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Managing the Interview Process: Ray Held

Here’s a throwback for you. We sat down with Ray Held, current CFO of Kellogg Mexico, in 2001 when he was a Director of Global Strategy for the company. In 2002, he became Kellogg’s General Manager in Korea, and in 2005 he became the Vice President of International New Business Development for Kellogg. His strategy remains relevant and offers a window into the mindset of a seasoned consultant who was ready to accomplish more. Here are his insights:

When did you decide it was the right time to leave consulting?

I actually thought about leaving a few years before I started a search. I stayed in consulting to get international experience. I worked in Brazil for about a year and a half.

How would you describe your search process?

Really, it was just an accident. I was bored, feeling unchallenged at work and was doing a competitive piece for Andersen, looking at some of the up and comers. US Web was one that I was profiling and I clicked on “Jobs.” I applied and got a call back.

What prompted your search?

International experience was no longer a good enough trade-off. It was basically a lifestyle issue. I, like a lot of people in consulting, think the job is outstanding, and if you have the make up for it, it’s hard to replicate it anywhere. But the problem is that it’s all-consuming. In terms of balance, you get a piece of your life that is totally optimized and the rest is not getting as much attention. For me, it was the birth of my second child. I was missing all the life changes in her that I missed in my first child. It just forced the decision.

How did you organize your search?

Well, the first thing I did was review the 25 headhunters that had contacted me over the years and pick the five I was most impressed with. I contacted them and basically said, “I’m ready to start looking. What do you have on your plate?”

And was that fruitful?

Yes. Within two or three months, I had five or six job interviews.

What were you looking for in a new career? Were you targeting the consumer products sector?

No, I actually wasn’t. What I was looking for was basically transitioning into general management. And so at the point I was leaving consulting, I figured I had enough on my resume to show people I could think my way out of a paper bag. But I wanted to transition into something to show people I could also manage. I was looking for basically what I found, something that was a business development or strategic development role that offered a quick transition into line management.

Besides recruiters, what resources did you use in the process?

I used headhunters for information. The best way to get beyond that is general networking. I had friends who left Booz-Allen and I knew what they had gone through and what had worked for them. They had experiences with some of the companies that I was interviewing with.

Did you use any of the services offered by Booz-Allen (now “Booz & Company”)?

I know Booz-Allen has improved the services they offer and even at the time that I was working they had an outplacement service. The feeling you always have at consulting firms is that they are primarily focused on people who get counseled out. Since I wasn’t ready to announce that I was leaving and I had no idea how long it would take, I did not use Booz-Allen’s services.

How long did the process take?

It took about three months from the time I started contacting headhunters. I think I accepted an offer in the fourth month.

Did you encounter any challenges during the interview process?

My biggest challenge was managing the whole process while living in Brazil and interviewing with U.S. companies. I had quite a few three-day weekends of painful travel trying not to let Booz-Allen know that I was looking and still get to an interview prepared. The companies that I interviewed with were screening for somebody with my experience so they knew what they were getting. A lot of their screening was for somebody who could be more than a brain on a stick and have potential for line management.

How did you demonstrate that you had line management potential?

Well, I actually had managed large groups. I was fortunate to have had a couple of projects that were longer-term change management programs where I could talk about some of the day-to-day issues that a line manager faces.

How did you decide to join Kellogg’s?

My finalists were Kellogg’s and General Electric for two very different reasons. GE, if not the best, had historically been one of the best companies in terms of self-branding opportunities. They turned out outstanding managers. They had the brand name. Two years down the road if things didn’t work out, it would still be a great resume builder. Kellogg’s, on the other hand, was basically a large corporation in turnaround mode. So I was trading off what was a no-risk opportunity versus one which was still higher risk but offered better opportunities to do things much more quickly. It was a tough decision.

If you had to do the search process again, is there anything you would have done differently?

I think that what I didn’t do well was cover the upfront industry research piece. I’m sure a lot of people leaving consulting now are going for e-commerce or high tech. I really didn’t do a comprehensive search on where various industries would be in five years and which ones would take me farther faster.

What are your current responsibilities?

I work in global strategy development. We are a small group of resources that are allocated across the globe, focusing on big problems or big opportunities. I have been working directly with Brazil since the day I started. I first developed a strategy to grow this business, ten times multiple growth in the next five years, and then worked on business development, acquisition strategy, product launches, and joint ventures. It ends up being a nice balance. I’m still doing a lot of the intellectual content that I got out of consulting, but I get to play in the day-to-day stuff as well.