The C-Level Search: A View From Both Sides of the Desk, "Prague Leadership Institute"


January 13th, 2013 - Prague, Czech Republic - Many people think that I have a very easy job these days. They think that because there are many leaders available on the market that it must be easy to find a candidate for my clients. Unfortunately it is never easy to find the right candidate that will be a perfect fit for both the challenges of the position and the company culture.

If you have about ten to fifteen years of experience in leadership positions, if you are a natural leader, dynamic, positive, charismatic, communicative, if you have superior presentation and selling skills, if you are great at influencing the decisions of others - internally and externally - then you have the prerequisites to be a credible, and sought after, candidate for many manager/leader positions.
Obviously, you are expected to speak several languages, be flexible to travel and/or to accept assignments outside your country, you should have a stable CV with average assignments of about four to five years each as well as a successful track record.
In addition, successful leaders are expected to lead by example, to coach and to promote their employees, but they also have to be able to make the tough decisions, too. Managers who were able to turn around a tumbling business into a profitable organization, who positively influence the atmosphere amongst employees and other stakeholders are today on a wish list of many companies.
However, even a candidate who meets all the above requirements may not be selected for a particular leadership role. Another important and sometimes the most important characteristic is the cultural fit, which is becoming more complex in global multi-cultural environments. Further, people who have built a successful career in a large corporation may not always fit into a privately owned firm or a private equity play, or vice-versa, not to mention the obvious differences between industries.
I’m often asked how long it takes to find a new C-level job. I always reply that it depends on the approach taken when searching for a new job. Two key drivers to a successful job search are proactivity and flexibility-geographically, salary-wise as well as position-wise - and last but not least, a little bit of luck never hurt.
Economists are predicting that 2013 will be a difficult year for the economy, which makes the following point all the more important: the need to maintain a self-confident approach and not to become desperate if finding a good opportunity takes longer than expected. If you bombard your executive search firm on a weekly basis with questions like “Do you already have a GM job for me?” you will not only likely leave a bad impression, but chances are they will not be all that interested in considering for a future search. It’s always good to remember that the market is small and not only do HR executives and General Managers talk to each other, but so do executive search professionals, who frequently call each another to get references on certain managers. Keep cool, get prepared for the meeting and leave the best possible first impression because having the second meeting can be a rare occurrence.
I would also like to take this opportunity to encourage women to aspire to top management roles. Recently we were asked by several of our clients to give preference to female leaders as candidates. Their motivation was not to fulfill gender quotas, they wanted to compare the strengths female managers often have with their male counterparts. Many feel that women are particularly well-suited to effectively combining strategy with execution. As Winston Churchill said: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”.
Finally, it should not be overlooked that not only firms are searching the right leaders but also candidates are selecting their future employers. Not all companies are aware of that.
Especially managers, who are not actively searching for a career change or who have another job offer carefully consider a new job opportunity. They pay attention to every detail, the personal style of the firm’s representatives, the questions asked during the interview; they observe the atmosphere within the company – if the company’s employees are smiling or they look stressed, if there is a rude receptionist, if people greet each other, if the company is responsive and keeps promises, etc. - it all matters.
It is a process where both in which candidate and client are both searching for the right fit. If you are hiring, get prepared for the meeting, Google the candidate, find information about the previous employers, act fast, show flexibility and offer a long term perspective.
If you are a candidate for a leading position and you want the job, be well prepared for the meeting and make sure you do your best to present yourself. You should learn about their business, think from the perspective of the company. Why should they hire you? Would you hire yourself if you were in their shoes? Explain what differentiates you as a candidate.
But remember, do your best to choose the job which makes you feel satisfied and happy. Many studies have shown these factors not only to lead to a more successful, fulfilling and “sky’s-the-limit” career, but they outweigh compensation in the long run.
With best wishes for your good luck and happiness in 2013!

Written by Petra Grabmayer for Prague Leadership Institute

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