Global Mobility Career Growth: Transitioning from Supplier to Client
Mobility Career Planning; Transition from Supplier to Client. What it’s like, how to do it, and how keep your confidence in the process.
It’s the million-dollar question that every job seeker can relate to: How do you get experience if you don’t have experience?
For many supplier-side Global Mobility Consultants and Managers who want a career change/growth…requires a transition to an in-house mobility role… without previous HR experience, making the move to ‘the other side’ can be a lengthy process and sometimes an even daunting and intimidating experience comparable to landing that first ‘real’ job out of college (as opposed to the one where you waved a sign on the side of the road in a dramatically oversized polyester chicken costume on a 105 degree day).
Two years ago, I was in the exact same boat. At the time, I was a Global Mobility Consultant at a Relocation Management Firm, handling the average high RMC move volume. Things were going well for me: My customer satisfaction scores were in the top range for consultants in the firm, I had a great manager who took pride in developing her team, I was working on interesting and successful clients and won a couple of awards for exceeding goals and other operational contributions. At that time, anything could have happened with my career. I could have done what most consultants do; stay on-track for an Operations Manager role or relocate to join another area of the business.
It was around that time that I read an interesting article in Global Mobility Magazine about Global Mobility career development and how career paths in this field have been historically split between supplier-side and client-side paths. To me, this was a turning point in how I thought about my career and future opportunities. The key message of the article essentially was:
In the future, the key influencers in the industry will be those who can bring client-side and supplier-side experience to the table.
This completely made sense to me: If you’ve been on the client side, you will be able to provide better value at the RMC because you know exactly what your clients need. If you’ve previously been on the RMC side, you will do a better job at managing your vendor and leveraging their expertise in your in-house role.
When I spoke to others about my plans to switch sides at the time, I experienced mostly raised eye-brows, concern and doubt. I heard anything from “Good luck to you, I’ve been trying to break into client side roles for years” to “Oh my, do you really want to do that… client side people are always so stressed, it must be terrifying to be on the other side.” I didn’t let that hold me back, decided to see for myself and hit the ground running. Fueled by the logic about the value of my background I thought it would be a fast and easy gig to land, I was surprised by lessons learned along the way.
Now fast-forward two years later; I’ve been in my client-side role for 2 years. I regularly receive questions from friends, former colleagues or members from the LinkedIn Community who can tell from my profile that I made the transition. They all ask the same three questions:
- Is it different?
- Is it more stressful than consulting at an RMC?
- How do I find the right job quickly?
Here are some answers.
Is it more stressful?
Stress is different for everyone. I will say this: If you can handle the average high RMC move volume (let’s keep it real, you DO move a lot of people and you know it), keep your head above water and have a low escalation ratio, you’ll be fine. Why? Because if you can handle 100-200 moves per year, 300+ emails a day, be copied on every communication for every assignee and every vendor, have at least good metrics and some sense of sanity left, you’ll be fine. Many of the skills you use on the RMC side are directly transferable to the client side, such as managing vendors, setting expectations, following-up and following through. The rest is learning on the job.
Don’t let the “negative Nancy’s” hold you back! The truth is that, and this may be a little hard to hear for some, for the most part, client-side people who are experienced in Mobility and experience good support from their RMC and consultant population are actually doing okay. If you deal with a difficult client-side contact, they may be…
- …an unpleasant individual; overwhelmed with their role/cannot handle stress well (not your fault);
- …have a challenging corporate culture in their firm (stay away); or
- …not happy with the RMC (not necessarily you but possibly other areas of support).
Don’t let that deter you from finding the right company, the right program, and the right team for your passion and skill-set. It’s out there, promise!
Is it different?
For sure, and there is definitely a learning curve, not just from a skill-set perspective. If you don’t have any previous experience working within an HR department, understanding the dynamics, work-streams, hierarchies, and politics of that environment in addition to learning the job, it can be quite a bit to take in.
However, looking back, having had that RMC background gave me a huge advantage on the mobility side and Mobility Magazine was right: I was instantly able to identify issues, develop solutions, manage the vendors, handle a transition and counsel to assignees of all career levels. My experience gave me a true competitive advantage over Mobility professionals who routinely transition into the role from other areas in HR, such as Benefits or HR Generalist roles.
The key difference to supplier-side positions is all about the questions that come your way. Once an issue reaches the in-house mobility person, either from the RMC, from another vendor, or from the assignee, every question is truly a ‘one-off.’ From the view of the supplier-side, it’s common to encounter the same issues repeatedly because you can only control your vendors to a certain point, and things/challenges routinely arise (as you know). If you’ve been on the supplier-side for 3+ years and have served different clients, you’ve probably seen it all.
On the client-side, if the RMC presents you with an issue chances are they haven’t been able to fix it or it’s out of their scope, then it’s on you to develop solutions in a stimulating and challenging yet difficult environment… multi-stakeholder and hierarchy-sensitive …rather than defaulting to the vendor and asking them to ‘fix it, make it right.’
For new client-side mobility professionals, being in the “weeds of tax and comp” can also be scary and challenging. But, at the end of the day the statement stays true …if you can handle 100-200 moves on the RMC side, you can learn that too …and you always have a vendor support network in place.
How do you land your role?
- Be a Great Interviewee
- Market Your Value and Know Your Worth
- Practice Resilience
Being a good interviewee
Chances are you will be competing against internal candidates with established relationships and existing HR experience, or mobility professionals who come from other in-house roles and have more experience than you. This puts you into a position where you are essentially asking for the opportunity to get experience without having the experience. Are you up for the challenge?
If you’re naturally a shy person who likes to fall into the comfortable interview pattern of ‘just answering the question’ it may be advisable to change your approach and practice a more proactive and dialog-style interview method. During the phone interviews, find out as much as you can about the program and it’s goals; find out about the team; and find out current pain-points …so you can show your value in a more tailored approach when invited onsite.
Marketing Your Value and Knowing Your Worth
This goes back to being a good interviewee. Example: Your background is RMC consulting and the interviewer asks you: “Do you have experience with global tax?” You can answer “I do not but I can learn.” Chances are that response is not going to cut it. Alternatively, it would be better for you to say; “In my current role I manage all relocation sub-vendors, including XYZ tax provider. I am familiar with the concept of global taxation and TEQ and I already counsel on the topic at a high-level and further, I partner with our compensation team on assignee issues. I am confident that I can apply that experience to counseling your employees, investigate problems, and develop solutions in partnership with your vendors and internal stakeholders.”
See the difference? The hiring manager, if experienced in Mobility, will already know from your resume what your experience level is in certain areas of expertise. Since you don’t know what you don’t know, your best bet is to anticipate interview questions, understand your experience and how it brings value. Prepare your response in order to install confidence in the interviewer by showcasing your transferable skills, your aptitude and your desire to learn. Remember, good companies hire aptitude over skill whenever they can.
When interviewing for client-side roles understand that it’s a learning process and sometimes a lengthy one. As with anything else in life, practice makes perfect. You get a feeling for what questions will be regularly thrown your way. It’s important to know that if you’re selective about company culture, the program itself (geographical and cultural preferences, in-sourced/outsourced, etc.), and selective about the mobility skill-set of your future leader, then you may be looking for an extended period. If your objective is to get-a-foot-in-the-door in order to get experience and if you are not worried about finding a ‘long term home’, then you may be successful in getting a position much quicker.
Another factor to keep in mind from an expectation-setting standpoint is that the Global Mobility talent marketplace is currently a highly competitive, yet specialized field. Depending on where you are located, mobility talent opportunities may be fewer compared with other HR opportunities, for example an HR Generalist. Therefore, being open to relocating will increase your chances for a faster placement.
Lastly, stay confident.
As an RMC consultant or manager, you bring a wealth of knowledge to the table. Keep in mind that every mobility program is different and every mobility team has a different need for talent. Not all programs have the headcount to train a new team member, some employers truly need a candidate who already knows it all and can hit the ground running with minimal training time. Knowing that, keep your interview approach open-minded, proactive, and ask the right questions during your phone interviews because successfully doing it will, in their mind, determine if you would be a good fit. That way, you can focus on interview opportunities that are realistically worth your time and passion. You will find being selective and prepared will not only shorten your search, it will create self-confidence about your value proposition thus enhancing your negotiating position with your future leader with specific regard to your experience, your capabilities, and your financial worth.
About the Author:
Elisabeth Hauss GMS offers career-support services to supplier-side Global Mobility Professionals who wish to transition into client-side global mobility roles. She holds four years of impactful, fast-track, award-winning, transactional and strategic experience in global mobility in addition to serving global customers in the areas of luxury retail, global marketing sales, and project management. Today, she leverages her RMC experience as program manager for the global side of the overall mobility program at Bridgestone Americas Global Mobility. Her passion and her areas of accomplishments are operations excellence, policy benchmarking, synergy development for RMC/clients, and mobility cost-containment. Elisabeth is bilingual, a native of Germany where she was born, raised, and educated. She holds M.Ed. and M.A. in International Studies and Marketing and complements her career in mobility by having experienced the ‘assignee experience’ first-hand. Elisabeth has lived and worked in Europe and New Zealand before relocating into the United States. She can be contacted through LinkedIn.