Deborah Kops, Sourcing Change
I’ve never seen such a mismatch of supply and demand in the shared services space. While new enterprises are adopting the model at what seems to be an unprecedented pace post-COVID, at the same time, there are a surprising number of experienced shared services professionals out on the street. Is this down to an imbalance of skillsets or seniority? Have desirable capabilities in the GBS world morphed as the model has matured? Or are some of our most talented and tenured industry colleagues just shooting themselves in the foot when they go into the job market?
I suspect it’s a bit of all three…
Today, I had another two requests for talent discussions, giving rise to the belief that shared services is in a period of unprecedented career mobility. The topics are either about the capabilities necessary to succeed in a GBS career, concerns about future-proofing the organization, succession planning or those give-it-back chats with seasoned professionals looking for their next gig, or guidance about how to navigate their careers (AKA, “I am looking for a new job”).
Most of my convos are with folks in the last category. Finding themselves out in the world after a few years in a seller’s market is tough. And there are reasons for this: firstly, some of the mobility is due to the fact that when the last job was accepted, the candidates lost sight of how it would affect their career progression. In some cases, during the COVID career feeding frenzy, the hiring officer grabbed the first professional they could attract, without thinking through the capabilities actually required to do the job. Or blame remote work; many who thought “virtual was forever” are finding themselves asked to move, or once they work in person with their colleagues, find they didn’t join the organization they thought they did.
As a result, the market is flush with talent, and much of it is a mismatch with requirements. Job seekers are having a hard time wrapping their heads around stabilizing compensation, in-office requirements, and more selectivity on the part of the hiring officer.
This is not to say that there aren’t great shared services roles out there—but rather that the hiring calculus is changing, leaving some candidates finding that days outstanding without a job may be getting longer and longer.
As someone who looks for patterns in almost everything, I’m starting to see the same search scenarios playing over and over. Is there a way to break the pattern and find the right role? Absolutely—with a bit of self- and market-awareness.
How should a shared services job hunter up their chances for success?
- Focus on the how, not just the what: All too often, I see professionals touting savings that they achieved in their last jobs as their sole calling card. But smart hiring officers now know what shared services should aspire to deliver; now they want to know how it was delivered. Did the professional change the delivery model? Streamline operations by changing the role of the GPO? Upskill talent who needed development? What levers created success? How were they orchestrated? And will the same playbook work in a new context? In the interview process, spend time discussing how you delivered value.
- Cease the bragging: The shared services industry is healthily skeptical about the ability of an individual hero to deliver the goods. Don’t say you saved the enterprise $50 million in nine months from a cold start because that’s likely not true. Likely, any change or savings was already in motion.
- Manage your brand: It’s a self-referencing industry—no one has to hold a formal reference call to find out a lot about a job seeker. It’s a very small world. Everyone knows everyone and has an opinion about whether they are skilled/good leaders/self-aggrandizers or simply whether their track records have legs. It’s always a good idea to ask someone trusted to tell you how the market perceives you—which can be painful but instructive.
- Decide what gets you up in the morning: Too often, I hear a litany of “I can do this and this and this,”… which equates to every role in the shared services roster. It’s not up to the hiring officer to pick the role for a new member of the team; decide what you are good at and where you can best add value. When a candidate is hedging their bets to secure a job by saying they are an expert across the board, they are looking for a job, not managing a career.
- Don’t believe the old saw that smart people can do anything: All too often, colleagues apply for jobs for which they have limited qualifications. Never been a transformation leader? Don’t apply for a role where success is based on a distinguished track record. Only led finance shared services in one country? Likely, a role as a global business services leader is not in your gift in the next move.
- Have a narrative for short-term gigs: While the days of working for one company in excess of five years at a senior level are usually over, all too often, those looking have tenures of 18 or even nine months in a job, then on to the next for another short stint. Unless these gigs are bona fide interim roles, hiring officers look askance at rapid job hopping. Make sure you have plausible explanations for short tenure and references that can honestly back you up.
- Understand the power of recency: Often, someone who held a shared services role four or so years ago, then followed other pursuits, perhaps in a consulting firm or provider, may think it’s easy to flip a switch and reenter the shared services fold. It isn’t. The shared services industry changes so fast that recency—what did you deliver in your last role that helps me believe that you are current and can do it again for me—is a key evaluation criteria.
- Stay engaged even if it’s not as an employee: The good news is that it’s no longer 1990 when folks either had a job or were relegated to the ranks of the unemployed. The shared services industry knows that tenures can be short due to the nature of the model, and, through no fault of one’s own, mobility is often the name of the game. It welcomes participation. Post on LinkedIn. Grow networks. Keep current with developments.
- Be prepared to go back to the office: The days of working in sweats are somewhat over. Increasingly, enterprises are requiring shared services leaders to spend time in the office every week. The days when every hire was virtual are over; as a result, relocation is now in order for many roles. And please don’t expect a company to fly you in every week at their cost; it rarely happens.
- Acknowledge that global mobility is dropping: On paper, shared services harnesses the power of a global talent pool, but the reality is somewhat different. Visas are hard to get; many employers won’t even try. Relocation costs are skyrocketing. And the days of juicy expat packages are all but over. Employers tend to disregard candidates several continents away. If an international posting is a goal, for all but a few shared services leaders, it’s usually easier to get an internal transfer than a new international role.
And last, a measure of humility is in order. Too many seekers portray themselves as the best thing since sliced bread, erroneously thinking it’s the right way to snag a juicy role. The truth is, the marketplace now understands that shared services success is a team sport; while leadership sets the North Star, the business context in each company is unique, and the interdependencies between roles are what drives shared services success. Be seen as a shared service leader who fosters successful models. It always works.