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Why A Lateral Move Now May Be Best for You in the Long Run

I happened to read the Corner Office section of The New York Times Sunday paper (Oct. 18, 2009) this morning. It was about Carol Bartz, the current CEO of Yahoo. She grew up poor on a farm in Wisconsin; her mother died when she was 8; her grandmother raised her; and she worked in sales at DEC, where she faced down some very upfront anti-feminism. But what was most interesting about the piece was what she said about careers. Her best advice was as follows:

“You need to build your career not as a ladder, but as a pyramid. You need to have a base of experience because it’s a much more stable structure. And so that involves taking lateral moves. And it involves getting out of your comfort zone.”

I’d never heard this before. It struck me immediately as excellent advice. It also provides a very good reason for those who are looking at jobs that they might be “over qualified” for. In other words, you can tell potential employers that you wish to broaden your experience at this point, and refer to her quotation. In addition, she said something that echoed what an MPNer said at a meeting a month ago. He said that when hiring, once the candidate’s competence was established, he looked for two things: 1) intelligence, and 2) whether he wanted to spend the next two years hanging out with this person. When asked how she hired, Carol put it in a slightly more C-suite way:

“I’m assuming that the people that get to me know their business. But what kind of person are you? Can I stand to have dinner with you? How did you tackle your problems? How does the person think? How do they act? Will they take a little humor? I’m looking for a personality fit. I use humor in my management. I can’t take a person who gets offended by every little thing I say. I always have dinner with them because I want to find out if I’m thinking, after that first glass of wine, how can I get out of here? I have to be able to make it through a dinner.”

You may not get asked out to dinner, but remember, as hard as it is to find an opening, as hard as it to get through all the interviews along the way, a little humor and a lot of attention to the personality fit will go a long way. Then again, you might want to get in the habit of having a glass or two of red wine at dinner!

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