I have to admit, I love to listen to a really good, unique, going-after-my-dream-job story.
And Michelle McKenna-Doyle has one.
A few months ago, I interviewed her for the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, and heard in person how she became the Chief Information Officer for the NFL.
A lover of sports, thwarted in youth by the lack of community or school-sponsored athletic opportunities for girls, McKenna-Doyle was at an ambivalent crossroads in her career about five years ago. Her role with her firm was in question; the business was in the midst of a merger and she was going to have to relocate to Chicago to retain her position. She didn't want to move to Chicago, but she also didn't want to launch a job search. She enjoyed her work; loved the people she worked with.
In the midst of this professional quandary she was picking her Fantasy Football team and there on the NFL website was a link for "jobs." Clicking it, she discovered there was an opening for the CIO position.
"They didn't call it a CIO," McKenna-Doyle says, "But when I read the description I thought, 'They need a CIO.' They had it VP of IT, and that's because the person that had left was a VP of IT. I read the job description to my husband; he said, 'That sounds just like you.'"
McKenna-Doyle had encountered a common mistake companies make: Job descriptions should never be posted based on what the "last person" did. They should instead reflect the current and future needs of your ever-evolving and forward-looking enterprise. If those needs haven't changed since the last time you hired, something may be amiss.
Since job descriptions are often posted without the desirable fresh evaluation, job seekers (like McKenna-Doyle) shouldn't be deterred from applying when the job description doesn't perfectly match what they do, or are qualified to do. Great candidates for a position can help frame the conversation about what shape a role actually needs to take.
McKenna-Doyle didn't know anyone at the NFL, so she started working her network and came up with a connection. Ultimately, getting herself into the running for the job was as simple as persuading the powers-that-be at the NFL that "what they really needed was to upgrade the position—make it a CIO, make it a senior vice-president, give [it] a seat at the table."
She got the buy-in of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, but recalls him then saying, "You know you now have to sell it to everybody else. You sold me, and I sold our CFO and I sold head of HR, but nobody else around here's going to know what that is; we've never had one of you before."
That seems like it should be a pretty easy sell. What enterprise doesn't need proactive, insightful, enthusiastic employees—someone who will go out on a limb to improve the business even before they are hired—especially at the executive strategic level? These are the potential employees not just to scout for, but to hunt down if necessary. On the flip side, this is the type of prospective employee to be.
All businesses have to compete, but then there are businesses for which competition is also the business; the NFL is one of these. McKenna-Doyle describes a quality of "scrappiness" required to work there.
"If you aren't made up that way, you don't survive here. And a lot of people don't. A lot of people come in and stay a few years... [but] the vast majority of people at the NFL have grown up at the NFL," she says. "They were all taking bets as to how long I would last. Eighteen months to two years. I'm coming up on four. I like to compete. I love competing. I don't see it as a negative, and I love cooperating and helping others and teamwork."
Photo: Creative Commons