Navigating the Executive Career

Making the most of your career and the opportunities you are afforded calls for a degree of introspection, preparation and keeping one’s antennae up for what others believe about you, says a new report by WittKieffer.

July 23, 2019 – Even the most successful executives can use career advice as they assess their current positions and look to the future.

Are “tried and true” practices, learned as young professionals, still current and relevant to those who have moved up the ladder? What are appropriate ways to work with executive recruiters?

Have the rules of interviewing evolved, and do preparedness and politeness still rule the day? This career guide, courtesy of the executive search consultants across WittKieffer and its Mid-Level Executive Search Practice, provides best practices for career-minded leaders.

“The entries offer suggestions for navigating both the predictable and unanticipated challenges that face the most experienced leaders,” said Andrew Chastain, president and CEO of WittKieffer. “This is about understanding who you are and where you are in your career, but also paying close attention to what others think and perceive about you.”

Find Solid Footing in a Shifting Career Landscape

Keeping abreast of the latest industry trends is essential. “Schedule time each week to read industry publications and websites, as well as general news outlets and social networking groups,” said David Boggs, senior partner & practice leader, WK Advisors. “Apply what you’re learning within your organization to ensure its continued success and to demonstrate your capacity to evaluate and utilize new approaches.”

“Use sites such as LinkedIn to connect with professional groups,” he said. “Participate in discussions and don’t be afraid to post your own questions. These forums offer substantive discussions and ideas, providing you with new skills and a broader perspective. Of course, nothing beats face-to-face networking when it comes to support and learning. Attend conferences or industry association meetings when possible. Within your organization, look for colleagues from whom you might learn something new, or who might serve as a mentor for you.”

Mr. Boggs also said to think of “attaining new skills as the key to your professional survival. Whether you need to master the latest software or comprehend complex legislation, gaining new competencies will ensure your career relevancy.”

“Many professionals gauge their success based on whether they fulfilled the job expectations laid out for them last year or several years ago,” Mr. Boggs said. “To prove themselves indispensable, executives must go above and beyond the job that was prescribed for them. Envision what your job description might look like next year, even if the future is uncertain.”

Leveraging LinkedIn for Executive Career Growth

In the world of executives looking to find their next challenging opportunity, many wonder how to leverage LinkedIn to maximize their job search. To put it simply, using your LinkedIn account strategically can lead to newly opened doors. But does your profile represent the current scope of the role you’re in and your accomplishments?

“Just as you’ve spent years building your personal brand within and outside of your organization, you also need to spend time maintaining that brand via LinkedIn,” said Zachary Durst, senior associate at WittKieffer. “If you are known as a leader who can transform organizations, give concrete examples of that work to back it up. Anyone can use strong adjectives to describe their work, but if you can put solid numbers related to the budget, team, project scope and outcomes, then you already have a leg up on others using LinkedIn.”

LinkedIn offers thousands of ways to make your voice heard. “Make yourself active in providing content,” said Daniel Young, consultant with WittKieffer. “This can be through one of the many discussion threads or in publishing your own thought leadership pieces to your network. You never know when a connection you make through a discussion thread could lead to an interesting opportunity down the line or when a thought leadership piece you publish could lead to an interesting collaboration with someone in your network.”

Fundamentals of Networking

Whether you’re actively seeking a job or trying to stay current with trends and opportunities in your field, networking can expand your pool of contacts. The power of a network lies in its ripple effect; the more referrals you have, the better your position.


10 Tips for Networking with an Executive Recruiter
As invaluable as executive search firms are for companies, they can also make a tremendous difference in the careers of professionals who are in the market for a new job. Tapping into a recruiter’s help calls for forethought as well as networking skills. 


“Remember that consultants, suppliers and vendors in your industry are valuable contacts who are out and about and may have firsthand knowledge of openings,” said Marvene Eastham, a senior partner at WittKieffer. “Professional associations are also fertile ground to nurture new relationships and gain industry insights. You’ll find that becoming active, joining committees, volunteering and giving presentations are great ways to meet people.”

Always remember that networking is a two-way street. “Successful networking requires that you increase your visibility and be responsive when others or their friends ask for your help,” Ms. Eastham said. “If someone is referred to you, return their call promptly and be open to a face-to-face meeting. It is the Golden Rule in action —demonstrate the same helpfulness you would like others to extend when you call on them.”

“Networking is a lifelong process which requires a methodical approach: build your database, clarify your objectives, meet new people, help others and strategically focus on both immediate and long-term professional objectives,” she said. “It takes time and effort to establish and maintain relationships with contacts, but it can be instrumental in advancing your career.”

Do You Really Want a Job Change?

Whether you are the hiring manager, candidate or search consultant, it is likely you have experienced what can go wrong. “The candidate enters into the search process, interviews well and the hiring organization becomes highly interested in his or her candidacy,” said Nicholas Giannas, a consultant with WittKieffer. “Unfortunately, after much time and money are spent, the candidate decides to drop out for reasons that could have been handled up front. To help prevent this situation from happening it is important for an individual to fully consider if he or she is really interested in a job change,” he said. “Moreover, it is prudent to ask three fundamental questions:”

  • Why do I want a new job?
  • Why am I interested in this particular position?
  • What other factors will play a role in my job search?

“These questions are interrelated but need to be answered independently,” Mr. Giannas. “If these questions are answered at the beginning they will help avoid the embarrassment of withdrawing from a job search midway through the process and will save the hiring organization the frustrations that come with it.”

When to Tell Your Employer You’re a Candidate

Issues of openness and confidentiality always arise in executive searches among candidates, hiring organizations and the consultants involved. A more subtle decision faces the individual candidate, however, even when the search is not at the public stage: When is it appropriate to tell your employer that you are considering another job?

“Preliminary interviews—whether they are with the search consultant or a member of the hiring committee—are just that, preliminary,” said Dennis Barden, a senior partner at WittKieffer. “You don’t know if they want you; more important, you don’t know if you want them. You are doing no more than testing the water. Your employer’s chances of having to replace you are still remote. I see little to be gained, and potentially much to lose, by informing your boss at this point.”

“The final-interview stage seems the appropriate moment to bring people into the tent,” Mr. Barden said. “Even then, if there is any option at all, I recommend caution. Just what does final mean? When will a decision be made? How confident are you in that timing? How do you judge your odds of both getting an offer and accepting it?”

“If you are not hired, you may have to live for a long time with your boss’s knowing that you looked for another job,” he said. “Waiting for a search to be resolved amplifies the tension. The unknown is bad for most people; the longer that unknown lasts, the greater its corrosive power.”

Write and Maintain a Great Executive Resume

A resume gives a concise overview of a candidate’s experience, successes and potential. “A good resume should rely on bullet points to list essential information employers are looking for,” said April Allen, a senior associate at WK Advisors. “Organizations care far less about vague summary paragraphs and far more about the finer details of your work history. But that doesn’t mean to create a laundry list of job duties under each position. Employers and the recruiters who work with them want concrete examples of your past experiences, and successes, so they can gauge whether you’ll be valuable to their company.”

Related: Things to Know About Hiring a Search Firm

“Include specific data or summaries of how you’ve made a difference in previous jobs,” she said. “Given that the digital age has made attention spans much shorter, still be concise. Use key words and phrases that appear in the job posting as long as they truly apply to you. The good news about sending your resume digitally is that resumes of three to five pages are common for executives who’ve been in their professions at least a decade or two.”

The Best Executive Job Candidates

The best candidates check their ego at the door and demonstrate humility and appreciation during the process. “They treat everyone with respect, including administrative assistants,” said Zachary Smith, a senior partner with WittKieffer. “A client once told me about a finalist who was generally rude to the administrative assistant tasked with shuttling the candidate from meeting to meeting, but gracious and kind to the more senior people. That turned out to be a fatal flaw to the finalist’s chances after the assistant shared the behavior with the hiring manager.”

“Search consultants can help your candidacy but you must be open to our help,” said Mr. Smith. “We ultimately want the search to be successful, which means we want you as a candidate to be successful. We want committees and campuses to see your best self. Strong candidates often make major interview gaffes that ultimately kill their chances.”

In front of the committee, be conscious of how long you are taking to answer questions. “Committees have a list of questions, often developed over many weeks, and they’d like to ask you nearly all of them,” said Mr. Smith. “Second, strong candidates smile and show a little levity. This may be a stressful process but it’s not life-or-death. Always stay professional and composed.”

The best candidates discuss potential roadblocks head on, early in the search process, Mr. Smith said. “They talk openly about compensation matters, and alert us to spousal-accommodation issues,” he said. “They keep us informed of their status in other searches. Most important, they proactively communicate potential issues that could derail their candidacy if not resolved early in the search process. If you find it difficult to be transparent, then you’re likely in the search for the wrong reasons.”

Executive Search: What a Candidate Ought to Know

Candidates ask many questions about the search process like: How long will it take? What are the steps involved? Are my credentials competitive? “We will answer these questions and others commonly asked by candidates as they enter a search,” the WittKieffer report said. “We hope it will provide a better understanding of the search process. The search consultant serves as a liaison between the organization and the candidate, and does not make decisions on behalf of either party. As an objective liaison, the search consultant helps a candidate by allowing him or her to explore the position before becoming an active candidate, determining the potential ‘fit,’ and assessing compensation range.”


18 Lean Recruiting Tips and Tricks Heading into Summer
With an increasingly tapped talent pool in an economy with nearly full employment, the market for top candidates is only getting tighter. A new report by Jobvite offers up some tips and tricks for recruiters to stay ahead of it all. Executive search consultants weigh in as well.


Confidentiality is essential in attracting, recruiting and placing the best candidates. A candidate has the right to ask for as much confidentiality as possible. “Within both public and private organizations, you the candidate, we the consultants and the committee are constrained to operate within parameters particular to an organization,” the report said. “Only you, as a candidate, can make the decision to proceed in a search. The search consultant will work to reduce your stress by providing as much clear information as possible about the process.”

“As a retained search firm, we receive a fee from the organization regardless of who is offered the position or how he or she entered the candidate pool, whether via an advertisement, a nomination, or a personal contact by our search firm,” WittKieffer said. “We care only about finding the very best possible fit between candidate and organization. Our reputation is built on our success in achieving that fit. If your name is submitted or presented to us, you will be notified by one of our consultants.”

What Recruiters Wish They Could Tell You

While each search is unique, common themes and process points tend to surface each time a position is filled. WittKieffer offers some tips that any organization or recruiter wishes you knew before embarking on a search.

It is always good to be open to opportunities that cross your desk. “Ninety-nine percent of the time these opportunities are appropriate for networking rather than acting upon,” said Donna Padilla, managing partner & practice leader, healthcare at WittKieffer. “While you may want to learn more, it is important to weigh your interest against your current professional and personal situation. If you are not making the move alone, don’t make the decision alone.”

“Involving family early in the process is critical,” she said. “Inviting your spouse/partner to visit the location — especially if they are unsure — is also a good idea. Waffling interest and last minute turndowns are damaging to the search process and, ultimately, your reputation.”

Related: 10 Things to Consider When Selecting a Search Firm

A social dinner is often a critical step in the final interview process, Ms. Padilla said. “Remember that you are still a candidate and want to present yourself as engaged and able to interact socially and professionally,” she said. “While onsite, you’ll be given a tour of the community and will likely be joined by a realtor and organization host. Both are there to help guide you as well as gauge your interest.”

Do not underestimate the time a search will take, especially if you are employed, said Ms. Padilla. “Typically, searches have several rounds and are almost always held in person and onsite,” she said. “Make sure your recruiter or the organization is aware of any schedule constraints. Strategize early about how you will approach these visits.”

Lastly, the offer conversation needs to start at the beginning of any search. Letting the recruiter know the full extent of your current compensation package as well as any non-negotiables is critical. Is there a specific salary that you need in order to make a move?

“Sharing this information out of the gate helps set expectations all the way around and eliminate wasted energy for both you and the hiring organization,” Ms. Padilla said. “Relocation is a significant piece of the pie. Let your recruiter know if there are specific issues that you foresee. Your recruiter should act as a partner, resource and sounding board for you throughout the search process. At times this will mean delivering the tough news, but all of the feedback and advice is focused on ensuring that you put your best foot forward and are fully prepared for the interview process,” she said.

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

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