Every executive job search has much in common with every other job search. The rules of the game don’t fundamentally change according to industry, geography, or job status.
Despite the commonalities, however, executives in particular are on a slightly different road than other job seekers. The difference manifests itself in two ways.
First, executives face some special challenges of their own, challenges that don’t often confront other applicants, and they need to recognize and master those executive-specific challenges.
Second, in our experience executives are perfectly capable of making the kind of mistakes that any applicant might make, but they are particularly prone to certain kinds of mistakes. We may not fully understand that proclivity, but there seem to be some pitfalls that executives have special trouble avoiding. One thing we’ve learned, though, is that part of the problem is that executives simply don’t recognize those pitfalls for what they are.
We’ll look at both categories, the mistakes that are executive-specific and the ones that are more generic, and at how each affects three things: the job search, the executive resume and the executive interview. At the very least, the pitfalls themselves should become more visible, and increased awareness should put the executive job-seeker in a better position to call on some tested strategies for avoiding the worst job-search mistakes.
Mistakes in the Search
It’s all too easy to handle the job search in a way that won’t optimize the outcome. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to avoid common mistakes.
Failure to be proactive
The traditional, and all too typical, approach to the search is a reactive one. It involves recruiters and job postings, and little is required of the job seeker beyond throwing your resume in the general direction of any and all opportunities that seem to meet the most basic criteria.
That’s sometimes enough for the basic search, especially if the job market is strong, but the executive search should be proactive, not reactive. Presumably, you’ve been in the industry for a while. You know the companies that occupy the space, and you know the ones you’d like to join – and the ones you’d rather avoid at all costs. If your knowledge is lacking on this front, it’s worth doing your homework, finding the companies that appeal to you and targeting your efforts in that direction.
When you know what you’re looking for, you’re in a position to target the right companies with the right openings, and if you stay tuned to what’s happening in the organizations that matter, you shouldn’t hesitate to take the first step when it seems appropriate. In a proactive search, you don’t have to wait for the jobs to come to you.
Doing all your networking online
No one would deny that we live more and more of our lives online, and that’s where a great deal of professional networking gets done.
It’s a mistake, however, to put all your eggs in the online basket. As an executive, you’ve no doubt learned the value of the personal touch in the real world. A single one-to-one meeting can accomplish more than 100 emails.
That holds true for professional networking. Keep up with your contacts, and make new ones, in person. Whether that means attending professional events, going to alumni functions or expanding your volunteering efforts, in-person contact has impact far beyond anything that happens online.
Letting LinkedIn languish
Even if it’s a mistake to rely on the virtual world too much, it’s not something you can ignore, and LinkedIn is the place to start. Too many executives have the barest of LinkedIn profiles, failing to do much beyond a listing of job titles.
That’s an adequate approach if you’re not even remotely in the job market, but it will hurt once you start looking for greener pastures.
Invest some time in your LinkedIn presence. Make your profile say something about your accomplishments. Choose your LinkedIn photograph with care. And give some thought to your connections and the message you’re delivering to potential employers.
Some employers may claim to set little store by what they find on LinkedIn, but they’ll always look. Those same employers will publicly disavow the importance of your LinkedIn photo if asked about selection criteria.
It’s a mistake to take that disavowal at face value. In reality, we’re all influenced by a vast combination of factors, even ones that we’d hesitate to acknowledge. As a result, executives can’t afford to ignore anything that makes a difference, even – or especially – the things that our better selves think should be irrelevant.