Interview With Valerie Germain
October 19, 2016
I had the pleasure of interviewing Valerie Germain, a Partner with Heidrick & Struggles – a leading executive search firm. Ms. Germain works out of the firm’s New York City office and spent close to an hour talking with me about the executive search process. In this two-part interview, you’ll learn the best ways to promote oneself, the difference between a retained firm versus contingency firm, and what to do when you receive a call from a headhunter or recruiter.
Ms. Germain noted that most mid-level folks will be discovered through common digital platforms such as LinkedIn. “People should stay current and promote themselves.” She added, “It is important that any social media footprint of an individual has been crafted and is an appropriate representation of who they are.” She went on to note that crafting one’s social media profile does not happen by accident. “The wordsmithing is important; it is as important on the digital platform as it is on a resume.”
Ms. Germain’s advice to those looking to expand their responsibilities involved introspection. This ability to honestly reflect upon one’s skills and talents is crucial in crafting the digital message mentioned above. In terms of introspection, she has four important pieces of advice:
- “Take a good look in the mirror and ask, ‘how do others see me?’” She noted it is vitally important to seek honest and constructive feedback from direct managers (not always possible), peers, mentors, as well as people you worked with in the past. Ask for specific feedback regarding your management style, operational style, how you collaborate, time management, etc. “If others see you differently than you see yourself, this discrepancy can be a place for growth.”
- Ask those same mentors, peers: “What do you see as my best path for my career?” This question is crucial because as Ms. Germain noted, “It is important to understand the gap between one’s own aspirations and how others see you.” This gap may require you to go back to school or get some specific training. For example, if you have spent ten years climbing the corporate ladder in investor and community relations, but now want to transition to HR, there are likely specific certifications you will need before you can pursue that transition. Furthermore, if all of your colleagues see you as a community builder who eloquently and effectively collaborates with investors and community partners, but who has little patience or a knack for policy development, there is a discrepancy – one you need to evaluate.
- Are there opportunities within your current organization? “People who have been in a place too long sometimes get stuck, too comfortable, and then become afraid to leave the company.” In other words, sometimes you have to leave to find the best opportunities for growth.
- “Discomfort is part of the future.” No one likes to hear that, but in reality, if you are planning on pursuing a growth opportunity, you will experience periods of discomfort, whether that is waiting to be offered an interview, preparing for an interview, or waiting for an offer or a rejection. Ms. Germain added, “Recognize the emotions associated with discomfort and don’t react. Become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Her advice is worth repeating because it is important to not let the discomfort dictate your behavior, i.e. let it ruin an interview. Instead, accept that this time period will leave you feeling like you are in limbo – you are – embrace it, and recognize it is part of the process.
“The hardest thing is when you see yourself in the mirror and don’t realize people see you differently,” said Ms. Germain. She then concluded by adding, “Being willing to look at oneself, being introspective, get feedback, take a strong introspective view, see yourself clearly, and understand, where I want to get, and understand the gap, and finally, except there is discomfort.”
Read the rest of the interview next week.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Studies