I often talk to career switchers, job seekers, and aspiring BD folk who ask some variation of a common question: “How can I get a job in Business Development?”
In my definition of Business Development I say that the role of business development is to create value for an organization, so I often pose a ponderable to chew on as they embark on their hunt: What value would you bring to a BD job?
I firmly believe that there is no one single path that leads to a career in business development, but there are a few ways to navigate your course. Here are some tactics that can help you demonstrate the value you would bring to any business development role:
You’ve built a network
Resumes don’t open doors, people do. Many Business Development hiring managers look to their own networks to source their next hire, so being a valued node in someone else’s network of fellow business developers is one way to get in the door.
Starting from scratch to build a network isn’t as difficult as it may appear: it requires asking for help, and then offering it.
Most people want to be helpful, and asking someone to share the story about how they found their way into a role that you, too, would like to one day occupy is an endearing request. Start locally with people who already know and trust you. People who work in BD roles in your current company or friends who work at other companies. Ask about their role. Ask them how they found their job. Ask what they’re challenged with right now. Offer to be helpful. Ask them if they know anyone else to whom you could be helpful, and who might be willing to share their story.
Every relationship that starts with a request should end with an offer, and lead to your next relationship.
You do the job before you’re hired
Bevel & Co. founder Tristan Walker famously hustled his way into an early role at Foursquare, but my favorite story of proactiveness and perseverence comes from my friend Avi Lichtschein. He was so enamored with Square that he started buying Square readers and giving them away to merchants on the streets of NYC, ultimately turning his free evangelism into a job with the company.
Doing free work on spec can certainly be a fruitless waste of time. There are no guarantees that your efforts will be rewarded with the job of your dreams. At the same time, demonstrating your creativity, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit via side projects can help you build a portfolio of achievements that will help you get noticed, and hopefully, get hired.
You have a particular set of skills that you have acquired over a very long career that make you uniquely valuable
I’ve met people from all walks of life who have joined Business Development teams: lawyers, strategy consultants, financial analysts, community managers, product managers, engineers, investors, investment bankers.
A background in consulting can help identify opportunities in new markets. Experience in finance can help build models to size and assess opportunities. Spending time working in a law firm will likely have honed your negotiation skills and comfort with drafting terms sheets and contracts.
There are many requisite skillsets that are useful in Business Development but not every job requires the full BD stack. Some may lean more heavily on your background, and deep experience in a related field may be the foot in the door that you need.
You know what you like and what you don’t
Business Development is a function, not necessarily a job description. The role of business development changes as companies grow so having a sense of what you’re most interested in doing will help identify the job opportunities that are most interesting to you.
At smaller or younger companies, you may have more responsibility and work on a larger array of tasks, from developing the initial strategy to “playing General Counsel” by drafting your own contracts. At larger companies, the specific role may be smaller in scope, but you may have more colleagues to leverage and learn from and more opportunities to work on larger, more complex deals.
You recognize that it takes time
As the saying goes, “it takes 10 years to become an overnight success.” Doing the job you want to have, earning the experience, building a network – these things take time and effort. Finding a job in Business Development isn’t necessarily easy, but it is absolutely possible to make the leap if you put in the work.
Just ask yourself the same question that you’ll be asked once you finally land the job you seek: How do I create value?