How Busy Executives Should Job Search


You’ve made it to (or darned near) the top of the food chain at your company. And, for the most part, this feels really stinking good. And it should! But there’s this one thing—you’re just not feeling it anymore.

Maybe you’ve gone through a merger and things have changed. Maybe your company serves a dying industry and you’re nervous. Maybe you’re reporting to a CEO you don’t see eye-to-eye with. Or maybe you’re just ready to grow and feel inspired and challenged again.

Whatever the reason, when you’re an executive and ready to make a career move, it can feel pretty darned overwhelming.

Where will you find the time?

How can you go about this without alerting your current colleagues?

And, if you haven’t searched in forever—where do you even begin?

While there is no one perfect formula, here are a few important things to consider:

1. Know Your Story and Have at Least a Ballpark Idea of What You Want Next

While it’s really awesome how you’ve climbed the ladder, you cannot assume people outside of your immediate circle will understand what makes you so great and what, specifically, you could walk through the doors of your next employer and achieve.

You also can’t leave it in the hands of someone else to figure out how and why you might make sense for another leadership role. First, people often have little incentive to do this work for you. And second, they may not be qualified to connect the dots between what you’ve done and what you could do.

What to Do

Instead of leaving it up to others to figure out your story, you’ve got to have it down cold, and be able to articulate it over coffee, over the phone, on the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game, everywhere. The more intimately you understand who you are as a professional and what, specifically, you want, the better the odds that you’re going to attract the right types of opportunities.

Don’t make this someone else’s responsibility. It’s yours.

2. Build Out a Game Plan (Hint: A Strategic One)

Strangely enough, executives are often among the most ill-equipped people I work with when it comes time to make a job change.

Why is this?

I mean, here we have these respected, intelligent, and articulate individuals (I seriously work with some of the brightest, most interesting people) who can lead teams across burning coals, negotiate complex deals, and salvage business units that are plummeting like asteroids. Yet, when it comes time to elegantly manage job search, they’re like deer in headlights.

The answer to the “Why is this?” question often boils down to this: They’ve probably not had to do it in a long, long time (or, maybe, never). Execs are often in demand. They’re invited to take on new challenges, promoted into new roles, poached by the competition. And so, they’re rusty, or simply lacking a map to guide them through this process.

What to Do

If this sounds like you, do yourself a favor at the front end of your search: Construct the map. Spend some time thinking about what, specifically, you’d like to do next and your best strategy for getting there.

Which companies are most attractive to you? Who do you need to know at these organizations, and how might you get on their radar? Do you need to shore up any skills or credentials to be a really strong fit? How can you put yourself out there in a covert manner (if needed)?

This doesn’t need to be a 40-page tome, but you sure as heck should rough out your goals and a game plan, and then break it down into weekly tasks. If you’ve only got tiny little windows of time to dedicate to this, you absolutely want to make the most out of each of those windows.

3. Make Sure Your LinkedIn Profile’s Aces

When you’re the top dog, it’s easy to ignore such things as your LinkedIn profile. You’ve got bigger fish to fry, right? Organizations to transform, partnerships to forge, products to launch, what have you. However, when you’re preparing to make a career change, you absolutely must throw down your A-game on your LinkedIn profile.

This is most likely the first place any decision maker will go when she wants to learn more about what you have to offer. Also, if she googles your name, your LinkedIn profile (assuming you have one) will be among the first results that pop up. You’ve got to have one and, ideally, you should update it before you begin putting any feelers out.

What to Do

Once you’ve got your story in place, jump into your profile and begin weaving the narrative throughout your summary and experience sections (here are tips to make that easier). Update or add your most recent and most relevant roles, providing a few details on each (using care to only post info that isn’t confidential or proprietary). And fill in your Skills & Endorsements section with keywords that align with your capabilities (and point you toward the types of roles you want next).

4. Don’t Expect Windows of Time to Present Themselves

As an executive, you surely have a lot of people, projects, and priorities demanding your time. You very likely don’t have hours and hours available each week to stroll your way through a job change. So, what now?

What to Do

Force the time. There’s no other way around it. If this matters to you, find a way to give it your attention, even if it’s across small windows each evening or on the weekends. Set a regular meeting (much like I’m sure you do in your day job), minimize potential interruptions, and dedicate regular time to making this happen.

This is also where it will come in extreme handy to have that game plan prepared. You can look at the big picture strategy and figure out what, specifically, you’re going to do (research, networking, work on resume, etc.) across each of your dedicated sessions.

5. Enlist the Experts

If you know you need some support through your career transition, call in the experts. Yes, I get it. You are an expert. But, just as I am not qualified to, say, structure a complex corporate merger, you’re probably not up-to-the-minute on how recruiters operate or how to best articulate your value in a resume. And that is 100% OK.

What to Do

Consider reaching out to an executive recruiter in your field and letting him that you’re open to a change. (You can often find a relevant one by asking other executives if in your field for recommendations and/or checking in with one of your industry associations.)

Or, if you’d prefer that a pro do the heavy lifting on your resume, LinkedIn profile or a networking letter (that you’ll use to selectively alert people and ask for their help), make the investment. Partnering with a strong writer who understands the marketplace and the world of staffing and recruitment can cut piles of time and stress out of the equation.

Just be sure and seek out a provider with strong recommendations and who has direct background working in or around your field.

If you’re a leader and this is your time to make a change, let’s make sure you nail the effort. You’ve made this far for a reason, and I’m guessing that’s because you kill it at what you do.

Now, let’s see to it that you kill it at job search.

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