In my 30+ years as an executive search consultant with Spencer Stuart, and coach and mentor with Crenshaw Associates, I’ve observed that many business professionals do not have an advanced understanding of how to position and present themselves as strong and compelling candidates. The primary reasons this occurs are that this discipline is not taught in school; business professionals do not go through the process often enough to build proficiency and know-how; and lastly, such executives are often too busy to give it an appropriate level of thought.
The critical aspects of presenting yourself successfully are understanding:
- Those things that you do better than a majority of other executives (i.e. your foundational strengths resulting from training, innate abilities, experience and knowledge);
- How to effectively position yourself in the talent market based on your experience and skill sets;
- How to interview effectively; and
- How to optimize the referencing process.
Presenting yourself requires changing your perspective from that of you, the “seller,” to that of the “buyer.” In other words, “What do they want to buy?” not “What do you want to sell?” Ask yourself, “How can I discuss and present my background to fill that particular buyer’s needs?” This is accomplished by aligning your foundational strengths, experience and value proposition in a manner that differentiates you from competing candidates.
At any point during an executive’s career, they fit into one of four possible talent market supply-and-demand quadrants ranging from high demand / high supply to low demand / low supply. Those executives who consistently position themselves in or near the high demand / low supply quadrant benefit from seeing a greater number of opportunities, advance more quickly, and have considerably greater compensation leverage. Conversely, people who find themselves in a low demand / high supply situations see fewer opportunities, face more competition for available roles and have limited leverage in compensation discussions.
Executives can benefit greatly by purposely building their executive profiles with a near-term, mid-term or long-term career objective in mind. This is accomplished by thoughtfully adding or deepening skills, knowledge, experience and interpersonal abilities. Over time, this ensures that a strong and well-positioned profile (i.e. resume) is presented to the market. A powerful, succinct and compelling executive profile, well-crafted resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile are necessary before the executive is deemed “market ready” and equipped to launch into their outreach campaign.
Based on Crenshaw’s rich history of assisting senior executives, we believe that the outreach campaign should have three legs. The first leg of their outreach should be to people who know them professionally and who are most likely to keep them in mind for positions that open up. The second leg of outreach is to a select and targeted list of executive recruiters pre-qualified by their functional and industry practices. The third leg is to specific companies in the executive’s target industries and job functions where they believe they’d enjoy working. Like Johnny Appleseed, the outreach stage is about planting and watering seeds that should lead to good things in the future, although it’s hard to predict which ones will bear fruit. However, you can be certain that if the seeds are not planted and nurtured, there will be no big, red, juicy apples to bite into.
As companies start to show interest, the job search moves into the presentation stage. Before launching that Zoom meeting call with a recruiter or hiring company, executives can benefit substantially from conducting a mock interview with a skilled interviewer who will provide honest and critical feedback and suggestions. Although it can be humbling to receive criticism, this dress rehearsal is essential for improving an executive’s performance and helping them craft answers to questions that may be asked. This is especially true for executives who have not interviewed in some time.
Recruiter interviews, by their nature, are more focused and directed. Client interviews are often more conversational. Building an interactive dialogue during client interviews is what allows chemistry to develop. Again, adopt the “buyer’s mindset” and allow them to guide the interview. Be mindful with both recruiter and client interviews to not talk too much and dominate the “airwaves.”
If all goes well, after several rounds of client interviews, the candidate will become one of only several finalists, all of whom are well qualified. That decision is based on each candidate’s skills, experience, achievements and an amorphous quality that some call “fit.” I call it chemistry – and it may surprise people to learn that, in my estimation, as much as 35%-40% of the final hiring decision is based on this.
Once an executive has progressed to becoming a finalist, thorough referencing will be conducted. At this stage, the individual’s candidacy is in the bottom of the ninth inning with bases loaded, to use a baseball analogy. It’s easy enough to provide the recruiter or hiring company with the names and phone numbers of people you’ve worked with and for. However, taking a little extra time before that can benefit the candidate in the end. Pre-qualifying their references through a phone conversation and screening for their level of enthusiasm is advisable. Oftentimes, I will accomplish this for an executive by conducting a 360-degree review with that person earlier in the coaching process.
The best references are those who are enthusiastic and can comment on a candidate’s work in specific scenarios of relevance to the job opportunity. They should have several superiors, peers and subordinates on the reference list. Lastly, the finalist should be sure to send their current resume as well as the job description to their references in advance of receiving a call from the recruiter, HR or hiring executive. This allows the person providing the reference an opportunity to prepare thoughtful comments or insightful anecdotes that will help the executive secure the desired role.
There you have it – the Crenshaw version of CliffsNotes on presenting yourself as a strong and winning candidate!