Getting the top job
How to give yourself the best possible shot
As a former CEO headhunter and CEO confidant, Steve Tappin, our founder, is accustomed to helping CEOs get the top job. Here are his top tips:
Go direct yourself
The rising trend of going direct and bypassing the search firms and recruiters works both ways. It is also much easier to draw on social networks to find the relevant person to connect with a company and also draw on your personal network to contact them.
And if you’re not getting anywhere with the headhunter, don’t be afraid to go direct to the chairman or board members. Harriet Green, CEO of Thomas Cook, is a prime example of somebody who succeeded in spite of the executive search firms. She claims that they hold back talented senior women by focusing overly on certain set criteria: “Cut out the middle men,” she told me in her BBC CEO Guru interview. Talking about how she got the role at Thomas Cook, she described one headhunter she’d had contact with as being “unbelievably unhelpful”, adding, “Nobody approached me. I contacted the chairman and said: ‘I think you need me’. I’d never met him in my life.” Harriet, recommended using modern technology to contact chairmen, saying out that “one of the great things about governance is that all these people are known”.
NB Bear in mind that if an employer recruits you through a headhunter, they’re likely to have pay a 25% premium on your first year’s salary, so they may in fact prefer it if you contact them directly!
Get the insider due diligence on companies and leaders
As we witnessed with the travel industry, the internet is making companies’ reputation and culture much more visible and transparent. Jobseekers can use sites like Glassdoor.com to see “company reviews”, which give you an insider’s view on what it’s like to work in most major companies. They also include an approval rating for the CEO, which is a great measure for the quality of the company’s leadership.
And given that you may still need to engage a headhunter for the top-ranking jobs, it is helpful that it’s also easier to find who the relevant search firms are in the recruitment world, and to track down the industry mover and shakers.
Get yourself out there selectively and thoughtfully
If we recognize that there is much more passive recruitment activity taking place online, then the question is how best to ensure that companies and recruiters which are most relevant pick you up? It is important to have a North Star in mind of the likely industries, types of company, range of roles you would be interested and important that positioning and tone is reflected in your own line profiles.
Also how do you best set yourself apart, now that you’re competing in a global market of both active jobseekers and those who are not even looking for a job? Did you know that there are now 2.6 million people on LinkedIn who mentioned the phrase CEO somewhere on their profile, and 124,000 people globally who claim to be a current CEO or member of the executive team? So the key is to ensure that you optimize your online profile to get near the top of searches, and then that you find a way to stand out amongst the other potential candidates. The more LinkedIn connections you have to senior executives and recruiters, you higher you will appear on the list. Garnering “endorsements” from previous employers and other members of your network will also work in your favor.
Get a better radar – target corporations with job gaps
With lots of CEO vacancies not publicly advertised, how to read between the lines and work out where the upcoming opportunities might be in your industry before they are advertised? In the past, unless you were a recruitment professional, it was impossible to keep track of everybody who’s in and who’s out. Now, use the Vacant CEO Positions column to the left to identify potential openings, click on the departing CEO and use the site’s “My World - login with LinkedIn” functionality to find people in your network who can connect you into the company.
Magnify Your Personal Brand?
LinkedIn is now pretty much an indispensable job-hunting tool, with some firms requesting that candidates apply with a link to their LinkedIn profile rather than providing a CV. Also consider getting active on Twitter, which can allow you to connect with real-time industry discussions and get known as a thought leader in your sector. Twitter is also a great leveler, enabling you to send an @reply directly to any registered user and start a conversation. Finally, don’t forget to maximise your profile on World of CEOs with comments on any dossier we have written on you or – if you’re not on here yet – adding a self written profile (log in to My World and follow the instructions).
To avoid the risk that something you say on social media will limit or work against you, ensure that your contributions are always value-added and consistent with your North Star position and tone. Build your personal brand by commenting on stories of interest, by offering to write guest blog posts (or by starting your own), and also by building your profile in the physical world by attending industry conferences. Over time, as you succeed in your goal to become a “talent magnet”, more opportunities, such as unsolicited approaches, conference panel sessions and public speaking appearances will start to come your way.
One way to measure your sphere of influence is through ‘Klout’, which tracks engagement with your posts and comments across multiple social networks. Your ‘Klout Score’ out of 100 may become increasingly important in the future, particularly in marketing-related roles or CEO positions where you are expected to maintain a high public profile. A recent job posting for a community manager at Salesforce has already stipulated that anybody with a Klout score of less than 35 need not apply.
By Steve Tappin
Founder & Chairman, World of CEOs
Chief Executive, Xinfu
Host BBC CEO Guru
Steve is a personal confidant to many of the world’s top CEOs. He is the host of BBC ‘CEO Guru’, which features in-depth, on-the-record interviews with the CEOs of the biggest and fastest-growing companies. Founder of WorldOfCEOs.com, Steve is also the author of ‘The Secrets Of CEOs’, which interviews 200 CEOs on business life and leadership.
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