Archive – September 2012

Why I Like People with Unconventional Resumes

By Claudio Fernández-Aráoz – Harvard Business Review

Professional success used to depend on experience, knowledge, and skill. But things have changed in recent decades. First, knowledge has become as rapidly obsolete as universally available. Second, we live in an increasingly uncertain and volatile world where, I often say, even the past has become unpredictable. And, finally, business has become more global and diverse.

In this new normal, experience and knowledge are less relevant, while the abilities to learn and adapt, to be resilient and to connect with others are ever more crucial. That’s why, as an executive search consultant, I like job candidates who have followed non-traditional career paths. That’s why I look for people who have shown the penchant for personal disruption I was asked to talk about as part of this recent HBR article.

When making senior appointments, I look both for two things: readiness for the job and potential for further development. Readiness is about the fit between the requirements of the position and the candidate at that particular stage in his or her career. It rests on critical competencies and cultural fit. And, in my view, non-linear job changes can tell a lot about several powerful emotional intelligence-based competencies — flexibility, adaptability, empathy, organizational awareness and relationship management — that differentiate stars from average performers in new roles. Disruptive moves can also tell you a lot about potential because they show a candidate’s curiosity, insight, inspiration and determination, which in turn indicate a search for learning and challenge. In fact, I’m usually worried when I don’t see major job shifts on candidates’ resumes. It could suggest they’re not seeking growth and that they’re not fully prepared for a leadership transition.

One of the most dramatic examples I’ve seen on this, at a national level, is that of Japan. When together with local colleagues I did a series of analyses for the local edition of my book Great People Decisions in Japan, we discovered that young Japanese executives had higher potential than the average in our global database, while senior Japanese executives had lower-than-average competence. Why weren’t these leaders living up to their promise? I believe it’s due to the extremely limited degree of job- and career-shifting in Japan, not only across companies but even within them.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a perfectly linear career if you are still proactively growing and learning and successfully performing at ever higher levels of complexity. But as Nitin Nohria and Boris Groysberg have shown, leaders are not as portable as we might assume. Employers — and recruiters — know this. So it’s important for all aspiring executives to think about disruption in the context of their careers and to consider job changes that prove an ability to master new companies, sectors, cultures and strategies. You’ll be measured against people who already have.

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