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5 Mistakes keeping you out of the C-Suite

Senior managers with eyes on the C-Suite often struggle to get back into the game and land that top job. Most left the job search market years – possibly decades – ago and even prospects who enlist a recruiter can find the process markedly changed since their last search. To make matters worse, even high performing candidates rarely turn to the right places for advice.

“Here is the funny thing, you can be a chief financial officer and be in the top 10 percent of CFO’s, and still be terrible at finding good career advice,” said James Phillip, founder of the executive search firm JMJ Phillip. “There is so much bad advice given in career articles today. Too many people just follow the advice they want to hear.”

JMJ Phillip, a global search firm that specializes in the manufacturing, supply chain, and technology sectors, has placed executive-level candidates for 15 years. During that time, Phillip has seen executive candidates stumble from the get-go with missteps as simple as not having an updated resume. Phillip recently shared with “Advisors Magazine” what he believes are the five most common mistakes executive candidates make.

1. Candidates provided information too slowly

Executive candidates are busy, sure, but the search process costs hiring firms significant sums of money and time is of the essence. Firms lose $500 per position, per day, on average, according to CEB, Inc.’s Global Talent Trends 2016 survey. That means a firm with a vacancy open for 45 days (the low end of average in a large urban job market, according to Phillip) sees $22,500 evaporate while a position remains empty. The same study also found that “time-to-fill” increased 50 percent since 2010, meaning the financial burden created by a vacancy likely is worse than the last time an executive candidate entered the job market. Candidates who fail to provide prompt answers, documents, and responses to follow-up questions can find themselves cut from a search if they tarry too long.

There are no hard-and-fast rules for how long an executive search will take, Phillip said. Generally, candidates in large, dynamic cities can expect the process to take 45 to 90 days, he added.

“We have seen top-four consulting clients take more than six months and tier-1 autos take two weeks,” he said. “If there is any turmoil in the markets or any uncertainty, expect the process to take even longer. Every time the stock market dips or a country in the news is making waves about some financial issue, everyone tends to slow down and proceed with caution.”

2. Candidates held back salary or role requirements

Candidates who are not straightforward with their recruiters risk wasting time on opportunities that were not worth pursuing from the beginning. Phillip said candidates might think holding back preserves their bargaining power, but that attitude can create problems for a prospective executive down the road.

“Some of the bad advice that runs rampant on the internet, is holding your cards too close … You might work for a Fortune 500, that’s well-known and respected, and make $300,000 but you don’t want to tell the next employer because you think that gives you a bargaining advantage,” Phillip said. “Sometimes it doesn’t. What can happen is, you end up negotiating a $450,000 package because you interview well, but you’re not a $450,000 person. Guess what happens when you show up and you’re not worth your wage? You don’t last long.”

Candidates might feel like they are giving up bargaining power, but really, they are honing their search to opportunities that align to their long-term career goals.

“Sometimes, it’s best to lay your cards out and know your own true intrinsic value,” Phillip said. “If you cannot get what you want, like all great negotiators, you need to walk away if they don’t agree.”

3. Candidates created difficulties for their recruiters by not disclosing other opportunities

Executive search candidates can, and should, work with multiple recruiters because no firm has access to every job opening. If two executive search firms send the same candidate to a client, however, then the hiring party risks having to pay both companies and so usually drops the prospect from consideration instead, Phillip said.

“Technically, it’s no one’s fault. It’s just the rules of the game and the candidate loses out,” Phillip said. “Often, the client asks them not to give their name, so everyone is flying blind. This puts the candidate in a bad spot, but they must understand if the client says don’t say their name, you don’t say their name. If there’s a shady recruiter that is submitting your resume to places without asking, that can cause even more of the duplicate submission problem.”

Candidates need to take responsibility for their job search by keeping details straight for every job they are submitted to. It’s the candidates’ job to spot crossover, communicate with their recruiters, and follow the “rules” that come with executive searches.

“They may think ‘Hey the more people that send me, the better chances I have!” Phillip said. “The truth is you don’t, it may give you even worse odds.”

4. Candidates thought interview preparation was a waste of time

Executive candidates often think their experience will speak for itself and that extensive preparation is unnecessary. They’re wrong.

“The reality is, they never ‘got this’ and if it is that easy to get, it likely was the wrong job for them, anyway,” Phillip said.

Executive level positions require deep preparation and research. If a client does not feel that a candidate “knows more about their company than they do” then a job offer is unlikely to follow. Candidates should research firms, hiring managers, and enter the interview prepared to discuss detailed, technical issues, if necessary.

“Anything less displays the candidate didn’t care enough to do it or were too lazy to be prepared. Either way, at this level, they lose,” Phillip said. “They can bet that if they’re an executive interviewing with me, I am going to dig so deep into their background I’ll be able to map their genome. They should do the same.”

At a more practical level, just “knocking the dust off” and doing a mock interview can help candidates feel prepared. Phillips cautions, however, that interviewing with someone who is not high level in their own career can create false confidence as it will not be as intense as the real thing. Candidates should secure the help of someone who hires people regularly, he said.

5. Candidates did not have up-to-date resumes

Executive searches often include significant vetting. Candidates who do not have their documents updated and at-hand are at a disadvantage and risk slowing down the process, which might lead to them being dropped from the pool altogether. Prepared candidates not only make the process easier for all of the involved parties, but also look ready to move into the role and show that they can pay attention to detail. Candidates who fail to maintain their documents and slow the process likely will appear sloppy to hiring firms.

Bonus tip: Securing that first executive job

First time executive candidates might feel intimidated by the shift from senior management to the C-Suite. Phillip said that the key to success as an executive candidate is for prospects to not rush into the boss’ chair so quickly. Take the time to climb the ladder gradually and only try to make the switch to an executive-level job after they feel prepared, he added.

“The number one thing any seasoned hiring manager is seeking is natural career progression, with a mixture of reasonable tenure. A candidate who worked at once place for three years and got two promotions and worked at their next job for three to four years with two promotions,” Phillip said. “This shows the candidate climbed the ladder at a reasonable pace without having to job hop every year to get the title bump … When people start title-shopping, only focusing on becoming an executive, they lose sight of their long-term career plan.”

There is no rush to get into the C-Suite, and candidates who come prepared last longer anyways.
“They should stop worrying about rising so fast,” Phillip said. “Playing the short game usually ends up with candidates struggling in the second half of their career unless they’re in the top 10 percent of your field.”

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