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Executive jobs – It’s not about job boards!

“The Hidden Job Market.” “On The Radar.” “Not Actively Looking.” All phrases associated with executive appointments, all phrases that are not associated with more junior hiring. However, it’s not just in terms of vocabulary that senior-level retained executive search and other types of recruitment are different.  When aiming to fill executive jobs, recruiters go out and ‘headhunt’ the best executives – be that person an active job seeker or not – rather than trawling through executive job boards.   So, the big question is, how to find executive jobs?

The hidden executive jobs market

At the time of writing, the global bank HSBC is looking for a new CEO. Cathay Pacific is also searching. As is the soccer franchise “The Premier League.” Likewise Mozilla. The likelihood is that you won’t find any of these positions listed on job boards.

If you are looking for a job in Healthcare, it’s easy to find healthcare job boards. Financial Services Jobs? The same applies. Sales jobs? There is any number of specialist or generic job boards that will assist.  

However, executive job boards are far less frequently found, and typically have far less genuinely executive-level opportunities listed.

It’s hard to find executive jobs.  That’s because the vast majority of senior-level positions are simply not advertised. Indeed, the majority of executive recruiters actively avoid publicizing the opportunities that they are working on. Recent research into academic executive search, for example, suggests that 51% of executive searches are executed confidentially. The percentage in the corporate sector is likely to be even higher.  We are talking about the “hidden jobs market”.

Why are executive jobs not advertised?

Search firms would argue that discretion benefits the client organization in several ways. First and foremost, some searches are designed to replace an existing C-Level employee. For this information to leak could be hugely impactful. In a public company context, the very existence of a search might be considered to be “price-sensitive,” and so there may even be legal ramifications. More generally, the departure and replacement of a senior executive needs to be handled in a way that minimizes the potential downside to the employer.

Writing in Harvard Business Review, this is what recruiter Adam Dean has to say on the topic of secrecy in executive search:

“Discretion is necessary for several reasons. First, if the executive finds out, he or she may become disengaged, and might even poison the waters for whoever the replacement is. Also, research shows that when executives are told, they often try to influence the selection process in a way that could cement their personal legacy rather than going by what’s best for the company.”

Privacy benefits potential candidates

A specific C-Suite executive search from the perspective of the client might well take 90 days on average. During much of this time, several candidates will be under consideration. Most of these executives will not be successful and will have to continue with their current employer. Clearly, it is not in the interest of these individuals that speculation about an opportunity references them.

Executive job boards

When an executive search firm is retained to fill a senior-level position, the end client is expecting them to go out and find the best candidate for the job. Recruiters group candidates into two types – “Active” and “Passive.” An active candidate is one who is actively looking for a new position. He or she will be taking pro-active steps to find a new role – including potentially applying for positions via executive job boards. However, “passive” candidates are those who are not actively looking for jobs. By definition, these executives are not going to be found on job boards.

The executive search firm has to define a strategy that will identify all candidates in the market. This is achieved via research – the recruiter aims to identify candidates with appropriate skills and experiences and will approach them, rather than the other way around. By definition, this approach will identify both active and passive candidates. As a result, there is no apparent reason to advertise the job.

So how to find executive jobs if they aren’t advertised?

If the executive can’t go to the job then she needs to do everything she can to get the recruiter to come to her. She needs to ensure that she is visible to executive recruiters – while also ensuring that she is not “seen to be looking” by current colleagues. Achieving this is known as “getting on the radar.”

I’ve blogged before about the process that executive recruiters go through to identify candidates. What about from the perspective of the executive herself? How can an executive increase the chances of a headhunter calling?

Offline visibility

Executive search has been around for far longer than the Internet. While executive recruiters spend vast amounts of time using services like Linkedin and GatedTalent, the fact is that much of the pre-internet advice still holds good.

Headhunters often seek recommendations. This process is called “sourcing” and involves taking advice and recommendations (on a confidential basis, obviously!). As a result, traditional offline networking still matters. Gaining a reputation for being good at what you do – speaking at conferences, writing for trade press – this will all help your name to come up more often.  No article entitled “how do executives find jobs” would be complete without referencing the importance of offline networking.

Online visibility

Generally speaking, any particular executive search assignment will be handled by a single executive search firm. Clearly, with opportunities being confidential, the executive has no way of knowing which search firm will be responsible for which appointment. As a result, a strategy that increases visibility to all recruiters is likely to be more successful than one that targets specific firms. Online visibility is the easiest way to achieve this.

Deciding what you want

There are more than 500 Million profiles on Linkedin. There are 80,000 executive profiles on GatedTalent. That’s a considerable amount of competition and, in reality, there is no way that an executive will be considered for every possible search. As a result, the first stage of being found is to accept this and move from a having a generic Linkedin profile to one that is focussed entirely on being found.  To do this, the executive job seeker needs to begin by determining the type of role they wish to be considered for, and then take steps to ensure that profiles are designed around those roles.  This process is known as Linkedin Profile Optimization.

Getting found on LinkedIn – Linkedin Profile Optimization

There is an entire industry devoted to helping executives increase visibility on Linkedin. We provide support with this service to our GatedTalent members, and you’ll find a detailed explanation of how to optimize your Linkedin profile elsewhere on our site. I’d encourage you to have a read of that. In short, however, Linkedin profile optimization involves identifying the “keywords” associated with the types of role that you wish to be considered for. Those keywords are then placed in relevant places across your profile – your tagline, your summary and your employment history.  It involves adding appropriate skills, joining appropriate groups, and taking steps designed to make Linkedin believe that you are what you say you are.

Using GatedTalent to increase your profile with executive search firms

Linkedin is a terrific tool for an executive wishing to increase visibility among recruiters (the same is true for Xing in German-speaking markets). However, it is also limited. If a headhunter is trying to identify a candidate based on her current role – “I want the CMO at Megacorp” or even “I want the CFO at a public company in the FMCG sector” then Linkedin is terrific. However, recruiters often face a more subtle specification. “I’m looking for a CEO who has c-suite and private equity experience, has enjoyed success in a turnaround situation, is fluent in English and Chinese and knows the healthcare sector. He or she must be willing to relocate to Singapore.”

In this scenario, Linkedin is limited. While there may be hundreds – possibly thousands – of executives on the platform who might meet this specification, the vast majority would not share this level of data on a public profile. As a result – while the executives are undoubtedly on the platform – the recruiter can’t easily spot them.

Resolving this problem is a crucial difference between Linkedin and GatedTalent. GatedTalent is a platform that allows executives to share private profiles with recruiters. Executive recruiters use the platform to identify and engage with potential candidates. Unlike on Linkedin, profiles are not shared publically, and so executives tend to share more detailed information about achievements, transferable skills and aspirations. Recruiters, on the other hand, enjoy more extensive search features (including full-text search). As a result, executives will increase the chances of a recruiter’s contact by creating an optimized profile on Linkedin, supported by a detailed profile on GatedTalent.

Next steps for an executive job search:

In conclusion – Executive job boards rarely run top-level executives jobs.  As executives become increasingly senior, they are increasingly dependent on being spotted by executive recruiters. The more senior the executive, the fewer potential opportunities for development, and so the answer to the question “how to find executive jobs?” is “help recruiters find you.”

As a result, a proactive career strategy should be followed, including all of the following steps:

  • Decide on the type of position you wish to be considered for
  • Work out the skills and experiences that such a role might require
  • Optimize your Linkedin profile to ensure that you come up for appropriate searches
  • Register with GatedTalent, and provide more detailed information on your transferable skills, achievements and aspirations
  • Join our complimentary “Executive Careers” webinars to understand better the motivations of executive recruiters and what to expect when you are approached – you can register here.

Other resources for the executive job seeker:

Career advice from executive recruiters:  How to manage your executive career strategy – advice direct from the recruiters!

What are retained executive search firms?  Understand how senior-level executive search firms operate.

Executive interview questions and answers – Real examples from executive recruiters of the questions you might expect as you go through the search process

Create a GatedTalent Profile

Recent research into academic executive search, for example, suggests that 51% of executive searches are executed confidentially

executive job search