10 Ways to Steer a Career Drive
Take these steps to help accelerate your logistics career.
Given the day-to-day complexity of logistics, it may seem like all you can do is take care of business. But it's also important to take care of your career. If it's languishing on the back burner, now may be the time to turn up the heat and start cooking.
Whether you want to advance within your current company or move to a new one, whether you want to try a new job in logistics or get even better at the one you have, a few simple steps will help you meet your career goals. These apply to almost any advancement-minded go-getter, from the young college graduate and the still-learning apprentice to the mid-career professional facing a fork in the road.
1. Don't rush into your next opportunity before you've made the most of the one you have.
This is especially true for people in entry-level and junior positions, says Adrian Gonzalez, president of Adelante SCM, a learning and networking community for supply chain and logistics professionals. Gonzalez considers career nurturing and development the charge of both employer and employee.
"The individual has some responsibility for career development, but the company you work for also has some responsibility," he says, noting that employers should clearly articulate career paths and milestones. For example, within three years of serving in Role X, you should be ready to take on the responsibilities associated with Role Y.
But while you're charting your path to Role Y, be sure to savor the years in Role X. "You have to resist the temptation of wanting to become a vice president after one year. There is immense value in being on the front lines," Gonzalez explains, noting that many senior leaders at successful firms launched their logistics careers by driving trucks and loading boxes.
"Cherish your time on the front lines," Gonzalez says. "You may not see it now, but it will be extremely valuable later. And embrace those opportunities to get your hands dirty."
The dirt under your fingernails will translate into a deep—rather than a cursory or theoretical—knowledge of how the company operates, "because you've actually done it yourself. You've lived it," he adds.
By the time you get to the corner office, you'll not only have insight and knowledge, you'll have what Gonzalez calls "credibility as a leader."
2. Know when to move.
Once you've made the most of the job you have, it might be time to circulate your resume. But how do you know when you've milked a position for every drop of value? Read between the lines of your performance evaluation, recommends Carl Rossi, director of global logistics for Westinghouse Electric Co., headquartered in Pennsylvania's Cranberry Township. When the review process starts feeling pro forma, that's a signal inertia has set in.
Before landing at Westinghouse, which provides nuclear power plant products and services to utilities throughout the world, Rossi moved many times, but not so often as to suggest instability. He segued from a decade-long sales and operations post at a less-than-truckload regulated motor carrier to a job as manager of North American logistics at Honeywell International. He later served a seven-year stint with one of the country's largest third-party logistics providers. In between these posts and his current gig, he joined Gulf Coast cleanup efforts as a supply chain leader for BP Exploration and Production.
Although his career moves were a mixture of calculated transitions, serendipitous chances, and the occasional setback, Rossi kept his antenna tuned for complacency and its kissing cousin, stagnation.
One of his moves was triggered by indifference from management after some organizational changes. While his work and department weren't disparaged, neither were they deemed imperative.
"I knew I was not going to rise any higher at the organization because of its nature and the direction it was taking," Rossi says. "My mentor had retired a few years prior, and my area became less of a priority."
Those foes of career satisfaction often show up in annual performance reviews and in negotations about raises. "If you have the same kinds of reviews year after year, you no longer see a clear career path, and you don't see improvement, then chances are it's time to move on," Rossi says.
3. Enhance your credentials.
Learning on the job is essential; after all, if you're not learning, you're stagnating. But even if every day teaches you something new, it's essential that you learn even more—outside the job.
The possibilities for continuing education are endless, ranging from college classes to occasional conference workshops. But, career-focused professionals should pursue educational opportunities that result in a degree or certification, says Mitch Kostoulakos, founder of Massachusetts-based Ad Hoc Logistics LLC, a consultancy specializing in international logistics analysis and regulatory assistance for smaller companies. Degrees and certifications add oomph to your resume and tell prospective employers that you're serious about your work.
Graduate degrees such as MBAs are always impressive, but they don't necessarily speak to expertise. Certifications, on the other hand, testify to highly specialized knowledge. That's why Kostoulakos completed the Certified Transportation and Logistics program through the American Society of Transportation and Logistics.
"I wanted to become an expert and become known as an expert," he says. "Certifications demonstrate both expertise and professionalism. When I look for a financial planner, I only want to work with a certified professional. Professionals like to do business with other professionals."
That said, it's important to choose the right certification and then to put it to work on your behalf.
"It does no good to get a certification nobody has ever heard of," Kostoulakos says, recommending enrollment in programs affiliated with recognized institutions—say, an organization that publishes and maintains professional standards of conduct. Also, be sure the certification is based on testing, research, or other measurable criteria. Kostoulakos prefers certification programs that require continuing education and recertification—a sign that the knowledge and skills are up-to-date.
It's also a good idea to take a look at the marketplace, identify what skills are in demand, and choose a certification program accordingly.
Once you earn the certification, make sure people know about it. "Let your employer know what you had to do to get it and what you think it is worth," he says. And in the interest of spreading the word internally and externally, be sure to include the certification on your business card, resume, and LinkedIn page. Reference it in cover letters, and when you land an interview, trumpet it to your next employer.
"Lead a job interview with your certifications, because not everyone has them," Kostoulakos says, noting that they can be more differentiating than college degrees.
Although certifications may not be essential for advancement within a company, they're definitely useful for moves to a new firm. "For logistics managers within a small company who want to move to a larger one, certification will help," Kostoulakos says.
4. Keep up with the LOGISTICS field—and with the world of business.
In his demanding job at Westinghouse, Carl Rossi needs to stay abreast of everything related to logistics and nuclear energy. Keeping up is a never-ending process of "reading, training, and talking to people," he says,
Rossi recommends staying on top of consumer trends and business news, monitoring them for developments that might have lasting implications for the logistics field. "For example, we have no idea what impact 3D printing will have on the supply chain," Rossi says. "But I will read everything I can about 3D printing because I know that five years from now, 3D printers that can be deployed anywhere will completely disrupt the supply chain. Instead of shipping widgets from China to Chicago, someone in Chicago will just print the widget. That's the kind of trend we have to keep our eye on."
That's also the kind of thinking that brings value to an employer and opportunity to an advancement-minded professional.
5. Hone your analytical skills
Like Rossi and Kostoulakos, Adrian Gonzalez considers constant learning essential. "You have to keep learning to remain an effective leader because so much is changing in this industry, and the pace of change continues to accelerate," he says.
But then the question becomes, what to learn?
"When you look at some trends in play today, having strong analytical skills is growing more important," says Gonzalez. "There is so much information out there related to the supply chain. It's increasingly important to take in all the information and effectively analyze it, draw out insights, and then understand what you are going to do with that knowledge, and what action you should take."
Currently, too many supply chain and logistics professionals are unsure how to use data to drive innovation. The solution to that, may be as simple as a catch-up class in statistics or a workshop on spreadsheets. As Gonzalez notes, a "power user of Excel," someone who knows how to leverage the program's full data and number-crunching capabilities, can often spot problems and identify solutions.
Structured education isn't the only way to sharpen analytical skills. You can learn a lot from others on your team. "If you are not currently in an analytical role, but you're sitting near a transportation analyst, ask good questions, such as 'what are you trying to figure out here' and 'how is this software tool helping you?'" Gonzalez says.
6. Learn the language of the executive team.
While you're polishing your analytical skills, remember this: If you want to be taken seriously by the people who run your company, and if you want them to spot your leadership potential, you'll need to talk their talk.
"More and more these days, a supply chain leader has to be able to make the business case to the chief financial officer (CFO) and other higher-ups," Gonzalez explains. "When you request funding and tools for investments in technology and in people to drive a transformational project, you have to ask in the language that the CFO and the chief executive officer appreciate.
"If you say to an executive, 'we want to implement a transportation management system that will improve on-time deliveries from 92 to 97 percent,' that sounds good, but what does it mean?" Gonzalez says. "What does a five-percent improvement mean? How does that help the company? You have to link the investment to line items on the profit and loss and balance sheets. How will the system improve order-to-cash cycle time? How will it reduce capital costs?"
To learn how to link supply chain metrics with financial metrics, start with a refresher course in accounting or finance. Or, find a mentor within the company who can help you master essential concepts.
7. Network, network, network—everywhere.
When it comes to networking, Gonzalez, Kostoulakos, and Rossi agree: It's a must—even if you're not seeking a promotion or new job.
Rossi champions LinkedIn, and recommends it as a way to keep in touch with people from past jobs whom you admire. You can still learn from them, even if you're no longer in day-to-day contact. And who knows when one of them might have an opportunity to share? That's how Rossi came to be part of the Gulf Coast cleanup.
And, Gonzalez says, don't forget to connect with the people within your own organization. They can help you succeed—and just as important, you can help them.
Kostoulakos acknowledges that the modern workplace makes networking more challenging. "It's tough to do these days, because many people work remotely," he says. But that's where email comes in handy. Reach out through the inbox and ask for advice or suggestions. You'll not only learn a lot, you'll become a better team player.
8. Attend the right industry conferences.
Conferences offer the perfect blend of networking and education opportunities, but choosing the right one requires some thought.
"While you can spend an entire year just traveling to different conferences, cost and time prevent you from going to them all," Gonzalez says. So, before paying a registration fee, align your workplace goals and objectives with the programming on offer.
"Let's say you've been tasked with shifting product sourcing from China to Mexico," Gonzalez says. "Obviously you will be interested in programs showcasing other companies that have done this. What best practices and solutions are out there?"
Don't forget user conferences hosted by technology vendors. "You'll learn from other customers who are using the same tool," Gonzalez says. "And it's a great opportunity to meet face-to-face with technology partners to discuss what is or isn't working."
If there's still room in your calendar for another conference, Gonzalez suggests a plunge into a different pool. "Get out of your comfort zone," he says. "If all you do is transportation, for example, you're limiting your upward mobility. There is value in going deep in a particular area, but if you have no understanding of the business processes you're focused on, then you also have a limited understanding of your impact on the supply chain."
That advice holds up even when you're at a conference and deciding which presentations to attend. "Allocate some time to attend a session that has nothing to do with your current role," Gonzales recommends. "If you're in transportation, go to a sales and operations planning session. If you're in supply chain planning, go to a session on risk management."
9. Hone your elevator PITCH.
Whether you're seeking a promotion or a new job, it pays to understand exactly what you have to offer, so that you can share that pertinent information effectively. Rossi puts it this way: "Have a good, concise elevator speech on what you do and how you do it."
Rossi speaks from experience, having deployed his elevator speech on more than one occasion. "In cases where I saw opportunities, I would sit down with supervisors and be very clear about what I thought I could do, about additional responsibility, and about where I could help," he recalls.
More often than not, it worked. In one instance, it landed him the chance to travel to the Philippines to address a persistent warehousing issue. Rossi's elevator speech also came in handy on a shuttle ride to the airport, when he happened to sit next to his boss. It was the perfect opportunity to chat casually about his aspirations, and his ready-for-prime-time elevator speech allowed him to convey his point quickly—and memorably.
10. Think—and act—like an entrepreneur.
The best career advice Adrian Gonzalez ever received came from his father, the proprietor of his own grocery store: "Be your own boss."
As Gonzalez sees it, that kind of entrepreneurial thinking applies to people who have no intention of leaving the world of hierarchies and org charts. It's a state of mind that applies everywhere and to anyone who wants to build a resume stuffed with achievements.
An entrepreneurial thinker asks good questions and asks them daily—"always with an eye on how I can take this information to do my job better and help my company be more productive," he explains.
"You don't need to go out and launch your own company," Gonzalez says. "You can be an entrepreneur within a company by continuously looking for opportunities where you can improve the status quo."