You’re a high-powered executive. You’ve led teams, departments, and now whole organisations. In short, you get business.
Yet when it comes to thinking about your own career, I’m prepared to bet that your approach changes. Take this example: if you’re looking for a new job, do you adjust your CV for each new role you’re looking at? Most of the answers I get to that question are something along the lines of “well, I write a new covering letter each time.” Now, imagine that you’re talking about a proposal for a client. Would you just copy over the previous one and send it with a new covering note? I think not.
The truth is, your job search should be conducted exactly as if you were taking a new product to market. Don’t believe me? Let’s break down the individual steps:
Take some time to reflect on your experiences, your successes. What makes you unique? How can you demonstrate a return on investment for what you bring to the table? Whatever it is, note it down. Bear in mind that it might be different for different organisations. Once you can articulate what makes you the right person for a particular role or for a particular organisation, you’ll be able to communicate that to someone else.
A lot of people say something like “I don’t want to rule anything out” when we ask them what roles they are looking for. But in the same way that your products or services aren’t right for everyone, neither are you – and you shouldn’t be.
Start by thinking about what the right role for you looks like. That doesn’t just cover the size or type of organisation, or job function – though those are important. It could also cover topics such as how you want to be managed, what balance of office vs. home working you want, what challenges you want to take on or what salary you’re looking for.
Once you have this picture, you can even go so far as to identify specific organisations you’d like to work for and find the hiring managers or senior execs in those organisations. These are the people who will be making the decision as to whether to hire you or not – so the more you can find out about them the better.
Just as with a new product or services, there are multiple channels for you to reach your buyer. In the context of your own career, there are really two different types of strategy that you can adopt – proactive, and reactive. Reactive strategies include applying for roles as and when they are advertised or trusting your job search to a recruitment agency or headhunter. Proactive strategies include actively reaching out to key decision-makers and starting the conversation around the value you can bring to the table yourself.
As in business, in recruitment people buy from people – so get out there and be seen. When you can get face-to-face with decision makers, you can build a much more personal connection – making it easier for you to demonstrate your calibre and persuade them of your value. Furthermore, by making it a conversation rather than an application you can help these decision-makers define the role they need to fill. When you do that, it’s naturally more likely that the solution looks like you.
Don’t be afraid to ask your existing network for help making these connections. It fascinates me that lots of people don’t like to do this when it comes to their own careers, even if they would be happy to do so in a business context. If that’s you, then think about the last time someone asked you for a favour. It made you feel good, right? And I’m guessing that you’d be happy to do a favour for plenty of the people in your network. Chances are that everyone on your list would also be happy to do you a favour – and, like you, they will feel good if they can help you out.
We’ve already talked a little bit about your CV – and how it should never be sent out without being tailored to the audience you’re trying to engage. Remember that your unique selling points could be different depending on the organisation or the role you’re looking at. Think about which of your USPs will resonate most with the buyer you’re trying to connect with, and lead with those.
Beyond your CV, you have your social profiles. Make sure they are up-to-date, and again make sure they showcase the things that make you stand out in the marketplace.
You may also be able to pull together a portfolio of work you’ve done that showcases your talents – details of large bids you’ve worked on (if they aren’t divulging sensitive information) or examples of things you’ve created or built that were especially effective. If they exist online you can link to them from your LinkedIn page, though of course you may want to have local copies on your machine or hard copies to hand as well.
Finally, of course, case studies are always a useful piece of collateral when taking a product to market. So, whether it’s through LinkedIn’s recommendations feature, or written down and saved in a word document, gathering written accounts of your value and your achievements from colleagues, clients, or reports – all are immensely valuable.
When it comes to finding your next role, the cost of sale is the time and effort you must put into each opportunity. It’s important to realise that your go-to-market strategy will directly influence your cost of sale.
Consider, for example, the process of reactively applying for a job that you’ve seen advertised. In this instance, you’re competing against tens, perhaps even hundreds of other candidates. And more importantly, you’re competing for a role that hasn’t been built around the value you can bring to an organisation. Your experiences over the years will have given you a unique and varied set of skills – so a role that wasn’t made for you will likely ‘clip your wings’ and prevent you from achieving your full potential. In short, a lot of effort with no guarantee of success.
Compare that to proactively targeting a recruiting manager and discussing the possibility of a role with their organisation. As we’ve already discussed, not only can you impress them with your USPs on your own terms – you can help them to define the role they need, making sure it takes full advantage of your experiences and talents, and making sure you aren’t up against any other competition.
The cost of sale is another reason to carefully consider using recruitment agencies or even headhunters. People often make the mistake of thinking that agencies are a free service – forgetting that they charge the hiring organisation 20-30% of your base salary. If you could have approached that organisation independently, that 20-30% - or at least some of it – could well have gone in your pocket. Given too that, ultimately, recruiters have no interest in selling YOU particularly – they just need to fill roles – then recruitment agencies can reduce your chances of success compared to a more proactive approach.
In business, those who are successful are the ones who never relinquish control unnecessarily. Your organisation, and leaders within it like you, get to choose how you add value to the world, who you work with, and how you’ll convince your prospects to work with you.
That attitude can and should be applied to your career. You can choose who you work for, what you do for them, and how you convince them of the value you can bring.
You know the benefits you can bring to the right organisation, in the right role. That means that a job search should not be about waiting passively for someone to give you an opportunity, but about you starting proactive conversations about how you and an organisation can benefit each other.
With that mindset, and the approach I’ve outlined above, there should be no reason why you can’t secure yourself a role that meets all your needs, and that allows you to truly shine.