How I internal-transferred my way out to make a million dollar a year


He grew up in a public housing estate. He had always wanted to become top management but was never aggressive enough for highly westernized organizations. On the surface he had been with the same firm for 9 years. But, in reality, he’s switched to over 5 different companies within the same brand name. Ivan T. is now a regional Head of Project Management Office (PMO) with a European Insurance Leader.

Today we explored an unconventional strategy for career progression – internal transfers.

One of the pros of this strategy is that obviously you don’t seem as jumpy to the outside world. Secondly, you create another option for career progression. Thirdly, you prepared yourself for management position in the long run as some who is familiar with different aspects of a business. It’s almost like creating a rotation program yourself. 

Let’s have a quick walk-through of Ivan’s career highlight.

  • Grew up in a public housing estate

  • 2005

    Graduated with a BA in Marketing, CUHK

    • Enjoyed case study methods from lecture in universities, which simulated professional working environment, which often play the role of advisers to senior leadership and businesses
    • Had a choice for doing marketing for FMCG and 4A advertising companies
    • Wanted to have more income, stability, and career progression
  • 2006

    Graduated with Master in Accountancy from PolyU

    • Gained more literacy in accounting
    • Prepared more for big 4 interviews
  • Jan 2006

    Started at big 4 audit

  • Jul 2007

    Transferred to big 4 consulting for FS sector

    • Aspired to be in top management position in 10 years; wanted a broader skill-set and strategic thinking
    • Applied internal transfer to the firm’s consulting service team for Financial Services sector (e.g. banks, insurance) after 1.5 years with audit
    • Networked with internal key stakeholders and went through three rounds of interviews (answered questions on passion for consulting, understanding of consulting, case interviews) 
  • Jun 2010

    Transferred to London; made Senior

    • Talked to a partner who was returning to London
    • Convinced the partner to endorse him for the program’s secondment program for high potential employees
    • “Applied” the firm’s secondment program, working in London for 1.5 years
  • 2012

    Transferred back to Hong Kong; made Manager

    • Wanted to try another industry sector after working in FS sector for 5 years
    • Get connected with the TCE team (Technology / Communication / Entertainment) in Hong Kong 
    • Got a deal with TCE team to return to Hong Kong a Manager
  • 2013

    Took Career Break (Studied Translation at CUHK)

    • Tired of consulting; wanted to do something completely non-career related
    • Had always been interested in language
    • Did a Master in Translation at CUHK 
  • 2013

    Transferred to the FS team

    • Did more interesting works, e.g. sales & marketing strategy, growth strategy; but, traveled a lot more in China
    • Wanted to have more time with family in Hong Kong 
    • Got connected with the FS team’s partner and made an internal transfer 
  • 2014

    Became Regional Head of PMO

    • Got offer a million dollar job to join a European insurance leader 

Key Takeaways

#1. Socializing and networking is a big part of professional job

“My lack of social skills or the willingness for it has made it hard for my promotions. Honestly, I never liked building relationship for anything more than personal reasons. I was very bad at chit chatting, networking, socializing, organizing drinks with and for key stakeholders.” “I once thought as long as I do a good works, make the clients happy, then promotions will come. No, it won’t.” “But in reality, showing up in team events, networking with your key stakeholders, and checking in with your boss where your promotion stands are equally, if not more important.”

Insider Tips: My managing partner once told me “it’s not how good you are but how you are perceived.” In my previous interview with a friend from Goldman, he’s also told me the same challenges in career progression. His boss told him pointblank, “For us local, it’s really hard to get promoted. You need to consider whether you want to wait 5-10 years for something that may or may not come.” Said the guy who’s been with the firm for more than 10 years as VP.

#2. Create a third option; hope for the best but prepare for the worse”

“I would always discuss the matter (promotion) ahead of time with my career counselor. So I would have a feel on how close I am with the promotion. Sometimes people would give you straight. So, you can plan for the next steps.” “For instance, I asked my partner what I need to do to become a Senior Manager. The partner would tell me it’s not gonna happen.” Moreover, you have to be aware of the politics in professional environments. Your partner may be fighting some territory with another partner by promoting people from their team. So your promotion often times is not just for you but for their own benefit as well.

Insider Tips: For young professionals, you have to be mindful of the politics in your company. Also find ways to align yourself with people’s own agenda. Don’t play games if you are not sure what to do. Do the right thing and focus on the long term. 

#3. A company is not a company not a network of teams. Be resourceful. Create your own rotation program

You will notice Ivan “jumped” a lot internally. In professional services, there is a pressure on reaching the next level within a time frame. “Yes, I wanted to progress timely just like everyone else. But like I said, I never liked networking for the sake of networking.” “People either wait for promotion to come to them and go after it within the same setting.” “What I did was to take advantage of the fact that it’s a big network of teams. So I would look for opportunities to work with other teams and progress naturally.” Ivan created his own rotation program within the same company, having worked for 4 different teams in 2 locations.

Insider Tips: Often times, people think they are dealing with just one company. what they don’t realize is it’s actually a company of different teams. So think of it like this: this team may reject you for a promotion or a job but some other teams may be happy to take you. You just need to be aware of it and able to find them.

#4. Take advantage of secondment opportunities. Create your own opportunities.

You will notice Ivan had a secondment to London. He was working closely with a partner who was doing a secondment in Hong Kong. He learned that the partner was returning to London and expressed his interest in working in London for secondment. The partner happily agreed to help in anyway he could. So, he endorsed Ivan as the hosting partner. Then, he applied the official secondment program, which was designed to promote global mobility for high potential individuals. Notice the difference here. He created an in-road first before knocking on the front door. Most people knock on the front door first and hoped that someone will answer. 

Creative people explore the art of possibility – finding a solution for every problem. Be careful with the limiting thoughts from people who are good at finding problems to every solutions. 

Most people, partners, senior people are busy but happy to help young people. You just need to make it really easy to help you.

Bonus 1. What does Head of PMO do?

“I’m responsible for formulating the company’s operating strategy as well as monitoring its execution in Asia Pacific. I’m also responsible for improving the company’s operation efficiency and project management capability. So sometimes I need to travel to Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, or fly to the Headquarters in Itatly.”

On a day-to-day basis, PMO is about implementation of a strategy. It includes tracking of project status, communicating with different project leaders in different countries, and reporting to key stakeholders in milestones meeting.

On a yearly basis, I drive annual planning on operating strategy with IT, Operation, and Procurement. My interactions are mainly with Country COO and Group COO team; I also work with regional Head of IT, Head of OPs, Head of Procurement, and Head of Finance.”

Bonus 2. Life after Management Consulting

“Work is not as dynamic as consulting. I work 40-50 hours a week. I get to take my daughter to school every day in the morning. Most of my peers in the company are at least 40 something, whereas I’m in my early 30’s.” It’s quite normal that in-house functions like Strategy, PMO, or Operations tend to hire people with a solid management consulting background, whereas you will develop a whole package of skills: strategic thinking, rigorous analytic skills, communication skills, team work, stakeholder management, implementation planning, etc.  All of these skills will be highly valuable in industries. “The biggest difference between professional services and industries is that you have to respect a lot of the organization constraints: politics. It’s whole new level in industry.”

Source: CareeTipsHK; Image Credit: Unsplash; Image Effect Credit: Pixlr



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