A Quintessential Careers Special 15th Anniversary Report
How does the job-hunting and interview process change as you move up from lower-level positions to upper management?
Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
We invited 15 of the top career and job-search experts — our Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds — to share their advice with our readers as part of our 15th anniversary. This question is just one of several, which you can find here: Expert Job-Search Answers and Advice from Career Experts.
Ways in Which Job-Hunting is Different With Upper Management Job-Search
The process shouldn’t change, but you should change how you act within it. In more junior positions, you have to show that you are willing to do the grunt work and work your way up. This strategy will actually set you apart in the job search because so many candidates are convinced that they have no learning curve. You want to be able to show not only that you have skills and experiences that you can bring to the job, but also that you are willing to get in there and learn new things and how the company works. Your answers should continue to be strategic. You want to show that you can draw upon your academics, internships, co-ops, and first jobs and apply what you’ve learned to your second or third job.
As you work your way up to upper management, it is assumed that you have the nuts-and-bolts skills. You still have to articulate them, but you’re expected to have them. They won’t differentiate you from other candidates. What DOES separate you in upper-management interviews is your ability to articulate your management style, your leadership functions (note that I’m not saying style here — I’m saying functions), your ability to build capacity in others, and your ability to envision and carry out strategy.
— Maureen Crawford Hentz
If employers are hiring right at every level, the construct will be the same: the job-seeker finds an employer (and the employer welcomes) someone who has the right skills, motivation, cultural fit, and ability to deliver results. A multichannel approach typically works best, with networking at center stage.
As you progress to the upper tier of the employment pyramid, there are obviously fewer positions. Fewer positions means greater competition and higher stakes for the hiring company. Accordingly, there will be greater filtering process and scrutiny on the employer’s part, which means in many cases:
- A longer interviewing cycle
- More assessments (personality, behavioral, intelligence)
- More vetting by cross-disciplinary teams to find the right cultural fit or the right traits to balance out a particular team
- More requests in the interview process for you to prove your ability to think strategically and execute efficiently
- More expectation that you will make a business case for the ROI of hiring you
- More thorough reference checking
- More involvement with executive recruiters in the sourcing and negotiation process
Many employers admit being pickier in this economy — they can’t afford to make a mistake. Eliminate that risk for them, and you’ll be the top pick!
— Susan Whitcomb
As you climb the ladder, you cross the magic line where you go from mentee to mentor. So, be prepared to discuss how you can coach and lead others. You also need to be very confident in your go-to potential. You must able to articulate and demonstrate your expertise and ability to solve important problems as a way to save and/or make the company money. The higher we go, the more we must justify our salary!
— J.T. O’Donnell
I work with a lot of officers — that’s VP to CEO. In fact, the one-on-one work I do now is only with officers. The job market changes at that level in several important ways. First of all, you can actually say negative things about a former employer. You don’t do that from middle management on down, but at the top, it is absolutely okay to explain how your vision and the vision of the former employer differed, and further, to explain why and how yours was better.
Also, at the top, resumes, CVs, vitas, and such are quite different. Long resumes are fine. Resumes of four, five, six pages are routine, no big deal. You can also take the time in these documents to craft a story, a narrative, of what went on at each assignment. You’d get killed for doing that at the MBA or recent-grad level, where the one-page rule is still in effect.
Finally, at senior levels, you have to assume that the hiring authority is going to do a full work up on you, a legal and criminal background check, a complete 360-degree reference check. Twenty and 30 references are routinely developed for a CEO placement, for example. You have to assume that everything that can come out is going to come out. So we spend a lot of time doing defense, as well as offense. We spend a lot of time preparing for “gotcha” questions, just in case they do come up. In the recent presidential campaigns, I was shocked how many candidates didn’t seem as prepared as a typical business officer would have been. Very sloppy and unprofessional.
— Donald Asher
We use Brad Smart’s very deep and time-consuming process called “top grading” for upper management — it involves a 30-minute screening call, a two- to three-hour subsequent interview, follow-up interviews with team members, and reference checks. Knowing the top-grading interview process in advance would be very helpful for anyone about to experience it. For lower-level positions, we use an abbreviated top-grading process, but it is still fairly rigorous.
— Eric Shannon
Look up “cost of a bad hire” in your favorite Internet search-engine. You will see that if the employer makes a mistake in hiring, it will cost the organization from one to five times the annual salary of that bad hire. So, as you the job-hunter are looking for work with more prestige and more responsibility and therefore a higher salary, the cost to the employer of a bad hire rises astronomically. In such a case, the interview process gets more and more rigorous, in any company or organization that cannot afford just to waste money. You’d better Google yourself and wipe out any information from your earlier life that makes you look like an amateur rather than as a professional, because I guarantee you, that company will research you using Google or similar, and abort the hiring process if they don’t like what they find.
— Richard Nelson Bolles
As you advance in your career, and you’re looking for new opportunities, there should be less reliance on job boards… greater emphasis on networking. You’ll move from Monster-type boards to a more active role on LinkedIn and with headhunters who specialize in your field. As your career advances, your professional network should grow too — and those are the people who are likely to be the best resources for growing your career.
— Tory Johnson
Our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds
- Donald Asher of Asher Associates
- Richard Nelson Bolles of JobHuntersBible.com
- Jack Chapman of Lucrative Careers, Inc.
- Deb Dib of Executive Power Brand
- Louise Fletcher of Blue Sky Resumes
- Maureen Crawford Hentz
- Tory Johnson of Women for Hire
- J.T. O’Donnell of CAREEREALISM
- Lindsey Pollak
- Teena Rose of Resume to Referral
- Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com
- Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers
- Eric Shannon of LatPro, Inc.
- Wendy Terwelp of Opportunity Knocks
- Susan Whitcomb of The Academies
Find more information about each of our 15 Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds.
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