Help Desk: I'm too experienced to start at the bottom

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The problem

I am in my mid 30's and facing a career crisis. Having secured an MBA from a top US business school, I should have had many opportunities open to me. But recession, family illness and the need to look after the family business for some time, stood in my way. I now face the seemingly impossible task of self-marketing - overqualified for junior positions but lacking the normal career development demanded for more senior positions. I possess international experience involving line marketing, financial and strategic analysis and contract negotiation. I see myself as a combination of a financially literate marketer and a customer focused number-cruncher; someone capable of bridging the gap between the two functions but also able to speak the language of both the "creatives" and the "suits". My CV is therefore impressive, yet fails to get me interviews. One route, of course, would be through a development/consultancy role in a media- related company. But how can I achieve this in competition with others who haven't suffered the career interruptions that have plagued me so far?



The solutions

Rosemary McLean, Director of Career Development, Coutts Career Consultancy, says:

Your problem is exactly that - how to compete. You clearly have a lot to offer, and to convey this to a prospective employer you must become more specific and target the employer of YOUR choice. You suggested that a business development/consultancy role in a media-related company would suit you well. Research this possibility. As an MBA, you would be well suited to a position with either an expanding or declining business. Look into such a company, find out about the customers and examine ways in which your ability could help them. You will then be in a position to market yourself for that particular company. The trick is to step back from merely trying to fit yourself to a job and concentrate on demonstrating your skills. Above all, don't let your previous frustrations show. You are selling yourself to the highest bidder and they are the ones benefiting from employing you. Good Luck!

Angela Baron, Policy Advisor, Institute of Personnel and Development says:

You have a strong CV with excellent qualifications and your life experiences also seem to be broad-based. You need to package and sell the breadth of your life experiences and the quality of your qualifications. Be aware, however, that UK firms tend to recruit by erecting barriers to entry and then measuring candidates to see if they can get over these barriers. This creates a bias against people with atypical career paths, and means you will probably have greater success networking than in responding to job advertisements. Many international firms would value your US/UK experience and it may be best to target those firms first.

Helen Bennett, Employment Service Personnel, (Porterbrook House, 7 Pear Street, Sheffield S11 8JF) says:

Your case highlights a potential problem facing an increasing number of people who do not have a traditional pattern or record of employment - that is, people with a portfolio career, people who have taken career breaks, re-trained or returned to full-time education. Fortunately, many employers now realise that recruiting solely on the basis of experience or qualifications can exclude such candidates - many of whom are excellent. For example, in 1994, the Employment Service moved to a competence-based method, where the emphasis is squarely on the person's ability to do the job. Our adverts list the competencies for the job in behavioural terms and we then ask applicants to provide examples and evidence of where they have exhibited such skills. Consequently, we have attracted a much broader range of people in terms of age, background and life and social skills. My advice would therefore be for you to continue to network with employers in the media sector and seek out those who use a form of competence-based recruitment. Then try and gear your application and CV to the competencies they seek, giving examples of what you have done and the results of your actions.

If you have a work problem and want expert advice, write to Carmen Middleditch Fast Track, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL; fax 0171-293 2182; e-mail: