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5 mistakes executives make when trying to get to the next level

The lines between recruitment and headhunting have blurred, resulting in confusion for executives trying to get to the next level.

5 mistakes executives make when trying to get to the next level

You’re on the market looking for your next role and your instinct is to reach out to executive search firms or recruitment businesses. You email your cv to them or drop them a note requesting to meet for a coffee, and then nothing. No reply to your email, no return phone call… sometimes not even an acknowledgement that you contacted them.

The recruitment world has changed and continues to change radically. With the rapid growth of social media, online recruitment platforms and LinkedIn, we’re able to access more personal and professional information than ever before. But the lines between recruitment and headhunting have blurred, resulting in confusion for executives trying to get to the next level.

Executive search vs recruitment

Headhunting is a completely different service to recruitment. It requires insight, resilience and fantastic research skills. Consultants need high levels of business acumen as well as emotional intelligence. When corporations engage a search firm they’re expecting a strategic advisory service that will involve a comprehensive international search to provide them with the very best shortlist of suitable talent.

Executives are identified, screened and thoroughly assessed in terms of their values, cultural fit and skills. These are strategic C-suite hires that organisations can’t afford to get wrong. They outsource that risk by engaging search firms to do the work and pay them significant fees for doing so.

Who’s calling the shots?

Yet I see time and again that executives forget who’s paying the fee. In any other business this is acceptable and understood, but the headhunting and recruitment sector plays to a different set of rules. This leads to confusion and frustration from executives who feel they’re not receiving the level of service from consultants in executive search firms when they’re looking for a new role. Of course, if you’ve been approached directly regarding a role then you’re likely to have a very different type of service from the executive search firm. They need you.

5 mistakes executives make when trying to get to the next level:

  1. Not really looking

    Are you actively looking for a new role with a well-thought-out strategy and action plan? If the answer is no, then you’re not really looking. And if you’re not really looking, then you can guess what you’re going to find.

  2. Lack of strategy

    As an executive-level career strategist, I meet exceptionally talented business leaders from all sectors and disciplines. They lead global teams and run international businesses. They manage complex groups of stakeholders and own significant P&L’s. They strategise all the time in their work life but struggle to translate these same skills into their professional career.

    Many jump into action without a plan. Think about your career like you do with your business. You need to: create a vision; state your objectives; list your goals; develop your strategy; clarify the rationale for your strategy; make a plan; and only then take action.

  3. Lack of clarity

    Another common challenge for executives is not having clarity on what they really want, and expecting a headhunter to help them figure this out over a cup of coffee. Headhunters are experienced consultants who can share market and sector insights and perspectives with you but the majority are not trained to coach. It takes more than an hour to figure out what you want in life.

    You must also know how to clearly articulate your unique story and be able to show how, where and why you add value. You’d be amazed at how few people can do this successfully.

  4. Not building relationships

    It’s important that you build relationships with headhunters so they get to know you. If they contact you, please return their call or email. You may not need them now but you never know what the future holds. Don’t leave a bad impression as headhunters and their teams of researchers will remember you.

    If you’re the one contacting them, be polite but don’t harass them. They get calls and emails from other executives like you on a daily basis; far too many to respond to immediately. Be polite and respectful of their time and you will instantly set yourself apart from others.

  5. Forgetting who’s paying the fee

    Far too often executives forget who is paying for the headhunter’s services. It’s the corporate client. Search assignments are strategic advisory projects that require lots of time, effort and resources. Fees are high. It’s simply impossible for a headhunter to oblige every executive who wants to meet up for a coffee.

As a successful executive you’re in the driver’s seat of your career. Contacting executive search firms is only one small aspect of your search strategy. And from experience, I can tell you most executives find their next role without the help of a search firm.

Don’t be disheartened if you’re not making progress fast enough. Take the time to clarify your strategy and take control of your career. Don’t be constrained by the rules of the executive search sector but play the game to your own rules.

Michelle O’Connor inspires executives to find more inspiring work, so they can transform their future. An executive-level career strategist, Michelle is a qualified coach and has more than 20 years of corporate executive recruitment experience.

She offers unique insights and perspectives on the executive market to help her clients prepare and position themselves for success.

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