For anyone, in any field, finding and transitioning to a new job is an intense experience—somewhat exhilarating, somewhat scary. We wanted to find out what the experience was like for seasoned TEI members, two of whom recently transitioned into new jobs: Louis Mestier, now vice president of tax for Eldorado Resorts and a member of the Nevada Chapter of TEI, and Teri Wielenga, vice president, tax, for Gilead Sciences and member of the Orange County Chapter of TEI. Michael Levin-Epstein, Tax Executive senior editor, moderated the discussion in January.
Michael Levin-Epstein: What were the circumstances that led you to your new job?
Teri Wielenga: Prior to my current role, I had been with another pharmaceutical company for twenty-two years—fifteen of those years as their head of tax—and they got acquired in 2015. As is common in an acquisition, my job was eliminated—in fact, my entire department was eliminated. Following the acquisition I took some time off, so the journey from there to here was a two-year journey. I did some teaching and consulting in the interim and went through a methodical job search looking for the right opportunity, which took me approximately two years to find.
Louis Mestier: I worked at my former company for 6.5 years. I was VP of tax for the last year at that company and head of tax the entire time. Two and a half years before I left, that company went through a five-year restatement, along with six quarters of restatement, that was not due to tax, and we were in that process for 2.5 years before I left. It was a grueling process, and my team finally had enough of that brutal grind, and once my team left, I agreed with the CFO to leave also. It took me about fifteen months to find my next job. I started looking about a month after I left the company, and I was looking nationally. I ended up out here with Eldorado Resorts after an interim contract director job at another company for four months. I was connected through a national tax recruiter that I had been working with and ended up taking the job offer and relocating out here, and it’s been a great move for me and for my wife.
Formulating a Game Plan
Levin-Epstein: What was your game plan for finding a new job?
Wielenga: When I left my former employer after the acquisition, they provided outplacement service, which was an interesting process for me. I had never experienced outplacement before and really had no idea what it was about until I went to meet with the outplacement advisor. I thought it was really interesting, because they really work with you to evaluate where you are in your career and what it is that you want to do. For me, at this point in my career, I didn’t have a huge runway left. I really spent a lot of time thinking about “What do I want my next move to be?” I wasn’t even 100 percent sure I was going to come back into a head-of-tax role. Initially, I went through a process of evaluating what I wanted to do. I also did some teaching as an adjunct professor at two universities in Southern California, and I started to build a small consulting practice, which I enjoyed very much, and would have been perfectly content continuing to do that. But I told myself that for the right opportunity, if something interesting came along, I would look at it. I looked at a number of things over that two-year period. One of the reasons I seriously considered coming back into a head-of-tax role was the tax reform discussion, which was beginning to get more traction in [Washington, D.C.]. I realized that I did not want to be on the sidelines if tax reform became law. The Gilead opportunity came up , and the interview process went well—I liked the people, I liked the company, I liked the issues that they had, which were very similar to issues I had dealt with in the past—and it felt like the right move. It was geographically workable for me. It was not in Southern California, but is located in Northern California, which is very commutable for me, and so all the pieces worked and it came together.
“I had never experienced outplacement before and really had no idea what it was about until I went to meet with the outplacement advisor. I thought it was really interesting, because they really work with you to evaluate where you are in your career and what it is that you want to do.”
Mestier: For me, I had a number of years left on my professional runway that I still wanted to be in the game, so I knew when I left the company after I recuperated from the restatement grind, I started looking. Being involved with the TEI corporate tax management committee, we had done sessions in the annual conference about job hunting, and I benefited from some of the tips there that helped me build up my network before this had even happened. I approached it online, through public accounting firms, through all my contacts in and out of TEI, and also through recruiters either nationally or locally, either accounting or tax specialty firms. I was trying to identify every opportunity that I could. The main focus that I had was, like Teri, finding the right position. I wasn’t going to take a position that wasn’t right for me, and financially I could afford to wait. So, I went through a lot of opportunities. I estimate I submitted about 175 applications or resumes and results went everywhere from no response at all to getting through to the last two people and maybe not getting that job for one reason or another. I knew at the onset it would take time, but I knew relying on all the contacts and networking that I had built up through TEI that I would eventually be able to be led to the right position, because at a VP level—and Teri knows this—they’re typically not out there in the public purview. There are a number of connections that I got just through people that got me in the door and just discussing possibilities with companies. It took time, it took going through a lot of no’s to finally get through to the yes. But it finally ended up in a good place for me.
The Interview Process
Levin-Epstein: What was that like, having to go through a job interview again?
Wielenga: For sure, that was something new and different. I hadn’t had to do that for twenty-some years. Just putting a resume together was interesting. I will say, that’s where the outplacement firm was very helpful. They helped me get a resume put together that was appropriate and looked up to date and consistent with what others were doing. I think the whole LinkedIn phenomenon also played a role. Prior to finding myself unemployed, I never really had paid all that much attention to it. I was set up on LinkedIn, but I didn’t really have a decent profile and I didn’t really use it. It was very eye-opening to me to realize how much LinkedIn was being used. Once I got a proper profile out there and got myself set up right, it was amazing to me how many contacts came in through LinkedIn. Even to this day I’m still surprised how many contacts I get through LinkedIn. That was a learning process, just to learn how to do that properly. Then, the interview itself, I think I just asked myself, “What is it that I want to see when people come in and meet with me?” I want to see that they’ve done some prep, and that they’ve read about the company and they know what’s going on, that they’ve thought about some of the issues and they’ve got some questions prepared. Prior to each interview, it was quite a time commitment to look at what was going on with the company, to read through their public filings, to think through what it was I wanted to know, what were the questions that needed to be answered for me in looking at that role and what value did I think I could bring to the equation for that particular company. Particularly some of the companies I looked at that were in industries where I hadn’t previously worked. It was interesting to me to interview with companies in different industries and really try to think through what their issues might be and how I might be able to bring value. There were opportunities to interview for companies that I turned down, just because I didn’t think that it was going to make sense for me to spend the amount of time it would take to prepare for the interview because my background just wasn’t right. Some of it was discretion, really looking at which companies do you want to say yes to for an interview because of the amount of time that it would take to prepare.
Mestier: For me, in my prior life I had changed jobs a few times, either after a short amount of time because it wasn’t a good fit for me at all or it didn’t turn out to be as represented, or because there was a great opportunity elsewhere. I’ve had periods where interviewing was my focus. But for the 6.5 years before I left my last company, that wasn’t the situation at all. Interviewing is a completely different animal than doing your job. It focuses on a completely different skill set. You’re focused on selling yourself, you’re focused on laser-like communication, and also, part of it is realizing how you first get through the human resource door, they have no idea what you do. They ask, the majority of the time, a lot of the same silly interview questions that you hear that don’t really have any purpose other than to hear you talk and they can check a box to put in an answer. It really got me focused on how inefficient the whole process is at so many companies, but that’s the game you have to play. You have to play by their rules, and if you really want the job, you have to make an impression in a way that they’ll remember and show yourself as valued to the company. Getting through HR was almost always the hardest part. Once I got through HR, then I could talk more about my technical acumen, my ability to bring value to the company, and I went through a lot of phone calls, a lot of interviews, and at the end of the day it gave me a lot of insight into how to get a job. Then, once I got the job, that skill set really isn’t of value to me. During that process, also, I had to keep up with tax reform because I was unemployed during the throes of tax reform coming together and being implemented, so I had time to do that. Even though I wasn’t in the profession yet—I was still in transition—I had to keep up with what was going on from a national, state, and local level in my field. The way I got this job was that a national tax recruiter called me. I had talked to them over the course of several months just to be available to them, and it was just the right connection that got me out here and it turned out to be a great opportunity. But there were also other jobs during the process that I thought were a perfect fit for me, and I was confident that I had them and it was a great move, and they just didn’t work out. So, I had to deal with that letdown, bring myself back up, and get out there and do it again.
“Interviewing is a completely different animal than doing your job. It focuses on a completely different skill set.”
Levin-Epstein: What advice would you give to a TEI member who was transitioning?
Wielenga: I think, from my perspective, the first piece of advice I would give is allow yourself time to take a pause and really think about what is it that you want in your next move. I think sometimes that’s difficult, because you may not have the financial flexibility to take a break. But to the extent that you do, or [even] if you don’t, at least pause long enough to really think about what is the right next move for you so that you can use your search time efficiently. The other piece of advice I would say is really focus on your network. Louis mentioned this earlier, and I agree with it 100 percent. The network is so valuable. I did not miss a TEI conference during the two years I was off. Being able to go to those meetings and plug in and keep my TEI network alive really helped keep me sane and also helped keep me up to date. Louis made that comment: you have to stay up to date on what’s going on. When you’re out of the tax world for any extended length of time, you’re probably going to be obsolete. It’s going to be really difficult to get back into it. It’s important to keep your network alive and keep your technical skills as fresh as possible. I think networking goes beyond TEI, as well. I networked with former accounting and law firm contacts, because they frequently know jobs that are coming up that may not be posted or be public yet. In fact, this role I’m in now, I heard about it through my public accounting contacts. I think it’s important to think about the different dimensions of your network—build a network map—and make sure that you stay plugged in with that.
Mestier: For our level, I knew it was going to be a grind to get a good job, to get a good situation for me, because it was a VP level. I knew it would take time, and I was prepared for that. But still, as I went through the process—I heard this saying early on in my life, and I kind of referenced it earlier in our discussion here—you have to go through so many no’s before you get to the yes. You don’t know how many no’s you’ll have to go through, but every no you go through, you’re one no closer to the yes. I’m focusing not on the no’s or the things that don’t work as out as negatives, just trying to turn them into the positives and say, “OK, that’s one more no I had to get through before I get to the yes.” That kind of keeps my spirits up. I was in my last job for 6.5 years, that doesn’t mean I stopped developing my network. Now, when I was unemployed, I had more time to devote to that, but I never stopped developing my network, because I never know if something’s going to happen and I’m suddenly out of a job, like Teri was with an acquisition, or like I went through with the restatement. I just never know when that’s going to happen, but if it does happen, I know that my network’s solid, that it gives me the best chance to get back into the game, and that’s the way I’m going to find something soon that I really want to do and really get gratification from. It takes different amounts of time for people at all different levels. Obviously, a senior staff, they’re going to find a job a lot sooner than a VP, but it’s just getting through the job finding process, realizing that it’s not just a professional challenge—it’s also an emotional challenge to try and keep yourself on an even keel through the process, because it is kind of a roller coaster. You never know when you go into it where you’re going to end up. Hopefully you end up in a great situation if you’ve done your homework and you’re confident in yourself. Also, this is a last piece of advice: trust your gut, because if you go in and you do some interviews and everything sounds great but something’s just bugging you, something in your gut says, “This isn’t right for me,” trust your gut, because it always ends up being right—at least it has for me.