Jim Johnston, a veteran Chicago search consultant with over 25 years of experience and 2000 executive searches, says the number one factor in double-digit increases in the average length of unemployment is the reliance on job boards.

Where are the jobs?

First you have to know where the jobs are before you mount a strategy to go after them. Most executive job seekers look to executive recruiters and job boards for open positions. The problem with this is that recruiters get 15% of all executive searches and fill half of them, and only 1% of anybody ever gets a job from a job board. Managers are crucial to the development and implementation of any company’s business plan, never mind the performance of the Chief Executive Officer. This is why executive hiring is 85% chemistry – the Chief Executive has to have confidence and trust in the people implementing his strategy. Hence, CEO’s usually hire from within, word-of-mouth, personal or direct contacts. They can’t use human resources because its like sending a Private out to hire a General and executive recruiters only get 15% of all searches because the CEO’s know once they hire recruiters, they start selling them candidates and this is counter to the chemistry match they are looking to make. The reason executive recruiters only fill half of the searches they undertake is because the CEO fills the search with a personal contact or network referral before the recruiter finds the right person.

What’s the hidden job market

What creates job opportunities is the fact that there is a 30% turnover rate in executive positions. This does not mean executives are necessarily getting terminated, they could be getting transferred, promoted, leave for another opportunity, the company could be purchased and re-managed or the company could be expanding domestically or internationally or just be re-arranging the deck chairs. In any case the national average is a turnover rate of 30%, which means if you look at 100 companies and an average transition time of 120 days, there are approximately 10 job openings at any given time. This is often referred to as the “hidden or non-published job market.”

Develop a strategy

So to be effective, in an executive job search, you have to determine what role you want to play, what industries and organizations would support that role and what your geographical preferences and limitations are. The task here is not to look for open positions, but to look for the decision makers in organizations that would have the role that you are seeking to fill. Remember 30% of organizations are going to need someone, so it’s your job to initiate the introduction and chemistry match. I tell this to people that I am working with all the time and they come back and say, “How will I know if they have an open position?” You won’t but, if you talk to 100 companies you will have interviewed for 10 positions. The other comment I hear is, “The economy is bad and unemployment is over 9.5%, no one is hiring.” This is completely wrong! Unemployment is high for the worker bee population but the top ten people in an organization are the last to be let go. The company has to go under before the top management loses their jobs. Have you ever seen a company without a CEO, CFO, COO, VP Sales, etc.? There are companies closing divisions and contracting various business functions or outsourcing but this is a small percentage of the overall executive job market. The good news is that even in bad economic times there is a 30% turnover rate, creating the same amount of executive opportunities as in good times and there 80,000 boards of directors nationwide creating 10,000 board seat openings each year.

Get started

To get started, figure out what job fits your objective and core competencies. Don’t think if you look for a lower level position or less compensation that it will be easier. You’re much better off looking for a position that you can put your heart and soul into. Remember the key component is going to come down to chemistry, so if you can’t express yourself passionately and honestly you probably will not create chemistry.

Develop a target list

Now you want to make a target list. Try to take your core competencies and match them up with organizations that would have the same activities, not necessarily companies in the same “industry” For instance, the principle activity in the elevator business (industrial) is field service. This is also the case in the hospital diagnostic equipment business (healthcare). So in preparing to discuss Vice President of Operations positions you can accentuate managing the highest controllable cost in those businesses which would be unionized, mission critical, field service employees.

Most community libraries have subscriptions to online databases and can be accessed by your home computer using your library card. You can generally only download 30 or so at a time but you can generate a sizable list over a few days. You want to start with at least 200 companies which, after research, will generally yield about 100 good targets (note it usually takes about 100 well researched targets to generate 10 good interviews). You can also use paid online services like Hoovers lead builder if you don’t have access to a library, i.e. you’re doing this on your vacation.

Find the decision maker

The next step is to find the decision maker, the person that you would report to if you worked for any of the target companies. Sometimes you can use the database that you constructed the list from or you can Google the title and company. Say you want to be a VP of Operations, you might be reporting to the COO. Google “XYZ Company COO (or Chief Operations Officer)” and see what comes up. There is also linkedin.com and paid services like jigsaw.com and zoominfo.com that you can access online. In any case, before you send a resume to a potential contact you should call the main switchboard operator to make sure the name and address are correct. No matter what database you use there are errors.

Launch your search

Now you are ready to implement your strategy. You have 100 target companies and the name and address of the decision maker. Don’t use email, it dilutes your ability to start the chemistry match. It’s easy to dismiss and it often winds up in spam folders. Send your cover note and resume in a hand-addressed envelope to the decision maker with no title and no return address. We have tested this at http://www.executive-advisory.com and we get a very high open rate. Gatekeepers are reluctant to open it as it looks personal and decision makers are curious. You should send out 10 per day for ten consecutive business days. If you send out too many at a time, you won’t be able to keep up with the follow-up calls which are essential.

Follow-up calls

You must follow your resume presentation with follow-up calls. This is absolutely essential. You can take your cover note and resume and use them to develop a short script that you can use for a follow-up call pitch. The best way to deliver this, is to call the company during non-work hours and find the decision maker in the company directory. Then mention that you are following up to make sure that (the decision maker) received your resume and then say “just to recap” and leave the remainder of your pitch which should let the decision maker know your current employment status, a brief employment snapshot (company names), education, certifications, if relevant, and your competencies as they relate to the job description that you are going after. Don’t forget to leave your full name and a return phone number. You should make the first follow-up call 5 business days after you send the resume. You can repeat the follow-up call pitch 5 business days after you leave the first voice mail message, if you do not hear back from the decision maker.

Sending your resume to dozens of companies and waiting for them to contact you is passive. It puts the responsibility for the next step in the hands of someone else. If there is any moment in your life when you cannot afford to be passive, it is when you are conducting an active job search.

by Jim Johnston