In an increasingly globalized world, how can you put yourself in the front running for the top positions? In this follow-up to “The Impact of Globalization On Executive Job Searches and Economic Prosperity”, I provide some tips and hints from readers and recruiters on how to succeed in your job search in today’s difficult economic environment and harsh employment market.
In my prior article, I wrote about researcher David Gray’s decade-long research that indicates the highest-paying executive jobs in some organizations have increasingly been influenced by large institutional investment firms. His research indicates that many of these firms’ focus on short-term, “quick fix” investment outcomes has resulted in the replacement of the most experienced executives with younger, less expensive, more malleable junior managers. And as Mr. Gray predicted in his writings over two years ago, these changes have in turn created corporate cultures that devalue competence, wisdom and analytical thought, in a trickle down effect from their executive management teams. The result: firms and even entire industries where quantity and low cost win out over innovation, quality and customer satisfaction.
In a follow-up interview, Mr. Gray noted that well-qualified executive job applicants over age 35 “should not beat themselves up over what may appear to be illogical results in some firms’ final candidate selections. As frustrating as it is to these individuals, they should realize that these situations will eventually correct themselves” in the marketplace, he says.
In fact, Gray says he is seeing in his research some early signs that some firms are starting to realize the cost of hiring junior and inexperienced executives. These costs include quality issues impacting major consumers, lawsuits, lost market share, insidious decline and in some cases, bankruptcy. Or, we can look to the financial investment markets’ meltdown for a prime example.
Until the market more broadly forces companies to again value long-term loyalty, experience and innovation, experienced job seekers will have to work hard to differentiate themselves and get jobs in such a volatile employment market. Mr. Gray, CIO.com’s readers and recruiters shared the following suggestions for making sure you’re one of the final candidates on your targeted firms’ wish lists.
LOOK ELSEWHERE – This tip is by far the most obvious solution to this problem, and the one suggested most often by recruiters I polled. As one executive recruiter put it, “Why would anyone want to work in an environment like that?!” Instead, look for industries and firms that third-party analysts have evaluated as “recession proof”, “best places to work”, “investor top buys”, or any firm that Warren Buffet invests in. Mr. Gray offers three ways to help job seekers identify organizations that value short-term profits over long-term experience, innovation, quality and customer satisfaction, in order to avoid them:
1. Research the firm’s finances, and especially their investors and shareholders. If the insider and institutional amount to over 75% of the total public float, especially if only one or a few institutional investors, that is one indication to look deeper. With such a large volume of ownership in very few hands, this has the potential to create an oligopoly-like control internally, which in turn could foment the kind of corporate executive culture Mr. Gray describes.
2. Other indicators include recent acquisition by a larger holding or investment firm, significant stock movement to offshore owners, and significant or consistent movement offshore of major assets and/or processes. You can find this kind of information in SEC filings, industry investment tracking analysts, and even the firms’ own websites and press releases. Other sources might include publications and websites like Barrons, Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Portfolio.com, and Yahoo Finance.
3. Finally, a key indicator is the age of the major executives. If they are unusually young (especially if their resumes are not indicative of comparable executives’ experience in the industry), and/or if their age is significantly younger than the firm’s Board members’ average ages, then that may be a sign that the firm doesn’t value experience. You can find the age of top executives and board members in companies’ 10-K SEC filings, in their website bio pages, and other sources. You may also be able to infer their ages from their profiles on sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, FaceBook, ZoomInfo, or Portfolio.com.
BECOME A BIG FISH IN A SMALLER POND – Sometimes it makes sense to specifically target smaller firms. These can be competitors in your same industry, upstream and downstream vendors, and even firms and industries where you can easily transfer your skills and experience to. For example, a former import-export senior executive I know transitioned to a mid-sized software firm specializing in supply chain and warehouse management systems. Also check out the “Top 10 U.S. Cities for Technology Jobs”.
LOOK OVERSEAS – With a recession here in the US, key jobs being sourced overseas, and some studies showing that other countries’ IT industries are improving fast, one option for some job seekers may be to go where the best jobs are. As one executive reader pointed out, “the most successful hunters have always been those willing to expand their hunting range” further than their competitors.
Getting a few years of international experience will help you land a job stateside. Major management consulting firms are looking for individuals with international leadership experience and who are willing to travel or temporarily relocate. Consulting firm leaders are facing a growing need for mentors to cultivate deeper industry expertise in their consulting teams. Individuals who combine real technology acumen and international business experience are incredibly valuable, and, difficult to find. (“The New Tech Boom – IT Consulting Is Thriving After All”).
But what if …. The above strategies are focused on finding alternatives to organizations and industries that have already succumbed to this short-sighted focus. But what if your dream job at your top targeted company opens up, and your research leads you to suspect that the organization’s management culture may value expedience over experience. While lying to land a job is never a good idea, “managing your boss” and setting expectations are. Mr. Gray has some suggestions that may help you adjust your approach to succeed in this specific circumstance.
SELL YOUR ABILITY TO FIT IN – “Cultural fit” should be familiar to most job seekers, but if your next potential employer devalues experience as Mr. Gray describes, then your ability to “fit in” without making waves becomes even more critical. “It’s not that employers don’t want credentials, achievements and experience,” says Gray, but rather, these kinds of firms look for new hires that won’t challenge the new flow or “ask complicated questions.” Emphasize your teamwork and collaboration skills, team wins, and shared successes. Be sure to let your references know to focus on this critical point, as well.
DOWNPLAY TITLES and CREDENTIALS – If your targeted firm appears to be one of the firms Gray is describing, then you may need to make sure you don’t outshine your potential boss. Gray has seen some job seekers “dumbing themselves down” by removing or downplaying senior titles, major achievements, industry seniority, and/or MBA and PhD degrees from their resumes to make themselves more employable. Others are adding hobbies to their resumes that specifically match their potential bosses’ hobbies, as might be found on their FaceBook or MySpace accounts. Be sure to let your references know that you are not trying to come off as too experienced for the position.
BE THEIR LOYAL ‘SECOND-IN-COMMAND’ – One manager emailed me about how he landed a new executive position, albeit under a more junior executive. He acknowledged his success was due to how he strongly emphasized his ability to be his new boss’ loyal second-in-command. He highlighted several examples where he had made his prior bosses look good, helped build support for their vision internally, and had built client approval for their bosses’ proposals. He had also coached his references on this point, as well, so that they were able to support his examples.
PLAY TO THEIR EGO – Many of these less experienced executives’ egos may be bigger than their resumes warrant. By focusing on your potential manager’s recent successful rise in the company, and highlighting how it was truly your prior boss(es)’ guidance that led to your own success, you can note your desire to find your next mentor to learn from and support.
NEGOTIATE TO YOUR END GAME DIFFERENTLY – Mr. Gray’s research shows innumerable examples in these kinds of firms where salaries for key executive roles drop significantly over time as experienced individuals are replaced. Therefore, rather than focusing on the base salary differential, work to negotiate the complete package towards your desired end. That could mean bonuses based on team, division and/or company results instead of just individual results (be sure to emphasize your team focus); stock options that fully vest immediately or at completion of specific non-time-related milestones; or other means of capturing income potential that are paid out later in time – being sure to negotiate your guaranteed retention of those payments due from work performed, whether you are still an employee or not.
Our current job market is tough, but it is still by no means as bad as 2001-2003. Having confidence in your abilities, knowing your strengths, working your network, and — plain and simple — persistence and hard work are the keys to any successful job search, even now. The obstacles described by Mr. Gray’s research do not appear to be the new standard for executives. In fact, those firms pursuing such actions are beginning to see their business efficiencies, profits and market shares decline. So it is best to avoid those firms and look elsewhere for more stable and productive employers.
In upcoming blog posts, I will be covering:
- Job search expenses,
- On the Job versus Interviewing personas,
- Referrals and recommendations – How to get the most out of your connections,
- Networking 201 (Advanced Networking Skills), and
- My resume rewrite (hopefully, I’ll be able to show the before and after).
As always, thank you very much for all of your comments, emails and input!!
CIO Job Search: A Real Life Chronicle