Jul 6 2015
Are you looking for a practically foolproof executive job search strategy? What would you say if I told you there was a job search method that yields success in the form of desirable employment more than 80% of the time? If you’re like most executives, you’d overlook this strategy in spite of its success rate. Why? Because it’s a bit more work than blindly applying to open positions on executive job boards or sending your resume to executive recruiters.
But if you don’t mind a little bit of work, this strategy is a winner and one that has the support of job search guru Richard Bolles of What Color Is Your Parachute? fame, not to mention your BlueSteps Executive Career Services team.
The strategy? I refer to it as strategic employer targeting. Bolles doesn’t give this strategy a name but describes it as a series of steps:
“Do thorough homework on yourself. Know your best skills, in order of priority. Know the fields in which you want to use those skills. Talk to people who have those kinds of jobs. Find out whether they're happy, and how they found their jobs. Then choose the places where you want to work, rather than just those places that have advertised job openings. Thoroughly research these organizations before approaching them. Seek out the person who actually has the power to hire you for the job that you want. Demonstrate to that person how you can help the company with its problems. Cut no corners; take no shortcuts. That method has an 86% success rate.”
Let’s consider an example. An operations executive (let’s call him Jorge) was relocating to the US from Europe because of his spouse’s transfer. Before he moved, Jorge researched possible employers in his preferred industries located in his new geographic area. After initial research, he ranked his preferences to come up with a total of 10 companies he planned to pursue.
Next, he did enough research to identify the key operational challenges facing each of his targeted companies and then crafted a cover letter that outlined how he had successfully resolved similar challenges for his prior employers. Since he was seeking a VP-level role, Jorge identified C-level decision makers in each company and sent the letter to each. Over the subsequent 8 weeks, Jorge received calls from all 10 of his target employers. Those calls led to multiple interviews and 4 job offers.
How can you leverage this same approach? Follow the suggestions listed beneath each step in the process Richard Bolles outlined above. Since this description predates the Internet and LinkedIn, I have included more timely tips below.
1. Do thorough homework on yourself. An effective job search strategy begins with clarity about yourself and your career goals.
- Know your best skills, in order of priority. Identify your strongest skills and then select those you are most motivated to leverage in your next position. Rank the resulting list by order of preference.
- Know the fields in which you want to use those skills. Select your target industries and sub-sectors and rank them in order of preference.
- Talk to people who have those kinds of jobs. Find out whether they're happy, and how they found their jobs. Bolles’ advice for this step of the process makes the most sense for those who are changing careers, roles, or industries.
- But if you plan to look for work in a field you’re already in, I suggest using this step to tap your online and offline networks for market intelligence. Ask your connections for recommendations of specific companies in your target industries and sub-sectors that they think might be a good match for you.
- Expand your list by conducting keyword searches on Google, Bing, and/or LinkedIn.
- If you still need additional firms to consider, use a company database such as Hoovers or ReferenceUSA (available for free through your local library’s website) to conduct a search based on your preferred characteristics, such as number of employees, sales volume, or zip code. Note, though, that these databases often specialize in US or North American companies only.
2. Then choose the places where you want to work, rather than just those places that have advertised job openings. In other words, be specific and selective in choosing your top 10 to 15 target companies.
Rank your top 10 to 15 company targets. Many executive job seekers are afraid that selecting so few companies to pursue will narrow their search, but frankly the opposite is true. By focusing your search efforts in the direction you really want to go, you’re more like to actually get there. If you have the time and energy to repeat this process with a second tier of 10–15 companies, by all means do so.
3. Thoroughly research these organizations before approaching them. So far this strategy has been fairly easy to implement, but with this step you’ll see your workload grow. As Bolles points out, it is imperative to do this homework. If you want great results, cut no corners; take no shortcuts.
- Study the website of each company on your list, in particular noting their About pages, company news, and annual reports, if published.
- Find each firm’s LinkedIn company page and comb through it for more hints of changes in corporate direction, new initiatives, and expected future growth.
- Reach out to the first-, second-, and third-level contacts you have who are connected to the company in question and message them for insight into the company’s challenges, especially as those challenges relate to the department or function you are targeting.
- Build up or forge new relationships with folks connected to people in this company. Whenever possible, convert second- and third-level connections to first-level contacts.
- Invest in relationship building with these contacts to get to know these people and increase the likelihood you can tap their insights and insider knowledge.
- Collate and organize your findings.
4. Seek out the person who actually has the power to hire you for the job that you want. As with the example shared earlier, if you are seeking an executive or C-level role in your target companies, you will need to decide the likely level or title of the person who can hire you.
- Conduct a LinkedIn advanced search to pinpoint hiring executives in your target company by title or function.
- Examine each person’s LinkedIn profile to determine how you are connected to him or her. If you are connected at a second or third level or not at all, reach out to common contacts and request an introduction to this person.
5. Demonstrate to that person how you can help the company with its problems. Using the research you conducted on this company earlier, craft a 1-page letter that showcases your UVP (Unique Value Proposition). Demonstrate that you have solved the same kinds of challenges this company faces by customizing short, impactful CAR (Challenge | Actions | Results) stories as proof.
When you’ve done so, repeat the whole process for the next company on your target list. As you can see, this is a process that will take time. Rather than job searching by throwing a bunch of applications at the wall to make something stick, you are opting instead to search by stealth and aim for companies based on how well they match your interests, values, and preferences. While this process produces fewer career possibilities per week, the ones it does produce will be of much, much higher value – hence the +80% success rate.
For more executive job search tips, register today for Career Transition Planning: Finding Your Next Opportunity, a complimentary executive webinar.
The Ultimate Executive Career Guide: Connecting with Executive Search
As a senior-level executive, you can use this guide to:
- Learn about executive search and how it differs from other forms of recruiting
- Discover the best ways to connect with executive search professionals
- Understand how the search process works
- Implement strategies that will help you become visible to the search community
- And more!