For a recent role I was told that the General Manager (GM) had no interest in my candidacy because they wanted a “manufacturing focused engineering leader.” The challenge is that I have 11 years in manufacturing focused engineering leadership, a patent in exactly that, and many years as a “high potential employee.” So basically, I did that AND was good at it. It’s up to me to decipher what I’m doing wrong.
I want to say I know my mistake. I want to say it’s because I tried pursuing a GM role while my wife Rebecca, due to cystic fibrosis, got sick at the wrong time. Now bear with me, this isn’t a “woe is me” type of article. Much of my early career was filled with advancements and plentiful opportunities to work in a variety of different roles. I continually became better-rounded by taking on new roles, learning new skills, and meeting a variety of different people. Most of these jobs were in and around engineering, manufacturing, and project management. My successes allowed me to move up in the organization as I earned my MBA and took on my first role as an engineering manager. This was not only exciting but a stepping stone to future opportunities.
With the goal of becoming a GM, I welcomed the opportunity to step into a Product Manager role and gain commercial experience. For years I had worked closely with product management on new product development projects and knew it was the right next step. I worked my way up from running a $60MM to a $200MM business P&L in 1 year. I was working so hard for this level of success so I could comfortably take care of my wife because she would ultimately be unable to work due to cystic fibrosis.
Then Rebecca declined too early. I phrase it this way because we expected to have two more years before she would have to stop working and consider a lung transplant. We had thought about it, talked about it, and saved for it. We were wrong. I remember sitting stunned in the hospital room while she lie there on a ventilator in a chemically-induced coma. A few weeks later I was having a conversation with HR about leaving my company. I knew I needed to be there with her in the hospital room, advocating for her. Even after she woke from the coma, her prognosis was grim and despite making improvements, the first five transplant programs declined to even evaluate her. I started writing a book about our journey called “Lessons from a CF Cornerman.” I didn’t know how the story was going to end. It ended well. In 2015 Rebecca received a lifesaving double lung transplant.
My career challenge at this point was that I only had a few years of product management experience and my engineering and operations experience was beginning to move further back in the rearview. As Rebecca required another surgery and was not yet ready to be on her own, I knew that more time would only make me less relevant. All of those great opportunities that helped me grow as a professional looked like disconnected snippets to a hiring manager that (if I was lucky) would skim through my resume looking for some dates and relevant phrases. My willingness to relocate had worn off but left me in Cincinnati where I had no professional network to speak of. I was out of a job and could not yet return to one.
I decided that if I started my own business I would continue to sharpen my skills. I would just consider it another rotation on my GM career path. Companies often say that they want a strong communicator, with an entrepreneurial spirit, and leadership skills. What better written communication is there than writing a book and getting your blogs and articles published? What better proof than it winning Book of the Year? What better verbal communication is there than joining toastmasters and delivering dozens of speeches at colleges, on radio, and to companies? What better proof than a TEDx talk? What better way to show entrepreneurial spirit than starting your own business with unique products? What better proof than doing so with your own money? And what better demonstration of leadership is there than serving on a leadership board, chairing a professional group, and serving as president for yet another organization?
After many months of networking, customizing my resume, and applying to different roles I’ve become a bit frustrated. For the engineering and operation roles, I have the most experience but it was a few years ago. For the product management roles which I have done fairly recently I’m just short of three years of experience. Like I said before, Rebecca got sick at just the wrong time. The business I started and continue to work diligently on seems to come across as irrelevant regardless of transferrable skills. In the end I’m only guessing because most companies are too busy to email me or have a conversation. The toughest part is that my conclusions are complete guesses since I get little actual feedback.
So why did that GM have no interest in my candidacy and not consider me a “manufacturing focused engineering leader” despite 11 years doing just that? He did because my resume wasn’t good enough. I’m still figuring out how, but clearly it was not. As much as I’d like to focus on my wife’s illness, it happened and I made my choice. Now I have to focus on what’s next. I have to cut down my personal business successes because I’ve found hiring managers are not interested in a demonstration of good communication in this way. That’s just something to tell them, probably as an anecdote, like every other candidate. My accomplishments and transferrable skills are taking up too much space in the wrong place. I need to exercise will power by pulling some impressive accomplishments because even if a hiring manager might see it as relevant, it’s unlikely they will be able to in the 30 seconds that they scan my resume. Honesty is required for continuous improvement both in the workplace and outside of it. To be honest, I was lucky to have a GM read my resume. Unfortunately it did not communicate what I wanted it to.
In the end, I talk to former HR colleagues and read articles but this is all a guess. If I’m lucky enough to get my resume in front of an actual person, I probably won’t find out. If I do get feedback, it’s likely a relevant but canned statement about what they are looking for and I need to read between the lines. I have to figure out how I failed to show them that I was qualified for literally every line in the job description. Somehow a GM missed 11 years of my 18 year career and there’s only one thing I should do next…re-evaluate my resume, adjust accordingly, and try again.