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

Contributed by Melissa Llarena

Conversations with 15 executives, many who earn more in one hour than some employees make annually, revealed that progressing toward important goals commands more money than simply being a fast learner. I find that many aspiring career changers focus on their ability to quickly learning 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, the US finance sector contracted by 200K jobs in 2011, 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.

If you have worked in finance, then being a fast learner is a given. When banks consolidated, you quickly adapted to post-merge 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 handled sharp learning curves to achieve your firm’s goals then you are a fast contributor. If you want to do everything in your power to be justly compensated in a new field then ensure that you address these four things that prove that you contribute quickly. You must show the ultimate decision maker(s) that you: 1) act boldly, 2) use experts, 3) prioritize, and 4) can become a guru early on.

Here’s how.

  1. Fast contributors act boldly.
    Finance professionals make decisions with limited access to information. Some battle with the ambiguities of Dodd-Frank Act in the US or the Basel III global capital standards. Share the times when you acted boldly with prospective employers. A former president of a top US talent management firm also suggests approaching your career change boldly yet strategically. A professional golfer hire incorporated consultative sales methods that wooed her. Find transferable skills for the new sector, and boldly incorporate them into the way you lead your search.
  2. Fast contributors use experts.
    A former executive with 28 years of telecom used her wisdom from an affinity group to accelerate her contributions. Consider how you scouted talent in prior roles to fill knowledge gaps. Additionally, my client, a former software engineer took night classes to expand her own capacity. Think about how you acquired knowledge outside of work. Speaking with domain experts is part 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 into writing TV sitcoms. You should surround yourself with writers to critique your writing.
  3. Fast contributors prioritize.
    As a young 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 I know 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. (Side note: read more about how in my blog post, “Tell Me Your Story but Alleviate My Headache.”) Enlist others to help prioritize your efforts during year one. You will increase your value if you uncover the one variable – you can influence – that drives business. You will also be able to better quantify your anticipated impact during salary negotiations.

  4. 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. Learn more about how to effectively contribute by reading, LinkedIn Groups: Don’t Have Regrets.

Hiring managers should be confident that you will contribute quickly. Marshall Goldsmith, a top leadership author, says “When presenting ideas to decision makers, realize that it is your responsibility to sell – not their responsibility to buy.” I transitioned from finance to advertising. As a fast contributor, I included experts throughout job searches. Speaking with advertising professionals helped me uncover the need for analytical skills in advertising. I secured the strongest offer possible by emphasizing how I would add immediate value using this prowess. I encourage you to email me [] to see how I can help you sell the idea that you will be a fast contributor.

Melissa Llarena is a career transition expert (16 business units in 10 years) and president of Career Outcomes Matter. Melissa has also been featured in the US News World Report, Social Media Week, Business Insider, TheLadder, and ThomasNet. With 10-plus years of experience helping Gen Xers craft their career messages, she is dedicated to empowering top talent as well as those who want to keep the best in class players within any organization. Sign up for her blog at

1 Response

  1. This article provides valuable advice, especially for those starting out in their careers. It helps readers to see themselves from a different point of view, how to self-market by positioning themselves to be of value to employers. More people entering the job market today need to read this. Good advice is not always obvious, so this insight is worth listening to. Good work!