By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO.

Over the years, I’ve heard many hiring managers and even more recruiters describe the condition of the employment market. “It’s a candidate-driven market these days”, “there’s a war for top talent”, “it’s so competitive for good people, even average candidates command a lot of opportunities”. These sayings convey a candidate-driven market meaning employers need to be special or they won’t attract good to great people. Candidate driven markets are associated with healthy economies, low unemployment rates, and sector growth. Conversely, employer-driven markets also occur given ebbs and flows of the macroeconomy as well as changes in sector-specific shifts. Even if the macroeconomy is healthy, if investments are not being made in your industry it’s likely that employers can be that much more selective and many candidates cannot.

For executives, sector-specific shifts can be humbling. Recruiters and employers used to call you left and right, but now it’s less frequent and the roles are less attractive. The “hot” companies of a few years ago may have cooled considerably. Perhaps many companies are contracting or scrambling due to reduced volume or eroding margins. Perhaps technological innovations or changes in monetization models have caused obsolescence so many of those companies and/or people are no longer necessary for success. In fact, it’s possible many companies can’t survive unless they radically trim down inefficiencies and overhead including staff, and almost always including some portion of the most highly paid executives. If you’re one of those impacted executives, you could find your way out of a seat and into a market where you discover the number of seats has been scaled back at many of the other companies in your space. What does that mean? More executive candidates, fewer executive openings. Your 300K or 500K or 1m+ compensation requirements may not be currently palatable. So, what can you do?

Yeah, I know, I’m not real cheery in this blog so far. Apologies, however ignoring increasingly difficult executive-level job market conditions is certainly not the right strategy. The executive between opportunities or dissatisfied with his/her current gig needs to acknowledge the market reality and prepare to succeed despite those conditions. Here are 3 ideas:

1) Be transparent with your professional network. Obviously, don’t exude desperation (the worst trait ANY candidate can ever project in a career pursuit), but don’t be too coy about your intentions either. If you want your network to work for you, let them know you’re serious about making a change.

2) Engage previous bosses. Prospective employers will call people they know about you and ask for their opinion. I often see very little discretion practiced when people are not gainfully employed because the due diligence doesn’t jeopardize their employment status. Get ahead of this by maintaining respectful “bridge open” relationships and let them know you may need them to be a reference. Who knows, they may also have networking ideas for you.

3) Target company CEO’s and board members directly. Executives need to gain an audience with decision-makers, period. Sure, you should respect any formalized processes in approach, however you need to CREATE YOUR OWN PROCESS to stand out at times. Leverage beyond the obvious insight, get their attention by getting to a point, and land an audience with the influencers. Sell yourself and sell your value, get a meeting. The jobs you want are rarely posted anywhere and sometimes won’t exist until they meet you. Plant many seeds, it only takes one to plant roots and thrive for you to win your next leadership post.

One final thought on targeting appropriate recruiters. Despite what many people think, top recruiters do not and (should not) work primarily for the candidate. Great recruiters help build companies which means they work for the company. If you’re not in a candidate-driven market/sector, you shouldn’t expect a busy recruiter to be excited about your specific candidacy for one of his/her roles. I know it sounds arrogant, but they don’t have time to speak with everyone that reaches out. Sorry, but it’s true! If you want to get their attention, here are a few suggestions on that interaction:

  • Be concise. If I need to scroll down on an email, it’s too long. Get to the point.
  • Personalize. Draw an association of a common reference or company or person. Or better yet, get introduced by someone credible.
  • Make it easy. Send your CV, include your cell in the body of any correspondence. I can’t tell you how many notes I get that don’t include someone’s number and they’re asking for a call. Next.
  • Demonstrate insight. Is there a SPECIFIC company or executive role you’re interested in? Is there a common VC or private equity association? Go beyond the obvious and you’ll greatly increase your odds of differentiation.
  • Organize your approach. One email isn’t enough. Email with specifics that “If I’ve not heard from you sooner, I’ll call you Thursday at 10am.” Don’t be afraid to drop a CV and cover letter or handwritten note via snail mail…. nobody does it anymore, you’ll stand out.
  • Relate, don’t transact. A lot of recruiters are accused (rightly so) of being transactional when they should be building relationships for the long term. Well execs are very often the same way and it’s an error. Like a lawyer or a doctor, a recruiter you get to know over a longer period of time will know you better, care about you more, and will help you in ways outside of today’s job hunt.

I know I can do a better job of improving my relationships, personally and professionally, hiring execs and candidates, investors and operators. Do you know what they all have in common with me? They’re people. Let’s start there.