This article will share key advice on how to handle a C-Suite, or C-Level, Executive job search.
But first, what is C-Suite? What is a C-Level executive?
C-Suite, or C-Level, jobs are the highest positions in a corporation or a company. The C stands for “Chief,” as in Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operating Officer, or similar titles. You may also see CxO to describe this group of executives with titles that begin with Chief and end with Officer.
There are key differences between C-Level jobs and levels requiring less experience, both in the application process and responsibilities.
The best advice for navigating a C-Suite Executive job search is:
- Be ready to be recruited, but don't wait to be found.
- Be patient with recruiters and the process.
- Update your marketing documents and show that you are successful.
- Make yourself visible.
- Network well, on and offline.
- Be prepared for interviews.
- Consider a fully managed job search service to help you along.
We will discuss the job search process specific to C-Level executives in greater detail below.
Here are some tips for a successful C-Level job search.
Needless to say, employers exercise caution when attempting to appoint the right people to executive positions.
So follow these tips to stick out from the crowd and land your next C-Suite role.
Your job search will involve both looking like the perfect candidate to someone filling a C-Suite role and actively searching for open jobs yourself.
We will walk through the details of these tips below.
1. Set Realistic Goals
Strategy and tactics play a significant role here. Landing a C-Level position is a lot more complex than putting your name out there once and then immediately getting 99 offers.
Your aspirations of reaching C-Suite are long term, so layout how you can best accomplish this.
If you have worked as a regional manager for 4 months and that is your first big gig, it is not a great goal to aim for the C-Level jobs in the coming months.
However, if you have multiple years of experience managing and leading and are keen to step up the ladder, it is more realistic.
This is especially the case if your tenure in leadership roles has yielded good results because of your leadership and initiative.
In brief, don’t reach for the stars too early.
As far as your job search goes, the average length for a period of unemployment can be up to a year. For an executive though, you can expect the search to be longer.
This is especially true if you previously held an executive position and have a non-compete clause in your contract, stopping you from working with a competitor for a time.
The US Department of Labor has indicated that your job search is likely to take an average of one month for every $10,000 in desired salary. Some would say it takes a month per $20,000 of desired salary.
Of course, everyone's job search is different, but the point is, expect a longer job search for higher salary roles.
(For more perspective on the length of a job search, check out How Long Does It Take To Get a Job?)
2. Be Ready to Be Recruited
An employer is more likely to take the initiative to fill an open executive position than hope for the right person to come to them.
How many executive positions are filled outside of job boards? Probably around 90%.
They want to track down the ideal candidates for the position, and a considerable number of these candidates will already be working.
Imagine someone aiming for a C-Level executive position, but doing so exclusively through applications to job postings.
They’d be missing a huge quantity of C-Suite executive positions.
So failing to clearly display your aptitude is fatal to your chances of being scouted.
No matter how capable you are, if you don’t show it, nobody will know it.
The best way to present yourself is on LinkedIn. You can let recruiters know you are open to new opportunities.
Complete and optimize your LinkedIn profile so that when someone does find you they want to connect with you.
3. Be Patient With Recruiters
If you reach out to recruiters to assist with your job search, realize that this isn’t like lower-level stuff.
Quantity is a large motivator for recruiters with lower-level jobs to fill. However, higher up the ladder, quality is significantly more likely to be considered.
As such, there will not be a blind panic to hire absolutely everyone who expresses an interest in a C-Suite executive position.
If you rush the process, you might find that you have a recruiter who can’t sell you to any employers. It is better and more likely to yield positive results if you don’t hurry into a decision here.
4. Be Successful and Prove It
You want the fact that you are an expert to be made abundantly clear on your marketing documents.
One of the key ways to accomplish this is by giving evidence of your past and continued successes, your real, executive-level successes.
What have you streamlined? What have you spearheaded? What have you managed?
Give numbers and evidence to back these accomplishments up and you will show that you have been a success so far.
Showing success is vital because that is exactly what those who are hiring are looking for.
These successes need to be because of you - rather than it just appearing like you were at the right place at the right time.
Clearly demonstrate your initiative and contribution on projects.
That doesn’t mean to take credit for everything. That would actually reflect badly on you.
But on things like your LinkedIn profile (which will be checked), state your contributions and their positive results.
Eliminate the task-focused wording on your resume. You are a high-level executive and coming across as someone who takes direction as opposed to giving it will not get you to the interview round.
(Learn more about how to include accomplishments on your resume.)
5. Get Your Linkedin Profile Just Right
Your LinkedIn profile is extremely likely to get looked at if you are being considered for an executive position. As an employer narrow options down, checking your profile becomes more and more likely.
Now imagine if the candidates had been whittled down to a handful, but you haven’t perfected your profile.
It is riddled with buzzwords and generic statements, or not complete.
You stand out like a tree in a forest.
With all else being equal, you are very unlikely to be considered ahead of rival candidates if your LinkedIn profile is not up to scratch.
6. Make Yourself Visible
In other words, stand out as an active and important member of your field.
To be spotted by the right people, you do not want to be quietly doing as you are told year after year.
Your successes won’t matter if you are anonymous.
If you are hoping to be picked out of a crowd, you need to help them out by being visible.
Don’t stand out in a negative or bullish way, but in a positive and professional way.
Participate in the dialogue of your profession on projects, trends, clients and so on.
Speak at conferences. Write articles. Connect with professionals in your field and comment on related topics on LinkedIn. If the media quotes you, then great.
Making yourself visible is crucial and may prove to be the difference-maker.
Branding yourself is relevant here. By accomplishing the above to make yourself visible, you can choose how to brand yourself, rather than simply be a nameless employee of ABC Company.
7. Network Correctly
This is not a case of occasionally sending a networking message and then you take ages to read the reply message. Networking in your industry is a fantastic way of helping you get spotted. It adds to the visibility point made above.
Remember that networking is a clear statement of intent. You want to reach out to other professionals in the field, as well as recruiters or headhunters. This shows that you are wanting to understand the industry. Your chances of being spotted only increase with you being active on the networking front.
This includes communication with key decision-makers. If you get a good reputation for yourself, communication with decision-makers can land you a position that they want to fill quickly. Treat every chat with a recruiter as an opportunity to build a meaningful relationship.
Get out there. Coffee with a recruiter? Go. Company conference? Go. LinkedIn is great, but engaging in person is great too.
8. Be Prepared For Interviews
We've discussed your resume and LinkedIn profile, you must also be prepared for your formal and informal interviews.
Determine your story. Do you have a 2-minute pitch? This is also called an elevator pitch.
You should be able to summarize key details about your job search off the cuff. That way, you are always ready to give an intriguing summary about yourself.
Learn information about the company you are applying to.
It will not serve you well at all if you think that you can go in blind and that your accolades and skills will speak for themselves. It is not difficult to study the company, so do it (especially if an interview is scheduled.)
9. Know When to Apply for C-Suite Roles
Generally, things are fairly consistent throughout the year for filling C-Level executive roles. There is a lot of uncertainty about there being a good and a bad time of year to find an executive-level job.
Remember that you could be replacing executives that are retiring and that can happen at any time of year.
Being on the lookout no matter what the time of year it is is advised. Don’t be put off by the perceived hiring slump at the end of the year.
Imagine all the positions passing you by because you are waiting to start your job search for no particular reason.
Some believe that the best time to find a job is during the first quarter, as hiring targets and funds for the year will be put into place.
However, remember that others firmly believe that no time is better than another.
And if you are currently out of work and need a job, the current month of the year shouldn't stop you from beginning a job search. Just understand that some times of the year may be better for securing a new position.
On the other side of the coin, there are important things that you need to avoid doing. They won’t all be fatal to your endeavors, but they won’t help you either.
Here are 7 things to avoid in your C-Level job search:
If you successfully avoid doing these things, your chances of being considered a serious candidate are higher.
We will discuss these tips more in-depth now.
1. Do Not Neglect Professional Relationships
The limelight might be very appealing, but if you alienate colleagues and push friends away, it will have a lasting negative effect.
If a colleague is asked “who is good at X”, you want them to answer with your name. If you push everyone away, this won’t happen. As said before, get noticed but don’t be bullish.
2. Do Not Just Wait To Be Found
Develop your professional profile and online presence.
If you are an anonymous employee doing as instructed quietly, even if you are doing a great job, you can’t realistically expect to get scouted.
Instead, network, do your best to make yourself searchable on Google, do what you can to be a name that is thought of when thinking about the company you work at.
How can you accomplish this?
Represent the company at conferences, reach out to the media if they are doing a story on your company. Either that, or try to be quoted by them for what you say. Do this with tact, though. You want to look like an active and successful candidate.
3. Do Not Advertise Your Job Search
Recruiters are unlikely to be put off if you are employed.
So, if you broadcast your availability to recruiters after starting a new role, you might actually be showing that you are prone to change and always looking for a new opportunity.
What if you decide to move on in 10 months from the new position? The recruiter doesn’t want to have to fill the role again.
4. Do Not Grill The Employer
During an interview, there is a fine line between ensuring that you have key details down and interviewing the employer.
Let them interview you, you can save most questions for when you are asked for them.
An interview should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation.
5. Do Not Be Impatient
The executive job search process is not a process that should be rushed.
There are lots of people hoping for these roles, so it will not help you to expect an opportunity to be on your doorstep just like that.
The process to hire a C-Level Executive takes more time than the process to hire other positions within an organization.
6. Do Not Think It Is All About You
You are trying to prove that you are a perfect fit for your role.
As such, it is more about how you fit their philosophy and way of doing things.
Your individual success and personality do matter, but they aren’t the ones that have to adapt to you.
Do not claim that you are special. Everyone does. Place the focus on how you are the ideal fit for the recruiter.
7. Do Not Rely Solely On Your Experience
The experience section of your resume is robust and lengthy but if that is where it ends, then you are not going to get far.
You still have to stay up to date, and relevant. Otherwise, you risk recruiters passing you up because you are using the past as a crutch.
Enjoy your job search. There will be stressful days, but every day in this new environment is an opportunity to learn from the experience.
Even if you don’t land the position in the end, you can still value each moment and the education you receive along the way.
The interview process to fill C-Level roles is different than lower-level roles.
It is longer and more in-depth. If you thought you had to research and prepare for entry position interviews, imagine that on steroids.
More than ever, you need to have done your homework. Research the industry, research the company, memorize everything you have claimed (from your resume, to online profiles and more), and keep practicing.
You can research the company on its website, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, or social media profiles. If you know who is interviewing you, do the same with them.
Be consistent about how you portray yourself. You are essentially putting yourself across as a brand, so be understandable and consistent.
In a face-to-face interview, you can expect to meet with several board members and HR. They want to be sure you are an ideal fit for a C-Suite executive role, so you are not going to be given one interviewer.
The time taken for these interviews can vary significantly, but you might see interviews being about an hour long.
Do not be surprised or ill-prepared if this interview process takes 3 hours, involves multiple interviews, or happens in numerous meetings over the course of several days
You need to prepare for interview questions that are high level.
You may be asked questions like the following in your C-Suite interview:
“How would you say you can best evaluate the job performance of an employee?”
“Tell us about a time in your previous work that you implemented a major change in strategy that saw good results.”
From conflict to culture and from teamwork to individual work, you will be grilled. There are plenty of questions like these, and more, so get practicing!
You will have opportunities to ask some questions too. You can really impress people with the right questions - so practice there too!
Additionally, you will often be required to complete an Executive Assessment. This will give the employer a better picture of you.
This is a test that takes around 90 minutes. It gives a clear picture of what you are like in real situations. Your potential employer will learn more about you, individually and interpersonally.
In short, prepare and practice.
When it comes to job search sites for C-level executives, all sites are not created equal.
Below is a list of five sites that you can use in your C-Suite job search that cater specifically to high-level executives:
- ExecuNet is older than the world wide web, and provides an excellent service, pointing C-Level hopefuls in the right direction. The service was created to give executives the best guidance possible and to help others find executive positions.
- Ladders is a service with which you can find ample opportunities. You can search for openings by company, which helps if you have focused your search to specific employers. There is a subscription fee for premium membership which includes unlimited access to job listings, curated job matches exclusively for premium members and other features.
- Lucasgroup, with the slogan “executive recruiting done right,” offers a vast array of opportunities from many companies across the country. You can submit a resume to their website which will be reviewed.
- Experteer calls itself the best executive career search service. Covering a large selection of executive opportunities across the country, you are certain to be shown some of the best positions anywhere.
- ExecThread takes pride in dealing both with executive candidates and employers. Employers will be able to post job opportunities on this site with or without paying for the service. Paying just allows the job that you post not to publicly disclose the name or contact information of your company.
But that just scratches the surface. You can also try general job search sites (LinkedIn, Indeed, etc.) and find more executive search sites.
(For more options, here are the 10 Best Executive Job Search Sites.)
You have several options when it comes to actively searching for executive-level jobs.
You can reach out to recruiters and headhunters or try a fully managed job search.
Executive Level Recruiters
When it comes to recruiters, remember that there are two types: in-house and out-sourced.
In-house recruiters are what they sound like they’d be. This is when a company conducts its own executive searches when the need arises.
A search consultant may be brought in to collaborate with executive recruiters or sources to attempt to locate the ideal talent.
Search methods are both on and off the internet, so to ensure that you are giving yourself the best chance, you should optimize things like your LinkedIn profile, but also strive to be a recognizable face in your industry.
Out-sourced recruiters save time and energy, at the expense of the company not conducting this recruitment in-house.
By using an out-sourced recruiter, the company can save time and not have to compromise on the quality of the candidates brought forward.
You can reach out to out-sourced recruiting services like Korn Ferry and Spencer Stuart. You can find more options for executive recruiter services here.
Executive Level Headhunters
This is an external group or an individual who provides recruitment services when it comes to employment. They are hired by firms to locate the best candidates for the firm.
The help of a headhunter is often enlisted by a company if they are struggling to find an individual who can suitably meet their needs.
You may think that reaching out to a headhunter could be mutually beneficial. But it is not that simple.
Headhunters will have a large network and they will try to fill the open slots as best they can. Their priority is filling open positions, not finding you a job.
If you get in touch and say that you are interested in a C-Suite position, you aren’t just going to sleepwalk into the first one that the headhunter finds.
They need to believe that you are a great fit.
You have to make these people come running to you.
Even if you aren’t interested in a particular job when communication with the headhunter begins, having them on your side and already well acquainted with you will help you a lot in the long run.
Always be grateful to headhunters, for both successful and unsuccessful applications.
Fully Managed Job Search
Recruiters and headhunters are a fantastic help. They help companies find ideal fits for open positions and they help people find employment.
But their help in your job search is limited.
They are not going to help you specifically like a fully managed job search service would.
Find My Profession’s Career Coaching service helps with your entire job search.
Our focus is on finding a job for you, not filling an open position.
From finding relevant jobs for you and applying to those jobs, to networking and interview preparation, we've got you covered.
(To learn more about this service, read Can I Pay Someone To Find Me a Job?)
So that is everything you need to know as you embark on your journey with C-Suite aspirations.
To summarize some key points:
- Make your successes clear. The burden is not on potential recruiters to figure out your contributions. If you don’t, in all probability, nobody will.
- Network and make yourself visible. Professional relationships and putting yourself out there are in your control. If you fail to do either, how can you expect to be spotted by a recruiter?
- Prepare and practice. From your 2 minute pitch, to your resume, to your interview. You want to be saying the exact right things to wow whoever hears what you have to say.
- Consider a fully managed job search. The job search process is not straight-forward, and producing good results can take time. Getting help in this process can be one of the best professional decisions you make.
We wish you all the best in your endeavors!