Updated: Nov 1, 2021
This blog article is written by a serial entrepreneur, repeat CEO, executive headhunter, and executive coach for talented executives seeking their next professional career opportunity. You are likely currently working in a position and have discovered that your future likely lies outside of your current company; this blog is written for you. Here is some advice for executives who want to find their next position.
Keep your job until you find your new job. It's a sad fact that employers and recruiters have learned through difficult experience that their best candidates are 'passive interest' candidates who are currently working, who might be interested in switching to a new position if they were introduced to the new position. Unemployed candidates carry a stigma that must be overcome by the candidate to make it on the short-lists of prospective new talent for a client-company. Meaning, if you are unemployed, you had better be actively engaged in building your future and have a good reason for your unemployment, especially in this low unemployment economy.
Rewrite your resume or CV. If you have been employed for a while, you likely don't have an updated resume. Update your resume. Be sure to remove jargon and hyperbole from your text. Focus on results, clearly defining your capabilities, and keep it visually attractive and without clerical errors. Get your resume proof read by others. Create several industry specific versions of your resume to target your prospective employers needs, wants, and requirements. Be honest and do not overreach. Simple is better. Beware of gaps of time on your resume and have a narrative for the gaps and career jumps. Focus on what you have accomplished in terms of business goals: profits, sales, savings, great things your FTEs under management have accomplished, honors and awards, etc. Be proud of your work without appearing too un-humble; being sufficiently humble is good; however if you are a braggart or puffed up, it likely will not go well in life or recruiters candidate applicant screening process.
Prepare a portfolio of your best work samples to share with prospective employers. HR Researchers have concluded that their is a statistically high correlation coefficient between top talent and the candidate's ability to demonstrate great prior work. What this means for you as the candidate is the following; prepare now to demonstrate your entire skill set as the executive by creating a USB disk, online folder (e.g., dropbox), or physical copy of your best work to share with prospective employers. Earlier in my career, I used this strategy to approach five prospective employers, arranging an appointment with the highest ranked person in the company that I could reach, meeting with them for a one to one, and sharing with them my portfolio of my best work; interestingly to me, I was soon thereafter offered jobs at 3 of the 5 companies that I presented my past work demonstration portfolio. At a minimum, I suggest that serious executives in our current age prepare the following as a demonstration of your great work ability:
Communicating up to the senior management stakeholders; e.g., a written sample in MS Word Doc, MS Excel spreadsheet, MS PowerPoint, MS Project, PDF file, or other equivalents etc) that demonstrates your ability and voice communicating upwards; samples might include a board of directors presentation, an annual report, a venture capital pitch deck, a human resource management plan, etc. The focus is to demonstrate your voice as the executive communicating to the stakeholders.
Communicating down the line to your direct reports; e.g., a written sample such as MS Word Doc, MS Excel spreadsheet, MS PowerPoint, PDF file, etc) that demonstrates your ability and voice communicating your style, voice, leadership, and management of your direct reports. This deliverable might include a management meeting agenda, SOW, policy or procedure, training curriculum that you have developed, etc.
Examples of your management dashboard and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Here the goal is to demonstrate the type of process management, controls, and accountability systems that you have created in the past to operate your business and give visibility to the data and your analysis of the data.
Example of your best MS Excel workbook, showing the use of the tool with a summary worksheet, and multiple other worksheets feeding up to the summary worksheet. Extra credit for use of pivot tables, macros, and visualizations of data that help explain complex relationships simply and visually.
Example of a presentation or training demonstrating your ability to communicate to others.
Project management plan.
Proposal or strategy plan.
Return on Investment (ROI) calculation for a CAPEX item; e.g., cost-benefit analysis providing rationale and justification for the investment in new equipment, software, technology, building, company purchase etc.
Integration plan. If you have Mergers and Acquisition (M&A), an example that demonstrates your role in past projects. For instance, as an executive, perhaps you worked on a due diligence team reviewing new company acquisitions, or perhaps you worked on an integration plan for a newly acquired business. Demonstrating your skill set here provides greater attractiveness for prospective employers.
Copies of certifications, degree certificates, and anything you wish to verify for your career.
Network, network, network. Go to industry meet ups, conferences, trade association meetings etc. Network. Follow-up. Let others know that you are happy where you are but would be open to new opportunities as they arise in alignment with your career goals.
Sharpen your saw. Figure out what you need to work on in your skill set and sharpen that skill. If you find you are the executive of an outdated buggy whip factory, old-school brick and mortar business that has been replaced by automation, or you are still working with Unix or other ancient software tools, then you will need to work harder to get your skills updated. Examples of upgrading your skills are getting an executive MBA, or a post-graduate certificate from a business school or training academy where you learn new methods. If you are an old-school marketing executive then consider diving into an in-bound marketing bootcamp and raise your game. If you are programing with ancient tools, then apply and jump into a new methods code bootcamp. For example, I'm aware of several successful executives that gave up $100k plus annual salaries in management and IT who desired to update their skills and employability, and they took a deep dive into a software code academy (e.g, Hack Reactor) to learn in 90 days the full stack of web development to refresh their skills inventory with menu items that leading edge employers want most to acquire.
Be passionately curious about learning everything you can about what's important in your industry. Sadly many execs stop learning after college or limit themselves to learning only what the company pays them to attend. You must become a lifetime learner and increase your learning agility to be successful and the best prepared you can be for the future.
Know yourself. Revisit past psychometric assessments that you may have taken so that you know yourself better, and how these tools and understandings might impact your success following certain career paths. Better to be thyself, than somebody else. Simple assessments like Strength Finders are helpful. However, if you want a full strength industry assessment I have another for you to use, that same one that I use in my executive coaching and executive search practice; please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. The key is to play to your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.
Contact employers and recruiters who might be hiring. Contact influencers of the decision-makers of these companies. The key is to network and get the word out about your openness to new opportunities. Finally, a few words of realism concerning recruiters like ePraxis; The first thing to understand about a retained executive search company is that we are not in the business of finding jobs for executives, but rather we find outstanding executives for jobs. This is an important distinction as we serve our clients as their 'honest broker' of talent. We are approached daily by executives seeking jobs; we rarely have anything for them at the time they call. We will take their info and put it into a database. However importantly to remember, we create a new bespoke database for each candidate search we undertake, so being in our legacy database is not necessarily a leg up in our new search.
Next consider the questions that employers and recruiters might ask you, and prepare to answer these hard questions. Glassdoor has a library of potential questions that you might be asked per position type. Remember, in your preparations, you don't want to sound canned or rehearsed in your answers. Yet having contemplated questions in advance that might be asked, you would be wise to consider your several responses to these questions.
Build a plan, and follow-it. Get moving. Opportunity favors the prepared.
If you do these things, you will be most prepared for your new opportunity and you may find that your opportunity comes more quickly than you imagined. I wish you every success in your next executive position search.