In our work recruiting, assessing and advising leaders, we've seen what makes a transition successful. Here are six proven steps to keep in mind as you embark on a job search:
Reflect Before You Leap
Get ready before you have to: Determine if you’re looking for a career change or just a change of environment.
Pause to gain perspective on your situation: If you chose to leave your current position, be prepared to explain why. Were you looking for a change after a long tenure at one company? Was there something particularly attractive about a new sector that drew you away? Which experiences in your previous role are you proudest of? These questions are not merely preparation for interviews — knowing the answers will help you assess your fit for the next opportunity.
Translate past experience into new opportunities: Valuable, transferable skills include financial acumen, business development expertise, international experience, analytical capabilities, technical savvy and consensus-building ability. Brand yourself accordingly on LinkedIn and other social media channels.
Create a Compelling Narrative
Whether or not you have a sales background, you are now in sales mode, and the product is you. You need the proverbial 30-second elevator pitch that gives the basics of who you are and what you seek. You also need a longer version that elaborates on your specific achievements. Think of developing a toolkit of stories, highlighting different competencies you have developed, and be ready to use them as needed.
To help share your story and position yourself for success:
Optimize your LinkedIn profile
Write a short but compelling headline and summary.
Feature highlights from your resume and any content you’ve authored that demonstrates your expertise.
Include keywords related to your work so you will be found in searches.
Get a few, selective recommendations.
Build your network
Join formal networking groups and mentorship programs.
Build a personal cabinet of advisers, which can be extremely valuable in helping you navigate your career.
Pay it forward and help your network. It will make the call easier when it’s you who needs help.
Be visible. Attend and speak at relevant industry events or panels.
Talk to recruiters
Develop relationships with executive search and leadership consultants before you need them.
Do your homework.
If you’re interested in a job, help the consultant help you by being clear about what you want — and what you don’t — in a new role.
If you’re not interested in a job, recommend other candidates who might be a good match.
Executive Search 101
Not all firms are the same: Contingency recruitment firms are hired by the company and tend to work in mid-level roles. Retained executive search firms are hired by the company and focus on senior executive and board director roles. Working with a retained executive search firm helps ensure your information is held in the strictest confidence and can expose you to potential opportunities that may not be on your radar.
How executive search firms help clients and candidates: Many companies turn to executive search firms to recruit senior leaders who will have a long-term impact on the organization, while minimizing the risk of making the wrong hiring decision. Candidates work with these firms to help find their next leadership role or board opportunity.
Work with an executive search and leadership consulting firm — not a “headhunter:” As a general rule, avoid “headhunter agencies” and instead find true search consultants who can not only help you find the right role, but also provide you with the right tools to help you understand your leadership style and how well you will align with an organization’s culture.
Engage with the Right People
Reach out to the relevant search consultants: Find search firms that serve your target industries and reach out to the consultant who is most likely to be able to help you. Write a personalized email with your resume attached. Request an in-person meeting to introduce yourself, but do not be offended if that consultant has other priorities — as long as he or she has your resume, you will be on the radar. (And yes, search consultants do share candidates with their colleagues.)
Have an open, candid dialogue: Share what opportunities and career paths you’re considering, as well as a transparent perspective on your salary requirements, goals and what type of culture will be the best fit for you. Take these interactions seriously, as recruiters have an unparalleled window into the job market and can provide valuable information on companies that can influence your search — even if you are not being considered for a current assignment.
Think in terms of relationship-building: Provide ideas for the searches the recruiter is working on, even if he or she doesn’t currently have a job that fits you. He or she may call upon you for advice or information in relation to other searches. Use these conversations to develop relationships with recruiters who can be useful when you are looking to make a career move.
Take Ownership of the Process
Get smart: If you are considering an industry shift, you will need to get educated quickly on your new sector. Even if you are not considering a dramatic change, make sure you stay current on the dynamics of your target sector and speak its language.
Show that you are committed: If you’re considering a change in location, particularly a change in country, you will need to show that you are serious about it. Make frequent visits to that location. Connect with the local business communities, such as chambers of commerce. Be present and visible in your target market.
Stay engaged: If you have been made redundant or are between opportunities, make sure that you stay active and connected. Why not join the board of a nonprofit organization? You may also want to start your own consulting business, if only so you have a business card with more than just your name on it. This will help you keep busy and may turn out to be a helpful vehicle if you decide to take on project work or an interim management role.
Be patient: If you are working with a recruiter on a specific opportunity, remember that the recruiter cannot control the interview cycle and is often at the mercy of the client’s schedule. Always call the recruiter after interviews, and if you do not connect, leave a brief report.
Say thanks: Don’t overlook the thank-you note. It is simply common courtesy to send a thank-you email or letter to anyone who took the time to meet with you. While this is rarely what gets you the job, a potential employer will notice if you skip this step. If you met multiple people on a visit, take the time to tailor your messages to your individual discussions. A brief, well-written note reinforces your image of professionalism.
Don’t Stop Connecting Once You Land a New Role
Keep your network strong: Thank the people who have helped you and inform your contacts about your new position. Most importantly, let them know how they can contact you in the future.
Continue the conversation: Maintain relationships with your network over the long term. Share an article you think they would find relevant. Meet for lunch periodically. Connect at industry events. People are more likely to think of you for an opportunity (and vice versa) if you’ve had recent contact with them.