, you nailed it! I led the NY State Champion marching band, ran four branches of a corporate security company in four states, was VP Sales of a recruitment ad agency, played in dotcomland for six years, consulted and am now on the media side of recruitment advertising. I practice what you preach and along the way, I’ve discovered a little more guidance that I believe will help others get more comfortable with these ideas.

    6. (Continuing where Krista left off.) Change or DIE – All through our careers, we develop our skillset, add to it, refine it, so after a number of years at an employer.within an industry, we are not the same person that signed on there. This ‘new guy’ needs to find their best fit now. Growing out of your present position is GOOD.

    Just think of the alternative – not changing, nor developing and what would your career path look like then? (Can you say ‘dead end?’)

    7. Must pass Maslow muster – Are you all you CAN Be (in or out of the US Army) in your current role? Do you feel you are living up to your TRUE potential? If not, look first to your current employer. If you have become a highly valued contributor at an employer that understands the value of human capital, then your growth position may be just down the hall. Growth does NOT automatically mean going back out on the market through the grueling and often-demeaning interview process. I believe this deters many from achieving their true potential. Seek growth LOCALLY, before you seek it GLOBALLY.

    8. Invest everything you can in the company called YOU, Inc. Pursue learning opportunities from all available sources. Personally, I learn a LOT reading the articles on ERE and other sources, and from the various forums and groups to which I belong. Don’t think of training as that boring two-day deal where they bring everyone into corporate and parade powerpoint pontificators. There are numerous (free) webinars and conferences you can attend. There is NO better return on investment than self-directed learning.

  7. Fantastic article. You really struck a cord with this recruiter ‘with a past.’ I am currently working in an extremely candidate driven market that offers top candidates not only the chance to work in the best firms for the biggest salaries but also a chance to make incredible leaps in terms of responsibility and job scope. When I recruited in the US, after many years of recruiting in Asia, I was astounded by the fact that so many candidates moved for the same job they were currently performing.

    (Brian Fenerty is the General Manager of AdMark China, he has experience recruiting in candidate-short markets in Asia, North, and South America. For more insights specific to recruiting techniques in the China talent market please visit his ERE blog at: https://staging.ere.net/blogs/Recruiting%5FTechniques/ – or visit Brian on LinkedIn at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/brianfenerty or at http://blog.recruitinginchina.com.cn)

  8. I have read and re-read this article a number of times before responding, primarily because it has so much value. While a number of the observations Krista makes have to do with us evaluating ourselves, she also mentions one of my favorite things to find among the candidates with whom I speak: an Easter egg. My day is made when I encounter a candidate who seems to have lived more than one life in a lifetime. Those candidates typically provide a more rich and dimensional set of perspectives and skills to a new employer, and theirs are my favorite candidate backgrounds to write up for presentation to clients. How lucky are we who encounter such people in the course of our work!

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