How do Executives find new Jobs?

By Steffen Ehrke

Looking at the market, one can assume the situation for job seekers has never been better. Economy is going well and organisations, regardless of the industry, are looking for professionals across all functions and levels – their Executive Boards as well. No problem to change jobs? If you ask C-Level managers who are actively looking for their next role, they might not agree.

In my day-to-day job I am regularly approached by executives and managers who experience difficulties when looking for their next challenge. However, the executives I talk to are not used to being unsuccessful. The longer the gap, the bigger the pressure and I see very mature and eager executives struggle in their self-confidence, leading them to take bad decisions by going for the only offer they received and not thoroughly considering the pros and cons of it. To find someone who pays requested and required wage is not enough.

So why is it so hard to find a new challenge that ticks all the boxes? Many state that they have a good personal network and contacts with Executive Search consultants. However, they also say they experience that most (headhunter) friends surprisingly turn out to be not as close as previously pretended. Many do not even take time to meet in person and discuss potential career moves. Proactive support is neither expected. Sounds familiar? You might wonder: what is different now?

The simple answer: you yourself! You have risen and are now in a "flight altitude" that has different prerequisites, expectations and different needs from your network than the altitude you used to move in before. You need to change the way you view your situation and be proactive to get passed the hinders in your way

  1. Shame on the industry, but the headhunter profession is mostly measured on short-term KPIs. So, it is not against the candidate as such, the system of most big search boutiques and bigger firms just does not allow the consultant to invest time for not immediately profitable sake. Having said that, the majority cannot do much for the actively looking candidate anyway. To find the right headhunter with the right open mandate at the right time is like searching for a needle in a haystack. What you should look for is headhunters, who think and act more value-based and sustainable. Those, who proactively share their knowledge and network with you.
  2. Job portals do not show vacancies on the right level, and if there is one online - be assured that all of the other seekers in your situation, will also apply for this position! Not the ideal starting point to get elected. As a matter of fact, 80% of the Executive jobs are conveyed based on personal network. We all should recognize that a career is not a destination but an ongoing process.

If you look yourself in the mirror, have you really been networking forward-looking and strategically to prepare yourself for that moment when you want a new role? I typically hear explanations such as: "I wanted to do it but obviously I did not have the time to do it as I was absorbed by my job." Maybe right... but can we really prioritise out job duty over our personal career planning? My clear answer is: NO!

I regularly hold workshops for Executives in between jobs. In these workshops and sessions, I encourage them to not see their career as a destination, but as a continuous process until they retire. Another aspect of the flight altitude that you are at is that you are not safe! Or why do you sign temporary contracts and put clauses into your contract that guarantee you severance payments before you even start? It has become rather untypical that you stay in one company longer than 5-8 years. Most deny this, however, and dive into their jobs as if it was the last one in their life. You can be sure this is not the case.

What can you as a Top Manager, that are highly involved in your duties on a global scale, do differently then? Here are my top tips:

  1. Work on your networking skills
    80% of the C-Level roles are conveyed based on personal network! Networking has transformed into a critical competence that is imperative to be able to reach and succeed in a leadership position. While most executives understand the value of networking, only a few work actively with developing their own network. The lack of structure and focus is particularly evident when it comes to networking. In our Mercuri Urval article How to build a valuable network, my colleagues elaborate and provide hands on advise how to develop into a successful networker.

    Just like leadership, networking is not an activity to put in your schedule, but a natural part of your behaviour. The way you behave defines your personal brand, and as a networker you want your personal brand to reflect how you can contribute.
  2. Accept: you cannot always make the right decisions
    When you finally have that job offer lined up: Be honest with yourself! We are all human beings and we tend to put lipstick on a pig when we lack to have a choice. There are three main components to each job offer that you should take into account when making a decision: assignment, region and money. It is quite unlikely that you will find a job ticking all three boxes but you should at least be aware of what compromise you will make for the coming years. Is e.g. commuting really something for you? Often it is not about oneself but the family is not willing to accept the all-time absence of yours. If a high salary and working for attractive bonus always drove you – why should this suddenly change? And, will you really be able to act as you wish in the new system? Be attentive!
  3. Be honest with yourself
    Do not just stay where you are because you are worried that your CV will be destroyed when you do not stay long enough. Life is too short!

To conclude: If you follow these rules you will maximise your chances of finding your next interesting challenge. Do not rely on others, rely on yourself!

Do you want to discuss the topic further? Please reach out to Steffen Ehrke, Partner & Director at Mercuri Urval´s office in Wiesbaden