The strategies employed by C-level candidates to search for jobs can vary greatly from those used by individuals at lower levels. If C-level candidates try to go through the traditional channels to find jobs, they will likely meet with little success. While the strategies that apply to the C-level are different, there are still several different methods to choose from, each with their own pros and cons. Following are some of the most prominent job search strategies for C-level executives and a look at how benefits and drawbacks of each of them:
Perhaps the most widely accepted way to search for a C-level position, professional networking offers candidates access to positions that are not otherwise advertised. Since few positions at the C-level are actually posted, networking is extremely important for opening new doors. This avenue of searching for jobs can be extremely effective since it necessarily comes with third-party endorsements of people who can vouch for the value and dedication of a candidate. Professional networking can prove the easiest way to get on the radar of key decision makers, but it also requires that individuals understand how to network effectively, both through social media and face-to-face interactions. Some C-level executives continue to struggle to expand their professional networks despite the fact that they are extremely effective in their jobs.
Through networking alone, individuals may take 18 months or more to land the right job. Moreover, some C-level executives may find it strange to ask for a job from other people when they are used to being a leader. These people often find job searching through networking to be demeaning. In this situation, it is possible to network without asking for a job. Executives possess strong communication skills that they can use to approach other professionals and forge relationships without seeking anything in return. Professional networks are useful tools beyond job seeking, so it is critical that C-level professionals learn how to network effectively.
The other traditional approach to the C-level job search, recruiting firms can be useful in helping people to find great opportunities. When top recruiting firms have a candidate’s resume on file, they can connect them with great employment opportunities as they become available. Recruiters bring jobs to candidates, which can streamline the process and save valuable time. However, candidates need to keep in mind that recruiters ultimately work for the companies that they represent and not individual candidates. After all, in the end it is the company that pays them, so they typically have the company’s best interests at heart. For this reason, working with a recruiter can somewhat limit opportunities.
Since recruiters work for companies, going through a recruiter can limit a candidate’s ability to negotiate compensation. Often, recruiters act mediators between the company and the candidate so that they two parties have little or no opportunity for direct interaction. Also, recruiters typically find three candidates for a given position, so this strategy builds competition into the process. The process can also prove extremely slow since C-level searches remain fairly rare, even among firms specializing in executive management.
When working with a recruiter, C-level executives should treat both the recruiter and the company with the same level of discernment. Just as candidates sell themselves to companies, they need to do the same with recruiters even if they feel like they retained them personally.
A fairly untraditional route to a new position, management consulting provides skilled executives with flexible interim employment and allows them to meet with important industry professionals. In the past decade, consulting has grown at a rate four times that of the workforce. Many companies in need of a new C-level executive will first hire a consultant, which is a safe way of trying out a new professional. If a company is happy with the consultant’s work, it may make a formal offer for the position. If not, the consultant will likely already have another job in the pipeline. Moreover, consultants typically charge two or three times their normal hourly rate, meaning that candidates can make their full salary while working part-time until they find a position that they really want to take.
The downside of consulting is the need to market and grow the business. Unless individuals already have a strong professional network, it can prove difficult to get the consulting firm off the ground. About 25 percent of all revenue will likely go to marketing, but consultants have little other overhead, making it worthwhile. Consultants also need to be strategic with the work that they take on to fill their time. People who agree to become interim full-time workers may struggle to find a new gig when it ends. A better strategy is to engage with multiple firms who need strong talent but cannot afford a full-time employee. By working for different companies a few days of the week, consultants can hedge ensure that they continue to have consistent work.
A potentially good way to get started with consulting is to connect with private equity and venture capital firms. These firms can also connect job seekers to great opportunities at fledgling companies in which they invest.