Don't make these executive job search mistakes!

With so much job-search advice targeted at entry-level candidates, it's understandable that senior executives might feel rather overlooked. Even though you have plenty of professional experience, your job search techniques may be a bit rusty. We're here to help. 

In this article, we'll look at the most common mistakes C-level candidates make when hitting the job market so that you can avoid them. That coveted role will be yours for the taking!

What is a C-level executive?

First of all, let's define the meaning of C-level executive. These are the most senior business leaders and are known as the C-suite, as their job title generally starts with Chief. They're employees of the company and, between them, have all lower levels of employees reporting to them. C-level executives run the company, with responsibility for making decisions at the highest levels and setting the future direction of the business. 

Who is in the C-suite?

Now we know the C-level meaning, who will we find there? Not every business has the same roles in its C-suite. The most common C-level titles are: 

  • CEO - Chief Executive Officer

  • COO - Chief Operating Officer 

  • CFO - Chief Financial Officer 

  • CTO - Chief Technology Officer 

You may also come across the following titles: 

  • CISO - Chief Information Security Officer

  • CMO - Chief Marketing Officer 

  • CHRO - Chief Human Resources Officer 

  • CIO - Chief Information Officer 

The exact make-up of the C-suite will depend on the needs of each business. 

Top mistakes C-level candidates make when job hunting 

As it can take years, or even decades, to reach C-level positions, it could be assumed that those who attain these roles know what they're doing when it comes to landing a new job. That's not necessarily true, however. 

  • Many are promoted from within the company, meaning they have little exposure to job search, applications, and recruitment processes outside their own little bubble. 

  • Others still are headhunted to roles, meaning they're fast-tracked through the recruitment process. 

Even if executive job searchers don't fall into those categories, a lack of confidence and a lack of awareness about current job search trends can sink the best of us. By understanding some of the mistakes C-level candidates make when it's time for a change, you can avoid the pitfalls when your time comes. 

Relying on experience 

So what if you have 30 years' experience? Many executive job seekers start their resumes this way, assuming that it's an easy way to impress. It's not. 

It's what you've done with those years that counts. In fact, quantifying how much experience you have could even work against you if you're unlucky enough to come up against a recruiter or hiring manager with an age bias. 

Rather than relying on how much experience you have, a better approach is to show how you've made an impact and contributed in those years. For every role on your resume, include a list of quantifiable achievements – that's where the wow factor lies. 

For example: 

  • Delivered a project estimated at $100,000 for under $20,000 by identifying cost efficiencies and leading productive negotiations with suppliers.” 

Showing that you can deliver results is much more likely to land you in the Yes pile than simply stating that you turned up every day for 30 years. 

Submitting a generic resume

Are you firing the same resume out to every job you apply for? Stop! 

The strongest and most successful applications are those that are tailored to the specific requirements of the role and the company. Once you've developed a strong master resume, it will only take a few minutes of your time to tweak each one to the vacancy you're targeting. It shows you're genuinely interested in the role and ensures that the first impression you give is of someone perfectly aligned with what the employer is looking for. 

Focusing on yourself

It's an unfortunate fact that no one will employ you just because you want or need the job. Companies are looking for the best person to fill their vacancy, so it's up to you to prove that you're the one. That means that, rather than focusing on yourself, you need to focus on the company you're targeting. 

  • What do they need? 

  • How can you meet that need? 

It's up to you to align your skills and experience with the gap they have to close in their business while showing a genuine interest in what they do. 

Covering too much ground

If you've made it to the C-suite, it's probably fair to say that you've had several jobs and been employed for many years. Trying to crowbar all this experience onto a resume is one of the most common mistakes C-level candidates make. 

Imagine the impact of a wordy, 7-page resume against a short, impactful 2-page resume. Punchy is likely to work best – it shows you respect your reader's time and can write concisely. The same rule applies in an interview; rather than launching into a never-ending monologue explaining your career trajectory in detail, it's better to be prepared with a brief summary and elevator pitch. 

If you're struggling to cut your resume down to the bare essentials, aim to keep it RECENT and RELEVANT. A sentence or section falling outside of those parameters can almost always be deleted. 

For example, roles held over 10 years ago can simply be summarized in an Early Career section, detailing just the job title and employer name, rather than being listed in exhaustive detail. Similarly, something you do regularly in your current role that isn't relevant to your target role can also be wiped away. 

Underestimating the recruitment process

These days, it can take 20-22 weeks for unemployed people to find a job – and it's likely to be even longer for executives, who may find themselves facing several rounds of interviews and tests for a single application. 

It's important not to expect immediate results but rather to settle in for the long run and do everything you can to maximize your chances of success. That includes developing a long-term job search strategy that involves 

  • Building relationships with recruiters and headhunters

  • Networking

  • Building strong, tailored resumes and cover letters

  • Posting actively on LinkedIn

  • Targeting wish-list companies

  • Sourcing jobs online

  • Crafting applications

Not researching potential employers

However much experience you have, don't underestimate the importance of researching a company both before you apply and before an interview. Adapting your application to a specific role and a specific company is vital in making and sustaining a positive first impression.

By showing that you understand a company, its values, its mission, its history, and its future, you're showing a commitment to the business and will be able to align your personal offering with what they need. 

Expert tip: To get the information you need, start with the company's website and expand your research to employees on LinkedIn, reviews on Glassdoor, news sites, and trade press. 

Not preparing STAR or CAR responses 

Failing to prepare STAR or CAR responses to potential interview questions is another one of the mistakes that C-level candidates make when hitting the job market after years at the same company. But to avoid being put on the spot and trying to dredge up a suitable answer from your lengthy career, it will help if you've thought through some scenarios in advance. 

The most popular methods of answering behavioral interview questions are: 

  • STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result

  • CAR – Challenge, Action, Result

Both methods enable you to prove your impact by presenting a scenario, explaining how you handled it, and quantifying the results of your action. It's so much stronger than simply telling the interviewer that you have competency in a certain area!

Of course, choosing the scenarios is a different matter. It will help to have several up your sleeve. Pick apart the job advert to try to predict what sort of aptitudes the interviewer may want to test. 

Hiding failures

Failure is a part of life – even at C-level. It's how we learn from and adapt to those failures that's important. This is relevant to an executive job search in two ways. 

Firstly, if a job application or interview didn't fall in your favor, don't simply shrug and brush it under the carpet. Instead, asking for constructive feedback from the recruiter can help you to avoid the same mistakes next time. 

Secondly, having a few examples of failure up your sleeve can be useful in interviews. Showing how you overcame adversity or what you've learned from failing are powerful indicators of how you'll cope with the pressures of a C-suite role. 

Not showcasing thought leadership

This is easily overlooked but thought leadership is a huge buzzword in the modern C-suite landscape. Businesses want someone who understands the industry and, rather than regurgitating the same tired mantras, can bring a fresh perspective and influence others to take a fresh approach, too. 

You can showcase thought leadership by publishing articles (LinkedIn or trade press are good places to start), speaking at conferences, or even just influencing within your current organization. Make sure your activity in this area is documented on your resume and LinkedIn profile!

Not setting up a LinkedIn profile 

Is your LinkedIn profile sadly neglected? Or worse, do you not have one at all? 

That's something to rectify before your job search even begins. It's so easy to ignore the world's largest professional networking site if you're not actively looking for a job, but it's one of the mistakes C-level candidates make when they're happily employed. 

Update your profile, build your network, and start posting regular updates. When you're ready to actively start your job search, you'll be at the top of people's minds when they hear of a suitable vacancy – and of course, your newly-optimized profile means you'll easily be found in recruiter searches, too!

Not networking or building relationships

While we're on the subject of networking, the power of an extensive network can't be underestimated during an executive job hunt. It's not just about connecting digitally, on LinkedIn and other social networks, it's about getting out and connecting – or reconnecting – in real life, too. 

Your next role could hit you from any direction – a passing acquaintance at a conference, a long-term contact from a voluntary position, or a former colleague – the options are endless. If you approach networking with the aim of helping others, you'll be surprised how many people are ready to help you when the time comes. 

Eliminate one job-search stressor

As a C-suite executive, you're used to delegating tasks. Sadly, your job search will require a lot of effort and input from you. The good news, though, is that you can outsource some of the more time-consuming elements! 

You can easily avoid some of the mistakes C-level candidates make when writing your resume. TopResume will provide a free resume review with no obligation! Send it now for constructive feedback, or ask our experts to produce the whole document  for you from scratch. We can even help with tailored cover letters and LinkedIn profiles, if you need. 

This article was originally written by Carson Kohler and has been updated by Jen David

Recommended reading: 

Related Articles: