The Unemployed vs. the Employed Candidate

Recruiters routinely tell us that companies don’t pay them to find unemployed candidates. Recruiter Wayne Mitchell told the Career Thought Leaders at our conference last week that he requires 6 references from unemployed executive candidates and they are checked before the candidate is ever presented.

A recent Wall Street Journal article was entitled “Only the Employed Need Apply.” And a recent article in Fortune asked, “Will being unemployed wreck your job hunt?”

There is no question that the unemployed CFO or Finance Executive has a more difficult path to the next opportunity. Not impossible, but definitely more challenging. Your value to a prospective company must be clear, compelling, and far outweigh the black mark of unemployment AND you need to move away from the job boards and into the real world … which includes the world of social media.

Conversely, in his post “Good headhunters search for living resumes,” Nick Corcodilos (Ask the Headhunter) said this:

Good headhunters aren’t looking for keywords. They are looking for key people, in places like discussion forums where the best and brightest are talking shop. Good headhunters look for substance, and for the gurus that others turn to for advice. They target those discussion leaders as potential candidates. It takes a lot more than keywords to get the attention of good headhunters, who are looking for complete sentences and proof of skills and reputation.

And Wayne Mitchell also said this … Linked In is no longer an option, it’s a MUST!

So … are you showing up as people of influence in the places recruiters are looking? Or, is it your keyword-rich resume that is showing up?

If you’d like to know more about the effects of social media on your finance career, join me at on April 12 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern for my webinar, “Social Media and Your Career: Why it’s Important and What you Need to Know.”

Your Brand (Image) Precedes You

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed many more of my CFO clients choosing branding packages over the standard marketing document packages. Then, as usually happens before I write a blog post, a couple of things along that line caught my attention. In particular, this snippet from a FENG member in a recent newsletter …

… there was a section entitled "See yourself as Others See You" that was quite helpful. For example, when I see myself as thoughtful, a good listener, and considerate under pressure someone else may perceive that as non-demonstrative, unconcerned, and hesitant! So I really agree with one of your summary statements: "You really need to be as correct as possible about the 'person' you are projecting."

Be as correct as possible about the person you are projecting. 

Just pause for a moment and let that realization sink in. The writer offered a good analogy and it affirms that who we believe we are is often perceived differently by others. What are you projecting to others that might unintentionally be sending the wrong message?

The easy answers revolve around age. Since most Chief Financial Officers and other Senior Finance Executives are rarely spring chickens, what message is your brand sending to people in advance of meeting you?

–Rather than wearing your battle scars proudly, are you really conveying near extinction?

–Have wisdom and contributions been trumped by difficulties and responsibilities?

Beyond age, how are you perceived by others?

–As an administrator or a leader?

–An executive who empowers or who micromanages?

–A finance nerd or one who owns the seat at the executive table?

Perhaps, through bad economic circumstances,

–Your resume is in all the job boards making you appear desperate.

–You worked yourself out of a job but your resume screams “unemployed.”

Understanding how others perceive you is the first step in the branding process. Without that knowledge, it’s impossible to create and then take the steps necessary to reinforce what’s true or alter what’s not. That message is apparently resonating with more and more finance executives. 

What image is preceding you … and is it true?

The Executive Job Search Challenge

I was honored to join two of my fellow Career Thought LeadersWendy Enelow and Jan Melnik, on a blog radio show hosted by Deborah Shane last week. My area of specialty … reputation management. Of the many interesting questions Deborah asked me, here’s one that I consider very important. 

What common liabilities are you seeing in executive job seekers that is making it harder for them?

Since I play in the senior finance executive space, my response was from that perspective …

— Many of my clients, at least initially, express an unwillingness or reticence to embrace technology and make it work for them. For better or worse, this is the new normal. It’s a new game with new rules, and executives have to play to win.

— Finance executives tend to be numbers people rather than people people. Networking doesn’t come easily to most of them. And, Web 2.0 technology is about “social networking.” The time investment for networking can also be a huge detriment to the average CFO who is so busy working in his job that he doesn’t have time to invest in his career.

— Because they put long hours in on their job to the exclusion of working on their careers, they may not realize that financial acumen aside … the moment they leave with a big severance package in their pocket, their marketability takes a hit because they now have the black mark of unemployment on their record. Some recruiters would say these candidates are tainted. That’s a cold, harsh assessment that makes finding employment that much more difficult once an executive is UNemployed.

— And of course, competition is stiff for fewer opportunities. A clear and compelling value proposition has never been more important. Sadly, many executives can get tripped up and trapped in the responsibility conversation. Differentiation happens when they turn the conversation to what they have that a company is willing to pay to get … which is all about the candidate’s ability to solve a company’s pain/need/challenge/issue.

If you’re interested in listening to the entire show, you’ll find it here

Superstar Executives

An interesting article by John Hollon on ERE inspired my SmartBrief for CFOs poll last week on the quality of the last hire. The results of the poll … once again … triggered more questions on my end since of those polled, only 27% indicated their last hire was a superstar while almost 50% indicated their last hire was either safe or forgettable.

So I wonder, why make a mediocre hire instead of a superstar hire when the cost of recruiting that person is the same either way. The salary of a superstar shouldn’t cost more since he should be able to save or make a company more than the cost of his salary. 

Then I saw this article posted on Newsweek this morning with a subtitle that reads … “Despite record unemployment, recruiters are desperate for top talent.” 

Perhaps that answers at least one of my questions. Ho hum hires are made because the superstars can’t be found.  Which begs the question … “why” can’t they be found?

— Top talent doesn’t exist. 

— The message of superstar executives is not compelling, isn’t resonating with its target audience, or is completely mute.

— Recruiters aren’t looking for “unemployed” executives. It’s a sad reality and I’ve blogged about this many times. The moment you walk out the door on Friday afternoon with a big fat severance package in your pocket, you also wear the black mark of unemployment. Your marketability takes a hit despite the fact that your skill set and contributions remain the same.

Are you a superstar and are recruiters finding you? If so, you’re apparently in the minority and definitely a high-value target.

Lessons Learned from my Skechers Shape-Ups

While working out is not among my favorite things to do, I really enjoy walking. A few tunes in the iPod and a brisk 40-minute walk 5 times a week energizes me and sets the tone for my days. 

However, traveling and being busy can really knock me off my game. I’ve been blessed with great health and I know exercise will contribute to my continued good health. So, to get back on top, I …

–Made an Investment 

At twice the cost of normal walking shoes, Skechers Shape-Ups are not inexpensive. However, I decided I’m worth it. As long as I continued doing the same things, I was guaranteed to continued getting the same results. I wanted better results and enough pain in the cost to ensure I was energized and committed to the program.

From a job search perspective, it’s easy to think you can do it by yourself. And certainly, there are quite a few people who can and have. If, however, you are not getting the kinds of results you want, perhaps it is time to make an investment in yourself. For every week a CFO or  senior finance executive is out of a job, it costs him somewhere in the $2,000 to $7,500 range. Getting to work even one week earlier could make an investment in yourself one of the best deals in today’s economy.

I’m not so sure “free” advice is that valuable … but that’s a post for another day.

–Got a New Perspective

The design of the sneakers forced me to walk with better posture. If I looked down, rather than out, I risked doing a face plant as I wobbled and zigzagged trying to regain my balance. I can only imagine what people driving by thought … well, yes I can. Looking forward gave me a different perspective, balance, and allowed me to see obstacles well in advance of them and plan how to avoid them before tripping over them.

From a career management perspective, what would a wider view afford you … being able to see obstacles way down the pike rather than jumping immediately in front of you? Being short-sighted … looking no further than where you are today … can cause a life balance crisis if you are completely unprepared to lose your job. And yes, it does happen.

It is always better to look at your current employment as merely being between searches rather than resting on your laurels, feeling lucky or safe. Failing to plan IS planning to fail.

–and Succumbed to the Old Adage …

No Pain, No Gain, for my own good. The design of the shoe allows for a cushioned, fluid movement which, once mastered, has allowed me to speed up my stride and keep the old ticker pumping. Alternatively, if I slow down and exaggerate the heel-to-toe movement, I get the attention of muscles I forgot I had.

Where do you need to slow down in order to get the attention of people who need to know about you? Perhaps it means transforming from a chameleon to a purple cow!

Or, what strategies do you need to implement to keep your career movement smooth and fluid rather than stop and go? Even today, with the amazing glut of unemployed talent available, the “passive candidate” is still the most valued.

… in order to Reap the Rewards.

It’s early in my program as I write this, but I will say I feel great and my energy level is much higher, even on gloomy days when my solar battery runs low. I have every incentive to stay motivated and stick to my walking regiment.

Again, looking at your career … the one thing that allows you to fund every other thing in your life … are you well-positioned to continue reaping the rewards?

The Age Old Question .. To Brand or Not to Brand

Ryan Rancatore interviewed the Wine Guy, Gary Vaynerchuk on personal branding … specifically, what personal branding has meant to his career. He has some thought provoking responses and the post is certainly read-worthy. 

Take this comment, for example …

People just don’t stay in jobs as long as they used to, it just makes sense to let people know who you are beyond your job title.

Authenticity. Visibility. Credibility. Building your personal brand fosters distinction among  the targeted audience of people who need to know about you. And it takes time. Rarely does anyone become an overnight success. Rather, they spend time consistently playing in a niched space, leveraging what they do well, building an authentic reputation, and growing their network. That means, the best time to build your personal brand is when you are ensconced in a position with a move 12-18 months in the future.

As Vaynerchuk also says, 

I’d ask one of the millions of unemployed workers if they didn’t wish they had spent time building a personal brand. 

There are only so many CFO and senior-level finance positions available. Winning one of those roles means you do what the competition isn’t doing … before you need to do it. 

The Competition is Heating Up

According to a survey by Right Management, as many as 6 out of 10 Americans are unhappy with present jobs and are planning to become active job hunters next year. A mere 13% said they had no plans to move. 

A recent Workplace Insights Survey by Adecco found the most serious threat to organizations in this recession may be the recession’s end … when employers could see a high level of turnover. 

While neither of these surveys break down the numbers between executives and non-executives, many CFOs have hunkered down this year. My guess is that quite a few senior finance executives will be among the ranks of the looking next year.

According to these articles, competition may be fierce … and my guess is that company’s will wait for the top candidate not settle for any candidate. The savvy pre-candidate will be preparing now for winning visibility and positioning in anticipation of a recovering 2010. In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “it takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”

Where will you find yourself next year? Among the ranks of the 

–unemployed and looking?

–employed and actively looking?

–or, the coveted passive candidate?

Will you "settle" for your next job or are you well-position to make the move you want?

Passive Candidates vs. Unemployed Candidates

An op ed piece on by Jeremy Eskenazi entitled “Where the Truth Lies: The Need for Balance Between Active and Passive Recruiting” … naturally … caught my attention. I say “naturally” because I am always interested in the hiring trends that will affect my senior finance clients.

On one hand, the article mentions the story about a CEO of a major executive search firm who would only present passive candidates because the unemployed folks were, by definition, inferior. (I’m loosely quoting the story now, not giving my opinion).

The other extreme is the school of thought that says recruiting passive candidates (luring someone who is currently employed into another position) is shameful. 

Every recruiter has their preference and, sadly, even in this market the prevailing perception IS that an executive who is employed has a higher value than one who is unemployed. Mr. Eskenazi tackles the balance question. I’d like to talk about the idea of proactively managing your career to exponentially increase your chances of positioning as a passive candidate. 

Jason Alba, of Jibber Jobber renown, wrote a blog post two years ago and re-posted it today. It looks at a career management mindset versus a job search candidate. It is the essence of how one proactively positions himself as a passive candidate versus reactively, and unintentionally,  achieves positioning as an unemployed candidate. 

When you manage your career like you manage your company, department, or division, you have a plan and you are constantly and consistently executing that plan. It’s a fluid process, not stop and go which only puts you on the endless merry-go-round of look for a job, find a job, work a job, lose a job … and … repeat. 

All the cool Web 2.0 technology available today has made building and maintaining a strong visible presence and social network easier than ever. Seriously, what title would you prefer … passive (and able to be found) or unemployed (and all over the job boards)? When you proactively manage your career, you have a much better chance of choosing your title!

First Bear Stearns, Now Lehman

These kinds of corporate crumblings are a strong reminder of the importance of proactively managing your career. Many of Lehman's employees left work on Friday afternoon believing that things would be okay. Instead, bright and early Monday morning they were forced to pack up their desks and hit the street. Most were undoubtedly completely shocked, not to mention utterly unprepared, for such devastating news.

Sadly, in addition to a tough and probably long job search, they now have the stigma of “unemployed” to add to their challenge. 

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.”