How to Break Into and Make a Mark on the Innovation Industry
So you want to build a career in innovation. Now what? This question inspired our April 2018 NYC event, Career AMA (aka “Ask Me Anything”) hosted at A/D/O and led by some of the best innovation career experts. Our interactive discussions addressed a range of innovation career development questions for innovators looking to grow at their current organization, a new one, and innovators growing an innovation team.
There was so much enthusiasm at the event, that we teamed up with our experts following the event to bring you the best in class tips on fostering a thriving career in innovation.
Our innovation career experts:
Amy Crutchfield leads her eponymous boutique consultancy that conducts creative and executive search, talent management consulting and provides career coaching within the innovation, strategy, design and technology space.
1. What are the top skills innovation candidates possess?
Amy: They are innately curious by nature, always looking at ways to create new and better products, services, and experiences that we interact with in our daily lives. They are tapped into what consumers are seeking and have the business savvy and commercial sensibility to make it a reality. They are extraordinary storytellers that can inspire and captivate by painting tomorrow’s world through their ideas and vision of the future.
Patricia and Whitney: The best innovators are comfortable with ambiguity, are endlessly curious, and diligently listen to the world around them to take in new data and information that can inform their point of view. Innovation isn’t just about new ideas, but about new ideas that have a meaningful place in consumers’ lives, solving their unmet needs. So it’s important to always keep a finger on the pulse of what those needs may be.
2. What are your recommendations to continually build on your innovation skills to stay relevant at your current organization, or a new one?
Amy: I don’t think this is exclusive to innovation. Always be looking to diversify your skills, whether that means broadening the types of brands you work on or the types of innovation you are helping to create. If there are areas you are looking to be involved with more or learn more about, speak up and demonstrate why you are capable of doing it.
Patricia and Amy: Don’t get complacent; innovation is happening more rapidly than ever due to technology and consumers’ appetites for adopting new trends. Staying on top of how businesses are evolving is only part of the picture; the more critical piece is observing and understanding the critical behaviors and need states that underlie them, and knowing how to leverage those insights and turn them into new(er) relevant ideas.
3. What is the best way to structure and organize a portfolio to effectively showcase innovation work?
Amy: When it comes to portfolios, more is not always better. Put your best work forward, even if it was an innovation that never went to market. Employers are looking to get a sense of the way you think and to see the steps you took to solve an innovation challenge. They know that not every innovation sees the light of day for reasons well out of your control. Choose a few select case studies and clearly outline the challenge and your process in a clear and concise manner and make sure you practice telling those case studies out loud before doing so in person on your interview.
4. What are some general etiquette tips when seeking a career in innovation?
Patricia and Whitney: Recognize that most companies don’t decide to hire until it’s absolutely urgent. So by the time you’ve applied or even interviewed for a role, there’s a good chance the team is slammed and hiring, unfortunately, falls to the side. If a recruiter or hiring manager goes quiet after an early stage engagement, it’s reasonable to check in after 1.5-2 weeks. If you’re far along in the process, 5-7 days is ok. It’s best when you have something new to share in your check-in, whether new work of your own, something they’ve done, or something they may find relevant and/or interesting.
5. If my core skill set isn't "innovation-heavy" how do I prove to my prospective employer that I am capable of doing innovation work?
Amy: Write about your passion for innovation in your profile so the reader understands your intent and why you are innately wired for this kind of work. Then highlight the experiences in innovation that you have had and prioritize those first in your bullet points. Doing all of those things helps demonstrate why you are capable of doing innovation work and why it would be a seamless transition.
6. What are some interviewing pro tips for careers in innovation?
Team WIN: As obvious as it is, practice, practice, practice. Practice with a friend whose opinion you respect, practice with your old colleague, practice with a mentor. Even if you’re only 25% interested in an opportunity, take the interview – it could be more of what you’re looking for than you think.
Before you walk into an interview, take a deep breath. Reliable intuition (which you’ll certainly need in a stressful situation like an interview) comes from a calm mind. Moreover, strike a balance: companies want confidence, but not ego.
7. How do I think about a career path in innovation?
Team WIN: Innovation is ubiquitous in today’s business world, so there is no typical career path. While that ambiguity may seem daunting, don’t think about each job as the end all be all. Instead, ask yourself, “How is this job helping to round out my experience and craft the narrative of who I am as an innovator?”
From startups to corporate giants, there are places for innovators in all types of organizations. To figure out your next step, try defining what innovation means to you, and your ideal role within it, and seek out opportunities that fit within that definition. When you’ve identified the right companies for you, make sure you understand the organization’s business aspirations and be proactive about finding a way to uniquely impact the business, and explain to leadership how they benefit by giving you a bigger stake.
When it comes to your career in innovation, there is no ladder to climb or guide to follow. Instead approach each job opportunity as a unique chance to craft your professional narrative.
8. How do I pivot from one role to another in innovation?
Amy: When editing your resume, it should start to reflect the role you are looking to pivot to. Start thinking about that role and your own experience. Prioritize your resume by demonstrating those skills so that it doesn’t feel like so much of a pivot but rather a natural transition. Use the same kind of language when speaking about this desire in person.
Team WIN: innovation is all about catalyzing people around taking risks – innovation is inherently risky and "new". Think about how you've done this throughout your career and really bring that to life. Also, consider working with a startup or nonprofit pro bono to build the experience...they love free, smart help!
9. What is one easy thing I can do to make myself a better candidate?
Amy: To improve your delivery when talking about your skills, interests and accomplishments, try sitting down with a friend and talking about the things that you are most passionate about doing as well as your proudest work achievements and have them takes notes. After talking about it, have your friend read back the points that stood out to them the most. It never fails to astound people when relaying it back, just how well it captures who they are and what their goals are. The more you write it and speak it, the more it becomes you and all of your communications will improve from your resume and cover letter to your actual interviews.
Patricia and Whitney: Do your research about a company to know its culture. The way you’re treated in the interview is the way you’ll be treated when you work there.
10. To conclude, resume checklist for a bulletproof resume for a job in innovation:
Amy: Make who you are and what you want to do immediately obvious to the person reading it. A profile of just a few succinct sentences at the top of your resume that clearly distinguishes you with your best assets, how you are wired and what you are seeking, sets the tone for the rest of your resume and what you are looking to have the reader glean from it.
Amy: Always make sure to quantify your successes wherever possible.
Amy: Customize your resume to each job - truly. There are apps to make this process easier. Often times you can read a job description and know that you can do it but your resume doesn’t properly reflect it. Prioritize your bullet points by putting the most salient ones for the position first. Think about your experiences and how they align with this role and make sure all of your resume reflects this. Doing this exercise will not only help get you in the door but it will help you communicate better once you’re on the interview. Check out these apps.
Patricia and Whitney: Saying what the company does/did is not enough. Be specific about your contributions and your role, and if possible include results.
Team WIN: Avoid meaningless buzzwords, and avoid calling yourself “innovative” — show, don’t tell. For example, if you are an innovative person, illustrate that through examples of past work.
Team WIN: On the other hand, make sure you emphasize key “innovator” qualities, including collaboration and leadership.
Patricia and Whitney: Include a professional summary or objective as the opener to your resume that states what your strengths and passions are and the type of role in which you most excel. This can be customized for specific jobs you’re applying to – versioning is 100% ok. This simple introduction allows you to craft your own narrative, creating the lens through which the viewer will see every word thereafter in your resume.