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The Executive Job Search: Don't be Like the Drunk Guy Looking for His Car Keys

  • 1.  The Executive Job Search: Don't be Like the Drunk Guy Looking for His Car Keys

    Posted 03-06-2021 10:24 AM

    Employers prefer to fill roles in exactly the opposite way the job seekers prefer to find them. This is because they have different priorities. As Bowles and Brooks say in their job seeking classic What Color is Your Parachute, more than anything employers want to reduce the risk of a bad hire. In contrast, job seekers want to find a new job as quickly as possible (Bowles and Books, 2021 What Color is Your Parachute, 9, yes this book is still around and still good).

    With my career coaching clients, I advise them to approach their job search in ways that align with the employers priorities rather than their own. What does this mean ? It means seek to interact with employers in the ways they prefer, not the ways you prefer.

    Consider the fact that employers first choice to fill a role is often to promote from within rather than hire from the outside. Why? Multiple reasons, but primarily because this is perceived to be the least risky way to fill the role. The employer gets a known quantity who already knows the business and the culture.

    If an internal promotion is not available, employers, then turn to referral sources for outside candidates by asking people they trust some version of the question "Who do you know?"

    Then, they turn to executive search firms. Only after these sources are exhausted do employers look seriously at cold applications from outside.

    There is nothing wrong with applying to online job postings, particularly if after you apply you find a senior contact in that organization who can "warm up" your introduction to the business. However, if we focus primarily on responding to job postings, we are spending our time on an activity that is easy to do but unlikely to work. We are like the drunk guy who lost his car keys in a dark parking lot. When we come across him, he has left the lot and is looking for his keys near the road, under a streetlight. Why? Because it's dark back in the lot, there is not enough light to look for his keys. But there's plenty of illumination out by the road, so he decided to look there instead.

    For job seekers, job postings are not much different than streetlights. Yes, the illumination is better, but our chances of finding a job there are pretty limited. You hear different numbers tossed around but in my experience, at least 2/3rds of executive job seekers find their next role through a contact in their network. Other experienced voices like Lou Adler estimate this number to be more like 85% (Lou Adler, "New Survey Reveals 85% of All Jobs are Filled by Networking," February 29 2016 on LinkedIn).

    Importantly, many of these jobs are never publicly posted. This takes us back to our starting point – while job seekers want a new job fast, employers want to dodge the bullet of a bad hire. That is even more important to them than finding the absolute best candidate. If a hiring executive personally knows a candidates or receives a trusted referral, they are more likely to hire that person than take a chance on someone unknown.

    So what's the takeaway for us? If we are in a job search mode, we can't be like the drunk guy looking for his keys. We have to invest a significant portion of our job search time engaging with senior contacts in the industry and companies where we are the best fit. These are the people most likely to hire or recommend us.

    Eric Herrenkohl
    Managing Director and Executive Coach
    Wayne, PA