Fast Contributors Make More Money than Fast Learners – Which One Are You?

How fast can you contribute to my bottom line? Conversations with 15 well-paid executives revealed that contributing toward important goals when you are newly hired commands more money than simply being a fast learner. During interviews, many aspiring career changers focus on their ability to quickly learn complex subjects while hiring managers unanimously say that no one cares about fast learners.

As a finance professional, you risk career suicide if you cannot prove you are a fast contributor to a hiring manager. Why? Thousands of finance professionals are being involuntarily s-q-u-e-e-z-e-d out of work. For example, Citigroup dismissed 96K-plus employees between 2007 and 2011, and the US finance sector contracted by 200K jobs in 2011 alone, according to a Bloomberg article. Preparatory skills for a career transition matter more if you are a Gen X-er because you are on the cusp of your highest income- earning years. Outstanding debts and family needs do not permit unemployment outside of your sector. Therefore, you must attract a strong job offer wherever you land.

Since you have worked in finance, then being a fast learner is a given. When banks consolidated, you quickly adapted to post-merger cultures. Alternatively, to survive the finance industry’s ever-changing regulations, you figured out on-policy ways to maximize profit.

Instead, hiring managers want to know that you are a fast contributor.
If you have quickly overcome sharp learning curves to achieve your firm’s goals then you are a fast contributor. To be justly compensated in a new field, ensure that you address these four items. You must show the decision maker(s) that you: 1) act boldly, 2) use experts, 3) prioritize, and 4) can become a guru early on.

Here’s how.

Fast contributors act boldly.

Finance professionals make decisions with limited information. Some battle with the ambiguities of the Dodd-Frank Act in the US or the Basel III global capital standards. Share the times when you acted boldly with prospective employers. For example, a professional golfer incorporated consultative sales methods that wooed a president of a top talent management firm. Find transferable skills for the new sector, and boldly incorporate them into the way you lead your search.

Fast contributors use experts.

An executive with 28 years of telecom tapped into an affinity group to accelerate her contributions. Consider how you scouted talent in prior roles to fill knowledge gaps. Additionally, my client, a software engineer took night classes to expand her own capacity. Think about how you acquired knowledge outside of work. Speaking with domain experts is one of the most effective networking strategies. This is critical when you are leaping into a creative field where such experts evaluate your talent. Imagine, like my client, that you want to transition from accounting to writing TV sitcoms. You should surround yourself with seasoned writers to critique your writing.

Fast contributors prioritize.

As an American Express analyst, I learned the value of a sensitivity analysis – to see which changes produce the most dramatic outcomes. A former VP of Marketing at AmEx attributed her success to consistently making a few changes during any performance evaluation cycle. She focused on changes that produced the most drastic and favorable outcomes. Have you recently applied this thinking? Highlight this in your cover letter.
Uncover critical business drivers within a new sector by conducting a SWOT analysis. Enlist others to help prioritize your efforts during year one. You will increase your value by uncovering the one variable – you can influence – that drives business. You can better quantify your anticipated impact during salary negotiations.

Fast contributors become gurus.

Can you transform a handicap into a strength? A mom turned Twitter maven I interviewed suggests that you write about a topic until you became associated with its keywords – online. Any finance professional who survived three economic downturns will have war stories of going from novice to expert to remain relevant. Find that time when you did this faster than expected, and tell interviewers about it. Also, turn to LinkedIn groups. 81% of LinkedIn users belong to at least one group, yet only 52% of that population participates in group discussions, according to Mashable. Become a top influencer within targeted groups to become associated with desirable keywords.

Hiring managers should be confident that you will contribute quickly. The challenge is to prove that you will be their most efficient investment.

I encourage you to email me [] to see how I can help you sell the idea that you will be a fast contributor.

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Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.


  1. Shadiah on January 3, 2013 at 1:29 am

    Melissa, I’ve always thought of myself as a “fast learner,” but I also know that I’m a great executor. I’m so glad i read this post — I’ll highlight myself as an executor and contributor going forward.

    • Melissa on January 3, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Fantastic Shadiah. Let me know how this twist in focus works for you.

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