Are you mulling a career move? Five not-so-easy steps will get you there

by Chad Oakley
CEO at Charles Aris Inc.

I’ve now been in executive recruiting for 13 years, and during that time I’ve completed 326 searches. Over the course of those searches, I’ve talked with thousands of executives, and one question that I often hear is: “What’s the most effective way for me to find my next career opportunity?”

Well, my opinion has been formed, and it’s the following five-step process. Note that the approach is far from easy, and that there are no shortcuts. However, following this process will help you find the right long-term opportunity – as opposed to just another job. Here it is:

1) Define your scope by answering the following three questions:

  • What industries do I want to work in? (no more than two)
  • What size company am I comfortable working in? Start-up? Midsize? Large corporation?
  • Where do I want to live?

The classic mistake that many job-seekers make is defining a scope that is too broad. Remember: “You can’t boil the ocean.” Narrow your scope aggressively, and know that you can expand later if necessary. By narrowing the scope, you will dig deeper into the space, which will allow you to find hidden opportunities (which are always there) – and you will have a better and more convincing story to share with hiring authorities.

2) Create an exhaustive list of all companies which meet your scope. A manageable scope is anywhere from 15 to 50 companies which align with your career goals. Any less and you’re unlikely to find a good opportunity; any more and you’ll spread yourself too thin. There are multiple ways to find this information. If you have access to pay services such as ZoomInfo or Hoover’s, those are best. You can also Google your scope for free: For example, Googling something such as “chemical companies in Chicago” will get you started.

3) Research and prioritize your list of companies. Simply go online and review the websites of each company in your scope. Force yourself to rate each company as either (a) high interest; (b) some interest; or (c) no interest. It’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing companies based on the open positions they list on their website, but don’t make that mistake. This is not about what positions a company has listed publicly (which is rarely an accurate reflection of a company’s hiring needs). Instead, you’re simply trying to prioritize which companies you want to work for, regardless of what you think they are looking to hire.

4) Identify and call the appropriate hiring authority at your target companies. The hiring authority is effectively the person to whom you would report if you were to join the company. This is NOT human resources (unless you desire to be in a human resources role). Identifying this person is not always easy, as many companies (especially large companies) will not tell you who sits in a specific position when you call the main switchboard. If your hiring authority is a senior leader, then you can likely find her name on the company’s website. Secondly, you likely will be surprised by how much you can learn via Google as well: For example, try Googling something like “Who is the vice president of finance for Dow Chemical?” Lastly, I strongly advise growing your LinkedIn network and using LinkedIn search filters to identify potential hiring authorities in your target companies.

What you say to this person is clearly important. A simple, straightforward message is best. Your script (which you should write out and practice) should include the following topics:

  • This is who I am;
  • this is what I do (or have done);
  • I have no idea if you’re looking for someone like me (this provides a nice disclaimer that allows the hiring authority to drop their guard);
  • but I’m interested in you and I would appreciate the opportunity to set up time to speak with / meet with you.

You likely will get this person’s voicemail. In that case, your message should be largely the same as what I’ve listed above, just in an executive summary format. If you’re calling a senior leader, then you’ll likely get an executive assistant on the phone. In that case, you should communicate with the assistant in the same way you would with the hiring authority, as they will be passing your message along to their boss. (The alternative is to wait until after 5 p.m., when the assistant may have left for the day).

Many of you may be thinking, Why call a hiring authority if they don’t have a job posted? The reason is twofold: (1) Most companies don’t post every role they’re looking to fill. (2) Hiring authorities are always looking for great talent, even if they don’t have an open requisition. I’ve heard countless executives say, “I don’t have an opening but I’ll create one for this person.”

5) Show appreciation to those who help you. Be sure to get the email address of everyone you speak with and send a brief thank-you note. In your email, be sure to list your career goals (in just one or two sentences) and don’t hesitate to attach your résumé. You’ll be surprised by how many calls you get from people who received your résumé from a colleague you sent it to.

The key to this approach is polite persistence. Don’t just call the hiring authority once and give up. These are busy people, and there are a lot of things vying for their attention. My rule of thumb is to call the individual three days in a week’s time, sending at least two emails as well.

As I mentioned above, this five-step approach is not easy. However, I’ve found that it is by far the most reliable way to identify multiple career opportunities if you invest the time.