Perspectives from a Career Coach

A Conversation with Chase Alumna Laura Hill

Chase Alumna Laura Hill is founder and president of Careers in Motion LLC, a career coaching firm based in New York City that she formed in 2005. A recognized expert on career transitions for professionals and executives, she has been featured on CNBC’s The Wall Street Journal Report With Maria Bartiromo and has been quoted on career topics in, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, among others.
      Working primarily with senior-level executives, she helps clients optimize their careers through assessment, strategic planning, personal branding, and effective job search, including assistance with resumes, interviewing skills and negotiations. Her clients include C-suite executives, MBAs from top business schools, law firm partners and associates, and Wall Street professionals. Her broad industry expertise includes financial services; not-for-profit management, media/entertainment/internet; consumer products; and professional services.
      A native Texan, Hill received an MBA in finance from the Stern School at New York University and a BBA in marketing from the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. She is a certified career coach with The Five O’Clock Club and is qualified to administer the Myers-Briggs personality assessment and interpret Johnson O’Connor aptitude results.
      After working as a summer intern for Chase in 1983, she joined what was then the Chase Western Hemisphere Service Center. Over her Chase career she helped restructure Argentinian debt, ran Asia letter of credit, handled international demand deposit accounts and ran the MetLife Branch before leaving Chase in 1991.
      From 2001 to 2005 Hill headed client services for Crenshaw Associates, a boutique firm that provides outplacement programs for top executives, including CEOs. Just prior to that, Laura was vice president of human capital at MobileSpring, Inc., a venture-funded technology company where her responsibilities included organizational planning and recruiting.
      From 1998 to 2000, Hill was managing director at Redwood Partners, a retained executive search firm that served emerging Internet businesses. She authored their Internet CFO Study and conducted searches for business heads and top financial, marketing, business development and technology executives. From 1993 to 1998 she owned her own recruiting firm that served publishing, advertising and new media concerns. Earlier in her career, Hill worked for retainer search firm Korn/Ferry International as an associate and as regional research director.
Hill is a frequent speaker for professional groups including Financial Executives International (FEI), The Association for Corporate Growth, The Financial Executive’s Networking Group (FENG), Financial Women’s Association and Technology Executives Networking Group (TENG). She is a volunteer with Upwardly Global, a non-profit organization that helps qualified immigrants continue their professional careers in the United States.

What’s a misconception you find among job seekers?

A lot of time is spent on a job search for jobs that don’t exist anymore. People fail to recognize that it’s a matter of supply and demand: The number of banking jobs that used to be doesn’t exist anymore – or the jobs are in India, and that doesn’t help us. When the number of jobs is contracting, you have to move on. You have to figure out another career.

How do you make the transition to a new career?

You may have to build your skills by giving your work away for free to gain the new resume – for example, helping a not-for-profit. More than ever, corporate employers are looking for the perfect person – they have so many people to choose from. Part of the problem with the job market is that employers don’t want to train you. They will leave it open longer than the time it would have taken to train you!
      Job seekers might have better luck in burgeoning industries, like social media, that don’t yet have entrenched employee populations.

What about the over-50 job seeker?

It’s not that people want to discriminate. The sad truth is that the vast majority of jobs that exist require only a few years of experience. We don’t need that many chiefs. We need doers. I’ve never seen a job asking for more than 20 years of experience, so we have a demographic problem: We have this many people [in the Baby Boom generation] with more than 25 years of experience. Lots of jobs are calling for only 2-5 years of experience or technology skills that the more senior executive might not even have.
      Think Sustainability. Be strategic: Think about where you want to end up. Maybe you sacrifice now to build a career path that is sustainable for five to 10 years.
      At the same time, you’ll always be paid more for a job in a field where you’ve already worked. Try to put probabilities to it. Think about freelancing, and picking your targets for where you could get business. Embed yourself as a consultant: If the employer is hiring full-timers, you’ll have a huge advantage if you’re on site.

What of the old saw that “it’s always easier to get a job while you have a job”?

It’s not as true as it used to be, because you’re working so hard, and you need to devote time to finding a job. The generation and era was a real turning point. Young professionals found themselves working 80-hour weeks and would work until they would drop – and then quit their job, take a few months off and then find another when they were ready. It would drive their parents crazy, of course.

Are there trends in the job search field?

Resume styles change every few years. If you’re not in style you look frumpy and old. Objective statements, for example, are long out of fashion. Now we write positioning or profile statements at the top, which tells right away what you do. Then have bulleted accomplishments, not a lot of paragraph text. List a result, something that imparts a wow factor.

Who dictates the change in style?

It’s more like pop culture – it just bubbles up on its own.

What about sea changes in the employment market? Forecasts?

Sept 15, 2008 was of course a date that led to a change for Wall Street types. In Spring 2009, we saw many publishing/media executives in New York get outplacement packages.
      The 2012 market is just flat, and in financial services, it will be flat until 2013. It’s an election year, and things will come to a halt after September.
      Dodd-Frank cast a huge shadow over the industry, and some people may lose jobs with the Volcker rule implementation. Banks will be bearish and reluctant to add full-time staff…but there are always consulting opportunities.

Any glimmers of opportunities?

I’d say in customer satisfaction jobs – anything that touches the customer. A few manufacturing jobs are coming back to the United States, and technology may be hiring.

How do you price consulting services?

It’s hard to know sometimes. Most of my clients are looking for jobs in the traditional job market, but there is a payroll formula for converting employee status job for 1099 consulting. In so many consulting projects, you don’t know how many hours you’ll put in, and you don’t know if the client will change specs or the scope of the project. If you charge by the hour, you’re more likely not to lose money.  

Do Baby Boomers have to think differently about the nature of work?
Indeed. You have to ask yourself, “What will people pay me to do?” They may be uncorrelated, or you may have accumulated enough money that you can pursue the passion you’ve always wanted.
      You may have divergent talents and need to manage both of them. You may have to cobble together a full income with several partial incomes. That’s become so legitimate that we now have a name for it – a portfolio career. It’s what what actors have done for years; between shows and films, you wait tables, work in a law firm.
      You have to take off the “I have x-number college degrees hat”.

Are there geographic differences that affect career coaching, other than job availability in different markets?
New Yorkers are generally more sophisticated in their job search knowledge, and so many people work in non-traditional job settings and portfolio careers in the NYC area that it’s perhaps better understood here.

How about misconceptions about what your role is as a career coach?

I have to manage expectations. Someone will come in for one hour and be discouraged and give up – as if I could serve up a $200k job on an hour’s notice and make it happen. Most major career changes take 18 to 36 months.
I also always say, “The more homework my client does, the less they pay me.”

What about aptitude testing?

There’s Johnson-O’Connor aptitude testing, which looks at natural ability uninfluenced by education, training or socialization. It’s the only – absolutely the only – way we have to get to a person’s natural abilities. Meyers-Briggs is very helpful, but it’s about personality style.
      Aptitude testing will give you some ideas. It’s a nice luxury when a person has the budget to do it, but if you only have a $700 budget, I’ll have you spend it with me, one-on-one.
      Interestingly, management people – CEOs – tend not to have many high aptitudes. They tend to be good at communicating, outgoing personality traits and managing/leading/organizing, which are skills, not aptitude. This enables them to delegate.
      The three aptitudes most important to use if you have them: spatial (used by architects, graphic artists); classification – the ability to draw conclusions from disparate facts (used by analysts, car mechanics, doctors), and idea generation – the ability to generate ideas rapidly (used by teachers, journalists, stand up comics and anyone in sales).
For some people, aptitude testing will give confirmation of what they knew, but not necessarily information that will give them insight into new career.
      It can be useful for people starting out. I see so many cases of wonderful, caring, great parents who will try to direct their kids into fields that are just not right for them.

Many of our CAA members are parents. In the movie “The Graduate”, a family friend famously gave career advice to Dustin Hoffman’s character with one word: Plastics. What would your word be today?

And many of those parents are afraid their kids won’t get a job. Any advice?

There’s no right or wrong way to do it. A liberal arts degree is still valid, though we see more applied science, math and business degrees. Yet I’ve seen so many people succeed recently in areas in which their degree was quite unrelated. Going to a terrific school is important -- perhaps more so than what you major in. Alumni connections are an important aspect of having selected a particular school.
Also, getting internships is very important. Unlike with older employees, employers expect to have to train new young employees.

Is there advice that applies to both young and old(er) job seekers?

You need to be responsible for managing your own career. Ours is the first generation without a guarantee of lifetime employment. We’ve been downsized, right-sized…this generation can’t let the job market dictate their careers. A satisfying and sustainable career has to be thought through, and it requires reinvention. For example, if you’ve had a career in marketing and communications, your resume needs to have a bullet on the use of social media.

It’s interesting that you call your career coaching practice “Careers in Motion”.

A career is not a single destination. It’s an ongoing process. I think of it as three circles overlapping – your passion, your experience and reality. I try to help my clients optimize the overlap.

What are some of those “realities”?

For example: I can’t work full-time, I’m not in NYC, that sector isn’t hiring.

You speak of offering help with personal branding. What does that really mean?

Personal branding means being known distinctively for what you want to be known for, pro-actively managing your reputation and brand. LinkedIn is the most important element of putting forth personal brand, but personal branding includes, among other things, your e-mail signature and elevator pitch.
      Very few people have a very good elevator pitch. Someone asks, “What do you do?” and they answer, “I work in banking.” Doesn’t tell much. Some elevator pitches are aspirational: “I help people achieve financial security for their families”…oh, you mean, you’re a wealth advisor.

So what’s your elevator pitch?

I’m a career coach. I have three areas of business: outplacement for corporations, one-on-one career coaching mid-to senior level; and personal branding for people with existing careers or with small businesses.