Recruiter Relationships

A few months ago, the C-Suite Career Catalysts asked C-level and Senior Executives a few questions about their experiences working with recruiters. One of the fascinating responses came from a question about what they (Executives) value in recruiter relationships.

Among both C-suite and Senior Executives, the #1 most-valued response was “Solid Leads / Opportunities.” I believe a few of the comments helped to clarify that selection …

– Match skill set and management philosophy with prospective company
– Knows / understands the company, CEO, opportunity, risks of company and position
– Corporate culture knowledge

What a waste of time for all concerned when recruiters contact CFOs for opportunities that are obviously not a good fit. Which begs the question, who is responsible for ensuring that recruiters can make an assessment based on a crystal clear value proposition and fit for culture?

The rest of the responses were pretty similar with the exception that reputation of the recruiter was much more important to the C-suite than to Senior Executives at large … 58% vs. 38%.

Here’s the breakdown of all the responses to the question “what do you most value in a recruiter relationship.”

ValueC-SuiteSenior Executives
Solids Leads/Opportunities
Landing a Great Position

One other consistent comment from the C-suite was around “honesty and integrity” in their relationships. While probably somewhat tied to the “confidentiality” answer, the list of comments that were added around this issue raises the importance of it in the eyes of Senior Executives and the C-suite.

The “best of the best” are looking to work with recruiters who tell them the truth, keep them informed, and contact them for opportunities that are a good fit.

Branding & Culture Fit

Those seem to be two very hot topics these days! And they are topics that are relevant to Chief Financial Officers and other Finance Leaders.

A few days ago, after reading Fortune’s article, “Is it better to hire for cultural fit over experience,” I posted this in my Linked In CFO Careers group “A strong, compelling, and visible brand takes the question of culture fit completely off the table!” My comment was in response, in part, to these comments from the Fortune article …

“the most qualified candidates often do damage to a firm when they don’t jibe with the firm’s culture.”

“Cultural fit is incredibly important on a candidate’s abilities to use his skills,” says Nancy Rothbard, an associate professor of management at The Wharton School. “You have a positive effect through skills, but culture completely cancels that out.”

Cultural fit can cover a variety of characteristics, but ultimately, Rothbard and others say, the question hiring managers should be looking to answer is, does this candidate’s values align with those of the company ….”

Culture fit is THE most difficult piece of the hiring process. And while most articles speak to a company getting it right, I think it is equally important for candidates to get it right. I doubt any senior executive really wants to make a wrong decision and end up in job search mode almost immediately.

George Bradt quoted Kevin Kelly, CEO of Heidrick & Struggles, in his post about interview questions at …

“40 percent of senior executives leave organizations or are fired or pushed out within 18 months. It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s because a lot of times culturally they may not fit in with the organization or it’s not clearly articulated to them as they joined.” [emphasis mine]

Forty percentfired or pushed out within 18 months! I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be calling the shots than the one being fired at by someone else.

Enter branding, which speaks directly to culture fit. In fact, a strong brand attracts the right kind of opportunities while sending those that are a poor fit running in the opposite direction.

I believe that by the time you make it to the “Top 3”, there are really only two remaining questions on the table. Are you a fit for the company’s culture and do they like you. When you are well-branded – and visible – the culture fit question has already been answered … for both the candidate and the company, giving you a huge advantage over the other two candidates.

Job Boards and Senior Executives

Call me cynical but, I saw this tweet …

Join this great jobs site… They have thousands of pre-screened 100K jobs – check em out 

… and just had to shake my head. Job boards are to job seekers what the lottery is to the millions who play every week. The odds are just not in your favor. Sure there’s a lottery winner every week – with emphasis on the “a.” 

It’s no secret that I am NOT a fan of job boards. Particularly for finance executives or other C-Suite executives. Oh, they have their place and certainly can, and perhaps even should, be a search strategy. Again with emphasis on the “a.” However, job boards should never be the sum total of a search strategy.

One of my issues is that most people quickly fall into the deception that job boards make it so easy to get a job that they don’t do the hard work required to actually find a job. If anything, scanning posted positions a a sole search strategy turns into a complete waste of time and exercise in futility. The rejection is fierce and the ego is crushed.

And Linked In groups that are targeted solely to job seekers are really not that much different. This is a great list, but my recommendation would be to NOT use 25 of your allotted 50 group memberships on “job search” groups. All you’ll really be doing is hanging out with other unemployed people and folks like me. Select 5 or so job search groups and then join groups that allow you to show off your expertise and will win the attention of recruiters who are looking for top talent.

The jobs CFOs and senior finance executives want are rarely going to be found on a public job board.

And I won’t even discuss job fairs, other than to see this is a pretty funny article!

Inbound vs. Outbound for Marketing YOU

Doug Haslam wrote a great blog post about inbound marketing, and he’s right, it has everything to do with your career. Here’s an excerpt …

Inbound Marketers flip outbound marketing on its head.

Instead of interrupting people with television ads, they create videos that potential customers want to see. Instead of buying display ads in print publications, they create their own blog that people subscribe to and look forward to reading. Instead of cold calling, they create useful content and tools so that people call them looking for more information.

This definition concentrates on content creation, but the real meat is the phrase “people call them.”

It’s the old push / pull marketing terms with new names. The result, though, is the same. You can either push your message to people who don’t care, won’t listen, and are happy to round file your resume … I call this the spaghetti strategy … or you can pull your target market to you with a clear, compelling, and visible brand. Which would you rather do?

Inbound marketing has everything to do with proactively managing your career and the very best time to begin is when you are happy, satisfied, and doing well in your current position. If you are a CFO or finance executive who has been missing the social media boat, it is not too late to jump on board. You have everything to gain and absolutely nothing to lose. 

In CNN’s Executive Education article, "How not to ruin your next career move,” Matt Knight says this …

Executives at the top, as well as people lower down the career ladder are sometimes so desperate to leave their job that they don't plan their career moves and lurch from job to job instead of waiting for the right position.

Desperation can often become the breeding ground for bad decision-making and/or result in a very long job search. I was talking with an executive recruiter who places CFOs earlier this week and he told me one of the most aggravating parts of his job was when prospective candidates, who clearly did not meet his client’s specs, tried to talk him into believing they could do the job anyway. Desperation can also cause otherwise great networking contacts to sour very quickly.

Think of your career as Business You and begin strategizing your inbound marketing plan today.

Resume Authenticity

Cathy Graham authored an informative post entitled “Living Up to Your Resume. While it offers a number of good insights, here’s the one I want to key in on today … because it is so critically important.

Resume writing services are out there and many are very good. However, you can end up with a product that really bears little relationship to who you are. Experienced recruiters and employers pick up on this quite quickly. Robert Half International conducted a survey of 100 Canadian senior executives, asking them “How common is it for a job applicant who has a promising resume to not live up to your expectations when you interview him or her?” Sixty-five percent said it was very common. One of the biggest causes of this disconnect stems from inflating your achievements. When you get in an interview situation, with its attendant stress, you are unable to relate your experience to match the way it is conveyed on your resume. 

One of the things I evangelize to my clients is the importance of consistency between who they look like on paper and who they appear to be in person. It is also why my clients work very hard through the marketing document development process. Until they are crystal clear about their marketable value proposition (MVP), the pain they’ve taken away, challenges overcome, problems solved, and situations improved … and they can articulate those points … they simply canNOT compete as A-players.

Be a Problem Solver

I follow the Recruiter Uncensored blog, and a recent post “Pay Attention to Bad Press,”  although targeted to recruiters, contains valuable information for job search candidates.

Companies are hiring CFOs and other senior executives to solve problems … not because they are trying to fill an empty corner office with a lovely view and a name plate on the door. Companies with problems who find themselves the recipient of some bad press … may be perfect targets for you … if you bring evidence that you know how to take away their pain. 

Value is in the eyes of the beholder. Offering a marketable value proposition proving you can take away pain while delivering quantifiable impacts, make you quite valuable. 

The War for Talent, Part 2

The War for Senior Executive Talent is just beginning to heat up. Interesting, and useful, information in the article, "Baby Boomer Brain Drain Looms."

–– The long-dreaded era of Baby Boomer retirements has finally dawned, and with the oldest Boomers turning 62 this year, the fallout may reach epic proportions in the early years of the next decade.

Where “age discrimination” used to be rampant, up-and-coming top–performing senior executives with a clear and compelling marketable value proposition will be in hot demand.

–– That means many companies will be hard-pressed to shore up their finance functions with leaders as experienced as those they have had until now.

Those passive candidates who are in demand will have even more opportunities coming their way, with salaries and incentives to match their potential to contribute.

–– The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over the next 10 years there will be a 15 percent decline in workers age 35 to 54, concurrent with a 25 percent increase in demand.

Statistics validate that the War for Senior Executive Talent is indeed heating up!

And the importance of grooming successors is growing. Coaching, mentoring, and grooming those coming up behind you is the single most important thing you can do for the future generations (our children and grandchildren).

–– "We are seeing movement now, a real urgency that even 18 months ago did not exist," said David de Wetter, senior consultant for human resources transformation at Watson Wyatt Worldwide.

There is still skepticism about a shortage of talent in the States … just wait another 18 months. While commodity candidates may still be denying a shortage of talent, top–performing candidates will have their choice of opportunities.

Which makes me wonder how that will impact the current statistic that the average tenure of a CFO is currently a mere three years!

–– Another shift, according to de Wetter, is that some companies are moving away from grooming specific people for specific future executive roles in favor of a more fungible approach. The idea is to create leadership pools, composed of people who display qualifications as leaders that are transferable enterprise-wide.

This is such an interesting concept. Given the community– and colloraborative–mindedness of the Baby Busters and Mosaics, this strategy might actually work! “Leaders often remind us that what got us where we are is not the same stuff that will get us where we want to go.” George Barna

–– Losing any top talent is bad enough, but corporations face the very real fact that they will lose a majority of their top talent in a very short time span.

That projection should scare most companies while making A–players jump for joy. Of course, if you are a top–performing finance executive who can’t be found by the people who need to know about you … there might not be any reason for you to jump.

Some Good Folks to Know

Business Week has published The World’s Most Influential Headhunters.

Do you know about them? More importantly, do they know about you?

Now, before you start firing off cold resumes to these recruiters, remember … what they are most interested in is a relationship with a top–performing passive candidate. It all starts with a relationship.

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

I’ve gotten some questions and read some articles this week about whether it is preferable to write your own resume or have a professional write it. Since I’m in the resume writing business, my answer is perhaps biased. However, permit me to make my case.

One of the main arguments for self-writing is that you know what you’ve done better than anyone else. Of course you do. The question is … how well can you articulate it? Not every one has a gift or talent for writing. And very few people are savvy at marketing when they are the product.

My finance executives tend to be numbers-oriented rather than words-oriented. They can finesse and lovingly massage P&Ls, keep department budgets in line, monitor profit growth, and set strategic direction, but when it comes time to marketing themselves through the written word, there can be a serious disconnect.

There is also perspective. We always look at the things we’ve done through our own narrow viewpoint and that sometimes does not allow us to clearly see the value in the things we’ve accomplished and the ways we’ve contributed. Sometimes, it is easier to see the worth of our accomplishments if we have an objective person asking us questions that allow us to look at our contributions from a different vantage point.

I’m not crazy about the way my hair stylist styles my hair, but she cuts it exactly right. She has a different perspective than I do, and one I cannot begin to replicate by looking in a mirror with a pair of scissors in my hand.

My clients are senior-level executives who understand that if you don’t know how to do something, you partner with an expert who knows what you don’t know. If you are immersed in a frustrating and discouraging job search, seek the advice and help of a career coach who knows what you don’t know and who can help you see what you can’t see. The insight you gain regarding your marketability and value to a prospective company can give you a fresh approach … even if you do decide to write your own marketing documents.


I was reading a great article entitled “Defending the Rolodex” this morning published in FierceFinance. While the article is about the defection (or not) of an institution’s client base when an executive leaves for a new position, it got me thinking about the reverse side of the desk.

As a senior executive, do you really want to be hog–tied when you are forced, pressured, or persuaded to prematurely leave an organization? Or, would it make more sense for you to plan your next move and work your plan? Know what your next target is, the companies on your hot list, and when it is strategic for you to make the move versus being at the whim of the company, economy, or industry?

Companies run on a three to five–year plan – so should your career. You can continue to give away control of your career – what you do and where and when you do it … or you can take back control by getting in the driver’s seat.

If you are so busy working in your job that you don’t have time to work on your career, you will forever be positioned – at some point – as a job hunter. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of complacency because you’ve landed in a new position … CFO longevity is only 18 months to 2 or 3 years.  Shift the job search paradigm by moving into the driver’s seat and taking control of your career.

How? Recruiter Tim Norstrem and I will be discussing why you should manage your career like you manage your business on Tuesday, May 15 at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time as part of the CFO–Career–Forum’s monthly Conversations with the Experts. You can join us.