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Balance aging parents and career

Balance aging parents and career

Over the course of our year at Gulf Stream Search, we speak with thousands of individuals at different stages of their career.

The majority of the individuals we place in the food, beverage, and ingredient/flavor industry are in highly specialized disciplines, especially in R&D, Food Safety, and Engineering.

The nature of these disciplines is such that companies that desire these skills are dispersed throughout the US. There are no “hubs” – for the regions that do have a concentration of companies that require these skills, there can be other constraints – the compensation for an R&D professional with plant protein experience in the Bay Area, for example, doesn’t align well with the cost of living.

Additionally, many of these roles require a high degree of aptitude and competency with the category in which the company focuses (dairy, protein, bakery, etc.).

What we’re left with is an industry that is getting more and more segmented and niched down with a matching workforce that is highly scattered.

So what do you do if you’re highly specialized in your line of work, successful, and well-off career wise, yet you or your spouse is faced with the declining health of your parents and you want to either stay close or move closer to them?

How do you maintain your career trajectory and get within a day’s drive so if there is a slip and fall, a sudden turn for the worse, or just to have the ability to squeeze out as many Sunday dinners as you can with them in the next couple years?

One way we encourage individuals in this stage of their career is to look at their skills and accomplishments in a different manner than they may have in past.

A gentleman we placed earlier this year had a predicament – he was based in Chicago, doing well, and had progressed to a Sr. Food Scientist role with a food manufacturer. He stood out as a product developer, led several successful launches, and was on a development track leading him towards managing an R&D team.

However, he was being tugged in the direction of his family in the Southeast. There were health concerns and he wanted to lend emotional and support to his parents, one of which was transitioning into a more “caregiver” stage for the other parent.

Although he loved living in Chicago with his wife, he felt compelled to make a big push to “see what’s out there” in the Southeast.

Once we realized he was all-in on making a move, we laid out the facts for him.

1.    There were 2 manufacturers with headquarters and R&D teams within 150 miles of his desired location. There were a handful more if we widened the radius. None of these companies aligned with his category experience.

2.    There were another 3-5 flavor and ingredient houses with technical teams within a day’s drive of his parents.

3.    There are several consultancies within a day’s drive that specialize in product development and R&D sub-niches that service food and beverage manufacturers.

Realistically, he had a dozen or so target companies, but only 2-3 were “direct hit” fits where he could step in and face a minimal learning curve. Even then, his lack of category experience made him slightly less desirable to the employers in the market.  Still again, that doesn’t even mean they had room or a business need for him.

The other target companies were initially not on his radar – with our encouragement, we helped him shift the way he perceived himself and how he would “brand” himself moving forward.

To give himself the best odds of getting closer to family, he had to open himself up to additional companies, different business models, and taking on different roles, ones he may have perceived as “below” him in the past, or roles he didn’t foresee himself excelling in or enjoying.

He also had to change the way he presented himself to his target companies.

If he presented himself as a Sr. Scientist with a background in developing successful products in the baked goods category, that pitch might fall on deaf ears to a beverage company.

If he presented himself as a Sr. Scientist looking to move into a managerial role in a similar company, he would get limited or no response.

He ended up doing a couple things that stacked the odds in his favor.

He started looking at himself as a leader and “expert” in the commercialization process – someone who had a track record of optimizing the speed and efficiency to which he moved his projects from concept to launch. He had a track record of doing this, so it was easy for him to point to these accomplishments.  He re-wrote his resume, customized it to each of the companies we introduced him to, and he developed talking points around his “new self”.

It changed the way he was viewed by a greater number of companies within his target market.

Flavor and ingredient companies are high-transaction environments (fast turn-around on samples, lots of interaction with prospective companies and an environment with great opportunities to optimize the pipeline of activity) – for these companies he tweaked his resume and aligned his presentation(with our help) to these companies as a) someone who could easily interact with senior-level contacts with customers and prospects and b) someone who could impact the speed and efficiency by which the company tackled projects for customers.

There are several consultancies that focus on innovation for major brands in the Southeast as well – similar to the flavor and ingredient houses, these companies have big opportunities to clean up and streamline their service delivery model. Because he had so much experience on the brand side, he was a perfect candidate for a role that required a) track record of leading product launches and b) experience working with external and internal partners.  He also would have a tremendous amount of “empathy” for his peers working on the brand side, which can be invaluable during the sales and delivery stages.

There were several other ways we helped him “re-brand” himself to better match his target companies.

In the end, with his hard work and introspection, we were able to take his pool of prospective employers from 2 or 3 to 15.

We were able to get him in front of 6 of those companies for consideration, one of which he ultimately signed on with. He and his family were able to relocate and achieve their ultimate goal of getting closer to family.

Initially, our client would have never been on his radar of potential companies.

Until he opened himself up and looked at himself and his skills in a different light, he couldn’t picture it for himself nor would my client have ever envisioned the fit.

Here are some key points when making a “personal” career move

1.    Define your greatest “why” in your life – once you’ve settled on your priority, build your plan around it.  Get someone to point out your “blind spots” – how others perceive you is rarely how you perceive yourself, especially in a professional context.

2.    Accept the reality of what that “why” will afford you in terms of # of companies you realistically can flourish in.

3.    Get introspective and audit your true skills relative to those companies.

4.    Brand yourself accordingly – if you’re lacking a skill set or category experience that matches the area you’re looking to move, take a short course, research and learn, do what’s necessary to ingratiate yourself to that market and category.

5.    Relish the opportunity to achieve your greatest goal in life and re-position your career as a means to that end.

If you’re facing a similar situation and sit within the food, beverage, or ingredient/flavor industries, we’ll be happy to work through the process with you. You just have to take the first step.

Bob Pudlock is the President of Gulf Stream Search, an executive search firm that specializes in the placement of top talent in the food, beverage, and ingredient/flavor industries.

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