Strategies For A Successful Executive Job Search

December 8, 2015

by Ravi Raman

The job market for new college graduates is fairly well understood. Create a resume. Apply for internships. Stay with the company you interned for or engage in the career fairs helps every fall and spring at your school. Hope for the best. Particularly, if you are in a technical field and did well in school, with hard work and a little luck, you will have several offers to decide from.

The career search process for a senior executive is radically different. There is no structured process for finding out about or applying for jobs. There are many misunderstandings out there, including the thinking that just because you have much experience (perhaps you are a CMO, COO or CEO at another company now), that you will have courtiers beating down your door.

This is not often the case.

US Government data shows that the job search for someone making over $100,000 per year can take 12- 18 months, depending on economic conditions and your industry.

You can only imagine how long it would take for someone who is making $300K, $1M or more to find the right new job. Even CEOs often have a lengthy process finding a new job.

Compounding this challenge is the fact that many companies prefer to promote executives from within their ranks, particularly for CEO and COO jobs. Numerous studies show that internal hires had dramatically lower failure rates than external hires, particularly for senior positions.

How then, should a senior executive go about finding a new job?

I’ve come up with a few key things in mind in your executive job search. They won’t guarantee that you find your ideal job, but they will massively improve your chance of success and help you enjoy your executive job search journey.

Focus your executive job search

Be crystal clear on what you want. Sending out 1000 resumes and hoping for replies will not work. At best it will waste much time. At worst, it could land you in a job you hate. Your job search must be proactive, not reactive.

Identify a short list of companies that are a remarkably good fit for your background and goals. These companies are your target companies. Browse company sites and examine their key projects, initiatives and press releases to understand possible fit. You should have a shortlist of 10–15 companies you want to target.

Of course, before getting focused on what you want in your career, figure out what you want from your life as a whole. This is what I encourage all of my Executive Coaching clients to do. This ensures that the career you are after is in line with your values and lifestyle priorities.

Tap into the hidden job market

The market for executive level jobs is hidden. According to, at $100k salary level, 75% of jobs are hidden. At $300k, 90% are hidden.

These are jobs created to accommodate specific candidates, existing positions in which an incumbent is replaced when someone better comes along, a job that is advertised inside the company only or jobs that, for whatever reason, are not advertised and can only be revealed through networking.

You do not see job postings for CEOs plastered on LinkedIn, do you? Now you know why. The hidden job market is significant and real.

The only exception to this rule is small startups who often post executive level roles publicly on sites like Angel List. To tap into the hidden job market, you need to use a different strategy.

Reach out to the key executives with a similar background such as yourself at the companies you target. Do not send them a resume. Just inquire that you are motivated and interested in the mission of the company and that you want to know how, if at all, you might be able to help them. Set up a time to talk or meet.

If you do not want to reach out via email, use networking events, charity fundraisers, conferences and board meetings (if you sit on a board), to strike up conversations with people who work at companies you like.

Arrange follow-up meetings and take every conversation seriously.

Headhunters can also give you greater insight into job opportunities that aren’t widely circulated. You can find headhunters quickly on LinkedIn by using the advanced search function, or speak with people in your networks for referrals. I do not recommend relying on a headhunter to find you an ideal job. They should supplement but not replace your own outreach and hard work!

Focus on solving problems

Success in your executive job search all about one thing: identifying and reaching out to a company that has a problem while offering a known solution to a least a part of that problem.

Eliminate the idea from your mind that you are applying for jobs. Instead, focus on solving challenging problems for the companies you are targeting. Applying for a job is needy. Offering to do what it takes to help solve a problem is going to get more responses and set you up for success.

Most people do not think about their job search this way since actually figuring out how to solve problems is not easy. It takes effort, and you cannot turn it into a rote task like submitting resumes on job sites. However, this way of thinking will ultimately be far more productive for you. You will also learn a lot in the process.

When you talk to people, don’t speak of a job. Instead, focus your conversation about work that needs to be done to solve a problem. After all, you are not really after a job; you are after an offer that allows you to engage with the company and help them. Once you have an offer, you can discuss details.

Be sincere and kind to everyone

As you talk to people, be kind and take care of the relationships you are creating, regardless of the job possibilities. At the executive ranks, there are some baseline assumptions that someone with stellar work experience is smart and motivated. Sometimes a decision on whom to hire comes down to EQ more than IQ.

Stay in touch with your positive intention to be helpful. This will not only help you come across as not being needy (which is attractive to any employer); it will help you emotionally deal with setbacks and rejection along the way, even if you do not get any offers at first.

Be kind and empathetic to everyone that is part of your process. The executives you speak with. The assistants to help you arrange meetings. The headhunters who offer to support you. Even the person who says you are not the right person for the job.

Work hard on your search for companies to help, and be kind to people. Success will inevitably come your way.


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