Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO.

Unless you just sold your company after several years of hard work and are now counting your millions while on sabbatical, the experience of being “between opportunities” can be frustrating and possibly a little scary. As an executive recruiter for the past 12 years, I’ve inherently spoken with many executives and senior professionals while at a career crossroad. Stuff happens. Companies downsize, companies merge, offices relocate, new CEO with her own “team” moves in, personal life hijacks professional life, people get passed over for a promotion, disagreement materializes with changes in the business evolution, and yes, sometimes poor performance leads to termination. Change is inevitable and sometimes not in our control. Like many aspects of life, our contributing circumstances are far less important to our situation compared to our response to that situation.

So you’re between opportunities…..exploring what’s next…..weighing your options…..out of work (ugh)…..unemployed. Unemployed? Me, unemployed? “Unemployed” sounds WAY worse then “exploring what’s next” and the more time passes by, the more you’re feeling unemployed vs. exploring what’s next. We all have different responsibilities, financial obligations, career ambitions, and criteria for what we’ll consider (or not) in our next professional move. One benefit of your status is that you have time to think about what you want/need to do. It’s critical that we individually deliberate on what is truly important as we embark on ‘what’s next’. What exactly are you pursing? It needs to be defined and put in print so you have a measurable objective to validate. If it’s critical that you own a P&L in your next role, then you can’t consider opportunities without that requirement. If you’re divorced and need to have your kids 50% of the time, then you can’t relocate and therefore can’t consider other markets. Certain criteria are absolutes. Perhaps the P&L ownership is desired but not essential so you would still consider roles that don’t match that criteria. To each his own! The point is we all have customized requirements and it’s important we define what those are: the deal-breaking absolutes, the strongly preferred, and the nice to haves. Once we know what those are we can take action, but this is where many people’s efforts fall down.

Responding to job postings on LinkedIn or Indeed is necessary, but it’s nowhere deep enough and submissions often get no responses at all. Reaching out to recruiters to “get on their radar” is a good move, however timing is everything and the fact is they’re not paid to find you a job. Having coffee with people you already know to let them know you’re “looking” and to help with referrals is also a smart move, but again not enough. Attending networking events within your desired industry is also a good idea, but superficial in coverage. All of these strategies combined are appropriate approaches one should take, but again not entirely comprehensive. Whether you’re a CEO, CTO, VP Marketing, Account Executive, head custodian, whatever the level and function – you need to build an organized approach to the market that includes direct pursuit of execs at the companies you might want to work. And don’t tell yourself “I’m not a salesperson” or you’ll likely be weighing far fewer options over a far longer time period. Take action:

  1. Identify every company you’re interested in pursuing. List them out on a spreadsheet or CRM
  2. Identify 3 high level decision-makers within the company and add them to your spreadsheet or CRM. Most people shoot too low or pursue human resources, which is a mistake. You want to stand out and gain someone’s attention, start at the top.
  3. Identify if you have any influential relationships at the company already. Keep in mind that unless your existing contacts are highly credible and you’re confident they’ll push for you, you DON’T want that conduit representing your in-the-door interests……you can leverage them later.
  4. You’ll want to sequence your contact strategy like a salesperson to approach your identified individuals.
    • Your initial email should include your CV and be concise – if the recipient needs to scroll down, your note is not concise
    • Your note should include brief insights you have about the company or the individual which demonstrate ‘beyond the obvious’ understanding such as trends in the market or competitive landscape. You want to project thought leadership and create intrigue, which leads to a meeting.
    • Your note MUST include a specific call to action. The call to action should note your desire to meet and that you’ll be following up at a specific time to schedule a meeting. “I’ll follow up with your EA, Tom, this Thursday at 10am EST in an effort to align calendars for an initial meeting for us.”
    • Follow-through with your call to action! Assume you’ll get a gatekeeper who will answer the phone, look to leverage their influence with the executive you’re trying to reach. Don’t hammer them, solicit their help.
    • If you get delegated to HR, call off hours and leave the targeted executive a voicemail. Follow up with an additional email replying to the same thread you initiated and start with “Name, per my voicemail, I’m following up…..”
    • Send a letter in the mail. Nobody does this anymore, but it often works and you’ll stand out.
    • Given 3 executive contacts at these desired companies, you’ll want to stage the approaches to the different audiences so there isn’t too much overlap, but don’t overthink it – more communication is better than less.

Any outplacement consultant will tell you that going direct to the hiring execs is the best route. Lot’s of people can say “no”, but only a few can ultimately say “yes, we want to hire you”. You need to identify those people and pursue those people on your own. You want to be tactful and precise, but you must gain the attention of the hiring execs (or their bosses – go to a board member with an angle, go to the CEO with an argument, go high and keep it in your own hands to the extent that you can). If you were building a business, you’d map out a comprehensive strategy and execute against it. Landing “what’s next” is that business, it’s your most important business, and it’s now. It’s critically important that you define what you want, you have a plan, and you’re willing to strategically and tactically go after it. Don’t wait on others, take action and you’ll be in your dream role before you know it. Get it done.