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How To Prepare For An Executive Job Search In 6 Steps

As a career coach specializing in senior managers and executives, I often work with leaders who haven’t looked for a new role in a decade or longer. They quickly learn that the job market has changed dramatically in recent years and their old strategies no longer work in today’s competitive labor market, leading them to rethink their entire job search strategy.

If you are seeking your next leadership role, here are six steps to streamline your executive job search:

6 Tips To Succeed In Your Executive Job Search

1. Define your target market.

Phil Hurd, the founder of Oculus Search Partners LLC, says that an initial step in finding a leadership role is defining your “target market.” This includes not only the industries or verticals you want to work in but also the specific employers. In other words, you want to get clear on what you want – and don’t want – in your next company and role, so you can decide which roles are worth pursuing.

The following are a few questions to get you started in identifying that target market and role.

  • What is your target industry?
  • Where do you want to be located?
  • What size company do you thrive in?
  • What level of role do you prefer?

2. Develop your personal brand and unique value proposition.

“An executive job search is less of a finite and discrete event and needs to be more about building a personal brand and networking with influencers in your target employers or industry over an extended period of time, not just at the precise moment when it’s time to look for a job,” explains Hurd, who has spent more than 30 years of experience in search and placement.

With this in mind, he encourages executives to reframe the job search as something they work on regularly, even when they’re not actively looking for a new career.

Hurd says it’s also important to clarify your unique value proposition (UVP) as an executive. “What is it that you, more than others, are uniquely positioned to do for these employers? What does the ‘brand of you’ represent that they can’t get from someone else?” He then advises practicing and refining your UVP until you can succinctly and effectively articulate it both in conversations and in writing.

“Set aside time each week to become known as a thought leader and to identify and get to know influencers and decision-makers in your target environment: attend and ideally speak at conferences, write articles, introduce yourself to executive recruiters, and in general ‘put yourself out there,’” recommends Hurd.

3. Educate yourself on the “hidden job market.”

Many open senior leadership roles are never marketed publicly. According to Hurd, “Executive positions tend to be much less visible to the job seeker, with very few openings being advertised as job postings; the vast majority are filled through networking by current and past company executives, board members, investors, and/or executive search firms.”

While the reasons for the discretion in publicizing these positions vary, I will share a recent example that illuminates the nuances of the executive job market. One of my clients was approached via LinkedIn to interview for a Chief Operations Officer (COO) role with a publicly traded company. The position was never shared publicly, as the current COO was involved in bad press and the CEO wanted to announce a replacement at the same time this person stepped down.

Had my client’s profile been outdated, she likely would never have been sought out by the headhunter for this role. This “hidden job market” is one reason I am a proponent of keeping your LinkedIn profile updated and optimized, as well as learning how to effectively network your way into interviews.

4. Prepare for the executive interview process.

Once you get to the interview stage, know that it will likely be more complex and take longer than with other positions, explains Hurd. My executive clients often navigate a multi-step – and multi-month – interview process that requires meetings with not only the hiring manager and executive peers, but also direct reports, cross-functional stakeholders, and other important decision-makers. They are also frequently asked to participate in one or more interview presentations.

Succeeding as an executive requires the ability to navigate ambiguity. Consequently, interviewers are looking for answers that illuminate how you have approached situations throughout your leadership career, as well as your overall vision and strategy. They don’t want to know that you can say the right thing, they want to know how creative you are and how quickly you think on your feet.

5. Navigate salary negotiations with confidence.

Compensation packages look different when you’re an executive, too, so expect the salary negotiation process to be more complex. Beyond base salary, executive compensation packages typically provide an opportunity to negotiate a total compensation package, which may include:

  • Sign-on, relocation, and performance
  • Equity and stocks
  • Paid time off (PTO)

This list is just a starting point. Executive compensation packages are constantly evolving, so it may be helpful to partner with a professional experienced in navigating salary negotiations.

6. Invest in professional help.

Because of the various steps involved with job searching, interviewing, and negotiating your salary at the executive level, ask yourself if it makes sense to partner with a career coach to support you through the process.

Important: You want to identify and work with a coach who is experienced in supporting senior leaders throughout their job search and interview process. This is particularly true if you’re targeting your first executive role or haven’t looked for one in 5, 10, or 20+ years.

A trained career professional can make the process smoother and provide you with the confidence you need to land your next leadership position. You’ve got this!

1 thought on “How To Prepare For An Executive Job Search In 6 Steps”

  1. Kelly Donovan

    Very nice exploration of some key nuances of job search at this level, Kyle! I especially like Phil’s point about networking and brand-building over a period of time. The best time to start is long before you actually need a new role — be proactive!

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