Winning on Talent In Spite of Being a Minority Job Hunter

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A CEO who headed one of the largest construction programs in the country is Charles Williams, a black major general who had recently retired from the army. He was in charge of constructing bases around the world and was in charge of the New York City School Construction Authority, a $4.3 billion enterprise. Clarke points out that there have been some successes, and General Williams is one of them.

General Williams is the first and only black in the United States to head a technical organization of the type and complexity of the New York City School Construction Authority.

As a major general and director of management in the U.S. Army, Williams advised the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Army. "They relied on me to provide advice on all management aspects of the army," says General Williams. He trained as an engineer via the Corps of Engineers, got his MBA from Atlanta University, and attended the Kennedy School at Harvard for Senior Managers in Government Programs.

Sell Your Know-How

"You can't market yourself as a black (or minority)," says General Williams. He points out that he didn't seek the School Construction Authority job. "I was contacted by a search firm," he says. General Williams mentions three advantages minority officers leaving the service can sell when looking for jobs in the private sector. They are:

•    You are highly disciplined and a person who has had a tremendous amount of responsibility.
•    You are the right age-in General Williams' case, 49-with 15 or more years of pure executive-level experience.
•    You have important assets; almost 30 years of hands-on construction (or whatever military credentials) and management experience and a high learning curve in your field.

General Williams believes in strong preparation and seeking jobs that will give you hands-on experience. Strive to make your work experience portfolio as strong as possible. He believes in his case the best man got the job and race was not a driver.

Most minorities have gained their skills in major corporations - Fortune 500 companies, says Clarke. The simple reason is that there was more access there because of the civil rights laws, therefore there was increased motivation on the part of major corporations to seek out and employ qualified minorities. These minorities have gained valuable experience over the years, says Clark, but because of mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing, they've been the victims of "unequal equal opportunity." They've been the last in and the first out.

Don’t Overlook Small Companies

Clarke says, "The particular experience they've had with major organizations is very valuable to smaller organizations that have not had the benefit of having a well-trained Fortune 500 person to bring these skills to bear in a smaller area. Albeit, they are not going to get the salary, the bonus and other perquisites. But I know people who have gone to small organizations and what they've gotten is a reasonably good salary, and in many cases negotiated a piece of the action-bonuses, and certainly cerebral satisfaction.

"I think it may be a mistake to pursue another Fortune 500 company with the idea that you are taking into that arena experience that companies need. It is most likely that there is someone already occupying that chair, or that the chair will remain empty because of the company's desire to improve profitability or whatever reason the company had for such cutbacks."

Dr. Thomas M. Law, president of St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Virginia, notes that minorities, after age 50, in terms of retirement, face the problem of no matter how good they are, or have been, they've worked in professions in many cases that did not pay well. Consequently they are not able to maintain their lifestyle by taking retirement or part-time employment. They have not had the opportunities to amass a decent financial base so that they can comfortably back away.

They often lack the option of a good retirement fund or the normal expectancy that they can be absorbed into another profession. Dr. Law says industry puts up a barrier to minorities by not looking at the quality and expertise minority professionals bring to the workplace. He also notes that many people in education and administration, managers with administrative skills that are transferable, are frequently not considered for employment.

"We actively recruit retired executives from Fortune 500 companies because we know they have expertise," says Dr. Law. "If you look at the trials and tribulations black colleges go through, the wealth of information and expertise they offer, you realize they manage to make bricks without straw.”I do realize that minorities must have something very unique so that companies can see they will have an impact on the balance sheet," says Dr. Law. "If you are fortunate enough to have the skills in demand or something unique to market, then the company will see that you can help the balance sheet."

Dr. Law sees the relationship between major corporations and minorities getting better in the years to come. He is optimistic about more options for younger minorities in the workplace so that they won't have to go through many of the travails that over-50 people did. "Plan on a more even playing field," he says. "It is not going to be even, but it will become more so as people become better prepared."
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