I’ve spent most of my career working on agency/supplier side supporting clients, now I want to make a transition and work on client side for a larger organization. What is the best way to move from a supplier side role to a client side role?
Client Side Ready
Dear Client Side Ready,
I’ve helped many friends and colleagues through similar transitions and know how difficult it can be. My experience is that some people are ready to make this leap, while others initially want to but are unprepared for the reality of this type of transition because of the concessions which may be required.
Businesses are trying to be nimbler by hiring people with relevant transferable skills and high potential. When the rubber hits the road however, most employers prefer to hire people who have the specific experience the role they are hiring for requires, still tending to hire people who have been in a similar role at another organization.
That said, it’s a career shift that is entirely accessible if you know how to position yourself and are prepared to be open to different possibilities.
Here are my 6 suggestions to help enable you to make this type of move:
#1 Let others in your network know your intentions to make a transition and ask to be made aware of opportunities that come up (to the extent you can without compromising your current position). People are better able to help you when they know what you want.
#2 Understand all titles are not created equal. Agency side business titles will be 'inflated' relative to client side, so a Director on agency side will more than likely be a manager level title on client side. Be prepared for a title change - it should not be considered a demotion and titles are widely understood to vary between agency/supplier and client side.
#3 Consider the skills to highlight for client side when applying and interviewing for client side roles. For instance, for agency side, technical skills and sales skills (depending on the role) are critical. For clients strategic skills, collaboration and end-to-end thinking are extremely important. It's a matter of positioning transferable skills and knowing what will matter to your prospective client side employer.
#4 Be open to contracts to bridge the gap. Contract positions can be an amazing way of making the leap because they are more difficult to fill and offer the right opportunity for someone who is making a change. It may also be an opportunity to start in a more senior role than you would have otherwise.
#5 Include current clients in your search. So often people have a moral objection to working for a client and I don't understand why. As a client side employer your job is to do the best thing for your business, the best thing is to find great people who understand your business and hire them for open roles. Any difficulty (if there is any) is between your previous and future employers, not you!
#6 Face the fact you may need to take a perceived step back to make this move. A career is not a straight line, it's a series of zigs and zags and while you may have an amazing background doing one thing for one type of business, your ambition is to do something different; client-side roles require different skills and expertise, so you may need to take a role that is in fact more junior to ultimately get ahead and start moving in the direction you want.
The reality, which many of us don’t like to face, is a move of this kind may require making some concessions like base salary (client side may pay less and offer better benefits), title (as above) and moving to a contract rather than a permanent position for a period of time. Just like with any career move there will always be compromises to make and if you’re not ready to make these compromises, perhaps now is not the right time for a transition.
Amy Davies is Founding Partner of the Firefly Group of Companies. She is a writer, professional speaker, insights expert and corporate trainer at Livingroom Learning. Amy lives in Toronto, Canada with her children and partner.
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