The Recession, Unemployment, & CFOs

In a recent SmartBrief poll, 72.5% of surveyed companies indicated they had unfilled openings. With almost 10% unemployment, I find that curious, don’t you?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting with Recruiter Samuel Dergel of CFO2Grow in Canada on his thoughts about this issue.

Samuel believes one reason for so many unfilled positions is that companies are deluded by a flawed “recession mindset.” That is, the belief that there is an abundant of available talent and it need only post the opening and that talent will rush in the door.

I’m not sure that it is purely a “recession mindset,” I actually believe the hiring process is, and has been, completely broken and I wrote about this several years ago in my article, “Everybody Lies.”

It seems pretty obvious that companies ARE hiring! That’s a very high number of unfilled openings. However, companies want, and are willing to wait for, top talent. I loved Samuel’s analogy … companies aren’t looking for top talent lying on the ground (chronically unemployed with no value proposition), they’re looking at the top of the tree (passive candidates).

Long-term unemployment compensation “seems” like a good thing when you don’t have a job. But at the end of 2 or, unbelievably 3, years … will you even be employable? It won’t be enough to hang a shingle on your door that says “consultant” for the benefit of your resume, unless you were actually consulting and have deliverables and references available to back up your position. Many of the jobs, and even skill sets, that will exist in 3 years aren’t even known today. If you’re out of the workforce long term, it will be extremely difficult to be a competitive candidate.

Samuel and I agree that today’s high-value CFO is, above all things, strategic. A leader who can vision and guide initiatives from the Executive Table, not just crunch numbers from the back office.

In a webinar on yesterday, the presenter indicated the average tenure of a CFO today is 26 months. My best advice as a career coach is that every top talented Chief Financial Officer apply that same “strategic mindset” to his career. If it’s true that the talent companies want is at the top of the tree, not lying on the ground … and I believe it is … it’s critical to figure out where you want to go and how to get there, long before you desire to make a move.

How Fast Do You Fail?

It’s a serious question. Do you fail quickly, recognize what you might be doing wrong, and then move on? Or, do you keep doing the same thing even when your results are not what you want, hoping today will be the day that delivers a different outcome?

I was reading the latest CFO magazine and this headline jumped out at me …

“We fail fast, learn, and move on!”

It was particularly compelling because I had just finished reading my “Ask the Headhunter” newsletter (which if you don’t get, you’re missing great information) in which Nick talked about the importance of initiative in a job search. 

Here are my thoughts on the differences …

With initiative and a fast fail mindset.

These CFOs recognize that they have the most power while they are passive candidates. They are happily employed, not looking, AND on the radar screen of recruiters who are looking for high-value targets. They understand their unique value and can clearly articulate their message. 

They are proactively managing their careers, often collaborating with a career expert and/or mentor to fill in the gaps around what they don’t know in order to keep the momentum moving forward and pivot quickly when necessary, thereby avoiding an all out “face slam to sidewalk” failure.

If these finance leaders are in the midst of an active job search, they have done the hard work to clarify a differentiated, clear, and compelling message; they are networking online and offline; and they are targeting companies and people, not posted positions.

With a false sense of initiative and a slower learning mindset.

These CFOs are often active job seekers who were lulled into a false sense of security in their previous position. They felt safe and secure. Sadly, job security today is an illusion. These finance leaders may have even worked themselves out of a job, in which case they were so busy wrapping up details they shelved their careers thinking, often incorrectly, they would get their next job quickly.

After a few weeks, feelings of discouragement, anxiety, and rejection begin setting in, and then procrastination happens. Which often leads to one of two things. This job seeker gets sucked into the job posting vortex – or – convenient excuses are constantly in the way of actually conducting an effective job search. Both serve to protect the relentless assault on one’s ego from hearing nothing or being rejected.

The lack of a fast-fail-and-learn mindset means he will keep on doing what he’s been doing hoping for a different outcome. It “can” happen; it just doesn’t “often” happen … or happen quickly.

What will you do today? Fail fast, learn, and move forward; or fail slowly, learn nothing, and then repeat?

Are You a Down-But-Not-Out Star?

According to Dr. John Sullivan, the definition of a down-but-not-out-star is this …

… you bring an exceptional record of performance and whatever bumped you from your perch is most likely only a short bump in the road. (Full article)

I was having the “passive candidate” conversation with another finance executive recruiter recently. His comments really resonated given the article by Dr. Sullivan. When asked whether he presents unemployed candidates to his client companies, he said yes … and why they are unemployed makes the big difference. Did they work themselves out of a job or were they terminated?

Working yourself out of a job could certainly define you as a down-but-not-out star. If that does define you, what are you doing to separate yourself from the non-star finance executive candidates competing for those same positions?

Unless you stand out from the crowd, you will blend in; and if you blend in, it’s unlikely your stardom will be shining through. 

A very accomplished CFO prospect contacted me yesterday. When I inquired what he had done in the three weeks he’s been unemployed and before contacting me, he said, among other things, posting his resume on all the public job boards. He has now blended in, commoditized himself, and made his search that much more difficult.

Step away from the job boards and do what your competition is NOT doing. If you have star power, even down-but-not-out star power, leverage it!

Four Things Jobseekers Can Learn From Recruiters

Who better for passive and active job search candidates to learn from than one of recruiting’s foremost thought leaders? Kevin Wheeler’s latest article was on the 4 things recruiters should have learned this year and, it’s a wealth of information for prospective candidates (today, next year, or 2 years from now) as well.

Here are the lessons Wheeler lays out, with my job search candidate interpretation and hopefully, grace from the author.

“Lesson #1: Building and maintaining candidate relationships and generating referrals are keys to survival.”

I see two key takeaways for job seekers (particularly passive candidates) in this lesson. First, build recruiter relationships … long before you need them. And then, maintain them. If you don’t stay top of mind then you aren’t anywhere near the top.

Build your network. And then, maintain your network. If recruiters are looking for referrals, they will in all likelihood be talking with people within your cone of influence who can pass those opportunities on to you. 

“Lesson #2: Use targeted, bold marketing and branding to appeal to the types of candidates you want.”

Targeted, bold marketing, and branding to appeal to the types of companies where you want to work. Recruiters are doing it. Job search candidates should definitely be leveraging the power of targeted, branded positioning.

“Lesson #3: Do not just use, but embrace, emerging technology.”

It’s Web 2.0 and it’s not going anywhere. Job boards are out, social media is in. Maybe not all the way yet, but it is trending that way. Despite that trend, almost 75% of CFOs polled by SmartBrief indicated they either had a Linked In profile but were not actively using it or they didn’t have a profile and weren’t interested in having one. Which begs the question, if you aren’t in Google, do you exist?

I’ll be writing more extensively on this in my next post, but a recent article by another recruiter was lamenting the fact that her client (the company) would no longer accept candidates she found in Career Builder or Monster. I’ve mentioned this before, my recruiter contacts have told me they are not getting paid to present candidates that are found in job boards. It’s time for job search candidates (active and passive) to embrace emerging technology.

“Lesson #4: Accept change as a way of life.”

This is the most frustrating thing I hear from my senior executives. Finding a job isn’t the way it used to be. The rules have changed. The playing field isn’t level. Good isn’t always good enough.

The rules HAVE changed, and if you don’t understand today’s game it’s even tougher to compete. Just as Wheeler instructs recruiters that traditional recruiting methods have gone the way of the dinosaur and traditional recruiting skills will become liabilities, so will not proactively managing a career come at a  much high cost to executives, finance and otherwise.

How Critical is Linked In?

That was one of the many great questions asked during one of my recent Netshare Ask-a-Coach calls. My response … so critical that it is part of every package I sell and we spend at least one coaching session around how to leverage the power of that Web 2.0 technology. While you are launching a proactive effort, Linked In is an ongoing, powerful, portable, 24/7 strategy.

In order to understand how important Linked In is to my clients’ career management strategy, I talk with recruiters. I have yet to talk with one who does not use Linked In as one of his or her primary tool to source passive candidates. In fact, “A Recruiters Guide to the Universe” ranks Linked In and Linked In Groups as the two primary ways to connect job seekers and recruiters. Networking accounts for 40-70% of all opportunities. Being active on Linked In is networking. 

So what’s “most important” about your Linked In profile. I’ve come up with 5 things:

Create a Powerful Branded Summary 


This is not your daddy’s boring bio either. This summary, limited by 2,000 characters, is your opportunity to showcase how you do what you do (your brand) that is different and unique from others who do the same or similar things.  


More is Better 


It is great to have your employers and job titles, past and present, listed as part of your profile. But that is not enough. In the world of key searches, more is better.  The amount of information online acts as a pre–qualifier and gives both you and a prospect a framework to begin establishing a relationship. 


Create your Vanity URL 

Linked In allows you to create vanity URLs, and it is a great way to increase your Google rankings … if you have also made your stellar profile available for public viewing … which I highly recommend.  


Join Groups 


The big fish, small pond analogy definitely applies here. Joining groups allows you to mingle with like–minded folks and gain access to their contact information … even if the person is not a 1st degree contact in your network. Be sure to set your contact information option to open, so others can contact you as well. 

And finally … 

Third party recommendations are extremely important on Linked In. These are very powerful endorsements that add credibility to the statements in your profile and employment history, and are critical to your positioning.

Brand vs. Non-Brand … Let the CFO Games Begin

In the article “10 Branding Trends for ’10,” marketing communications professional Francis Anderson discusses the power of consumer branding in 2010. I’ve taken a couple of his points and added personal branding commentary. 

Value is the new black: Consumer spending, even on sale items, will continue to be replaced by a reason-to-buy at all. This may spell  trouble for brands with no authentic meaning, whether high-end or low.

With competition fierce among job seekers, passive candidates still hold the most power and position. Authentically-branded passive candidates hold the trump card.

I stumbled across this on the Internet recently and thought it aptly captured the dilemma of branding inauthenticity. “The inauthentic man faces a difficult balancing act, for he is not only avoiding the truth, he has forgotten where he put the truth.”

Brand differentiation is brand value: The unique meaning of a brand will increase in importance as generic features continue to propagate in the brand landscape. Awareness as a meaningful market force has long been obsolete, and differentiation will be critical for sales and profitability.

Do you know what you have that a company is willing to pay to get? If not, the perception of you may be “commodity” rather than “value.”

“Because I said so” is over: Brand values can be established as a brand identity, but they must believably exist in the mind of the consumer. A brand can’t just say it stands for something and make it so. The consumer will decide, making it more important than ever for a brand to have measures of authenticity that will aid in brand differentiation and consumer engagement.

Branding is NOT who you think you are. Branding IS the perception of you held by others. If, for example, you are a CFO and believe yourself to be a visionary leader but your staff, peers, and bosses view you as a micro-managing bean counter … what are you really?

Consumer expectations are growing: Brands are barely keeping up with consumer expectations now. Every day consumers adopt and devour the latest technologies and innovations, and hunger for more. Smarter marketers will identify and capitalize on unmet expectations. Those brands that understand where the strongest expectations exist will be the brands that survive and prosper.

Being a generalist or jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none  … trying to be all things to all people … might just get you added to the list of endangered species. 

How might CFOs leverage branding to gain competitive market positioning? As William Arruda says, “what makes you unique, makes you successful.”

Where There’s Change: There’s Opportunity

The most effective search strategy is networking … because anytime there is change, there is opportunity. Being one of the first to learn about upcoming changes from your circle of influence, positions you to act early and swiftly.

When Boards make leadership changes, that can often also include changes in those around the leaders. Look at what’s happening at GM, for example:

[CFO] Young’s departure is one of several possible changes amount senior executives, and the board is reviewing other positions, the source said. (Detroit News

In a true private sector situation, those changes aren’t usually announced until after the fact. Passive candidates who already have solid recruiter relationships, a compelling value proposition, and strong visible presence will be the first to be tapped for those opportunities.

Networking = early, swift, effective. If you snooze, you just might lose!

Are You an Explorer?

If you are, recruiters are looking for you! What, exactly, is an Explorer?

Earlier this week, Lou Adler delivered a teleseminar for entitled “A Story About Bulls and Bears – How to Tame the Economic Cycle.” The purpose of the seminar was to guide recruiters in sourcing top quality candidates in this crazy economic period where the tendency is even greater for candidates who are employed to stick their head in the sand and pretend their position is secure.

With all the “unemployed candidates” available, why would such a teleseminar even be necessary? If you’ve been following my posts, you know that I talk constantly about the high desirability and value of passive candidates. The Explorer is the crème de la crème of passive candidates.

Mr. Adler drew an arc and starting at the bottom left with an “employed candidate,” he continued along the arc with Explorers, Tiptoers, Googlers, Networkers, and Posters … these are the phases a candidate will pass through as he moves from job to job. According to Adler, the folks recruiters want are the Explorers … semi–passive and, because they are not looking, will need to be found by recruiters … and NOT through public job boards.

Are you one? With a solid record of contributions, a clear and compelling brand, and a strong digital footprint, you, too, can be a highly–coveted Explorer. And if you are currently unemployed, the moment you land is the time to position yourself as the Explorer recruiters are seeking.

Recruiting Trends and Potential Candidates

Dr. John Sullivan authored the article “13 Trends In Corporate Recruiting for 2009.” He’s a smart guy and another thought leader in the world of recruiting … kind of the Faith Popcorn of recruiting.� When he speaks, I listen.

Here are a few of the trends he sees for the upcoming year, and my take on how they affect you as a passive candidate.

–Upgrading employment branding

According to John, employment branding is THE hottest trend right now and into the future. If it is hot for employers, it is also hot for candidates. What better way to show that you are a fit for a strong branded company then by positioning yourself to appeal directly to their message?

Differentiation is key to standing out from the crowd. A strong branded communication message will attract like brands and repel misfits, making finding that next right opportunity much easier and less time intensive.

–Reinvigorating referral programs

“… the highest volume and quality candidates still come from well-designed employee referral programs.”

Networking, BEFORE you need to network, is critical to rubbing elbows with employees who know about unpublished, quality opportunities. Spending 15 minutes a day cultivating and nurturing an online and offline network, building trust and helping others BEFORE you need to ask for their help, will go a long way towards keeping you top-of-mind for future opportunities.

–Utilizing social networks

Recruiting passive candidates from social networking sites is hot and will shortly become mainstream. Which means, you MUST be where recruiters are looking. If you aren’t on Linked In, Zoom Info, and Ziggs,�and you can’t be found in a Google search, you may be deemed to be extinct.

–Using employee blogs for recruiting

“The very best firms use blogs not just to spread their message but also to answer questions and to make their company appear more “real” and approachable.”

What better way to position yourself as a thought leader, visionary, or subject expert then through a blog read by your target audience? Companies are quickly waking up to the power of blogs … and even microblogs like Twitter … and they are just as powerful as part of a branded communication strategy for passive candidates.

Recruiting the Passive Candidate

You may recall that following the Kennedy Recruiting Conference in Orlando last October, I reported that the overriding theme among the internal recruiters attending the conference was the desire to recruit “passive candidates” … almost to the exclusion of those who were unemployed.  The perception of the unemployed candidate is that they are somehow less … less desirable, less qualified, less attractive.

Now, I know that is not necessarily the case; and if you are one of those unemployed executives, chances are good that you are offended (or worse) by that perception. Sadly, the perception is true and “perception is everything.”

Lou Adler is a thought leader in the recruiting industry and recently penned an article entitled “Recruiting Passive Candidates in Tough Economic Times,” which was published in Daily. Here’s the opening to his article:

Consider this as a basic truth: in tough economic times every job looks better, especially the one you already have.

This would imply that during recessions there are fewer good people actively looking and it’s tougher to get the best passive consider to even discuss your career opportunity. If this is the case, one could conclude that the bulk of the people who are looking during economic downturns tend to be those who are unemployed or marginally employed.

Since this group does not represent the best-of-the-best, you’ll need to rethink your entire sourcing strategy to make sure it’s targeting the people you want to hire.

If I can impress one thing on you, Senior-Level Finance Executive, it is to repackage and begin positioning yourself LONG BEFORE you think you need to look for a job. Assuming you are an accomplished passive candidate, proactively managing your career means you will minimize the chances of being viewed as “not representing the best-of-the-best.”