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6 Tips to Kick Off Your Executive Job Search

Updated: Mar 6, 2021

Q: “Somer, I’m looking for an executive position. So now what?”

I get this question twice a week.

There are two main groups of people who are asking:

  1. I’ve had major job stability or have always been recruited by prior bosses to their new companies. I haven't looked in years, and don't really network.

  2. I’m in middle management and totally new to this executive search thing.

Here’s what you do.

  1. Get confident and curious.

  2. Know what type of position you’re going after

  3. Craft your elevator pitch and practice it

  4. Update your LinkedIn, and then your resume

  5. Find the right executive recruiters

  6. Determine your compensation expectations, at least a ballpark

Do all of these things before you start reaching out to people.

Let's break this down.

#1: Get confident and curious.

When you think about your upcoming interviews, are you thinking about how to sell yourself or are you thinking about how to evaluate your fit? Selling yourself is stressful. Interviewers don’t want to be sold. Nor do they want to interview a tape recorder that just pushed play on a monologue. They want to have a conversation with you to understand if you’ll be successful. They want you to be honest and self aware, and show up as your true self. If you show up with a nervous laugh and a memorized script, you’ll be passed over. They’ll see right through it.

My tip:

Approach your job search with curiosity. You're going to have a conversation with another person to determine together if this is the right fit for you. That's a lot less stressful than convincing someone of your fit. Have a conversation. Ask questions with that goal in mind. If you do that, you have nothing to lose.

#2: Know what type of position you’re going after

Now that you’re confident and curious (step #1), it’s time to think about what you’re looking for in your next role.

This exercise isn’t only for you. Just like your elevator pitch, you need to answer this with your audience in mind.

a) Interviewers want to know if what you want aligns to their company/position.

b) Recruiters want to keep you in mind for positions in the future.

It's easy to answer this with buzzwords or a list of titles. This isn’t about saying what everyone else says. This is finding your specific value prop and setting yourself apart.

To come up with your answer, start here:

- What did you like about positions you interviewed for in the past?

- What gets you excited?

- Where have you made the biggest impact?

- What is your ultimate career goal, and what experience do you need to get you on that path?

- Is your current position utilizing all of your strengths?

- What are the titles you’re going after? Does that differ by company/industry?

Let’s Mad-Libs it out:

For example: What gets me excited is joining a company/team that __________ (insert situation), and then __________ (insert the impact you’d make). I’ve done this before at __________ (give yourself some credibility, reference an example or two.) What’s most important to me is _________ and also __________ . My next role could be __________ (title at type of company) or __________ (title at type of company).

#3: Craft your elevator pitch and practice it

The interviewer is going to ask you the inevitable vague conversation starter: “So, tell me about yourself.”

What you say next is incredibly important.

In this video I share my take on the best answer based on years of interviewing executives.

This isn’t about going through your resume chronologically. This isn’t a 20 minute speech.

Here is the framework to craft a great elevator pitch:

  1. What about your foundation makes you great at what you’re doing today?

  2. Compare the companies and positions on your resume. What differences do you see? How is having both sides of this experience valuable?

  3. Where do you add value? In what type of environment do you make an impact?

Watch the video and I'll walk you through an example.

#4: Update your LinkedIn, and then your resume

You need both, but for different reasons.

Your LinkedIn profile gets you invited to the party, or at least to stand on the line outside.

Usually that’s all you need to strike up conversation with the right person to get you in. But sometimes the bouncer will look at your resume and decide, regardless of all the great things people say about you.

You need a LinkedIn profile for executive search firms to find you. It’s easy for recruiters to sort through their first-degree connections and see who they already know. It’s usually easier to search LinkedIn than their own database. When they need new candidates, they ask around the office, look through their prior work, and then search LinkedIn. You want to come up in that search.

Here’s how you get invited to the party:

  • This is a conversation starter. Highlight what’s important for your audience, but leave some questions unanswered.

  • Get a great headline.

  • Define your title, especially if you’re looking across industries. Avoid industry jargon.

  • Keep it short so people read it.

  • No clichés.

  • Say why you do what you do, and the impact you’ve made.

  • Each bullet should be relevant to your future job. Otherwise, delete.

#5. Find the right executive recruiters

These roles don’t come up that often, and when they do they’re usually not advertised. It's important to have relationships with the search firms that fill the roles you’re going after.

Unless a company is filling the position directly, they choose one executive search firm to give the work to. Even if you find the open position on your own, you’ll likely be routed to the search firm to assess you with their other candidates.

1. Ask your network:

Talk to people in your network who are in similar positions to what’s next for you. Which search firm placed them? Who sent them on interviews? Get introduced via cc if you can so you stand out.

2. Research search firms:

Internet search to find the top retained executive search firms that do what you do. Get familiar with the household names. Look at each firm’s corporate website for names of people who work there.

3. Research search firm practices:

People at search firms work in practices. Think: function and/or industry. The larger the firm, the more siloed people tend to be. You want to have relationships with every relevant practice.

4. Research people and reach out:

Do some homework before you email. Don’t send the same email to everyone, and don’t go overboard. Follow people on LinkedIn. From their profile page click on “activity”. Maybe they posted or commented on articles. Maybe they announced placements. When you reach out, you have more context.

The Partner, Principal, Consultant, Director, Associate, Researcher – they all have different roles to play on a search. Depending on the person and firm, you should know more than one of them, not just the Partner. I explain more in this video:

#6. Determine your compensation expectations, at least a ballpark

The recruiter is going to ask you during your first call with them. And you should have an answer.

Why the recruiter is asking:

  • To save everyone time.

  • To have a good candidate and client experience.

  • To start the conversation early, which makes the entire process smoother.

  • Because they can’t ask you what you make, depending on local laws.

  • Because they need to react to HR in the moment, representing you accurately.

  • To determine your level. Like it or not, recruiters will quickly gauge your seniority with the compensation yardstick.

Why you need to know your expectations:

  • When you share your expectations with the recruiter they can help you.

  • When you share your expectations you’re more likely to get the offer you want, with minimal back and forth.

  • When you share your expectations you come across as an executive.

But doesn’t the recruiter have a compensation range?

Sometimes. The more senior the role, the more vague compensation bands can be. There are lots of levers to pull with different comp structures. Companies usually say they have an idea, but want to see the best talent, and expect the search firm to educate them on the market.

Stay tuned for another post on *how* to determine your comp expectations.


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