Switching Industries: Exec Tells All

Kevin left a top consumer products company and moved halfway across the U.S. to land the VP of international compensation role in financial services.


When weighing the option to leave his job at a company that Fortune magazine named one of the most admired in the U.S. last year, Kevin framed the decision in terms of “push” and “pull.”

Kevin, 45, of Missouri, intended to “push” himself out of a job he considered uncertain, and he expected his reputation and skills would “pull” him into the right company. He had not actively sought a job in 15 years, and most jobs along his career naturally evolved from his previous work. The push and the pull had always worked.

Kevin knew he was ready to leave his job in executive compensation for a leading consumer brand. But where could he turn in an economy that leaves companies reluctant to bring aboard new talent?

“I think a lot of employers are in that frozen mode right now,” he said. “They do have openings. They do have a need but they are unwilling to commit to filling it because they don’t really know what the next six weeks are going to hold. The problem is they are afraid to fill them because they really don’t know what’s coming down the pike. [The rationale is] if we have survived this long without somebody doing ‘x’, we can probably survive the next six months.”

Finding a job meant the HRLadder member would have to do more pushing than he anticipated.

Echoes of Ireland
Kevin, who was born and raised in Ireland, sees parallels between the homeland he left behind in the 1980s and the current economic malaise. When he graduated from University College, in Dublin, in the late 1980s, the Irish economic boom known as the “Celtic Tiger” was not yet a cub. It was one of the darkest economic times in the country’s history, characterized by massive unemployment and emigration. “We had some pretty rough employment. Basically it was pretty much a scramble to get what you could,” he recalled.

He worked in a variety of different jobs. His first job out of school – which he disliked – was in advertising sales. He then took a copyediting job in publishing and segued into the financial side of credit control and credit management, “almost by default.” Like so many of his countrymen at the time, Kevin left Ireland, lured by the possibility of work elsewhere. London seemed a good launching point to capitalize on his experience in the credit field.

After that, he took a fairly direct path upward in finance and then into treasury finance, picking up an MBA from the University of St. Louis along the way. He eventually made a horizontal shift from treasury into compensation based on his strong track record in the company. “I think it would have been much harder to do that had I not been in a company where I was known and knew all of the background.”

Avoiding job-board spam
Kevin started exploring online job sites in summer 2008. His first experiences were frustrating. “You see something that might be workable, so you put your resume up there and five minutes later, you are getting junk e-mails from all over the place for totally random jobs. Five seconds later, I took my resume down.”

Then Kevin tried Ladders. “If you are reading the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times online… or any of the numerous publications that I look at online, you are going to end up bumping into an ad for Ladders. What I liked about Ladders was the fact that you are getting bona fide job opportunities. You are not getting peppered with junk mail, and when you do get approached, it is actually from legitimate people who have a legitimate reason to contact you.”

Kevin was open to opportunities across the U.S. “Since I was nationally mobile, I thought it was appropriate to accept job offers from all around the country,” he said. From application to offer and acceptance, the process took no more than six weeks. For him, the decision was an easy one.

Being flexible to relocation
But the move was more than a career move. It also meant uprooting his family from Missouri to the East Coast. “Other than leaving some family behind, it was not readily such a big problem. But for my wife, it was much more so at an emotional level. He had not chosen the Midwest; it had chosen him. He said changing geographic locations can be part and parcel of career development: “If you are able to be flexible with global locations, I think you make yourself that much more valuable because the company from a corporate perspective is able to deploy the assets that it needs in the places that it needs.”

While Kevin joined his new firm in early December, the company had made its offer a couple of months earlier – before the economy bottomed out. “I had dodged a bullet on that a little bit,” he conceded. “I was very lucky in timing: my opportunity came probably just before the worst of the news economically.” Nevertheless, Kevin said he believes enormous opportunities still exist. He pointed out that tough times completely change the dynamics of the competitive landscape. “All of these bizarre things [happening now] create opportunity: the prize will go to the persons who are best positioned to take advantage of it, who have got the scale, scope and size, the agility to take advantage of the opportunities as they arise.”

Kevin said he believes the key factor is to “network like crazy and network smart.” He compared a network to a garden: something that must be nurtured, maintained and pruned. While hindsight is 20/20 for people who have already been impacted, it is never too late to start. “If you come the first time to a network needing something, you have come too late. Talk to people for no reason at all. Do people favors. Feed into the network. It will then work for you at some point. It takes a while for networking to build up steam.”