There is a common theme from executive level candidates who are frustrated that someone with lesser skills, record of success or credentials, was selected.  How did that happen?

iStock_000029452556SmallAnd with that common theme, there is this common candidate question:  What could I have done better?  

For candidates who want to elevate their job search skills to the next level, here are some suggestions.  Some of these points have been covered in previous posts and others reflect what I feel is a dramatically different job search environment.  So, take note of these 10 steps.

  1. Get transition help – If you have been terminated, asked to leave, or you decide it is time to move on, always ask for outplacement coaching as part of your exit package.  The job market has changed — dramatically.  I am seeing more and more candidates struggle because they do not understand these changes.  Moreover, outplacement is more than preparing a new resume and getting a refresher course on the dos and don’ts.  Look for a firm or consultant who will help you define your value and help you tell your story more effectively.  A new, updated resume, even with some color, will not be enough to help you get a new job.  Search consultants want verifiable substance, not glitz.
  2. Do not apply for jobs you are not qualified to pursue – It only unreasonably escalates your frustration.  It also damages your career brand.
  3. Create a value-oriented resume – It should be easy to read and it should list all your prior positions, including the locale and a description of the organization, title and scope of responsibility.  List your quantifiable achievements in order of importance.  Do NOT mix scope of responsibility statements with your accomplishments.  It just muddies your brand.
  4. Create a robust on-line profile – LinkedIn is the juggernaut.  This is critical since so many recruiters use LinkedIn to identify potential candidates.  Use a professional photo — absolutely no “selfies” or pictures of your spouse, children, grandchildren and/or pets.  This is about you.  Move that type of personal information to Facebook.
  5. Do your homework – Before submitting a resume, do your homework!  Being first in the door with your resume does not guarantee you anything.  Frequently, organizations post job descriptions, or there is enough information in the on-line job posting that you can see what skills and experience will be valued.  Also look for newspaper articles that might shed some additional light on why they are conducting a search — new position, resignation or operational or financial challenges, and then customize your resume.  See #3.
  6. Do not send the same resume for every job – Every job is different.  Tailor your resume to address the relevant experience and skills that an employer is looking for by emphasizing those in the resume summary.  Reorder your accomplishments in your dot-point listing to emphasize your quantifiable successes in those specific areas.  In other words, do NOT send the same resume for every job opening and do not send one that is not up to date.
  7. Be prepared for interviewsThink about potential questions you may be asked about your experience, skills, any short tenures or gaps in employment.  There are very few successful executives who have not been fired, or asked to leave at some point in their career.  Be prepared to explain the situation, succinctly and honestly.  Do not be negative but if you are too vague, that could raise flags for the interviewer.  If you made a mistake, failed in a critical relationship, or experienced personal problems that became a distraction, admit and talk about the lessons learned.  I do not care how good you were at extemporaneous speech in high school, developing a succinct and complete answer during the interview is a dumb idea.  This costs more candidates because it diminishes their authenticity.  If you are provided with information about the organization from the recruiter, read it thoroughly.  If you ask questions that are already covered in that document — excluding, of course, inquiries asking for clarification — you are sending an amazingly bad signal to the recruiter.
  8. Quantify your successes – When listing accomplishments on your resume, and when asked about them in an interview, focus on quantifiable successes.  Saying that you increased revenue, and/or profits, is not adequate.  Be specific.  If you use percentages such as “ increased sales by 40 percent,” you must quantify that by providing a baseline — prior year sales, for example — otherwise your accomplishments will lose impact.
  9. Manage your references – Brief them on the job and remind them of your accomplishments that are relevant to your prospective employer.  Some candidates lose out because they treat the references almost as an after thought.
  10. Finding a job is not about you – It is about the needs of the client.  Keep that perspective front and center in each interview and encounter and you will find that negative energy of frustration doesn’t drag you down.