Today my team and I made some hard choices.  We eliminated 12 candidates from a CEO search.  This is an important, essential step in the executive search process but they are never fun days.

Some people were relieved, even excited that they were selected,  and those who left the search were understandably disappointed.  I have already received a couple of nice but shutterstock_218982760lengthy emails from a couple of them making the case as to why they should not have been removed from consideration. 

Typically, the most common questions I get from candidates who have been dropped is a very general “why?”, or a more specific, “What could I have done differently?”.

There are many reasons why a candidate is eliminated, but if you look at this issue over time, as we do, several common factors  appear.  They are:

  1. Bad resumes/resume management. Candidates submit a resume when they hear or read about a new job opening.  Forty-nine out of 50 submit the same resume to every potential employer.  Bad idea.  In a competitive job market, and this market is exceedingly competitive, being like everyone else strikes me as an ill-advised career marketing strategy.  Be the “one” who is different, whose resume speaks to the needs of the client, and be prepared to be surprised with how well that approach works.  Before you pay someone to write your resume, ask them whether they think you should submit the same resume — their resume — to every job opportunity.  If they say yes, find someone who understands the dynamics of the current job market. Most candidates fail to grasp how important the resume is to their search.
  1. Candidates focus on their experience, not what they can do for the employer.  Yes, experience is important.  But experience is no guarantee of advancement in a search.  My firm’s job postings are fairly detailed.  But even the “average” post contains enough information to help a candidate prepare for the initial telephone screening interview.  Then there is Google, and a host of other sources of research. Use them to find out about a potential employer and community.  If you want to sound like, be like, every other candidate in the panel, then do not bother with homework.  Just wing it.  I enjoy extemporaneous speaking but I have never been fond of candidates who provide answers on the spur of the moment.  Connect your experience and accomplishments with the needs of the client.  Close the deal by letting the recruiter or employer know that you have been very successful solving the problems/challenges they are experiencing.
  1. Be prepared, be respectful.  Several of the candidates we ultimately eliminated today submitted poor resumes and they got confused about the time of the interview, confirming emails notwithstanding, or decided it was perfectly OK to do the screening interview in their car.  That is a big no-no. I want your attention. I do not want to be talking to dead air when you lose your cell signal or worse, be involved when you have an accident.  One candidate was having breakfast at a diner — there was noise in the background and I first thought, how nice, he has a house full of family, but that nice minds-eye image of family around hearth on a Saturday morning was smoked when I heard a voice say, “Sir, do you want your eggs sunny side up, or over easy?” Recruiters, whether external or internal,  have an important job, to find a top-performing executive for a valued client/employer.  We take our jobs seriously. So if you do not take the opportunity seriously, or at least you send those signals, do not get in a huff when you are taken out of consideration.

One candidate called and asked the what could I have done better question.  My response:

Employers and recruiters  are looking for a reason to like a candidate, to hire a candidate.  Give them one. The job market is changing in dynamic ways.  Get serious.

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