Top jobs tips for retrenched execs

Published 31 May 2012 00:08, Updated 04 June 2012 14:40

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Top jobs tips for retrenched execs

Expecting to dazzle a recruiter with a rolled gold resume won’t work. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Cutbacks in a slowing economy are to be expected but many of the people who now find themselves updating their resumes are senior managers and executives more used to issuing redundancy notices than receiving them. It’s a grim time for senior executives wanting to get back into the workforce.

In addition to an economy that has remained on edge since the global financial crisis, many companies are cutting swathes through their management and executive ranks as restructures realign businesses and consolidate management hierarchies. And it’s not just companies: radical structural changes in the economy mean that many senior executives who have lost their jobs cannot assume that there will be demand for their specific expertise and experience.

The result, according to the managing director of executive recruitment firm Ambition, Paul Lyons , is an “ever-expanding pool of grey talent”. Many of these executives in their late 40s and 50s who unexpectedly find themselves out of a job are in unfamiliar territory.

“After years of being empowered through their seniority, executives are suddenly feeling ‘naked before the court’ as their experience and former status appears to count for nothing in the current job market,” Lyons says.

Rather than relying on a “bland and generic presentation of their past experience”, it is up to well-credentialed job seekers to “properly translate past experience into future expertise”.

In this climate, Lyons says, employers are insisting on candidates who are an “exact fit” when recruiting for senior positions. Employers are in no mood for taking risks, so they favour candidates that have done the job before for a similar company in a similar sector. If job seekers cannot match their experience to the position, “you have to convincingly demonstrate that your fresh perspective will provide significant value”.

This includes “analysing the challenges facing a target employer and being able to weave your insights and expertise into solving those challenges.”

The principal of Tanner Executive Search, Peter Tanner, says many of the senior candidates he meets are finding it difficult to make the adjustment to job seeker. “I am amazed at how many senior people have never managed their career. It’s been by happenstance in the past,” Tanner says. “Well it isn’t now. They have to fight for the role.”

Expecting to dazzle a recruiter with a rolled gold resume won’t work. Seasoned executives may not like it but they have to impress the recruiter just like any other job candidate.

“The recruiter is assessing you as soon as you shake hands,” Tanner cautions. “Be prepared. Remember, it’s about what you can offer a potential employer in the first instance and not what they can offer you.”

Treating the recruiter with anything less than total courtesy is unwise.

“Even at executive level I have had people who have to go out for a parking meter or who don’t turn off their phones,” Tanner says.

The managing director of Ampersand Executive Search, Hayley James, has never experienced such a stream of high calibre candidates coming through her office. “We’re seeing quality people coming out of restructures and realignments, well-known individuals who have profiles in their own right – function heads, division heads,” James says. “It’s super competitive for these candidates.”

Despite their experience and seniority, some of these executives believe they have nothing to prove. They are mistaken. Recruiters want to see candidates at their best and first impressions count, even if they are seasoned executives who have been there and done that.

In that first critical meeting, James says she looks for “positivity, presence and gravitas”. She also expects candidates to be focused, relaxed and engaging. And while she can understand that some executives find the recruitment process frustrating, she says a negative attitude during an interview is a turn-off. So is verbosity.

“It’s a fine line but candidates need to make strong representations of who they are without being too salesy or too verbose,” she says.

Recruiters agree that applying indiscriminately for positions is counter-productive. Executives who find they are in the job market for longer than expected get nervous and apply for jobs for which they are over-qualified.

Even worse, says the director of recruitment firm Aequalis Consulting , Simon Boulton , is when they feel entitled to positions they normally would consider beneath them.

“People need to apply for the right jobs,” Boulton says. “There are people who are way too senior applying for junior jobs whose names come up again and again. These applicants can get themselves a reputation.”

Not getting lesser positions adds to candidates’ frustration because they reason they are “more than qualified” for these positions – but that’s the problem, they are more than qualified.

“It’s a sense of entitlement that borders on arrogance but they should see it from the employer’s point of view,” Boulton says. “If the employer wants a financial controller they don’t need a chief financial officer, they’re looking for a senior accountant to step up to a financial controller’s role. They want people who are aspirational and ambitious, not CFOs who have done the job in the past.”

The managing director of executive search firm Staite Henningsen Klein, Andrew Staite , urges senior managers and executives to strike relationships with two or three executive search consultants as part of the process of rebuilding their careers.

For recruiters, developing and mentoring potential candidates they can recommend to clients makes the candidates a valuable resource; for the candidates, the recruiter’s expertise is equally valuable.

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