Donna Burr has been a partner in Watermark’s Interim Management Practice since 2018, deploying senior-level interim executives in both private and public sectors. She focuses on CEOs, CFOs, COOs, CIOs, change & turnaround professionals, senior Finance, HR, Operations, Legal & IT executives. She has completed interim management search assignments across various industries, including Financial Services, Government agencies, Peak Member and Regulatory bodies, Not-for-Profit, Healthcare, Energy, and Utilities.

I interviewed Donna for The Job Hunting Podcast recently (episode 71, which you can listen to in most podcast apps). I asked her the most common questions executives have about job hunting, recruitment, and selection. This is what she had to say.

How to identify your transferable skills?

In Donna’s case, she had a mentor point out to her what her traits or superpowers were, which helped her transfer her skills and develop new expertise. But you don’t need a mentor to do that. Here are her tips for other ways to find out what your superpowers are:

  • Ask the following question to friends and colleagues you trust, worked with, and who have known you for several years: What kind of problem or job would they immediately think of you to help them with? 
  • Self-reflection: During your career, what type of problems are continually thrown your way to solve?

Once you get the answers to these two questions, look for patterns. Your superpowers will be in the answers. Then, you need to develop a narrative and understanding of what they mean in terms of skills you can transfer to a different workplace.

Be ready to accept the answers you will get. Those superpowers might not be what you expected or wanted to hear. Most likely, it will not be “leadership” or anything grandiose! It would be best if you took the feedback on with interest and curiosity. Listen and spend time reflecting on it; it’s what people have seen over a long period of time. 

What to do when you don’t have industry experience?

What happens when you have been working in an industry all your life, and now you find there are not many jobs advertised in that industry? You need to start looking for jobs in industries and companies unfamiliar to you, but the job title and the responsibilities are within your skills and experience. How do you position yourself to compete with other candidates who have industry or sector experience?

  1. Don’t just send job applications anywhere are everywhere! Find out which industry or sector you want to work for, and focus on one or two only.
  2. Once you have niched down, think about what problems that sector is facing. Do your research, read the news, ask your network, be informed. 
  3. Connect with professionals who work in the sector or industry you are targeting. Are there people in that sector that you can meet? Are there professional bodies that you should be connected to within that sector?
  4. Now that you know the sector well, what skills can you use to help organizations solve their critical problems? Donna says, “You’ve got to take the time to understand and marry how your superpowers can come and support them.”
  5. Will you be comfortable helping this sector solve its problems? Is working for this sector aligned with your values? Your head may be in it, but if the heart’s not in it, that will come through in your job application or interview. 

Donna reminded us of something we have heard before in previous interviews of The Job Hunting Podcast “Never answer a prospective employer and tell them, ‘I can do anything.’ This is not helpful. The Tighter you can be about your strengths or superpowers, the more likely it is that people will be able to help you, and an employer will be able to see where you could potentially fit.”

Dealing with ageism when job-hunting?

There are two ways to address ageism when job-hunting:

  1. Stay current – Donna often hears a candidate that says, “I’ve been a CFO for 40 years. I’ve got 40 years of experience.’ Although that shows extensive experience, it is important to showcase what you have been working on for the past three to five years. What are the problems have you solved? How are you getting across digitization in your area of expertise? What are the key changes you’re seeing? In the example Donna used above, “What are the global issues that are impacting CFOs these days?”. Donna agrees that age gives you the war wounds: the experience and perspective to come into an organization and stay calm under pressure. But staying current and up to date will enable you to hit the ground running and blend it with the team. So how are you skilling, re-skilling, or cross-skilling? Are you involved in networking groups or professional organizations? How are you improving your digital literacy?
  2. Network – According to Donna, your network’s strength will absolutely be a lead indicator of your success in finding your next role. If you’re in the market for a job, you need to let your network know. Therefore, it’s important to keep your network current and connected, regularly engaging, not expecting it to be transactional, or only connecting with people when you need something from them.  It’s a two-way street. Make sure you’re helping others as much as asking for their support. 

“Renata, your optimized job search schedule is gold dust!”

Donna and I discussed the importance of a great job-hunting routine to speed up results. If you’re an executive or a job hunter in transition, be disciplined about your week. You need a reason to get up in the morning, a rhythm to the week. It would be best to read the news, map out those sectors you’re interested in and who you need to connect with. You should be looking at your digital profile, your resume and seeking the help that you need. You should be getting out and speaking to people, be it virtually or in person, if possible. Be disciplined about it. There’s no short, quick, fast way to do this.

To help you understand what tasks you should be doing each week to optimize your job search, and choose the best routine for you, download for free the Optimized Job Search Schedule.

For some, the job market is still very competitive. It can be frustrating and demoralizing when you’re getting knock-backs or just feeling like you’re not making progress. Still, be patient, keep the discipline, believe in yourself, surround yourself with people who will help and support you.  Donna and I firmly believe that if you do focus on all those things, you’ll start seeing conversions, leads, and opportunities coming your way! You have to put in the hard work. No one’s more interested in you finding a job than you. It’s not the recruiter’s job; it’s not your friend’s job; it’s not your network’s job to find you a role. 

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Renata Bernarde is a Career Coach and Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. You can listen to the podcast in all available podcast apps. Download Renata’s Optimized Job Search Weekly Schedule to create the perfect job search routine to suit your needs, no matter how much (or little) time you have.

About the Author

Renata is Career Coach and Founder of the Pantala Academy: a digital online platform providing advice and training to executives keen to find a new job, advance or change careers. She is a firm believer in planning and thinking long-term when it comes to career decisions.

She is the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast, a podcast which has received rave reviews from listeners, executive coaches, and recruiters. It is listened to in over 50 countries and can be found in all good podcast apps.

As a former senior executive, CEO, and business development professional, Renata has built new businesses, led teams, raised and managed millions of dollars, and inspired others to be aspirational for their careers and the organizations they represent.

She lives in Melbourne’s bayside area with her husband. They have two adult sons and a large collection of Shiraz.