There are multiple reasons why a job search isn’t leading to the job you want, but based on this digital product manager’s specific question, I’m going to focus on why job search efforts might not yield offers that are senior enough. Having hired for many Director up to C-level jobs, there are several important ways that hiring at the senior levels diverges from hiring in general. If you are unaware of these differences or don’t tailor your job search efforts enough for executive hiring, you won’t break through. The fact that this digital product manager highlighted resume edits as an area of focus suggests she’s making one of the most common mistakes.
1 You over-rely on your resume to get you in the door
When I think of the last three senior roles I have hired for – a VP of Advancement, a Director of HR and a COO – none of these searches started with a resume screen. All three searches were populated by people that came referred to me. Some candidates were people I identified through research, including LinkedIn. Too many job seekers prioritize the resume over optimizing their LinkedIn profile, which I think is a mistake overall and an even bigger one the more senior the role is. I’m not a fan of hiring a professional resume writer in the pursuit of senior jobs – there are other, more productive investments.
2 You’re not hearing about the roles fast enough
In addition to resume edits, this digital product manager is also focusing on networking, which is great – if the networking is targeted to the right contacts. Are you getting to senior enough people who are decision-makers or influencers in the hiring process? At the senior levels, this typically means C-level executives, Board members or investors. If you are networking with peers at your level, are your peers knowledgeable about opportunities and willing to share? If not, you could be spinning your wheels and having lots of conversations that lead nowhere. Finally, are you ignoring junior colleagues from previous jobs, who might be in completely different roles now and more senior and/or knowledgeable than you remember? Senior roles are promoted by word of mouth first before they are advertised — if they are advertised at all. If your first crack at the role is via a job posting, you’re likely coming in after a short list of candidates has already piqued the hiring team’s attention.
3 You’re not as senior as you think
But let’s say your resume, LinkedIn profile or referral from a networking connection does get you consideration from the hiring manager or executive recruiter. You still might not get selected for interviews because you’re not ready for that role. Employers want proven commodities. If you’re coming into a role where you need to manage a 10-person team, managing a smaller team may not be enough. If the role has P&L responsibility, they want candidates who have managed a budget before. Managing a project team or budget is not the same as having direct reports or a P&L.
4 Your type of experience doesn’t match the requirements
In addition, employers mostly prioritize experience of similar type, such as a similar size of company, similar age (i.e., experience at a startup if the role is at a startup) and sometimes similar industry. This is already true for individual contributor roles and even more true for senior roles. How much the experience needs to match varies by the search, so understanding the hiring priorities and nuances is another reason why your network can be so helpful for senior roles.
5 You don’t highlight the right experience
By the time you have amassed enough experience to be in the running for senior roles, you have a lot of projects, roles and years to cover. Your current role probably has a lot of moving parts, and since it’s the most recent experience, it’s the most important experience to be able to compellingly describe. You have to know how to concisely describe what you do even when you do a lot of things. You have to know which projects, roles and results are the most relevant to the prospective employer. This is not a straightforward exercise – when I am coaching a C-level job seeker we spend hours on interview role play and feedback.
Identifying the actual problem is a prerequisite to finding the right solution
“You can’t see the picture when you’re in the frame.” – Les Brown
It might be difficult to pinpoint which of these mistakes you’re making, but that’s the first step. Work with a coach or mentor to get objective feedback on how you’re approaching your job search and what needs to change. The problem could be in your marketing, networking, interviewing or even in how you’re selecting the opportunities you target. Identify the problem areas, and solve for these before burning out on your search or burning through all your leads.