Taking Charge of Your Executive Job Search

June 20, 2017

By Mike Beaumont, Director at Search Partners International / AltoPartners South Africa

This article was first published on the BlueSteps Executive Career Insider Blog

The challenges facing an executive who believes the time is approaching to consider a career change can be both awkward and potentially risky. How much/how little one should say - when and to whom? These challenges are more pressing if one is thrust into such a situation – and require care and skill to do the right things and make the best decisions.

After all, these are possible life-changing decisions and can make the difference between accelerating your career and realizing your full potential – or not! This is obviously not something you should take casually or rely on fate to intervene positively – but a situation which calls for clarity and foresight, prudence, good judgement and an effective plan. Oh, and you need to make it happen yourself!

Here is one tried and trusted approach:

When you know you are going to make a career change, view it as a window of opportunity – the chance to reflect on your achievements to date and to make future decisions based on what is most important to you.

For most executives, time and timing are important factors, so:

Your job search objective: the right job with the best fit in the least amount of time. Experience suggests that the most effective approach is not unlike a personal marketing strategy, including the following components:

  1. ASSESSMENT: who you are and what you want next

  2. BRANDING: how you are going to package/present yourself to optimal effect

  3. LAUNCH plan, organise, focus, action and follow-through

  4. ASSESSMENT: Before you start job hunting you need to determine what you CAN DO, what you WANT, and how to assess CULTURE FIT. For best results, this should be in writing.

  • Can Do: What are your skills and accomplishments? Think in terms of successful initiatives and tough problems, actions you took and results you achieved, using action verbs. *
  • Want/Like: What are your career options, preferences and personal interests? What do you like, dislike? What motivates / drives/ inspires you? Alternatively, what drives you crazy?

  • Culture Fit: Succinctly describe your personality and behavioural style, values and qualities through the eyes of others: your work peers/subordinates/boss/customers/suppliers (be able to demonstrate with examples). “What is it like to be in a working relationship with me?” What principles impact on your time-management and decision making? With this as a backdrop, define your ideal company profile / culture.

Ideal Job Preferences (IJPs): These are the parameters against which you weigh up future job offers and which will also assist in later interview question responses. Include both physical aspects (location, type and size of company, possible sectors) and intangibles (such as job satisfaction, company culture and incentives).

Prioritize (essential, important, nice to have)!

  1. BRANDING and PRESENTATION: the marketing tools designed to get you into the right meetings and interviews: RESUMÉS/CVs, LETTERS OF INTRODUCTION, REFEREES, a PERSONAL COMMERCIAL and the appropriate MEDIA PROFILE
  • Resumé /CV: Must be the best possible reflection of you and your achievements - should include a 1-paragraph executive synopsis to bring you into focus for the reader (this is who I am, what I’ve done, what I’m looking to do); plus a summary of experience/accomplishments/ education/career achievements and awards - and a few key personal details.

  • Maximum length of two or three pages (with maybe a more detailed doc to follow for second meetings)
  • Be accurate and positive,
  • Exclude anything that can screen you out (e.g. religion, race etc.),
  • Content must flow easily, look attractive and exclude references to remuneration.

  • Letters of introduction (seeking a meeting): Must be attention grabbing, concise, error-free. Include proactive next step to be undertaken by you (e.g. following up to arrange a brief meeting).

  • Referees: Include prominent people in your career - both business and personal. Check with them first: know what they will say. Remember to thank them properly.

  • Personal Synopsis: A 60-second introduction for interview purposes, answering the question “Tell me about yourself”. Proactively and concisely describe yourself, your skills, preferences and aspirations. Prepare a 10 second version specifically for telephone introductions. Organise your thoughts, project a positive, open and confident manner.

  • Media Profile: Develop and ensure you have an appropriate profile in relevant social and other media, to underpin your strategy. Probably wise to consult a communications professional, especially someone who is technology savvy

Note: It goes without saying that all CVs and important docs should be checked for typos etc. by a detail-oriented 3rd person

  1. LAUNCH: JOB SEEKING ACTIVITIES, INTERVIEW SKILLS, FOLLOW THROUGH.
  • Pro-active Job Seeking Contact activities: From the most effective down to the least effective

  • Personal networking (est. success rate 60%+). Identify hidden job market through the key ‘influencers’ in your career/life. Be proactive / take responsibility – set-up intros/create openings. Demonstrate how you can add value. Use these meetings as a potential springboard to others. Thank you follow ups.
  • Retained search firms. Useful for longer term relationships. Establish a personal link. Keep in touch.
  • Social Media recruitment/LinkedIn etc. Register and respond.
  • Ad response/recruitment agencies. Generally not for senior executives - but be aware of what is out there.
  • Cold call admired companies. Conduct research. Use personal commercial. Figure out how to work with gate-keepers, in order to see a decision-maker.

Note: Despite a common misconception, recruitment and search firms are acting on behalf of corporate clients - they are not specifically geared to proactively assist you in your job search.

  • Interview skills:

  • Research target company(s) / opportunity – let your knowledge/keen interest show without being obvious
  • Prepare / practice answers to likely questions (tell me about yourself, what are your strengths / weaknesses / core competencies/key achievements, give examples of your leadership capability, how would your previous boss / peers / subordinates describe you, why would you want to join us, what are your package expectations, why did you leave xyz, where do you want to be in 5 years’ time, what did you get out of your MBA , why should people be led by you etc.)
  • Prepare a few really great questions to engage interviewers and get them talking about their company/vision – this will help you build relationships and later evaluate the opportunity/company against your career plans and assess the likely culture fit.
  • Give attention to initial impressions / positive body language (e.g. good eye contact).
  • Make sure to highlight your most impressive achievements / qualities during the interview.
  • Pitfalls: don’t assume, over-promise, argue, embellish, drown in detail, talk yourself into a black hole, criticise the opposition / your present company or boss.

A headhunter’s wish list

Headhunters generally evaluate prospects against a reasonably tight brief. However, a generic Top 20 check list would probably include:

  1. Convincing evidence of delivery (how you added value, made a difference)
  2. A legacy of growth (business units, teams, individuals, personal) under your stewardship
  3. Proven ability to lead / inspire; genuine inter-personal skills
  4. Indications of further growth potential
  5. Insight into your values, behavioural style.
  6. Evidence of sustained / superior performance (especially under pressure)
  7. Serious brain power – this is a gift – if you have it, make sure it comes through (by demonstrating your unusual grasp of complexity or impressive academic credentials)
  8. Examples of lateral thinking (showing how you made a lasting difference by linking aspects of apparently unrelated concepts or situations).
  9. Enthusiasm and energy
  10. An example of unwavering commitment – how you saw through a project or stayed with a programme despite significant obstacles or being presented with softer options
  11. The strength to stand your ground on principle
  12. Insight into your personal goals or vision
  13. Lessons learnt from past mistakes
  14. Leading-edge mastery in a particular field(s)
  15. A balanced view / lifestyle.
  16. Triumph over adversity - like a candidate who rose above a severely disadvantaged background to build a successful business.
  17. Strategic vision (for leadership and consulting roles)
  18. Innovative and practical problem solving ability
  19. The extent to which your actions/decisions are based on what is most important, rather than most expedient.
  20. Your inclination to consider the “greater good” and to negotiate in good faith

Follow through:

  • Keep brief interview notes / contact records.
  • Evaluate your own performance immediately post interview (How did I do? What/how could I have done better?).
  • Thank you email / letter if appropriate – respond to points arising.
  • Follow-up (look for innovative ways to strengthen your position).
  • Be sensitive to nuances in your relationship with a prospective employer / head hunter.
  • Be open to criticism and prepared to refine strategy.
  • Ensure clarity regarding employer expectations and likely burning issues.
  • Evaluate job offers against IJPs (ask for time to consider).
  • Evaluate remuneration offered / wealth creation potential against market.
  • Don’t hassle over relatively unimportant details (e.g. logistics and routine benefits etc.) - the opportunity is key.
  • Tie up loose ends. Don’t burn bridges.

(Originally based on material from DBM – an international career transition firm - with permission)

Conclusion:

Although this guideline was originally developed for a series of talks on Job search aimed at MBA classes, it soon became clear that for many senior executives, it provided a template which they could reliably use when negotiating the sometimes turbulent waters of career/sector/company or job change. This is particularly true because often these executives haven’t ever applied for a job, don’t have an up-to-date (or any) CV; and frankly, find themselves ill-equipped for the “job” of finding their next move. It can also be “lonely” out there – and this guide provides some good support along the way.

About Mike Beaumont

Mike is Director of Search Partners International / AltoPartners South Africa. Building on extensive corporate and strategic HR consulting experience, Mike set-up the first research-driven, executive search business in Cape Town. His early career was with Ford Motor Company, SABMiller and Sperry Univac (later Unisys Africa), as HR Director. As a director of Renwick Executive Search in the 1990s, Mike held the group record for individual and cumulative billings. He joined Adcorp in 2006 to develop their top-end and global search capability and was appointed Managing Partner of Adcorp Search Partners in 2009, until the 2013 merger with Search Partners International.

He has personally completed well over 400 board level search assignments across all functions and many industries – especially Consumer / Retail (including FMCG, Agriculture and Hospitality); Industrial & Automotive; and Financial & Professional Services.

In 2015, he also became the oldest “novice” to complete the 7.5 km Robben Island to Blouberg Cape Town swim (in 14C temperature)! He is still with SPi.