Should Your Next Job be an Interim Excutive Role by Marji McClure

For most executives in transition, the end goal is landing a new full-time position in their industry. But many are starting to find that short-term (or interim) assignments are a viable career option that can provide the salary and work experience they need as they continue their quest for a permanent placement. Still more prominent in Europe, interim posts are increasingly gaining trac- tion in the US with both organizations and executives for a variety of reasons.

Executive search firms, which bring hiring companies and job-seeking execu- tives together, are also benefitting from this interest in interim executive positions. According to data from ExecuNet’s Executive Job Market Intelligence Report (EJMIR), those firms supplemented their recruiting business with a 36 percent increase in interim executive placements in 2009. They are certainly seeing an increase in candidates interested in and available for such placements.

For both companies and executives, interim positions yield many benefits, as they are a viable way in which business operations and careers can move forward without the risks associated with permanent staffing.

“I have seen a significant trend in companies using interim executives and professionals to meet a short-term need,” says Peter Rosen, president of Atlanta- based HR Strategies & Solutions. “There is a very large pool of very talented people who are not working and are willing to do this. There is also a new breed of talent who have chosen this path as their new career.”

In addition, company business plans used to span five years, says Vince Papi, principal of Executive Smarts LLC, while those plans today are much shorter — just one or two years long. By bringing in an interim project manager, companies can more easily change gears after a year or two, if necessary.

Interim assignments are being used in companies to fill director-level and above positions, and they can be used to manage specific projects or even fill needs created by acquisitions. “Some companies are looking at projects that might be a year or two in length, and they need some help on the team,” says Papi. “They realize that after a year or two, they might not have a place for these people. So interim makes sense. You don’t have the cost of recruiting, moving them and a [severance] package if they have to terminate them a year or two down the road.”

Who Accepts Interim Posts? While many executives who seek interim positions today are individuals in transi- tion seeking a new opportunity, some are more financially secure and in the later stages of their career — and are instead only seeking a leadership challenge. “Some executives are doing this because they don’t have other career options, and some are choosing to take this route because they find it stimulating, rewarding and enjoy the flexibility,” says Rosen.

“The typical interim executive is sensibly overqualified,” adds Papi. “They’re coming into a situation where they’re working as an interim at a level below they were in the full-time world. They’ve got a lot of expertise, so they can ramp-up pretty quickly and hit the ground running. Unlike consultants who come in and make recommendations, the interim will also follow through on the recommendations for project completion.”

Yet, one ExecuNet member recognized that changes in the marketplace meant a change in her career strategy was necessary, and she opted for interim work. “The market was terrible, and I was fairly confident that healthcare IT vendors were not going to be investing in marketing and product management executives during such uncertain times,” says ExecuNet member Carrie Bauman, who served as an interim director of new product development. “Since my husband was laid off too, it made business sense for our family for me to take an interim role even though it meant more travel than I was comfortable with.”

For ExecuNet member Mike Wichelns, an interim assignment didn’t represent a major change in career strat- egy, since he was accustomed to project work as a consultant. “My consulting plate was not too ‘full’ at the time, and they were willing to pay me well for my services,” explains Wichelns, who worked as an interim president and general man- ager. “I just viewed the interim position like any other consulting project. So having it last just three to five months did not seem that out of the ordinary for me.”

How Interim Positions Work

The typical interim assignment can last from nine months to a year, but some can even last two or three years. Companies sometimes begin with a short contract to ensure they are pleased with the executive’s work. Once they are, they are more apt to extend that interim contract.

ExecuNet member Jerry Happel says three of his interim posts lasted five years, 10 years and five years, respectively.
“My fourth interim CEO position was supposed to be for three to four months and it lasted 12 months.”

Wichelns’ role was projected to last about three months, but was extended to five months — enough time to meet the objectives of the work. “Toward the end of five months, I recommended shut- ting down that office and moving the functions to another location in the Northeast,” he explains. “That strategy was approved by the owner, and I facili- tated the shut down and move.”

Interim assignments require a formal contract among all parties: between the interim executive and a firm like Papi’s, as well as one between Papi’s company and the client company, which hires the executive. The executive and the company then agree on the deliverables and out- comes the relationship is expected to yield. Salary is discussed at this point. If the interim assignment is not in an executive’s local area, he can usually expect to be compensated for living expenses.

Executives agree that adhering to tight deadlines — typical of interim work— can be challenging, yet rewarding. “A lot of interim managers tell me that an interim assignment is like drinking through a fire hose,” says Papi. “It’s usually extremely fast-paced, long hours.”

While the prospect of a steady (if short-lived) income is enticing, some executives are concerned about how an interim assignment will look on their résumé. “There may be some prospective employers who may look negatively on such a short tenure if they don’t under- stand the interim nature of the assign- ment,” says Wichelns.

But experts say not having a gap in employment history is more important. “Most interims will use that experience to show companies that they’ve been able to learn new skills or give them additional skills to make them much more valuable to the new organization,” says Papi.

Yielding All the Benefits Some of the benefits of an interim position are:

• The ability to continue a search while making income.
• Minimizing your employment gaps.
• Staying connected with current events and people.
• Becoming familiar with a new market- place.
• Having the luxury of previewing a company.

Building their skill set as well as their network through an interim assignment can prove invaluable to executives as they continue their career journey. These assignments may be temporary, but their effects can be long-lasting.

“It filled (what could have been) a large gap in my résumé until the market started to recover and HIT vendors began hiring once again,” says Bauman. “I ended up landing an even better position with a very large HIT vendor, and it was good to expand my skills and network during the transition.”

Transitioning to Full-Time Sometimes, interim positions can lead to full-time work with the employer. But executives shouldn’t expect such an out- come when they accept an interim post.

“Most companies would prefer an interim who is not looking for a full-time job,” says Papi. “There are multiple rea-sons. When an interim comes into an organization, he or she doesn’t have to play the politics of the organization. If an interim starts to look for a job within the corporation, it may cloud their judgment. It’s much cleaner if they’re not looking.”

“The best way to approach these interim roles from the executive’s perspec- tive is to look at it as an interim role and not a path to the offer,” advises Rosen. “It’s easy to take your eye off the ball if you are looking too far out.”

But circumstances can create a full-time post. “There have been assignments where the company didn’t intend to hire the interim, but the chemistry was so great and good things happened with the business,” and the company decided to hire the executive full-time, says Papi, noting that scenario occurs about 10 percent of the time.

Time and Travel Still Main Concerns

Executives need to understand that interim executive positions oftentimes require a temporary relocation (some- times within the US, sometimes across the globe). “If someone wants to do interim work, they’ve got to recognize it could mean they’re going to be away from home,” he says. “They’re probably going to have to travel for some assign- ments. So they’ve got to be prepared for that.” But Happel notes employers will usually pay for executives to visit their homes once or twice a month.

Nonetheless, time management — especially when still seeking a full-time post — can be a true challenge. “It cuts into the time you can spend job hunting,” says Bauman. “This means less family time and/or less sleep if you want to keep looking while you’re in an interim assign- ment. Any travel needed will further diminish your available time to look.”

Still, the benefits of interim employ- ment seem to outweigh the drawbacks, ExecuNet members agree. “If the right opportunity presents itself, definitely consider an interim assignment,” suggests Bauman. “Even if it’s not perfect, it’s not forever. You can do most anything for three to six months.”

“If it was possible to stay steadily employed, I would enjoy doing these types of assignments on a permanent basis in lieu of a regular long-term assignment,” adds Wichelns. “There is a special adrenaline rush that comes from taking on these types of assignments and virtually no opportunity to ever feel stale
or stagnant.”

Job Hunters Should Learn Role Reversal Networking By Tom Englander

Most advice on networking focuses on how you should get your message across in polished formats, such as
the two-minute drill, elevator speech or personal commercial. The aim is to help job hunters provide a very
articulate and catchy rendition of what they can offer, what they’re looking for, and then ask the other
person for assistance in finding a job.

For instance, an executive might call someone he hasn’t talked with in many years and say: “Sam, I know
it’s been a while but I’ve been really busy, what with the job and the family and all. Well, for now, that has
changed — my job has gone away. Do you know of any openings for a [insert the function here]?”

If this is your approach, ask yourself, “Am I really networking or just bothering people?”

This process doesn’t work well, even with an effectively delivered message, because job hunters are totally
focused on what the other person can do for them. They show little or no regard for what this person might
need. They’re concentrating on taking instead of giving, talking instead of listening. Eventually, they become
so frustrated by their lack of results (job leads) that they give up.

But this isn’t networking; it’s a self-interested, one-way conversation. It lacks mutuality and won’t help you
in the short or long run.

Networking isn’t about getting something from somebody. Good networkers know this and seek little from
others. Typically, they have more contacts and friends than they know what to do with. They are fun to chat
with. And if they ever do need help, they get more than they need. Their secret? Being good listeners and
asking open-ended questions.

Their approach, which I have labeled “role-reversal networking,” is occasionally mentioned in sales-training
materials as a way to learn about customers’ needs. It takes as its premise the old saying: “You have two
ears and one mouth and should use them proportionally.” Spending more time listening and less time talking
will yield more of the results you’re seeking: a conversation that helps build rapport and create a connection.

Here’s how it works:

Good listeners are active listeners. You hear not just the words being said but also the feelings and
attitudes behind the words. It requires that you really listen, not prepare for what you’re going to say next;
that you ask follow-up questions to understand what the other person is really saying, not present your
counter-argument; and that you not interrupt. In short, it requires that you respect other people and their
opinions. As Atlanta-based author and leadership expert John Maxwell once said, “People don’t care what
you know, until they know you care.”

Simply stated, open-ended questions are those that cannot be answered by a single word (e.g., “yes,” “no,”
or “seven”); they require thought and engage the answerer’s mind. When questions focus on the other
person’s experience, interests or expertise, both of you will be more comfortable during the conversation,
and the other person will often open up to you about what and whom they know (your objective for
networking). After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about themselves?

In addition, focusing your networking conversation on the other person takes you out of the spotlight. For
introverts, this makes networking a much more palatable activity. For extroverts, it opens their eyes to a
whole new world beyond themselves.

Here’s an example of what a role-reversal networking conversation might sound like.

Assume Sally has been introduced to Phil by a mutual acquaintance, Mike. All three are software developers.
Sally is unemployed and Mike is an independent contractor working for the company where Phil is a project

Sally: Thanks for seeing me. Mike speaks very highly of you and your ability to lead teams. How did you
develop that ability?

Phil: I’ve always liked working with people. Over the years, I took a lot of courses and successfully
passed my PMI Certificate exam. Those classes really helped!

Phil: Oh, I hardly do any coding at all any more. I really miss it. Most of my time is spent resolving
problems either from my team or from our in-house customers.

Sally: It sounds like you miss the coding part.

Phil: Yes, I do! It’s pretty easy to get programs to work the right way. It’s much tougher with team
members and customers.

Sally: What’s your biggest problem with team members?

Phil: Getting them to look at the situation from the customer’s perspective. They are more into writing
elegant code than solving customers’ problems.

Sally: Do I hear that! A couple of years ago we faced a similar situation.

Phil: Well, how did you handle it? …

By focusing on and listening to understand Phil’s situation and the issues that concerned her, Sally was able
to find an opportunity to display her own expertise at a time when it was of interest to Phil. In addition,
by keying into Phil’s business issues, the focus has shifted from Sally’s need for a job to Phil’s need to
solve some important problems. In this context, Phil is much more likely to picture Sally as a solution to his
problems and to create a job shaped around Sally’s strengths.

By concentrating on the other person’s needs and interests through the use of open-ended questions and
active listening, job hunters can enhance their results and come to appreciate networking. By seeking to
understand and help the other person, you’re ultimately helping yourself.

Not long ago, I worked with a finance and quality management executive who seemed to be networking well
and frequently but wasn’t getting results. As we talked, it became apparent that his approach was turning
people off because it was too self-centered.

Following our discussion, he changed his networking focus from asking for a job to listening to what the
other person was saying. He began to receive referrals to employed professionals in his field. Through these
new discussions, he learned about two companies that were struggling with issues he could resolve. Both of
these opportunities led to job offers, including one closer to his home that he accepted. “Once I closed my
mouth and opened my ears, my progress was exponential!”

Remember, not all networking opportunities will result in a win for you. However, if you do it properly, using
your ears more than your mouth, it will always be a win for the other person. That will be remembered,
appreciated, and many times reciprocated.

— Mr. Englander is a vice president and senior consultant with outplacement firm Right Management
Consultants in Addison, Texas.

What You Should Know About Headhunters by Joseph McCool

Executive recruiters can usher you into the corner office or leave you stranded after the fourth interview. Here’s what to expect.

Executive recruiters—or headhunters as most businesspeople know them—are especially influential agents of executive mobility and management-career opportunity.

They are powerful ambassadors of hiring organizations’ brands and cultures, and their work lubricates the wheels of corporate growth, change management, and leadership like no other external business advisers. Their actions can shape corporate performance, because they hold the keys to most of the world’s highest-paying management jobs by virtue of controlling access to them.

Collectively, executive recruiters network their way to millions of experienced managers around the world each year to identify the most promising candidates. Their judgment determines who deserves to be introduced to client hiring organizations.

The truth is, whether you’re building a company or your own senior management career, you can’t get anywhere in business without the headhunters.

Candidates Shouldn’t Pay to Play

It’s important to understand that not all executive recruiters work from the same sheet of music. Theirs is an entirely unregulated business pursuit with no barrier to entry, and given that there are distinct differences between them and other, unrelated parties like so-called executive agents and coaches who would seek to support your career choices, it’s especially important that you understand what you really need to know about headhunters.

For starters, you should know that no one in the business of executive recruiting should ever ask you for money to facilitate your next management-level career move. If you’ve already held a management position, let your experience, credentials, and references do the talking for you. You don’t need to open your checkbook to get ahead.

Having now addressed what executive recruiters are not, let’s delve deeper into the kinds of executive recruiters who may, if they haven’t already done so, reach out to you.

Executive Recruiters

Two types of executive recruiters work from outside the hiring company to facilitate the recruitment of new executives.
The retained executive search consultant is engaged on an exclusive basis by a hiring company to identify and assess candidates to fill senior management positions typically paying a salary above $150,000. These consultants typically recruit for strategic executive jobs and are paid a fee for the search, usually without regard to its eventual outcome. Executive search consultants recruit most of the chief executives and other C-suite leaders for the world’s largest companies. Given their deep relationships with hiring organizations, they are acutely aware of which companies are growing, the talent those organizations need, and what they are willing to pay to attract top-notch executives.

The contingency headhunter is contracted nonexclusively and often is in competition with other contingency-fee search firms to identify potential candidates for lower-level management positions that usually pay a base salary of $75,000 or more. Only firms that identify candidates who are ultimately hired get paid a fee for their services. The contingency headhunter is much more likely than the retained executive search consultant to distribute your résumé to as many potential clients as possible because it increases his or her chances of making the right introduction and, ultimately, of getting paid. If you haven’t yet landed a job with significant management responsibilities, it’s far more likely you’ll be working with a contingency recruiter.
A small but increasing number of especially large corporations have entrusted the sourcing of executive-level management candidates to their own internal sourcing teams. That means an initial recruitment call may come from a member of a corporate executive staffing team (essentially an in-house management search unit) or perhaps a recruitment-specialist partner of a private equity firm whose portfolio company may need someone with your experience and knowhow.

Running the Interview Gauntlet

Whether you’re initially contacted by an internal staffing coordinator or an external agent, you should expect to answer questions about your background, credentials, and management experience so the recruiter can gauge whether you should be a candidate for the open position.

If the headhunter thinks you’re deserving of a shot at the job and a good fit with the hiring organization, you’ll likely be invited to engage in either a follow-up telephone interview or a face-to-face interview at the headhunter’s office or at a public venue, such as a hotel lobby, club lounge, or private conference facility.

If you pass their litmus test and meet the requirements for the job, you may be invited to interview with the client hiring organization, which represents your first real interaction with your potential employer.

It’s important to remember that the external recruiter is paid by the hiring organization. The recruiter’s interests lie in closing the search assignment to the client’s satisfaction, not yours. Sure, the headhunter wants to orchestrate a mutual engagement process that gets both you and the hiring company to fall head-over-heels in love with one another. But at the end of the day, headhunters represent and are paid by the hiring company. That may explain why far too many management job candidates are left at the altar of the executive search wondering—without a clear answer from even some of the most influential headhunters—why the courtship didn’t result in an offer of employment.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as “one of the 30 best business books of 2008” by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

How to Field the Headhunter’s Call by Joseph McCool

It’s smart to give the recruiter a few minutes of your time, even if you’re not actively job hunting. You never know when you might be.

No matter how secure your current job in executive management, you may someday rely on a corporate headhunter to move your career upstream, either by pulling you out of a bad situation or simply by helping you take your leadership skills to the next level.

You could get called by a headhunter (BusinessWeek, 09/30/07) out of the blue, or a change in control of your current organization—whether through a merger or acquisition, the hiring of a new CEO, or some other dramatic event—could alter your perspective and sense of job security in a hurry.

Just consider how a myriad of new corporate pressures, governance issues, and evolving definitions of effective leadership have steadily combined in recent years to drive executive tenure to an all-time low, according to research by ExecuNet, a leading business and recruiting membership network. Issues beyond your control can rapidly morph a contented employee into a “passive” job candidate—one who’s not actively looking but would start listening closely the next time a peer or industry colleague talks about their company’s search for new management talent, or who would return a higher percentage of headhunter calls.

Start by Listening

Regardless of how you’d now rate your own career security and fulfillment index, and given the increasing frequency of management transitions, it’s worth your while to take headhunters’ calls and give them just enough time to see where they might want to lead you. And when the headhunter calls, you’re best advised to listen to what he has to say.

Listening is critical to helping you understand a headhunter’s reason for calling and assessing how best to respond to this potentially life-changing call. (And make no mistake—many great career coups have their genesis in such a phone call.) You need to establish whether the executive recruiter (or the candidate sourcing representative) is calling you as a referral or information source on a search assignment they’re now pursuing, or whether they’re trying to qualify you as a potential candidate.
Since the person who called you will likely only provide his or her name and that of the headhunting firm, exactly why he or she has called may not be instantly apparent. It’s probably worth giving them a few minutes to explain the purpose of the call and perhaps to answer a few questions. And since you’re in a position of influence at this point (the kind of influence that legions of other managers would love to wield) it makes sense, once you’ve established the purpose of their call, to transition into the role of inquisitor and ask a few questions so you can clearly understand what’s going on.

Much of what many executives who’ve been recruited by headhunters over the years have learned about the courtship process boils down to managing their own expectations about the transition possibilities and the sheer odds that a hiring organization will choose them as its next high-impact management hire.

Impart Information Judiciously

It’s important to note that you’re in control whenever the headhunter calls. You can choose not to return the call, you can speak with them long enough to answer their questions and clarify any next steps or reason to connect in the future, and you can try to be helpful by offering a referral or sharing some market perspective, mindful that headhunters rarely forget a favor and always value information providers.

They are, after all, fully immersed in an information business.
If it’s clear that you’re a potential candidate on a search, be honest about your current compensation and straightforward about the kind of compensation you’d expect if you were ever to make a move. If you’re willing to relocate, let the recruiter know. Likewise, if you have any personal circumstances that would make moving across the country unlikely, be up-front about that, too.
But in sharing a piece of what and who you know and where you’ve been and want to go, it’s also smart to be somewhat reserved, courteous, and especially judicious when it comes to sharing any of your company’s critical data, intellectual property, and intelligence about products in development. Just ask yourself, “With whom else besides this headhunter would I even be tempted to share such sensitive information?”

You don’t ever want to reduce yourself to the role of a company mole, lest some recruiters label you as someone who shouldn’t be taken out of such an information-rich position. And likewise, given all that’s on the headhunters’ agenda these days, you don’t want to swamp them with information they didn’t ask for.

Identifying the Client

Also, don’t be surprised if they’re unwilling to identify the hiring company on whose behalf they’ve called. Many headhunters’ clients simply won’t give them permission to identify them as the hiring organization until much later in the search process and then with only a handful of ‘shortlist’ candidates. Besides, you can always do your homework on who the hiring company might be, based on the headhunter’s general description of their client.
If you have the right stuff the headhunters are looking for, you can bet they’ll take you seriously and come back to you in short order if they sense a good match between you and the leadership position they’re trying to fill.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker, and advisor on executive recruiting and management succession best practices. He writes Headhunter Confidential for

How to Ace the Headhunter Interview by Joseph McCool

Don’t try to script your first face-to-face interview. The headhunter wants to see the real you and find out how you handle unexpected challenges.

So you’ve fielded the headhunter’s initial exploratory call (, 10/25/07), a more in-depth follow-up call, and now you’ve been asked to schedule a face-to-face interview with the leadership recruiter who could punch your ticket to a new role in executive management.

It’s important to remember, however, that you’re still quite some way from realizing the true potential of this potentially career-making headhunter interview. That’s because you’re probably one of multiple candidates scheduled for interviews on this specific search assignment and, when all is said and done, only a handful will be granted an interview with the headhunter’s client.

Pace Yourself

Even then, there’s no guarantee that the hiring company will extend an offer of employment because, until you sign on the dotted line, there’s plenty that could derail the search in which you’re now involved. The hiring organization ultimately could decide that a talented insider is the best candidate for the position. It could call off the search because of new “organizational variables.” Or the specifications for the position could change and shift the focus of the headhunter’s courtship toward other candidates.

But it’s equally important to understand that no big announcement of a new executive hire is possible without that individual’s having sat down with the headhunter to share a true, complete, and compelling accounting of his or her professional work life, education, and personal background.

The fact that you’ve been invited to meet with a headhunter says good things about your reputation and the perceived value of your unique qualifications in today’s intensely competitive executive talent market. So expect to answer some probing questions about where you’ve been and what you’ve done. And plan to ask your own prepared questions about what the hiring company really needs. How does it measure success in the executive suite? What kind of pressures is it feeling in its market? Where does its senior management team want to take it in the future? And how might you help them get there?

Be Ready to Get Personal

On the eve of such an important—and, you should know, entirely confidential interview—you might be tempted to write out a minipresentation or sales pitch to demonstrate you’re really at the top of your game. But don’t spend too much time preparing.
You don’t want to psyche yourself out before this potentially career-making interview. And if you come in too scripted, you could easily be dismissed as someone who can’t deal with the myriad uncertainties that come with leadership in the modern business environment. You’re far better off forgetting that you are a candidate for what could be the most challenging, exciting, and rewarding job of your life.

That’s because one of the best-kept secrets of the headhunter interview is that some of the questions will be slipped into the conversation only to see how you’ll handle them, the body language you’ll express in response to them, and the candor you share about your life experience. Don’t be surprised if the headhunter asks questions about your formative years: where you grew up, how you recall your childhood, how you believe you were influenced by your family, and the goals you’ve set for yourself along the way.

The Value of Learning from Mistakes

If you’re planning only to retell your high school glory days or your most impressive professional accomplishments, consider this: An increasing number of headhunters—including corporate staffing executives—are using so-called behavioral interviewing techniques to better understand how your behavior has influenced your past performance and how your future behavior might preordain success in a similar situation. Few headhunters would ask you to explain how you would move Mount Fuji, but many are now inclined to ask about your weaknesses, past failures, and the areas of your life you’d like to improve.

So while you should avoid sticking to a script, you should walk into your interview prepared to talk about a few business experiences that demonstrate your approach to management, the obstacles you overcame, and the lessons you learned.
Of course, confiding that you might today do a few things differently will help the headhunter understand your sense of self and show that you have some measure of emotional intelligence. It might also convey the kind of humility that in today’s world is seen as an antidote to purely charismatic leadership. It takes self-confidence to admit the occasional error of your ways, and headhunters know that better than anyone else.

Don’t Forget the Basics

Aside from taking stock of your experience and how it has molded you into the leader the headhunter has read about on your résumé, it should go without saying that you’ve got to dress for success, mute your mobile phone, speak in clear language, explain what you can do for the headhunter’s client, and be yourself.

It’s you—the real you the hiring organization ultimately will have to live with every day—that the headhunter wants to learn more about during this forthcoming interview, which is precisely the reason you have to be prepared to reveal yourself in ways you might never have done before.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as “one of the 30 best business books of 2008” by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

How to (Really) Impress a Headhunter by Joseph McCool

Why cold-calling is the wrong move and other advice so you can be on the radar of a top executive search firm.

If you’re already getting the occasional call from a headhunter trying to lure you to a new management opportunity, congratulations: You’re obviously doing something right.
Maybe they’re calling because you’re a good source of market intelligence or because you’ve been instrumental in introducing them to powerful co-workers and peers. Ideally, they’re calling to entice you with an alluring career proposition. Even if that’s not the case, the fact that they’re calling you for any reason is because they know you’re plugged in and have potential. Rest assured, they never forget a favor.

But what if the calls aren’t coming? How can you get yourself on the radar of some of the world’s most influential headhunters? Here is some advice on how to establish those kinds of career-making connections and how to determine the kind of recruiter who’s most appropriate for you.

Different Rules for Different Résumés

If it’s still early in your climb up the management ladder, sending your résumé to a contingency headhunter—the kind of recruiter who essentially traffics in active job seekers’ credentials—might be one option for greasing your next career move.

However, if you’re already a highly experienced and compensated executive, you should never send your unsolicited résumé to a retained executive search consultant, via either e-mail or snail mail. If you’ve already made this overwhelmingly unwanted overture, do not pick up the phone. If you haven’t sent your résumé but think a casual phone call would do the trick, think again. Cold-calling a headhunter is a move fraught with risk and could even stall your senior management career. It just doesn’t pay to harass the uninterested headhunter.

The truth is that the world’s most influential and well-connected executive headhunters very rarely, if ever, even read or acknowledge unsolicited résumé. And they even less often recruit into a critical leadership position anyone who blindly approached them as opposed to someone they painstakingly searched for. They’re called headhunters for a reason. Finding exceptional talent is how they justify their large fees because A-players are seldom looking for work.

With a Little Help From Your Friends

The best way to initiate a relationship with an executive search consultant is to be introduced by a well-connected friend, colleague, industry opinion leader, alumni pal, or fellow association or club member who knows the headhunter personally. For even the most accomplished and widely respected executives, the power of the personal reference simply can’t be understated. At this point, especially if the headhunter with whom you wish to connect hasn’t already heard of you, your appeal as a potential candidate for a top management job hinges on just what the headhunter thinks of the person introducing you and trumpeting your credentials.

Remember, before the consultant even has an initial meeting with you, his or her impression of your potential for a future search assignments, or perhaps even a current one, will rest in the perceived quality of the messenger and the message.

The quality of your personal and professional networks will preordain the messenger and the caliber of leadership recruiters to whom they might provide you access. This alone should serve as a reminder of why smart executives continually build, expand and, when necessary, leverage their networks. If you don’t have one, you better build one.

Building High-Quality Networks

Still not convinced? Bear in mind that executive recruiters find more management candidates from their own networks than from any other source of leadership talent.

That’s why the quality of your own networks is especially critical in determining how many degrees of separation there are between the most influential headhunters and the marketing message that someone in your network might take directly to them. That message—ideally something that speaks succinctly to your experience, skills, and know-how—is likewise critical. A lackluster sound byte from the mouth of an otherwise much respected reference won’t get the attention of a leading recruiter.

Educate your most networked friends and colleagues about how your experience might translate into a new management role. Keep your message concise and consistent lest you lose control of it. Remember that an appealing message shared by a trusted source is essential and just what you need to get noticed by the world’s most influential headhunters. They’re the gatekeepers to executive career opportunity and they can serve as especially adept advocates for why you might bring the right mix of credentials to a challenging and especially rewarding job opportunity.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as “one of the 30 best business books of 2008” by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

How to Let the Headhunter Do the Job by Joseph McCool

Once you’re close to getting an offer, having faith in the professional’s ability to close the deal will work to your advantage.

Say you’ve been informed of your status as the leading candidate or you’ve received an official offer of employment. Your courtship as a potential candidate for the headhunter’s client has indeed been a journey.

Finishing this journey depends on trust and faith. You have to trust the headhunter can communicate with the client and reinforce why you are the best candidate for this job. You have to have faith in the headhunter’s ability to fulfill your expectations about compensation and other benefits—and to negotiate in earnest. And yes, you have to have faith you are up to a new assignment.

If you haven’t already, you will probably be asked to provide references who can confirm your fitness for the job. Make sure the references you provide know you well and will say good things about your work experience, professionalism, and capacity to tackle a new senior-management role.

Pitfalls of the Counteroffer

If you’re in line to become a C-level officer, don’t be surprised if the hiring company wants to run a background check and perhaps even asks you to get a medical exam. Given the investment the company is contemplating, these are reasonable requests. You should also brace yourself for what could appear to be a too-good-to-turn-down counteroffer from your current employer, with a fatter salary and a loftier title. But it rarely makes sense to forsake a promising new position under such circumstances.
Accepting a counteroffer, after all, will only buy you and your employer a little extra time to attempt to find common ground about how you can live up to your true potential. Your current employer may also wrongly perceive that you’re motivated purely by financial gain, which could change the way it treats you in the future. And should you accept a counteroffer, you can kiss goodbye the relationship you’ve developed with the headhunter who has taken you this far in the process.

Beware of Family Ties

Much in the same way the headhunter must orchestrate mutual commitment between you and the client hiring organization, you must inform and manage communications with those closest to you about your potential transition. If you’ve told the headhunter and the client you’re willing to relocate, you should really mean it. If you have a trailing spouse, partner, and children, you owe it to those currently pursuing your candidacy for this new leadership role to make sure those family members are on board with the change and are willing to disrupt life as they know it.
More than a few executive headhunters have seen their otherwise flawlessly orchestrated search assignments go by the boards because the candidate never fully won the support of loved ones for relocation during the recruitment process.

It’s this potential search-busting dynamic that leads many consultants to simply steer clear of any high-performing executives with a child who is a junior in high school. To the list of relocation nonstarters one might increasingly consider adding an executive’s inability to sell the family’s home for something near what they paid for it (in which case the executive’s net worth could take a real beating if the new employer doesn’t cover the loss) or a family’s commitment to serve as caretakers for aging (perhaps also ailing) parents or other relatives.

Creating a Win-Win Scenario

As the executive search approaches a successful conclusion, you should plan to be in close and almost constant communication as the headhunter negotiates and otherwise advises the client about the true market value of someone with your credentials.
Often, these discussions lead to the hiring organization agreeing to pay you more than it had anticipated when it first launched the search. That may be because someone of your caliber was deemed unattainable at the outset or because the hiring organization has received advice from a compensation consultant.
You can trust the headhunter to go to bat for you and, in the interest of closing the search to the client’s satisfaction, try to create a win-win scenario. After all, he wants to work for the company again, and if your new role requires you to recruit new external talent, the headhunter might also view you as a future client.

Onboarding Feedback

As you prepare to sign an offer of employment, you should press the headhunter and your new employer to include a provision for performance feedback, or what is often referred to as “onboarding” feedback. You will want the employer to commit to gathering feedback from key stakeholders about your performance 90 to 120 days after you start the new job. Such feedback is intended to reveal how your entry into your new employer organization has been perceived, how peers, boss, and subordinates would rate your performance to date, and whether you truly mesh with the organization’s culture and internal politics.
That kind of environmental intelligence is critical. It can help you course-correct if need be. Otherwise, it should make you confident others believe you’re firing on all cylinders.
After you start work, you can expect tan occasional call from the headhunter to make sure things are going well and to see how you feel about the new job. Take these calls and maintain your relationship with the headhunter. Staying on the headhunters’ radar—and continuing to build your own professional network, for that matter—is one of the best ways to position yourself for the career and lifestyle you want.

Joseph Daniel McCool is a writer, speaker and advisor on executive recruiting and corporate management succession best practices. He is the author of Deciding Who Leads: How Executive Recruiters Drive, Direct Disrupt the Global Search for Leadership Talent, which has been recognized as “one of the 30 best business books of 2008” by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

What is Executive Presence Again by Paul Aldo

There’s a new term in business. It’s executive presence. Writers, forward thinking executives, and HR professionals are using it to describe your potential for getting into – or staying in – the executive suite. While this is good news, as it recognizes the importance of interpersonal factors in business success, it can also be confusing. That’s because there’s not much clarity or consistency in how the term, executive presence, is used. Some see it as leadership, others as presentation skills, still others as having natural people sense.

The purpose of this article is to clear away the confusion – to help you understand what executive presence is all about, and what you can do to create a more powerful expression of it.

Recognizing Executive Presence

The best place to start is with how you recognize executive presence. Have you ever been in a meeting or discussion where one of the participants just seemed to stand out; where there was a level of personal engagement and clarity of thought and expression that said this person is exceptional? If you have, you were likely witnessing executive presence in action.

But why did that person stand out? What did the person say or do that made you take note? Based on personal observation and hundreds of interviews, I have identified a list of nine expressive dimensions that consistently characterize the very best executive presence. They are themes of interpersonal engagement that, when taken together, define what executive presence is all about.

The Nine Expressive Dimensions of Executive Presence

People who have excellent executive presence are very good at consistently projecting nine dimensions of expression to their audiences. Three of these dimensions are seen by audience members as personal qualities of character, internal to the person being evaluated; three are seen as qualities of communication, interpreted as a person’s ability to be honest, think clearly, and be open to ideas; and three are seen as relational qualities, understood as a person’s capacity for caring about others and having an interest in them. Let’s look at each of them.

About us… The Personal Dimensions

• Passion: The expression of motivation, drive, and engagement that convinces others you are committed to what you are saying and doing.
• Poise: A look of sophistication and unflappability that creates the impression you are comfortable in your surroundings and able to handle adversity.
• SelfConfidence:
The air of optimism and assurance that convinces others you have the required strength, resources, and resolve to initiate and to lead.

About our messages… The Communications Dimensions

• Candor: The appearance of being interested in truth and honesty, with a willingness to accept
and engage the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.
• Clarity: The ability to create your story and tell it in an intuitively clear and compelling way.
• Openness: The willingness to consider other points of view without prejudging them.

About our audiences… The Relational Dimensions

• Thoughtfulness: The projection of thoughtfulness when dealing with others that conveys an interest in them and the relationship.
• Sincerity: The conviction of believing in and meaning what you say.
• Warmth: The appearance of being accessible to others, physically and emotionally.
Notice that these qualities have nothing to do with the content of the message. Instead, they’re about how you package the content and tell your story. They’re about how you engage with others. That’s because over 80% of most communication is nonverbal!

Your audience, whether it’s an audience of one or one thousand, is relying on things you do outside the content of your message to make important decisions about the message and about you. Unfortunately, if you’re like most people, you don’t spend much time working on these noncontent things, even though your audience spends most of its time evaluating them.

This disconnect is why many people are perceived as not having much executive presence, or even executive potential. They don’t exhibit the behaviors that cause others to decide they are executive like. If you want to have executive presence, remember this: the noncontent elements of your message – the packaging, if you will (although it is really much more than that) – are critical to how
you engage with your audience and how they perceive both you and the message you are trying to deliver. You need to understand these noncontent elements and work on them at least as much as you do on message content, regardless of your delivery venue or the number of people involved. If you don’t, it is unlikely you will ever project much of an executive persona.

Creating a More Powerful Executive Presence

Now that you know how executive presence is expressed and recognized, the next question is, how is it created? What can you do to project the nine qualities associated with excellent executive presence? Where do you start in creating a more powerful executive persona?
This is not as difficult as it may seem, if you pay close attention to two things. The first are the expressive tools that project executive presence. The second is connecting your natural self with how you use those tools. When you get both of them right, the result is an authentic executive persona.

Your Expressive Tools

There are only six tools available to you to project the nine qualities of executive presence – your eyes, face, body, voice, conversational pace, and message architecture. There is nothing more.

These tools, however, represent the richest of expressive possibilities. Think for a moment about what you can see in a person’s eyes. The range of emotions they show is almost limitless. Flashes of surprise, concern, fear, and anger are easily read. The same is true of facial expressions beyond the eyes. The warmth of a smile is recognized everywhere, as are the messages from frowns, sneers, and clenched jaws. Your audience is constantly examining your use of these expressions in evaluating you and what you are saying. If you face others with tightly crossed legs, arms folded over your chest, and a blank expression on your face, you will come across as being inaccessible and not open to their ideas. It doesn’t matter what you are thinking or what you say. Similarly, if you speak in a monotone and at a steady pace, with no vocal inflection, punctuation, or rhythmic variety, you will be perceived as having no passion for what you are talking about, even though you really do. If your messages aren’t crafted
clearly and cleanly, you will be seen as a muddled thinker, even though you may have great ideas.

If you speak with an edge to your voice and in a forceful declarative way, you will not elicit full and honest input from others, regardless of how much you want it.
The bottom line? If you want to be perceived as executive like you must use your expressive tools in ways that cause your audiences to perceive you as an executive. You must learn to use them to project the nine qualities of executive presence. If you don’t, how will your audiences ever know you have those qualities?

Exploiting our expressive tools is called impression management, and it’s a big part of executive success. The reason is that it determines how we come across to others and engage with them. It’s about giving them a more complete context for evaluating who we are. Can we be trusted and relied upon? Have we thought through options and fairly evaluated them? Have we done our homework and are we prepared? Do we care about what they think? Our audiences want to know the answers to these questions and look to signs outside the content of our messages to find them.

But there’s an important caveat: If you want to create impressions that make false messages appear sincere, or to project qualities that aren’t there, you are almost sure to fail. That’s because it’s extremely difficult to do, even for professional actors who work in very controlled settings. There are simply too many things that give us away. Plus, our audiences, from small meetings to companywide gatherings, are terrific at recognizing phonies.

You should see from this that real executive presence is more than an event. It is repetitive behavior that creates a picture of who we are in the minds of others over time. That’s why the nine qualities of executive presence and the expressive tools used to create them must be connected with the real you. This almost always requires replacing some older behaviors with newer ones more appropriate to the executive suite, while at the same time linking those replacements with our underlying patterns of thought and emotional expression.

What You Can Do Today

1. Video yourself. Capture yourself in conversation, participating in a meeting (or mock meeting), and giving a presentation. If you don’t have a video camera, borrow one. You need to start the executive presence development process by getting a realistic look at how you come across to others.
2. Review the video. Look for how you project yourself with the nine expressive qualities of executive presence and how you use your expressive tools. Take some time with this. You want to get down to the specifics of what you are doing well, what you could improve upon, and what you need to do to improve.
3. Make a list of improvement needs. From your review of the video, write down exactly what you need to work on and how you will use your expressive tools to improve. Start with just a few targeted improvements. Changing behavior is hard, and you need to focus first on those few things that will make the biggest difference. Don’t forget to evaluate message clarity. It is extremely important.
4. Get a professional evaluation of yourself. If you use assessment instruments for this, make sure they provide you with specific, actionable information that helps you improve. Knowing how you naturally think and act provides the basis for authentically using your expressive tools.
5. Enlist others. Pick a few people whose judgment you trust and tell them what you are doing. Ask them to give you feedback on your performance. Your friends at work are especially important, since they see you engage with others in a variety of settings. Another way of enlisting the help of others is by watching how they express themselves. When you see something that really works, try it out and see if it works for you. By doing this, you have all kinds of models available to help you every day.
6. Practice. Get in front of a mirror and practice. Practice in front of others, as well. You’ll also want to video yourself periodically to see how you’ve changed and what still needs further work and tuning.

Be Authentic

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what executive presence is and how it’s created. As you embark on developing your own expression of it, remember to always be true to yourself. Use your expressive tools – your eyes, face, body, voice, vocal pacing, and message architecture – to engage more fully and productively with your audiences, regardless of how formal, informal, large, or small they are. Remember that your expressive tools are extensions of you. Good executive presence simply means you are using these tools in the best possible ways.
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Paul Aldo is the President of Executive Performance Solutions, an Atlantabased
Executive consulting firm that helps companies quickly uncover and address the peopletopeople issues that waste the time, talent,