Ask The Experts

🎞Internal Career Advancement
Matthew Cooley, Finance Executive

By November 5, 2020 No Comments
Ask The Experts: Matt Cooley on Internal Career Advancement

Matthew Cooley is a Business Controller at Ericsson, a global communications technology company. He’s held multiple roles driving value creation & development of finance advisory skills at companies large & small. He’s also the host of podcast Upside/Downside for finance business partners.

The following is an abridged version of the video interview.

 

How do you decide if you’re ready to take on a new or different role within your company? What’s the first action step that you should take once you’ve made this decision?

Many of us have to make those decisions multiple times in our careers. I would offer a few thoughts. First, I think most people use lagging indicators (if I want to borrow a financial term) to decide when to make those types of changes. It’s usually because something happens to you, such as:

  • Another person got laid off on your team;
  • Your boss isn’t as responsive to your ideas;
  • You’re not happy when you show up at the office in the morning;
  • Something’s changed and you need to react to it.
I would suggest that’s a risky way to manage your career long term. A better approach would be leading indicators. So, for example:

  • You’ve accomplished most of the things that you want to accomplish in the job that you have.
  • There’s a new business — new line of business — that’s taking off in the company and you’ve got the skills to contribute to that.
  • People seek your opinions and guidance out because you’re a subject matter expert.

I would argue that focusing on those leading indicators is a much better career strategy than focusing on the lagging indicators. I’d also add one more thing. Don’t wait to apply for new opportunities until you’re 100% qualified, particularly for internal opportunities. I think a lot of people focus on the qualification section in a job post and, you know, sweat bullets over, “Am I qualified? Do I meet all of these?” Internally, go for 80%. Unless you’re applying for a brain surgeon job, 80% is good enough to get started and go for it.

 

What if there’s no defined role to apply to?

If there is no defined role, that could work to your advantage as long as you’ve got a little time. What I tell folks is to look for problems that need to be solved — and preferably there are problems that are in the department or for the manager that you want to go work for — and offer to help solve them. You may not be able to solve them yourself, but just that willingness and open-mindedness towards solving problems is huge and that can open all kinds of doors.

 

If you’ve decided to take the next step in your career and want to pursue it internally (and stay at your company), should you consider looking externally too? What are the pros and cons?

I’d say, “Yes or no,” whether you should look externally or not. Yes, if your organization doesn’t have any more opportunities to help you grow in your career. There can be really good reasons to go work for another company if you need that to keep growing. And certainly, if your company doesn’t treat you well, you should make a plan to get out as soon as you can.

No, if you haven’t pursued all of those opportunities yet. Changing companies is disruptive to your life, it’s disruptive to the companies etc., so you need to balance your relationship with your company and what it can offer you in terms of growth opportunities.

 

How much does visibility within your company influence access to opportunities? What are the top things that you would recommend doing to increase visibility within your organization?

Visibility is huge because the organization gets to look at who you are and what you’re capable of — and that can lead to future job opportunities. I think though that it does come with responsibility beyond your table stake skills; you need to show that you have empathy (empathy is so huge today) and that you’re reliable and that you can help solve problems. So there is a counter side to that visibility.

In terms of things that you can do to build your visibility: finding problems that need to be solved and offering your help. Even if you can’t solve it yourself, you can help solve it. At my company, joining cross-functional teams to tackle problems is huge. It’s probably more for a larger company, but that’s certainly a possibility.

Another thing that’s worked for me and others is speaking up in meetings. Have you ever been to a meeting where there are 10 people in the room and there’s only two people talking? That means there are eight people that are not contributing to the product/problem solving and they’re missing an opportunity to raise their visibility.

 

How has working virtually impacted how you go about driving your visibility?

What I’ve found is visibility is actually a little bit easier now because accessibility is easier. For whatever reason, this year people seem to be more accessible and it’s easier to get those conversations going. I think we’re also more focused on whatever the problem or topic at hand is and so that accessibility is driving visibility. No reason to not take full advantage of it this year.

 

What about external visibility? Does that impact learning about internal opportunities?

It can, I think. External visibility is great as long as it’s relevant. If you’re demonstrating soft skills or something else that you can bring to your company or society at large, that kind of visibility is great. The flip side to that is if the visibility is for the wrong reasons, like inflammatory social media posts. That probably won’t work in your favor. But external visibility can be a good thing.

 

Are there other areas for professional development (that people often overlook) that can help them with internal career advancement?

Yes, and two come to mind that I don’t think are used enough. First, a professional association is a great place to practice your technical skills, leadership skills and do a lot of networking. And because it’s a professional association, you have the commonality of whatever the association is about (like finance, for example). That’s a huge one and very few people, surprisingly, take advantage of that.

The other one is alumni associations. Here you have a like-minded group of people that’s ever expanding every time somebody graduates. That’s an awesome platform for sharing business and job opportunities, networking and helping fellow alumni out.

 

Associations are also a great place to practice skills that you can bring back to your company, yes?

Particularly with professional associations, you can bring that knowledge and experience back to your companies, which has two big benefits. It raises the overall skill level as you share your knowledge and it helps your company create value for its shareholders and stakeholders. You can draw direct connections to that as you bring that knowledge internally over time; it’s powerful.

Being president of the New York Chapter of Financial Executives International (FEI) was a great opportunity to build leadership skills with a group of volunteers because it’s a very different dynamic than when people report it to you. And if you do that over time, it really does it really does give you some level of career resiliency that most people don’t have.