August 16, 2019 – Whether it’s planned or unplanned, a career transition can be a stressful experience for anyone. This is a time when senior executives need professional advice to make sure they’re heading in the right direction, whether that means networking with headhunters or seeking advice from a career coach. It’s too important to just leave this to chance. A new report by Anthony Harling of Not Actively Looking explains how best to get yourself sorted out.
“As a senior executive you may find yourself suddenly having to look for a new job because your company has been acquired or because of some kind of organizational change,” said Mr. Harling. “Getting yourself sorted in that next role as quickly as possible is key for several reasons. The stress of financial uncertainty gets worse with time.”
“You might spend several months looking for a similar role and not find anything suitable,” he said. “You may also experience a sense of loss, anger or frustration at not being able to make things happen faster. Whatever the issue, you want to get that new job tied down as quickly as possible.”
Sudden Career Change Is Stressful
A sudden or unplanned change in your situation, one where you are forced to look for a new job, is something that we are all likely to face at some stage in our careers. This doesn’t make it any easier. “It can often be particularly difficult for someone who is used to being in control, someone who knows they are good at what they do,” Mr. Harling said. “Anxiety comes from not knowing how long it’s likely to take until you find a new job and the inevitable frustration that comes from not being able to move things along as quickly as you would like.”
“Pretty much every headhunter is happy to spend a certain amount of time helping active jobseekers,” Mr. Harling said. “The problem, however, is that headhunters can’t afford the time to do this as often as we might want them to.”
Candidates don’t pay the headhunter, he said. “It’s the client who pays. If you’re not currently a shortlist candidate on an assignment, regardless of how great you may be, the head hunter just doesn’t have time to help you map out a proper job search strategy.”
If you have to deal with a sudden career transition, said Mr. Harling, there are three main sources of information to help you get focused efficiently:
- Talk to a friendly head hunter and ask them for some top tips.
- Hire a career coach and set up a program to work with them.
- Google some of the main career websites.
“You will probably get great advice from a career coach – especially if it’s someone who has been personally recommended,” Mr. Harling said. “My suggestion is get some good advice early on. It could make the difference between a couple of months until you find that next role, or maybe as long as a year.”
Talent Acquisition Professional Weigh In
“Deciding to make a career move is one half of the battle,” said Nick Cromydas, co-founder and CEO of Hunt Club. “Successfully running with it is the other half. Lean-in on your network. Too often, people ignore their network while they have a job. When the time comes to make a move, it puts you back at square one: frantically reconnecting with people and probably sending several awkward ‘just touching base’ emails along the way.”
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“Whether a transition is planned or not, you’ll benefit from cultivating your network and finding ways to give back, now – before you need the help,” Mr. Cromydas said. “Be strategic about timing. For senior execs looking to make a move, an ideal time is roughly mid-year, once companies set their yearly budgets, goals and have the green light to search for the right leaders to spearhead the business initiatives.”
Nicole Newman, vice president of SearchWide Global, said that during a time of transition and uncertainty, one should take the time to assess what types of opportunities you’d be interested in. “Although a transition can be stressful, be mindful of your career objectives,” she said. “Thoroughly research any organizations you are considering joining, look into their company culture, available news and leadership.”
When in transition, she added, “in order to keep your best options open, consider being flexible on location, title, organization type and size. Don’t jump into the first role that comes your way unless you’re certain it is the right fit and with the right organization. Many times, individuals in transition, take the first opportunity that comes their way vs. waiting for the ‘right’ next opportunity. Find a recruiter that specializes in the industry you’re seeking. Many recruiters who work within a specific industry or segment will take the time to get to know you, your objectives, background and experience,” said Ms. Newman.
Leslie Loveless, CEO of the life sciences-focused search firm Slone Partners, commented on various aspects of the Not Actively Looking report. “It’s vitally important to keep fresh, stay on your toes, and have a career contingency plan in place,” she said. “This is particularly true in director level to C-suite roles in the current life sciences environment of heightened M&A activity. The resulting entity won’t need two CEOs or two EVPs of marketing. Previous relationships, workplace culture, VC influence, and board machinations can leave even the best talent in a position of doubt after the dust settles.”
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“No matter the title, no matter the level, always be networking inside and outside your current organization,” she said. “Accept that panel invitation, accept the speaking engagement and brand yourself. And if things head south, the landing will be much softer, quite possibly with your next opportunity already in place.”
“It’s true that we’re retained by our clients but we’re also invested in our candidates in numerous ways,” said Ms. Loveless. “For top candidates who are currently employed elsewhere, sometimes for decades, we stay connected and engage in regular communication understanding that there very likely will come a day when we have the opportunity to represent them in the market. These relationships are also extremely valuable from a networking perspective,” she said. “It is true that great people know great people, and smart recruiters will protect relationships with the best and brightest in their respective fields.”
“Regarding career transition, I believe the most successful executives live by the old saying, ‘plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Dan Charney, president of Direct Recruiters Inc. “When times are good and you believe you are safe and secure is the best time to plan for an unexpected career change in my opinion, because you are usually operating out of a position of strength and thinking clearly and rationally.”
“Establish a relationship with a recruiter that specializes in the space you are in or the industry you want to get into while you are gainfully employed,” said Mr. Charney. “Let them know you are currently happy but if they see certain opportunities in the market, you are open to listening. Just as the best companies in the world are constantly succession planning so there is no drop off when the unexpected happens, the best executives are doing the same on an individual level so when an event occurs and there is change, a plan is in place,” he said. “When there is career transition the desired outcome is always for the next opportunity to keep the executive on their career trajectory as opposed to simply taking a job because you have to.”
Simon Wan, chief executive at Cornerstone International Group, said that when he sits down with CEOs and senior executives during Cornerstone CCC roundtables, he always emphasizes the need to be well prepared in this area, “as corporate life has a shelf life.”
“Being a headhunter, we see more and more clients ask for younger candidates to interview also,” he said.
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“As an executive in charge of the organization, I always alert them to do the right thing during restructuring and ensure departing staffs are supported by professional career coaching organizations, so their departing staffs are supported professionally for their next career or new endeavors,” Mr. Wan said. “This is an important way for the CEO or HR head to protect their own executive brand, as well to protect the employer brand of the company; as remaining staffs watch quietly on the sideline to see how the company behaves in a situation like this.”
Mark Geary, CEO of Asianet Consultants, said it is important to take stock of yourself and what you want to do next in your career. “Take two-three weeks holiday to clear your mind,” he said. “Then, consider using an outplacement consultant rather than a career consultant, as in addition to giving career advice, they are more focused on the process of getting a new position and facilitating introductions.”
“We get paid by the client for specific assignments; timing of which rarely coincides with a self-directed search by a senior executive,” said Todd Bennett, CEO of R. Todd Bennett Retained Executive Search. However, he added, “we value the chance to help make introductions to expand their networks. We utilize those introductions as business development opportunities. A short email asking for introductions is always welcomed.”
“I generally make four-eighth introductions and encourage senior executives to ask those introductions for two more each,” said Mr. Bennett. “Patiently building a wide pool of connections will rapidly lead to an opportunity.”
“Think like the person filling the job,” said Kevin O’Neill, founder and managing partner of Acertitude. “Best practice organizations are data-driven in their hiring process, many utilizing a job scorecard methodology.”
Start by getting honest, he added. “Give yourself a proper self-assessment of how you stack up against the scorecard for the role. If there is position description available, create a scorecard, outlining what you perceive as the mission of the role and the measurable and time-bound outcomes that this person will need to achieve. Then look at your relevant experience and assess how you benchmark against it.”
“If this is an opportunity that you are truly interested in, invest your time and do some work,” said Mr. O’Neill. “Don’t expect people who are bombarded with information to find and extract relevant experiences from your profile. Help them by directing their attention to elements of your background that correspond to the deliverables of the role. In reviewing the job description and research of the company, you might uncover that the business is in a state of transformation. So, emphasize how you have changed, transformed, turned around, or grown the businesses you’ve been a part of.”
“I would advise anyone in transition that one must be patient,” said Heidi Rustin, managing partner of Bryant Park Search Partners. “It always takes longer than you’d hope, so plan accordingly. As it relates to working with recruiters, it’s true that most recruiters can only be as helpful to you as their portfolio allows. But, it is a good idea to foster recruiter relationships at all times, not only in your ‘hour of need.’ An open dialogue and willingness to listen and share your network will create more authentic and meaningful relationships with recruiters. You’ll then be more ‘top of mind’ and find a greater willingness for them to find ways to be helpful even if they don’t have a relevant search at the moment.”
Also, she continued, “while recruiters are an important element to the process, use your personal network! Former colleagues who may be in companies you’d like to join. And, friendly competitors who might get a recruiting call and decline, but might suggest you. It’s important to let people know your situation. Don’t be afraid to solicit the help of others.”
Jacob Navon, managing partner at Westwood Partners, concurred with most of the points in the article. “If you went to one of the top business schools during your career, they tend to have career counseling offices that cater to later in life alums, not just their current students,” said Mr. Navon. “Some business schools and universities have alum oriented programs beyond their guidance council offices. If your industry has professional associations, some, too, have similar services that many people don’t realize. Last, but not least, is one’s personal network of industry friends and acquaintances that are the key components of your professional network,” he said.
“The key in terms of effectively utilizing all these sources is first to exorcise your internal demons! Losing one’s job due to exogenous reasons (i.e. you did not initiate) inevitably is a traumatic experience that induces a lot of anxiety and shame,” said Mr. Navon. “Unless you are of a certain personality type, in such times most people tend to withdraw into themselves and find all the excuses why not to reach out for help. This is a mistake and deprives you from the resources that could be most helpful.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media