Senior Leadership Job Search: Managing Expectations

Sign with "your career" stenciled on.  Sign's original reflective white texture used in text for realism.

90% of the clients that I coach begin their initial call this way:

“I have never had to look for a job before. A former colleague has always hired me or I have been recruited by an organization. I am not at all familiar with how to look for a job, especially in this day and age.”

I hear you loud and clear. Prior to this past year or two, you have always been pursued. Now, job search makes you the “pursuer” and it is a frustrating mystery as to how it works.

Here are 5 elements of job search that every leader needs to know:


Clarity of message.

When you begin a job search, you are starting from Ground Zero. That means that you have to layout, in very clear terms, exactly what you do, in what industry and share metrics that tell a story of success. People you meet need a clear understanding of what you do and you cannot rest on your reputation.

Example: “Over the past 10 years I have led the acquisitions function at larger companies like X and I am exploring VP of Business Acquisition roles where I can leverage my experience in technical valuation and organization integration.”


Don’t hit up connections without a strong value proposition and a listening ear

Many of my clients have exhausted their connections (network) before they have really laid out what they want. They also begin those coffee meetings by talking about themselves.


The very first thing you should do is ask the person sitting across from you about them – their business challenges, what they are experiencing in their own careers and what they are seeing in the market.

Only then, you should share your clear, crisp, articulate message about what you’ve been doing and what you want to do moving forward. Better yet, address some of your colleague’s comments by sharing your own perspective.

Job search isn’t about you at all, although we wish it were.

It is about what the person sitting across from you is interested in and how your story, experience and interests map to theirs. Listen intently for clues and share your story, keeping in mind what will resonate with the person sitting across from you.

Your resume isn’t your search.

Most of my C-suite clients think that by working on their LinkedIn profile or resume it will solve everything, a recruiter will find them and they will have a job in hand asap.

That is typically not going to happen.

Your resume is a tool in your search. It is a document that tells a story about your successes that back up what you share in one-on-one conversations. It is highly unlikely that a resume will get you a job. I have been recruiting for 20 years and I’d hazard a guess that I have hired no more than 10% of my candidates just by reading their resume.

That said, if your resume isn’t specific and says things like “Ability to manage complex business issues and drive change”, that isn’t helpful at all.

Your resume should be targeted to the exact type of role you want and use the vernacular of that role.

Search firms are not going to save you.

One of the first questions I am asked by C-suite clients is what search firm they should target. I am sorry to say that the glory days of being “head-hunted” are mostly over. The economic downturn put an end to that and although the search firms are seeing an up-swing in targeted types of searches, there are reasons that search firms won’t be that helpful.

Search firms depend on the demand of their corporate clients. If a search firm doesn’t have a role that maps to you on their desk, they will put you in a pile along with the other resumes that don’t match what they have in front of them.

They are notoriously bad at getting back to you. That will bring down your self esteem – not ideal when you are engaged in a process that requires you to stay upbeat.

Great search firm recruiters develop relationships with candidates over long periods of time. I know lots of search firm and former search firm recruiters and they have shared their methods: only the most topnotch, niche talent will receive attention. Unfortunately, if you haven’t been contacted by a recruiter by now, they are likely not interested in you. They have whole departments dedicated to finding what they need and those researchers can find a needle in a haystack.

Search firms are not the be-all and end-all of executive placement. Sorry.


The optimal job search incorporates thoughtful, meaningful, targeted messages. It also requires a listening ear, less of a bombastic demeanor, humility and tenacity. All of these are what you already bring to the table. You just may need a bit of guidance to remind you.