Meredith Farley

On Content People, host Meredith Farley interviews creative professionals and leaders to get a behind-the-scenes look at their career experiences and turn that into actionable advice for listeners. Tune in to hear from experts in various media, and get inspired to find contentment in your own creative career.

Episode #14 Summary

Steve Ward, vice president at the Ward Group, knows all about hiring for creative roles because he’s held many himself. Chatting with Content People’s creator and host, Meredith Farley, Steve talks about the realities of the modern-day work world and why networking and creativity still play a role in every hiring decision.

It’s episode 14 of Content People, and this time I’m chatting with Steve Ward, vice president at the Ward Group — an executive search and organizational consulting firm that’s celebrating its 30th anniversary

Here are a few things we discussed:

  • The promise of, and problems with, artificial intelligence.
  • Professional chemistry and how to build it.
  • The best ways to approach the hiring landscape.
  • How to move from one industry to another.
  • Creating mentor-mentee relationships.
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No matter where you are in your career, you’re sure to learn a thing or two from Kimberly.

Thanks for listening!

– Meredith Farley, Host of Content People

More Content for Content People

Steve’s firm: Thinking about what’s next in your career? Check out The Ward Group, and consider getting in touch with Steve.

Brafton: No matter what role you’re in right now, our digital marketing newsletter has what you need — from tips and tricks to inspiration and jokes.

Meredith’s newsletter: Check out Meredith’s newsletter (also called Content People). 

Podcast Transcript:

Meredith Farley: Hey, everyone, and welcome to Content People. Tune in to hear from creatives, leaders, and experts in various media. I’m your host, Meredith Farley.

Ian Servin: And I’m the show’s producer, Ian Servin. Hey, Meredith.

Meredith: Hey, Ian. On today’s episode, we talked to Steve Ward. Steve’s a VP at the Ward Group, which is an executive surge and consulting firm in Boston. The Ward Group helps clients attract and retain talented execs across a wide range of industries. And they’re somewhat unique in that their executive search consultants all have experience as functional practitioners, meaning everyone out the Ward Group has held positions in marketing, communication, strategy, or product management.

It’s somewhat of a family business. It was founded by Steve’s father, Jim Ward, about 30 years ago. But before Steve decided to join up, he had a pretty successful and interesting career in marketing himself. I’ve known Steve for a few years now. He actually introduced me to Cliff Stevens, who we interviewed back around episode three. I asked Steve to do the show because, one, he’s a really nice, wonderful guy who I really enjoy chatting with.

And two, his insights into both the marketing world and the job market can be uniquely informed to guests for anyone listening who’s considering a job surge or perhaps was recently impacted by all the layoffs we’ve been hearing and reading about. We tried to make this a really actionable and advice-packed episode.

Ian: Absolutely. There has been just so much volatility in the job market over the last few years, especially. And it really feels like we’re living in a time where there is a lot of opportunity, but there’s also so much uncertainty. And that can be so difficult to navigate for people that are just starting out in their marketing career. But it’s also challenging for people that have been around a little bit longer. So it was really great to get Steve’s advice for how to approach searching in the current climate.

Meredith: We hope you enjoy our chat with Steve.

Meredith: Steve, hello. Welcome to Content People. Thank you so much for agreeing to have this conversation with me.

Steve Ward: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. This is exciting.

Meredith: Yeah, I’m really glad to have you on because I think you are a very, very timely guest. What I want to get into in this conversation is, first, who you are and what you do. Two, the state of the job market. Three, advice you might have for folks who are searching for positions right now and then any wisdom you have to share with hiring managers or employers who are trying to figure out how to bring on the right talent. So just to start off, for folks who aren’t familiar with you or the Ward Group, what do you do?

Steve: Absolutely. And I appreciate you having me on, Meredith. Excited to chat about this. I’ll be able to give some good insights, some probably misguided, but excited to hop in.

So I am Steve Ward. I am a vice president at the Ward Group, which is a retained executive search and organizational consulting firm. We specialize functionally in marketing, in communication, leadership roles, which allows us to be more industry agnostic. We do do work in the agency space, as well as on the client side. We work nationally in our scope. And being a retained firm allows us to really be an exclusive partner with all organizations we work with and truly get to know them and become an extension of their team beyond, I would say, typical search firm. So that’s a little bit about the Ward Group.

Meredith: Yeah. And I think a lot of the people who listen to this podcast are creatives. They work at an agency, or they work in-house, or they manage a creative team. So in particular, that aspect of what you all focus on and what you do, I think is going to be really pertinent and relevant to them.

So you have a really interesting background. You actually have a fair bit of experience in the marketing, advertising, and digital media space. How did you get into that? And then when did you move over to recruiting?

Steve: Certainly. And a really interesting start to my career, starting in the agency world. And needless to say, moving into the Ward Group, it was not by accident. My father founded the firm in 93, so we’re celebrating our 30 years in business this year. Well, prior to joining the firm, I was an account lead at a couple of agencies in the Boston area. I started my career at Boathouse Group, which is an independent firm in the area, with, it happens to be a place that has a lot of emphasis on the similar industries we are in, from healthcare, financial services, higher education, et cetera.

And I really wanted to start off by understanding the industry, the function, and how it all works together. So it was a fun place to cut my teeth, a little bit more creative. And then I went and led an integrated marketing arm of a PR and integrated marketing firm in the Boston area before joining the Ward Group and recruiting individuals into those functions. So it was a great way to start my career, grow my knowledge of the function, gain credibility, and then transition into the recruitment side, and being able to match up great creative and marketing and communication leaders with strong organizations.

Meredith: So you went into the digital marketing side of things, cut your teeth there, got experience in that space, and then went back to the Ward Group. And you’re kind of drawing on your knowledge of how all of that works when you’re looking for candidates or providing guidance for employers about the structures they should put in place, for example, is that right?

Steve: Yes, exactly. And the interesting part is that’s the way we’ve had a lot of our recruiters come on board. A lot of our executive recruiters have come from marketing and communications and have been there functionally within a variety of organizations before they’ve come into the recruiting side of things. We feel like that model is a great way to gain credibility in the marketplace and really be able to understand not just what we’re recruiting for, but who we’re recruiting with.

Meredith: Yeah, that makes total sense. Actually, I think it aired last week, but it’ll be several episodes back when this goes out. But in the conversation I had with my former colleague, Dave Snyder, we were talking about we both started at Brafton as writers. We talked a little bit about how having done the role gave us a helpful amount of empathy and understanding of how things worked in a way that then made us more effective leaders. And I can totally see that in the case of the Ward Group. Having done that stuff makes you a more effective recruiter and consultant when trying to place those positions.

Steve: Yes, absolutely. And especially with the level of leadership we work with, the senior marketing and communication leaders and as well as CEOs, et cetera, it is helpful to have that knowledge and gain that credibility quickly so that they have that trust of us being able to find the right marketing and communication leaders for their teams.

Meredith: That makes sense. And I think in my conversations, just that I’ve had with you, over knowing you over the past few years, I can really see that as a helpful differentiator. I’ve worked with a lot of other recruiters in previous roles, trying to find roles and get roles filled. And sometimes just trying to… It was harder and more complex than I expected to try and convey the nuances and needs of a role. And it felt like getting up a few weeks of what was already a time-sensitive search. So I can really see that as a value brought for you guys.

Steve: Yes, absolutely. And to your point, that’s a little bit too of how we approach the market with clients really getting an understanding of who they are, what they are looking to accomplish, and being able to influence that through our experiences, both personally, professionally, and through many years of recruiting in this function.

Meredith: Totally. And I’d imagine the network too. So I kind of want a name drop on your behalf a little bit. And tell me if you need us to cut any of this out. But you were also, in addition to Boathouse, which has a great reputation, you were at Hill Holiday for a bit, is that right?

Steve: I interned at Hill. So a little bit of the very green experience there. But a lot of fun to work within that organization and work across some pretty impressive brands.

Meredith: Yeah. And then was it at Hill Holiday that you met Cliff Stevens? Is that right?

Steve: Yes, yes. So Cliff and I go a ways back in a, you know, in a small world. We, Cliff was one of my quote-unquote clients when I was at the Hill Holiday Internship Program. And then when I got out of Hill, went to Boathouse, we stayed in touch. And most significantly, I re-engaged when I joined the Ward Group five years ago.

Meredith: Interesting. Because so Cliff was on this podcast a while ago. You were the one who introduced me to him and were like, you guys just might get along and you do kind of the same thing. So I’m appreciative of that.

And I just think of you as so well connected, probably in part because of your Ward Group network, but also all the folks you met earlier in your career. My friend Julie and I were talking and she’s like, oh yeah, I know Cliff. And I know Steve. So I can imagine that that serves you all too.

Steve: Yes, for sure. The agency connections that I made prior to the Ward Group have definitely been very beneficial for me and my network. And then the Ward Group overall, the nice part is I get to coast off of the name a little bit across the group. Everyone here does a great job of building relationships and keeping them.

We certainly put a premium on that of making sure we’re not just speaking to someone about a role and then disappearing. It’s really about getting to understand each individual, what their strengths are, where they like take their career. And then whether it’s a role we’re working on now, we’re a role we’re working on in two, three years from now, being able to reconnect with them and just build that relationship and that level of trust is so important.

Meredith: Well, I’m always grateful to have you in my network, Steve. So thank you and thank you again.

Steve: I’m grateful to be in yours, Meredith. Thank you and thank you for having me on.

Meredith: All right. So I want to pivot a little bit and talk about something that I think is timely, which is the state of the job market because anyone who is reading the news or checking LinkedIn knows that there have been huge rounds of layoffs at some of the most recognized tech companies in the country, some of the folks listening to this could have even fallen victim to a layoff.

And it seems like the state of things is fairly brutal. But it’s also confusing because jobs reports are pretty good. It seems like unemployment is at like a 50-year low. I think it was reported last week. So it’s confusing and people don’t really know what to make of it. What’s going on, Steve? Can you light on this?

Steve: Well, I would say, candidly, I might not be the best barometer or this is the ward group overall because we do deal with senior leaders and it’s always when we get brought on for a search, it’s to solve a very specific problem for an organization, always some sort of leadership problem.

That being said, tech booms and busts are well documented throughout the years and not surprising, you see this happen after a few years of everyone being remote, relying more heavily on tech, the investments were there, there was a little bit of an over-higher situation that occurred across the industry. Even we even saw this too in the agency world, right? A lot of organizations being desperate, trying to ramp up based on client needs and overpaying for younger talent or over-hiring because there was a short-term need and then as soon as there’s a little bit of a downturn in the economy, it becomes last in first out and a little bit of that transition.

So that tends to occur, unfortunately, I think from our perspective, there’s certain industries that are a little more recession-proof, comparatively. So, and those are a lot of the industries that we happen to be in, healthcare, higher ed, non-profit, financial services, et cetera. Financial services obviously had a turbulent run a decade ago, but they rebounded to an extent of how they hire their marketing leadership and communications leadership and that has certainly caused a little less of a turbulent run there.

Meredith: So, you think that in tech, in some ways, the layoffs are a correction for over-hiring. That was the result of maybe a lack of talent and a sudden but short-term uptick in service demand and we’re leveling out for a bit potentially.

Steve: Exactly. The market is right-setting a little bit right now, which has created an interesting dynamic because in, I would say, in 2021, in the first half of 2022, it was such a candidate market where there were endless amounts of opportunity, everyone looking for everything at the same time. So, if you could fog a mirror, you had three opportunities in front of you, right?

Meredith: You say if you could fog a mirror, that is a good expression. I’m really sorry. Keep going.

Steve: No, no, no, that’s great. But now it’s gotten to the stage of, okay, the economy slowed down a bit, although it’s not as significant as people anticipate, which is good. And I would say organizations really being pointed in how they hire and who they hire and for what reason. So it’s certainly slowed, but it’s not at a dire situation.

Meredith: Yeah, I appreciate you saying that because I think there can also be a bit of an effect where LinkedIn can be kind of an echo chamber for the industry that you’re in. So if you’re in, probably my LinkedIn is mostly content marketing, tech, any creative work of that ilk, and the folks you’re connected with are the folks in your industry, and you can start to think what is specific to your industry is specific across the board.

And that’s not always the case. Yes. I have a couple more questions for you on this, but I feel like I want to take this, on this same track. I’m curious for your thoughts on this, but I’m then thinking about this a fair bit and writing about it a little bit too, is I think that the content marketing industry and SEO in general are kind of pretty ripe for disruption over the next year or so. I think that AI, like chat GPT, DALL·E, a lot of folks are really clamoring to say, this is not, you know, hey, they can’t replace us. Like guys, they can replace you. They can replace a little bit of the work you do and therefore they can replace a little bit of the people and they’re just going to get better and better and better.

So I think AI is a problem. I also think a problem in so far is job security, I suppose. I also think that AI and the way AI search works is significantly less reliant on content. So I think SEO is pretty ripe for disruption generally. And then additionally, I think that, you know, there’s a lot of coverage around how expensive AI searches are to run. It’s something like a hundred K a day to keep chat GPT up and running. We’ve already introduced a, I think it’s like $20 a month to always have access during busy windows and get faster results. And Google’s model is not set up for that. Google’s set up for fast and cheap searches that are, you know, cheap for Google. And then they serve ads and make revenue off of those searches.

So I think there’s like three significant factors that are impacting content, content marketing and search experts over the next, I don’t know, one to three years probably. And then I also think there’s the potential like that the global, you know, the move to remote work made the work was kind of like the globalization of the workforce. And there are places where it’s significantly cheaper to hire creative workers and staff. The UK, Canada, New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, those are all places where there’s talent pool there for like 30 to 70% of the wages essentially that US based workers with similar skill sets might have. So there’s a lot happening in that particular space. Do you have any thoughts or predictions on it?

Steve: Yes and no, I would say, you know, there’s, the interesting part with, with AI, with ChatTBT especially and all these kind of evolutions of where things are going is technology has always evolved and made things better, easier, faster, cheaper. And it’s a matter of finding ways to, for you in the workforce to utilize them in a different way and adapt your skills, right?

So instead of thinking about, OK, SEO and SEO specialist is going away, think about what are the elements that AI can help your organization and then what are areas that a human can actually help utilize those systems, those new tools and technology to improve it. So it’s about balancing out how to utilize technology, how to approach technology in less of how to replace people, but how to compliment the technology with people.

Meredith: I hear you on that, but I do think that by complimenting and supplementing, you are going to cut some of the jobs.

Steve: Yes, I think that’s, unfortunately, I think that is a little bit inevitable with some of those pieces and especially as you look at, to your point, you know, if you look at offshore employees or different ways to be creative around solving this, solving your bottom line and your margin a bit, there is technology and just different resources now that have opened up the global a little bit for it.

So it’s a tricky balance. There’s definitely elements where some roles will go away, but there are other opportunities for individuals to shift their mindset and think about ways they can market themselves to the next step.

Meredith: Yeah. I think that’s totally right. All right. So along those lines, you’re someone who’s recently been laid off or your job searching in the creative marketing space. What can you expect out there right now?

Steve: I would say, obviously, less opportunity than there was back in 21 and early part of 22, but there’s still opportunity out there. And so I think when you are going out into the market, you need to really approach it as if you were wanting a product into a market and the product is yourself.

So really being able to develop, go to market strategy for how you’d like to position yourself, where you’d like to go a little bit too on what the target audiences are that you want to go after and then how you want to position yourself to those target audiences. So really, there’s a lot of time and effort that goes into a job search and goes into that approach when you are let go from a job or part of rental layoffs, et cetera. A few top of mind things that you should be thinking about is you need to exhaust your network because that is such an important part about maintaining relationships. You need to be able to know who your friends are and network with them, make the connections as much as possible within and expand out like a spider web to an extent on those pieces because depending on your level, there are roles that are open on LinkedIn and just posted that way.

But the more senior you get, the less likely they are just to be pure posted. You know, a lot of the roles that we work on, especially being a retained search firm we’re the exclusive partner within organization, we don’t market anything in terms of posting on job boards, things like that.

It’s more about getting to know someone and making sure they’re the right fit and then presenting the opportunity to an extent. So that’s just a little anecdote for not all roles are just out in the open. So the more you can grow your network, expand it, get to know people and shape out who you are, the more opportunity you will get.

Meredith: I think that’s great advice. I think when you say networking, some folks really hate networking stuff and I wonder if you could, I don’t know, what are you, how, what do you think the best way to go about it is if you’re someone who’s like, I don’t like networking, I don’t really like talking to people. It makes them feel maybe a little cringy to be like, Hey, I’m looking for this or can you help me like any advice for them?

Steve: Yes. Absolutely. I would say on the networking side, it’s most uncomfortable when you aren’t prepared. And when you don’t have a plan going into something and when it’s a pure cold outreach. So you’re still going to have to do some cold outreach in some way, shape or form, but you’re a little more confident when you do build out a plan. That goes back to my comment about developing go-to-market strategy and being able to think about the way you position yourself and what you’re truly interested in and what you’re passionate about.

So certainly requires before you go out and start developing relationships and networking. It does require a little self-reflection of what you’ve enjoyed, where you’re passionate about, where your strengths are, and where you’d like to take your career and go from there. So that’s, let’s say that’s an element of it. And then as far as kind of, you know, traditional networking, there are different ways to go about it. The easiest way and the way to start is always building relationships and going out to the people that you know best and having those conversations first. Because the easiest, you get more comfortable with the way you talk about yourself, the way you talk about your career, and also what you want to do. So having some of those softball conversations first are very beneficial. And then you expand out from there asking, you know, X if they know Y or they, or if they know someone at a certain organization and then start to build those kind of connective tissues with the, with your network.

So expanding out that way and what comes with that, and I apologize, you know, it was a little bit of a ramble. And what comes with that is making sure you have a plan on those pieces too. So laying out who you’re going to reach out to, when you’re going to reach out to them, what the reason is, whether it’s to get to know about their organization, to get to know about a specific role, to get to know about, you know, a function that they’re working within and how yours can work together. But really being, it all comes back to planning and that gains confidence that way. And one other piece too with this is there’s a premium on follow up. The most frustrating thing is when someone has a networking conversation with you, great conversation, and then there’s nothing after, because the reality is when you were searching for a job, the individual who you’re speaking to about just, you know, career advice, etc. They’re putting time into it as well. And so you want to make them feel like they, you understand and appreciate the amount of time that they’re putting into it.

Meredith: Yeah. I think that’s really good advice and wise. I think that along the lines of what you are saying, I would say that both when I’ve been asked for help and when I’ve wanted to ask someone for help, one, if someone comes to me for something, I feel, and I think most people are like, yeah, what can I do to help you?

Steve: It has to be a symbiotic relationship. You don’t want them to feel like it’s just a you, you, you conversation and how can I help you? Right? It needs to be, obviously they understand what the conversation is about. It’s a way that you’re trying to figure out what’s your next career and try to understand more aspects of their career, etc.

But you also need to show the interest in what they’re doing because if the job searcher is just all about what can you do for me, that again, Leo leaves a sour taste in someone’s mouth and probably makes the individual who’s helping out less likely to pick up the next phone call from you.

Meredith: Yeah. I agree with all of that, so to try and lay your points are use your network, do your homework to be concise and targeted in the time and help you’re asking for from folks. Be polite, follow up and think about how anything you could do could also be abuse and helpful to them.

Steve: Yes. And so what that comes to the developing out a plan, developing out positioning for yourself, which may change based on who you’re talking to, you want to make sure that is your position yourself in a way that’s useful for all involved. And so I would say those are the kind of core areas to focus in on the one other piece, which this goes, this is a little bit of pre-planning on this is staying in touch with people.

Because what you don’t want to do is just purely reach out to people when you’re in need. Yeah. Because then A, you talk about being feeling uncomfortable and awkward. It’s just constantly going to someone when you have a need and that’s it. And B, you were just purely, you know, you’re going at it and away, you know, lost my tree at thought there.

Meredith: Sorry. No, it’s okay. I think it’s really good advice though. So if you’re to start from the top, you’re kind of like, basically, you’re like maintain your Rolodex.

Steve: Yes. Yeah.

Meredith: I mean, you can start again, but I think your point is like, don’t just reach out when you need something, like be friendly, be of help, stay in touch.

Steve: Yes. Exactly. So it is about staying in touch with your network beyond the times that you just need them and helping them out when you can. And just staying up to date as to what they’re doing. Because what you don’t want to do is constantly have the only time you speak to them is when you need something or you’re at a career inflection point. Because that, you know, again, goes back to eliminating symbiotic relationship.

Meredith: Totally. And I want to come back again to this, like positioning yourself as a product thing while we’re on this bed. I want to say something else that I found weirdly useful to myself and I don’t know if this will resonate with everyone, but we all have so many touch points with different people throughout the day. You get calls from telemarketers, but sometimes you get calls from vendors where it’s actually relevant to you. You get emails, you get LinkedIn notes, generally, of people trying to sell you something.

All of those examples I’ve touched on are instances where I have actually met folks that I’m still in touch with, value my relationship with and consider them part of my network. And it might seem weird, but I do feel like sometimes you can just feel a bit of like a connection. And you think, weird, you called me to sell me your blank services, but like, I think we could be friends. Let’s see how we can help each other. No, I’m not going to buy that, but let’s stay in touch. I’ve had that exact example.

When I was at Brafton, I like sold Brafton to someone calling to sell me a social platform. I have made friends with people who are giving me demos for products that were in a fit. So I would also say that keep your eyes and ears open as you go throughout your professional day or week, because folks that you might not immediately think, oh, this person is someone important I should have in my network, could be a helpful connection down the line or just someone you’d like enjoy and learn from.

Steve: Yeah. No, that’s a great point, Meredith, because there is, you know, the elements too of just wanting to connect with like-minded people, and sometimes it’s for the gain of your professional or personal career, great. But the other elements are just staying in touch and just being able to talk shop with people, right? And be able to use that for the future for yourself in a different way, but in a much more casual way. It’s really, it is important to not think about a title first, and then the person, it’s really thinking about the person, the relationship you can have with them, and then, you know, how best do you utilize it?

Meredith: Totally. Okay. Well, I want to come back to what you’ve touched on a couple of times, what I want to dig in, the idea of positioning yourself as a product. So what does that mean to you, and how do you recommend people do that tangibly? Should they be like writing up documents where they’re like, this is the product, these are my potential customers? Like, it sounds so interesting, could you talk on it a little more?

Steve: Yes, absolutely. And that is kind of it, right? It is when you’re starting into a job search, whether you’ve been laid off or are just ready for what’s next, right? It’s obviously, it’s a little bit easier to do when you don’t have a role that you’re currently working on. You’re not in a full-time job just because the amount of time it takes for a job search is for one another full-time job. But what do you want to do, is it really approaching in a thoughtful way? And that’s around, you do want to do a few different things. One is, I use a Google Sheet or an Excel doc or whatever you like to do from an organization standpoint, but develop out a list of targets.

Whether it’s the targets are people, are organizations, and they might even be types of roles that you’ve seen in the market that are of interest to you. So you want to create a plan for yourself of how you’re going to approach it. That comes down to who you want to network with, what types of industries or organizations you want to go after, and all those pieces. You then also want to take a step back and think about who you are, what your elevator pitch is. If someone says, who is Meredith and what have you done? Just to be able to give that 90-second snippet of your career, what your passion about, where you like to go, and make sure that that’s refined, smooth, and buttoned up. Because what you don’t want to do is ramble on and then have someone walk away from that conversation thinking, I don’t know if she understands who she is, what she’s doing, and I would not feel confident bringing her in to this organization based on that. So really being able to refine yourself from a positioning standpoint. So it is, if you think about a product, you take a look at what you have, take a look at who your target audience is, you take a look at how to position yourself to each of those audiences, and then you refine it too. As you’re in the market, as you’re going, if you find there’s an angle that’s working better versus another, you hone in on that. And that comes from elevating certain skill sets you have, certain organizations you’ve worked with, certain projects or initiatives that you’ve led or challenges that you’ve held, but just being able to create an overarching messaging of who you are, having proof points along the way, and then being confident about it in the market is really important.

Meredith: That is so interesting and helpful. Thank you for breaking that down. As you’re talking about it, I was thinking that, I’m thinking of someone in particular I talked to a few years ago, actually, who was like, a recent grad who’d reached out to me, just wanted to talk about work a little and try to get, and when we were talking about positioning herself, she said something to me that actually lots of people feel where she’s like, she basically felt fake trying to come up with an elevator pitch for herself or narrow herself down.

And I’m curious for your thoughts on that, on one hand, I’m like, I understand that. We are all constantly evolving, calibrating, fluctuating beings. We are not a job spec, but at the same time, I think it’s about using your judgment in so far as, or applying judgment. It’s not dishonest to find a succinct way to position yourself for a role that you know you’d be a fit for, but I know people struggle with that a little bit.

I think that it can be helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of when you’re working through this, like trying to write or position yourself in an echo chamber is hard, and I do have any advice when someone comes to you and you’re like, man, they could be a great candidate, but they need to polish this up a little bit. What do you tell them?

Steve: Absolutely. It’s funny. I was actually just speaking to someone the other day about this because they have been in financial services for quite a while, and they want to get out of that industry and move into a higher-riding non-property areas that they want to focus in on. But all their work history is all, it’s tremendous, but it’s all within financial services, and they’re talking, and they were discussing it as, well, I did this in financial services, that in financial services, et cetera, et cetera, and said, you need to take a step back and think about functionally what you’ve done, because who you’re selling it to is going to be different, but how you’re selling, what you’re selling, and how you’re approaching your function is going to be the same.

So you need to take a step back and think about the angle that you’re going to be going in with, and that will help you refine, and getting outside of just an industry that you’ve worked with in is a good way to do it, and thinking about what are my accomplishments, where are my skill sets. It’s both soft and hard skills, too, because it’s an important part of, have you influenced to take an example from the agency world? There are elements of, you don’t have the final decision from a client. The client makes the final decision. So how do you influence them? And then that skill set can be so important for any organization you’re working at, agency or client side, but being able to influence without responsibility is a heck of a skill to have. It’s a soft skill, though, and it’s one that maybe doesn’t percolate on a resume, but it does come through in any conversation.

So a long-winded way of saying, you need to really refine, think about who you are and whether you apply it to an industry, great, or if you apply it to a function, that’s another approach to take, but thinking about the hard and soft skills that have made up who you are and how you’ll help an organization are very important. And to your comment, too, about the interesting part is with younger individuals starting off in their career. It’s not a whole lot you can say, right, because you partnered on something or you’ve contributed to or supported or et cetera, or you’ve had two internships and you worked at a restaurant before that and a single-page resume, not a whole lot of detailing.

But all of that is thinking about the benefits of you to an organization and how you can sell yourself in. So in that comes in, especially if you’re a younger person who hasn’t had a ton of credibility yet in the industry, being able to talk about your timeliness, a structure, a constant learner, being able to get things done, just all those softer skills that can be beneficial to an organization are important to bring through.

Meredith: That’s interesting. Would you recommend, so say someone was in financial services for a long time and they wanted to pivot, I’m almost envisioning they could do an exercise where they take their resume or they bullet point all the stuff that they’re really good at at their current job and then almost just refine the language to make it a little broader and less specific to financial services. So is there other stuff you’d recommend that they do as part of that thinking?

Steve: Yes, that’s a great point. And it’s interesting because when you have a position they are specifically going after, it’s very easy to do that because you think you look at the responsibilities of a position and then you map out your experience against that, right? And then you can fuse that back into your resume, but a little industry agnostic to more functionally focused. So that’s definitely an approach to take from that side. And then you can still go about it the same way if you don’t have a specific position you’re going after, but you’re more so trying to network into a new industry.

Take a step back and make a second version of your resume and think about it functionally. What have I done? Bring it down into core elements of your role from say marketing or communications, what you’ve actually accomplished, where you’ve affected revenue, management skills and experience and growth overall. So thinking about it in ways where it’s industry agnostic, but has really had tangible outcomes on a team, on an organization, on revenue, et cetera.

Meredith: That’s super helpful. And as you’re talking about it, I feel that like for me whenever I’m doing stuff for myself, it is 20 times harder than doing it for a friend or someone else. I feel like having a partner, friend, colleague give you some time and talk it out with you and lend some objective perspective. It was so helpful, but I also think this can be a really sneaky way to network.

Sneaky’s not the right word, but if there’s someone that maybe you’re like, I wish this person wouldn’t mentor me or I wish this person, I’d love to connect with this person, but I don’t really know what I’d want to ask of them or talk to them. I think asking for help with this in particular can be powerful, especially to your point if you’ve done the work. So you’ve got your Google Docs, you’ve got your versions of resumes and you’re like, hey, you’re in this industry. I want to pivot from blank to your industry. I’ve done this work. I would be so grateful for 30 minutes of your time for you to maybe give me your perspective on how I could be positioning myself for that.

Folks will generally say yes, and if you then have a connection with that person, they might have you in mind. They might be like, yeah, here, also I’m aware of this role or I know this person you should talk to. So I feel like this exact exercise you’re talking about can also be a really good inroads to form a bit of a relationship with someone that you might wish were a connection with, but don’t quite know how to approach.

Steve: Yes. That’s a great, very on point narrative and pointy, and because it allows it as a subtle way to create a mentor-mentee relationship. That’s a great idea. And one other comment to going back to your earlier comment around pinging it off of other individuals beyond the mentoring side of it, especially over the last few years where everyone has been at home in different ways, driving their significant others insane, roommates insane, whatnot, but everyone has also listened in a lot more on conversations, not work conversations on what the hell you do and how you do it.

So being able to use a roommate or a friend or a significant other or a family member as a sounding board for here’s how I’m positioning myself, here’s what I feel like I’ve done is incredibly beneficial because they listen a lot more than you think, and they can say, you do a lot more than that, you do XYZ, and just be able to give a good perspective to you. And it’s, for the most part, unless it’s a random roommate, pretty unfiltered.

Meredith: Oh, I think that’s so smart. Yeah, you’re totally right. It is so funny. We have so much more insight into our partner work like- For better or worse. Yeah, totally. In the beginning, I literally had to tell myself to back off. He doesn’t need my advice because I was getting pretty into the detail.

Steve: Yeah, my fiance, she’s like, she would drive her insane going through the wardrobe pitch on a consistent basis and she would just, she could parrot it back to me consistently. That’s great. Like I can pitch for you. Yes. Yeah.

Meredith: Oh, that’s really funny. All right, well, I know we don’t have too much time left, so I feel like I could talk to you for hours, Steve. I’m going to try and zoom through things that I think are maybe most relevant to listeners. So one thing I think is salient if you’ve been laid off is that a lot of people don’t know how to talk about a layoff in interviews. They think it might reflect poorly on them or they feel some shame around it. What advice do you have for them when they get the question that’s like, so why did you leave your last company?

Steve: Yes. And it’s interesting because I see it all the time. People struggle to get through it and I would say the vaguer you are, the more questions it creates. So it’s a being a matter of fact about what happened and keeping it brief are two very important pieces because the more you start to ramble, you start to mumble through the situation, it creates more questions than answers.

So keeping it brief, unfortunate downsizing of the organization, I was part of that downsizing. I still enjoyed learning XYZ while I was there and then shifting the conversation towards the future. I’m really excited to bring these skill sets to here. So being able to keep it brief, be succinct, be very matter of fact about it and then pivoting quickly into what you’re excited about, about the opportunity and where your skills can help.

Meredith: Yes. That is, I think that’s great advice and I would say as someone who over the years hired and interviewed probably hundreds and maybe thousands, definitely didn’t hire thousands but potentially buried thousands of folks, never once did I hear someone say they were laid off and think anything bad about them.

Like it’s a really internalized shame, it feels like. And then also on the other side of it, for whatever reason, I’ve been laid off and for some reason I have zero shame about it. So I think it’s a, but it’s something that it seems to, people get caught on that one in particular.

Steve: Yes. Perhaps it is. People do get caught on and people think about like, okay, is this going to reflect as if I did something wrong in my role and in the reality is no, it’s a business. Organizations understand that and as the recruiters, the more you are succinct and matter of fact about the situation, the easier it is.

Meredith: Okay. So don’t ramble, be succinct and don’t just be clear about it. Don’t feel embarrassed.

Steve: Be clear about it. Pivot towards future and what you learn at the organization that you can bring to the next one. And then the other piece too is don’t bash the old organization. Yeah. Right. That is, if people go that road, I’ve seen it a million times where someone will start saying, yeah, unfortunately, you know, round the layoffs, you could kind of see it coming because of XYZ, et cetera, et cetera. The more you talk negatively about your previous employer, the more of a bad taste in the mouth the interviewer gets.

Meredith: Right. I think those are all great bits of advice. So all right, say these interviews go well, you get an offer, but maybe you’re not actually that into that role. You’ve been laid off and you receive an offer. Is it, you know, there’s the maxim that it’s easier to get a job when you have a job.

Steve: Yeah.

Meredith: If someone, do you think someone should kind of take it and keep looking or do you think they should risk it and look for something else? What would be your advice to someone in that situation?

Steve: I would say emphatically, no, don’t take it. Don’t take it. I correct. Do not take it. You want to make sure that the next move you make is the right career move and not just taking a role to take a role. For a few reasons, one, it creates, it can create essentially three moves in one in your career. So what I mean by that is you get laid off from company A, you accept a role with company B and then six months in you find a role from company G that you actually like and you take it.

Meredith: Yeah.

Steve: You now have a short stint at company A, a very short stint at company B and then you’re starting out a third company within a year time frame, which is never good on a resume and in a career journey, et cetera. So you don’t want to create one false, one bad move can create three moves essentially in your career. So that’s one element to it.

The other element too goes back to a little bit around developing out a plan and a criteria for what you want to do, where you want to go, et cetera. So you want to make sure that you have a criteria of how you’re evaluating things. From does the role inspire me? Does it challenge me? Will I be able to grow from it professionally? Will I be able to make significant contributions? Is there an opportunity for growth long-term at the organization?

That one is a little bit trickier because you can’t tell too much into the future on it. But being able to develop out a little bit of a criteria of how you’re evaluating things will give you a clearer mind of what is the right role for you.

Meredith: Got it. And I think that’s an empowering mindset too, which I think is helpful when you’re looking for a role. You don’t need to just take anything. You can figure out what you want and then pursue things in line with what you want and not even worry about stuff that doesn’t fit.

Steve: Yeah. And I’ll say one other element to it too. So say you’ve been laid off and you’ve been out of the, you’ve been searching for a career. Right? You can’t find anything. Instead, if you’re going to jump into another role and it ends up being kind of a interim role for you, you need to stay for a bit of time in order for it to be acceptable on your resume.

If you don’t do that, the other approach you can take is taking on some consulting short-term because it’ll keep you fresh, keep you active in the market and also show your ability to be successful on your own and leverage your network of it. But that’s when you’re in a dire situation, I would say. On the whole, it’s best to make sure you’re making a clear sound decision after you’ve been laid off.

Meredith: Take a role you actually want or keep going. If you need income, you can look for consulting opportunities as you search for the right permanent fit or maybe third best option is if you get to a point, you’re like, I really just need a salary. I got this offer. I’m going to take it. Be prepared to do a year or more because you kind of need to stick it out for a bit at that point.

Steve: Yes. Yes. I know that the world has changed a little bit where people can make quicker jumps here and there, but on the whole from a personal growth and professional growth standpoint, if you’re at an organization for under a year, there’s not a whole lot you can accomplish and there’s not a whole lot that you’ll be able to actually help the organization with. So I would say those are the elements.

Then the last piece is, this goes kind of at the top of this, is making sure you have a criteria that you are holding yourself to to evaluate any type of role.

Meredith: All right. Well, last question in the remaining time, what are a few red flags for prospective employees that the role is not going to be a good fit and they shouldn’t take it and or what are the green flags?

Steve: Yes. This is always incredibly interesting because we obviously deal with this a ton from their recruitment side and because we are a third party for both the client as well as the candidate and we’re really the sounding board for each side. So when we go through a process with an organization, we’re getting a debrief on interviews from the candidate side as well as a debrief on the interview from the client side and seeing kind of how it matches up interest, et cetera.

I would say the most significant red flag in consistent one tends to be when an interviewer or an organization is only buying and not selling an opportunity. So they are interviewing prospective employee in asking and drilling down to that prospective employee’s experience but not focused in on the benefit for that prospective employee. So it’s all about what can you do for me versus what can we do for us. Interesting. Okay. So that is definitely a red flag overall. Another red flag, I would say, is in this tends to, this is when you have more than one conversation with a organization, which if you’re going through the hiring process you will have, if the expectations and story of the organization, the culture, what they’re trying to solve for are inconsistent.

If you have one key stakeholder saying, we need an acquisition marketer, we need to bring in MQLs and then you have another key stakeholder saying, we need to be out there from a brand side and we need to have air cover across the board. I don’t care about the acquisition side of things. Basically making sure that the story is succinct and aligned across all interviewers and that too comes through not just for the expectations for the role but also what they think about the organization and what the culture is like there too.

Meredith: That makes a lot of sense to me because being succinct and aligned across the board means that you’re communicating with and understanding each other and if your colleagues or future bosses are not aligned in that way, the role is going to be one of triangulation for the future and there’s going to be lack of clarity about why you’re even there.

Steve: Yep, absolutely. What comes with that too on the employer side is preparation and making sure that everyone is aligned on what they’re looking for, what they’re talking about and having consistent lines of questioning. Just making sure that you come across as a button-up organization for any prospective employee.

Meredith: If an organization wanted to work with the Ward Group, Steve, what could they expect? What would the process be like?

Steve: Certainly. Our process is a very high-touch approach. We take great pride in understanding our partners that we work with for each individual opportunity. A lot of it will be conversations up front discussing what you’re looking for, what the organization is like, what the transformation point is in your organization, where you’re looking to go. Trying to really uncover who you are, what success looks like for the organization, for the role, for the individual coming into the role, all those different pieces.

Then we are an organization too that goes out into the market with all of our senior leaders consistently throughout the process. We don’t have junior recruiters on the staff to go and do initial outreach to individuals and then have a vetting process through senior leadership. What you see is what you get. You’ll have senior leaders consistently with you throughout the process. Vetting candidates, bringing you you thoroughly vetted and strong sets of candidates.

We like to keep those limited from your end, but we do a high volume on our end from the vetting process. Then we bring you through every stage of the interview process from ensuring strong interviews, acceptance of the role from a candidate, and on-boarding too. We like to say we’re not just a recruitment organization, but we put a heavy premium on retention. We want individuals and organizations to thrive long-term and not just in the first year. We make sure that not only will we be a very white-glove, highly-communicative organization and partner throughout a search, but we’re also staying in touch and ensuring long-term adoption for any placement and employee.

Meredith: Got it. That was really clear and helpful. I think it gives a good picture. All right, Steve, I know we’re a couple of minutes over.

Steve: Oh, we’re good.

Meredith: I still have a million questions, but thank you so much. You gave such actionable advice. I feel like I definitely learned things. I presume that this is going to be really useful to the folks who listen. I’m super grateful for you sharing your wisdom. Thank you so much. If people were interested to work with you or the Ward Group, how could they reach out or get in touch?

Steve: Absolutely. You can email me at Give us a call at 7-8-1-9-3-8-4000 or visit our website, I would love and be happy to talk to anyone who’s thinking about what’s next in their career or just every networking conversation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, Meredith, and I appreciate all of your time.

Meredith: All right, everyone, thanks for listening to today’s show with Steve.

Ian: We’ll be coming to you next week with a show all about branding with brand expert Kelli Corney.

Meredith: To support the show, you can rate, review, and subscribe. Those things make a huge difference. If you’d like today’s conversation, you’d probably like the Content People newsletter. Subscribe at the link in the show notes.

Ian: And that’s it, folks. Thanks so much for listening.