Job hunting in a time of COVID - IMD Business School
Alumni Stories · Coaching

Job hunting in a time of COVID

Changing jobs and industry is always a challenge, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. Alejandro Sandoval, MBA 2011, explains how IMD’s alumni career service supported him through his job search
January 2022

At the end of 2019, Alejandro Sandoval quit his job. A graduate in international relations, with a keen interest in negotiations, he had built up his career in the fast-moving consumer goods industry in Latin America, including a stint as head of Nestlé’s Purina Petcare business in Ecuador where he doubled revenues. But after returning to his home country of Mexico in 2017, he found his new roles did not give him the challenges he craved, so he negotiated an exit package.

Sandoval gave himself six months to find a new job. Then COVID-19 hit. “All the hiring processes I was involved in were frozen,” he recalls. Unable to meet contacts for coffee and with no end in sight to the pandemic-related disruption to the job market, Sandoval called Dorthe Busk, Head of Alumni Relations at IMD. She connected him with Tobias Tafel, a fellow IMD alumnus, who runs his own consultancy in Dusseldorf, Germany focusing on career transitions for executives and specialists. He also volunteers as an alumni career service consultant.

Tafel started by revising Sandoval’s sales pitch as a job candidate, making sure that his CV and LinkedIn profile featured his individual USPs to make his value proposition to potential decision-makers clearer and more transparent.

Use your network to grow your contacts

Next, Tafel helped Sandoval devise a strategy for activating his own professional network. Tafel showed him how he could use this to expand his contacts to effectively reach relevant multipliers. “When I contacted them, instead of saying I was looking for opportunities, I would ask them if they knew other decision-makers with open roles so as to expand my network,” he says.

“Tobias also encouraged me to contact people I didn’t know, such as CEOs of multinational companies active in LATAM, by sending them LinkedIn invites, letters, or emails. In addition, with Tobias’ support and guidance, I successfully connected with many relevant headhunters specializing in FMCG executive search in Mexico.”

After Sandoval missed out on an international role with Cargill when the global commodities trader picked a domestic candidate, Tafel cheered him up and encouraged him not to curb his ambitions by settling for a more junior role. “Weekly check-ins with Tobias provided invaluable support,” he says.

In the middle of 2021, Sandoval started the application process for the managing director role at the Mexican fertilizer company where he now works. Tafel coached him through the interview process and, once he got the offer, advised him on salary negotiations and his first 90 days.

Don’t get desperate

In the phenomenon dubbed The Great Resignation, people across the world quit their jobs at historic rates in 2021. So, for those navigating their own career transition, what are Alejandro’s top tips?

A key learning from his experience was strengthening his relationships with those outside of his daily work environment. “You never know who is going to know someone who has a rare opportunity for you,” he says. Secondly, he urges people “to not get desperate” even if they miss out on several roles. And finally, practicing how to approach tricky situations like salary negotiations and gaming out your options ahead of time by using a spreadsheet to plan these helps give you confidence before you enter the room, he says.

Giving back

For Tafel, working with MBA alumni on their next career step is both challenging and rewarding. “I learn from them – they learn from me. And eventually all of them find a new management role which fits their personal and professional expectations.”

He encourages other alumni to think about giving back by sharing their professional know-how. “I believe knowledge-sharing makes us stronger as a community. The IMD career service can well be a differentiating factor compared to other schools, and perhaps an argument for young potentials to apply to the IMD MBA program.”