5 Rules for the Executive Job Search

The job search can be especially tough for executive level candidates.  Salary requirements are high and their are a limited number of open positions available which are often go unadvertised.  Earlier this year, the Ladders conducted a survey which listed the top 3 biggest mistakes made by highly compensated and qualified job seekers.  And to round out the list to five, I’ve added two more based.

5 Rules for the Executive Job Search

  • Desperation. I had a VP level candidate at a previous employer call more than 15 times in one day without leaving a message.  The candidate was among the two finalists and had just interviewed two days prior.  Because my cell phone was forwarded from my office phone, I was able to see that he had called 15 times without leaving a message.  He did however, leave a message the next day but left a bad taste in mine and the hiring manager’s mouth.  Someone at this level must be able to maintain composure and professionalism at all times.
  • Poorly Prepared Marketing Materials. Out of date resumes, cover letters, and online profiles are one of the most common mistakes of job seekers regardless of their education or salary level.  Most CEO’s have spent hours in meetings talking with their management teams and marketing departments agonizing over PR, marketing, and advertising strategies with careful planning and consideration.  Use an Resume Writer or Executive Coach to provide you personal branding and marketing support.
  • Lack of Interview Preparation. Interviews are your chance to sell your skills, qualifications, and what you bring to the table.  Bring in a team of industry experts, professional level contacts, and others to help you get the support and preparation you need and deserve. Don’t rely on only your brilliant personality or savy business sense to help you land the job.   Most C-Suite candidates have a stellar supporting cast just like the assistant coaches and trainers on Division 1 level college football and basketball teams.  Roy Williams or Joe Paterno would not be where he is today with out a supporting cast.  Why should your job search be any different?

While I certainly agree with the Ladders survey, I believe they left out two key mistakes made by executives while searching for a new position.  These two bullets are often overlooked opportunities for job seekers.  And because executive tenure is often much higher than the average job seeker (which is 18 months), executive job seekers do not practice or consider these important skills in the context of the job search as frequently.

  • Nerves. Since most job seekers at the executive level are not in the job market very often, they are often very uncomfortable in situations they are not familiar with.  A Director level candidate had a stellar resume.  My Director and myself were eager to meet him after conducting several pre-screen phone interviews.  Once he arrived to the interview, however, it was clear he was very uncomfortable, flustered, and rambled uncontrollablely.  Although extremely impressive prior to meeting him, he was not confident and comfortable enough and was no longer considered for the job.
  • Your interview starts from the first phone call. I have had a number of high level candidates who were either rude to the receptionist that was scheduling the interview by phone or upon arriving to the interview and checking in with the receptionist.  Administrative assistants and secretaries who work closely with their executive teams are called upon more often than not to provide insight and thoughts on candidates.  It pays to always be humble and confident yet gracious when in the job hunt no matter what position level or job title.

What are your thoughts?  And should the executive job search be that much different from the average jobseeker.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions


  1. Peter Lanc says

    These are some great points and I agree there is much for the candidate to be accountable for… yet I wonder…
    Lets look at the other side of the table: Rules for those that have the gift of changing life – Executive Recruiters.

    1. Many candidates have not been in their job seeking situation themselves so have never looked into ” the mirror of expectancy” so no harm in giving them confidence!

    2. We are all in the people business so we know that an endless wait for a return follow up call is an eternity so no harm in being understanding!

    3. Candidates know it’s a buyers market and need to feel important and yet need to know they are special have a chance so no harm in being compassionate!

    4. Candidates know it’s a process that needs to be followed and the plethora of options and support, paid or othwise is mind boggling so no harm in explaining!

    So I ask what is the role of the executive searcher regarding the candidate?

    Or is it just another assignment and the accountability lies elsewhere?

  2. peter Lanc says

    Thanks for the invitation. I really value your generosity. I will put something together.

    Thanks very much and I really value keeping in touch!



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