Eunice Azzani is a “California-improved Texan” who dreams of eradicating résumés and leading the workers of the world to their dream jobs. She is also a self-described “head farmer” who aims to bring feeling and integrity to the realm of recruiting. And she’ll stop at nothing short of revolution.
“I am a head farmer, not a headhunter, because I do not hunt or kill talent. I create and nurture relationships,” she says. “As the daughter of a farming community, I understand the benefits of patience and of building a caring relationship with your land, as with your work. Likewise,” she says, “as a Texan, I believe in telling stories, and I’ve learned the importance of owning and telling your story as it becomes the first step in owning your career.”
Azzani is managing director of the San Francisco office of Korn/Ferry International, a leading executive-search firm. She farms high-level executives for the world’s most powerful companies and has had “a good time pushing the envelope and wreaking havoc all the way.” “My motto comes from race-car driver Mario Andretti,” she says. “If you aren’t out of control, you’re not moving fast enough.”
This September, Fast Company spoke with Azzani at the magazine’s TalentLabs event, when she presented the following guide to career gardening.
Get a Story
Before you can achieve the job of your dreams, it is vital to know what that job is and to have a story that will get you there. Your story is a framework for your career offering. “The single most important thing you can learn for job farming is to tell your story and tell it in a deep and compelling way,” she says. “Stories are meaningful, and they are unforgettable. Résumés are extraordinarily forgettable. They end up in the trash.”
The Four Ps
Azzani suggests outlining the four Ps as a way of defining your story and of helping you tell it before using it to play the two job markets described below.
Passion: What do you care about? Where do you naturally excel? Whether your passion involves an issue, a concept, or a job function, it will unlock the secret to farming for a career that you love.
Priorities: Where are you at this stage of your career development? What do you need? Make a list of your most important job considerations: location, kind of company, travel opportunities, telecommuting options, or compensation.
Planning: Identify yourself as a product (or crop). That is the cornerstone of the planning stage. Once you can describe your abilities, experiences, and strengths as career offerings, or marketable products, you will be ready to sell yourself in the two job markets.
Perseverance: Azzani relates an anecdote in which an interviewer advised her to return to Texas because there were “a million people like her” in San Francisco. She stood up, snatched her résumé away from him, and exclaimed, “Obviously, I don’t want to work for you!” before storming out of his office. “Don’t subject yourself to stressful interviews,” she urges. “Farming is about taking control of your career, your life, and the work you want to do.” Azzani emphasizes the need to find an organization with people and with an attitude akin to your natural preferences.
According to Azzani, the job market resembles a game of craps. It is not about a transformation; it is about a few rules and a lot of luck. When an employer announces a job opening, she knows whom she is looking for, what qualifications that person should have, and what personality will mesh with the company and the work.
By contrast, the opportunity market allows candidates to research and to develop their career offering before launching a full-blown sales campaign in the job market. It is also the place to test out your story, and it’s an ideal way to begin a radical career change.
“In order to keep your career vibrant and desirable, you must test it within focus groups of friends and colleagues, and within the real market. This involves serious research and library time. I am a librarian, and I firmly believe in doing homework.”
Select four areas in which to test your product — that is, your abilities, your experience, and your strengths. These can be four industries, job functions, or types of companies. For each of these four areas, decide on 10 companies — whether they’re currently hiring or not — that you find interesting or desirable. Seek them out, and uncover any connections you may have through colleagues, friends, and neighbors. Achieve at least one phone conversation, by way of an informational interview, and share your story with those companies.
Through this, you should discover if and how your career offering fits within that organization. By then, you have made 40 connections and mined 40 organizations for their needs and offerings. You have also test-marketed your story 40 times. In total, that process serves as thorough research and development.
“Don’t send a résumé to any of the companies you approach in the opportunity market because it will immediately box you in, or worse, box you out,” Azzani says. “You can play the job market with your résumé, but you have to play the opportunity market with your story.”
Once you have selected the organizations you find most appealing, hone in on how your career offering fits with them and how to make your story compelling for them. During this process, think about how you satisfy their specific needs. After sufficient research and preparation, approach your contact again, and have that person put you in touch with the supervisor in your desired department. With this, you are more of a referral than a cold applicant, and with luck, you’ve got someone at bat for you during the interview process.
Finally, Azzani emphasizes the f-word. “You must battle fear,” she says. “There is a certain level of healthy fear that comes with taking risks, but individuals too often have an unhealthy fear that holds them back from pursuing their dreams. That fear keeps them away from their true beliefs and prevents them from doing exciting things that make them want to wake up and run to work. And, we all should want to run to work.”
For more from Azzani on finding your purpose, read Find Your Calling
Contact Eunice Azzani via email at firstname.lastname@example.org