Congratulations. You've established yourself on top of the totem pole, where the air is crisp.
Admittedly, it's been a real ass-kicker and occasionally a real ass-kisser getting there, but I digress.
You're no stranger to hard work and competition—and odds are, you've earned it. You've been strategic, performed, and conveyed a list of accolades.
So why is it such a fluster cluck getting in the door for new executive opportunities? And why do other executives start vanquishing seven-figure packages while you muck around in the half-mil middle-manager tech range?
To answer your question, yes. I spend too much time pondering life's first-world problems. But for that odd quirk of mine, my clients tend to appreciate the insight. So let's get into it.
The View From The Leadership Summit
As you reach the top rung of the corporate ladder, comparable executive roles become increasingly desired yet scarce. Supply and demand is a real bitch.
C-Suite roles are rarely public and vacant, companies don't post openings for executive work, and recruiters only call for the same old stuff you did four years ago (except for less pay and more pressure).
Frustratingly, even the most distinguished and decorated executives face more competition for less opportunity—and often from those with elevated titles, feigned acumen, and an inflated sense of accomplishment.
Ya, I'm looking at you tech startup "executives."
Can you spot the counterfeits when compared with the real deal? How?
A résumé? A history of success? A thumbs up from another executive? The latest trendy GTM PLG framework? A firm handshake and a guileless smile?
If it's exhausting for you, it's exhausting for hiring managers too. So you need to make it easy. It's your responsibility to do the leg work.
What Got You Here, Won't Get You There
Gone are the days when an application on Indeed elicits any response—and hell, if you've been at the game long enough, you may think that being an executive works against you when looking for new work.
Would you hire a leader who may assume too much business responsibility or disrupt the comfy status quo you established? Or would you rather a promising up-and-comer that will work double time to prove themselves without threatening your job in 6 months?
So what do you do? Obviously, tap that network, baby!
If only it were so simple. Your network often knows who you have been but not who you are today or where you're going. Confusing your network or switching focus can be a detriment. Plus, going to an old buddy with a "will work for food" sign isn't the most flattering look.
You know that you bring leading executive talent to the table, but it may appear as though nobody is looking for it.
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Let's get one concept crystal clear. You can never rest on your laurels.
Your work, no matter how sexy and lucrative, is not an indicator of success in another business. Adapt or die.
I've found this concept applies to your career, network, and job opportunities which are "in motion" at all times.
You must regularly:
- Re-assess your accomplishments to meet modern expectations.
- Maintain relationships and re-energize them with new connections.
- Challenge open job recs critically and convey how you will excel.
- Negotiate the perfect role for maximum clarity and understanding of fit before inking the deal.
Annoyingly, it's always on you to set the stage, achieve clarity, communicate value, establish trust, and differentiate yourself from the competition. But, unfortunately, your résumé can't do that.
OKAY, Where The F&%# Are The Executive Jobs?
Great question, friend.
We've established that they're hidden, there is too much competition (some worthy, most not), your friends aren't always the answer, and it's always on you to find them.
How do you get leads, build a funnel, and close the RIGHT deal?
Marketing Alone Won't Cut It—Become A Hunter
An average sales professional will prospect a buyer that announces that they have a problem. In B2B, this could be on LinkedIn, in forums, or in a community.
Prospective buyers raise their hand, and then the large school of sales piranha swooshes in to gnaw at the bone. Google Adwords and retargeting follow the buyer into submission. The intent is public, and therefore the bidding war commences.
E.g., a publicly posted executive role has high competition, lower negotiation leverage , and a lower compensation ceiling.
A great sales professional will search for prospective buyers based on other indicators that aren't readily apparent to the competition.
For example, let's say you've purchased an engagement ring.
You may be interested in a wedding registry, planner, disc jockey, caterer, photographer, venue, invitations, flowers, sculpted ice swan... And if you're playing the long game, baby clothes, cribs, larger mortgage, minivans, soccer balls...
E.g., a company posts a press release, funding announcement, or role(s) that indicates a strategic phase, hiring plan, or more significant challenge you understand well. No executive role is dispatched, but you recognize the challenges they're facing now—or are about to work on.
Ding ding ding. Now you want to have a conversation. Sometimes this means applying for lesser roles to get a foot in the door, then interviewing and negotiating your way into a VP or C-Suite role.
Crystal Balls Lead To Your #1 KPI: Conversations
To become the go-to executive, distance yourself from competitors, and increase your compensation, you not only need to know how to perform in the role, BUT you must recognize that an organization has a challenge before they even know they have it.
Sometimes you get the inside scoop from your network. There are habits you can form to accelerate those percentages; however, you will always need to create separation from other candidates through the interview and negotiation process.
In short, you need to see around corners, identify problems, and propose solutions from your first conversation, thus illustrating that you know what the hell you're talking about.
My cheat code to accomplish this during an interview is to pretend you already have the job as a consultant but don't have the details yet.
- Direct interviews toward solving tomorrow's challenges, not rehashing the glory days of past work experience.
- Ask questions that indicate you have more to offer than the company currently thinks.
- Uncover and propose creative solutions to continue the conversation, build trust, and further establish the relationship.
Consider that many executive roles start as fractional consulting roles until either party is ready to commit (or can afford to take the chance). I anticipate that trend to grow as economic indicators point toward a meltdown.
Finally, keep your options open. Create habits to maintain a strong pipeline of interested companies and relationships, even when you're not actively on the prowl.