The Two Biggest Executive Job Search Mistakes

by Meg Guiseppi on August 8, 2011

Knock 'em Dead Job Search Strategies

I recently had a conversation with my friend and colleague, Martin Yate, job search expert and renowned writer of the Knock ’em Dead series of career and job search books.

In his latest book, Knock ‘em Dead: Secrets & Strategies for Success in an Uncertain World, to which I was thrilled to contribute, Martin reveals how to take control of your job search, career, and life.

My post today looks at the top two biggest mistakes he’s seen executives make with their job search efforts, how they can best approach hiring managers, and what executive job search will look like in 10 years.

Another post is coming, focusing on Martin’s take on the future of the executive resume – Is The Traditional Paper/Digital Resume Dead?

Here’s what we discussed:

What is the biggest mistake executive job seekers make?

If you kept your job(s) and continued to climb the ladder of success while your contemporaries experienced the downside of globalization, it is all too easy to get lulled into a false sense of security. When the real world comes crashing in, it is magical thinking to believe that this will all soon be over, “because I am special and I am different.”

Technology has changed the world you live and work in beyond all recognition, and nowhere has the change been greater than in the world of job search and career management. Face the facts: because you have been successful in your career to-date, your resume writing, job search and interviewing skills are probably the weakest professional skills you possess.

The tactics of job search are all new, as is the strategic thinking you need to plan and navigate a successful career. It’s a smart executive who embraces a little humility about this lack of knowledge and who takes steps to master the navigation of this changed world of work.

For as long as any of us can remember, the loyalty-to-employer mantra has always come first in professional life. We grew up imprinted with the idea that loyalty is rewarded with job security, and steady professional and financial growth, all of which ultimately culminate in a comfortable retirement. This is a myth, this is a crock.

These are the facts: you are somewhere in the midst of a half-century work life, job security is a thing of the past, on average you will change jobs about every four years, and experience three or more distinct career changes over the span of your work life.

It is a world in which economic recessions swing by every 7-10 years, and as if this weren’t enough to contend with, you can realistically expect age discrimination to kick in around age fifty.

If you hope to survive and prosper in your professional life, you need to re-think and re-structure your entire career management game plan with strategies that work in today’s rapidly changing world. You need – we all need – an approach that integrates the tactics of job search with sensible lifetime career management strategies; an approach that puts enlightened self-interest first. Loyalty to your survival and success must always be part of your consciousness, directing the actions that bring your plans for success to life.

What is the second biggest mistake they make?

Lack of social networking skills.

Most executives simply haven’t spent enough time developing relevant professional networks. The biggest regret for an executive involved in a job search today, is invariably that, “I was too busy doing my job to think about building networks.”

Yet, in a world where job security in return for loyalty and hard work is a thing of the past, professional connectivity is a key component to professional survival and success — you can no longer ignore the need to create your own job security.

Networking is an activity you must make time for on an ongoing basis, in just the same way you make time for professional skill development.

Social networking can deliver a tremendous boost to any job search or career management plan; yet it is so new that most of us have yet to fully appreciate and leverage its advantages.

Executives, and professionals at every level, need to devote time to becoming connected to their profession, their peers, their superiors and the people coming up behind them. In the long view of navigating the twists and turns of the typical half-century work life, your professional connectivity can be leveraged successfully in all your job search and career management strategies.

Networking technology, embodied by LinkedIn and other social networking sites, bring wide-ranging and relevant networks within the reach of everyone’s schedule. Only a fool would ignore the benefits they offer.

Social networking is an important tool for helping land an executive job today. However, I think we have to be careful not to think of networking as just another approach to job search, an activity you do on, say, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t see networking as a separate activity pursued once in a while, it needs to be an integral component of every job search strategy you use.

In the Knock ’em Dead books, I talk about network integrated job search, because when you integrate focused networking tactics with the other high-reward job search approaches, the effect is to quadruple your chances of interview for any and every job you discover and wish to pursue.

Now for networking to be effective, it has to involve much more than shooting the breeze over coffee, phone, email or the Internet. It needs to focus on getting into conversation with high-value job titles, as quickly and as often as you can.

What are these high-value target job titles? The titles of the people who are most likely to have the authority to hire you; typically these are the people who hold job titles one, two and three levels above your own. Social networking offers you straightforward paths of introduction to many of the people holding these titles within your area of geographic focus.

How do executives best approach potential hiring managers?

Every job search tactic you use should focus on one simple goal: getting into conversation with the people most likely to have the authority to hire you (1-3 title levels above your own), and doing so as quickly and as often as you can. Nothing happens without that first conversation, and every time you get into conversation with someone who is in a position to hire you, the closer you are to the successful conclusion of your job search.

You can approach hiring authorities by letter, by email, personal referral/introduction, directly by telephone or in person. That makes five possible options, and they all work. The more tactics you use to kick-start that first conversation, the greater your odds for one of those approaches resulting in an interview.

Of course, the best way to connect with a decision maker is for an introduction/referral to be made by someone in that hiring authority’s network. Candidates who come with an introduction are taken more seriously, which brings us back to the thread of this conversation: that networking and integrated networking tactics deliver results.

What will executive job search look like in ten years?

With the speed at which our world of work is changing, I have no idea. But I can say that there will be another economic recession between now and then (historically they swing by every 7-10 years). I can say that you will be ten years older, probably hold a more senior rank and be earning more. These will all contribute to your increasing professional volatility.

Ten years from now the most important professional skills you possess will not be the latest manifestation of Six Sigma, a streamed-video resume, multi-tasking or anything remotely similar.

When the only constant is change, the most important professional skills you will possess are the skills of self-determination: Your professional connectivity, your job search and your career management skills.

Related posts:

My Executive Branding and Job Search Ebook

Executive Job Search: The Old Way (Networking) Still Works Best

How To Tap Into Hidden C-level Executive Jobs

LinkedIn Guide for Executive Branding and Job Search

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Meg Guiseppi September 1, 2011 at 9:50 am

Hi Betty!

Martin’s advice was right on the money, wasn’t it? He cut straight to the core, with wisdom that may be painful for executive job seekers who think they’ll easily slide into their next job, just as they had in the past. I also find that too many haven’t grasped the fact that job search doesn’t work the way it used to.

Thanks for commenting!

2 Betty Williams August 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Another great post Meg! All the mistakes resonated with me, especially the one about social networking. I continue to be amazed at executive-level clients who either are not on LinkedIn or have very incomplete profiles if they are. Googling a potential candidate or someone who has contacted you has become almost automatic in this technical world. I recommend that all professionals beef up their online professional profile.

3 Meg Guiseppi August 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Aw, shucks, Susan. You’re too kind!

I see it all the time — executives mistaking their good luck in having progressively successful careers for supreme talent, or even worse, entitlement. They feel they’re better than all the competition. That’s why they’ve excelled in the past, and that’s why they deserve to keep getting ahead. It’s sometimes true, but certainly not always, or maybe even often.

To come into a job search with that kind of attitude, in this kind of job market, is plain craziness.

Thanks for the lovely comment,

4 Susan P Joyce August 8, 2011 at 12:50 pm

Excellent post, not surprising considering the participants! :-)

And applicable to everyone, not just executives.

The one that resonates the most for me is the first one. Regardless of job level (and not restricted to careers), it is so easy for all of us to mistake our dumb luck for intelligence and talent. I know I do it.

I had a boss a long time ago who had a favorite saying, “It’s better to be lucky than good.” At the time, I thought it was wrong, and he was crazy. It is kind of “dark” and not completely true, of course. But, not completely wrong either.

Such a consistently excellent blog, Meg!

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