how to network your way to the career top.

To move your career into the executive lane, you need to fire up your search and networking

As you move into the executive realm, keep in mind that searching for the right opportunity and leveraging your network take on a different dimension from your days in middle management. Your brand now plays a stronger role, knowing the right people is invaluable and relationships with recruiters will grow more strategic as they will guide you to the right roles. Engaging with those who can help your search is more paramount than ever. At this point in your journey, relationships more than anything else will propel you forward.

If you are serious about taking on a role in the C-suite or another senior level position, you should be crystal clear about your desires and your capabilities. This means starting by refining your career goals, which we covered in Chapter 1. Once you have done so, identify the strengths that qualify you to become a high-level leader. Do you have in-depth business development skills? Are you an expert in operations? Is regulatory compliance your area of expertise? When you’ve answered the questions that define your leadership, you can focus on your job search and networking efforts.

How to begin

Undoubtedly, you have been approached by recruiters in the past, but at the executive level, the dynamics are different. Depending on the strength of your personal brand, which we discussed in chapter 3, you may have a few or many headhunters knocking at your door seeking a phone call. Be mindful that in today’s talent-scarce marketplace, there may be many offers that are just a bad fit for you (we’ll cover this in the last chapter). As you start to work with a number of recruiters, identify those who are most aligned to your experience, industry and professional goals. Your success rate will be optimal by choosing wisely. (The Wall Street Journal provides these tips for how to interact with recruiters.)

You can do this by asking for successful recent placements they’ve made. Some quick research on these individuals will tell you about their background, their tenure at these companies, the level of management they fall into and their area of expertise. If their qualifications are closely aligned to yours, the recruiter may have a good understanding of your unique circumstances and goals. Beyond this, the interpersonal relationship is key. Do the two of you have natural, purposeful dialogue that clearly conveys what each expects of the other? Does the recruiter maintain regular communications even when he doesn’t have a role well suited for you? Is there a strong level of mutual trust of each other? At the executive level, the relationship should be strategic rather than transactional, meaning both of you are seeking a long-term collaboration over the course of your career.

“Executive recruiters are heavily focused on relationships,” says Liz Price, a Talent Management Partner at Tatum, a US-based executive services firm specializing in placing senior level professionals into both interim and permanent career opportunities. “Developing relationships with recruiters who are well-recognized in your industry will benefit you throughout your career. Although a recruiter may not have an opportunity that’s right for you today, that relationship ensures they will be keeping you in mind and will know what is a great fit for you when it comes up.”

Turning to executive recruiters is one way to find the right roles for your career, but so is working your network. This can be close colleagues you’ve worked with over the years, customers who have relied on your services, peers within a professional association, vendors, mentors and others with whom you have a close relationship.

LinkedIn is one of the most important channels for staying in touch with your network so make sure you regularly share content and reach out to your network to ensure they keep you top of mind for any opportunities that come their way. Make sure you maintain an updated LinkedIn profile, connect with as many relevant and valuable members as possible to create the widest network and be selective in who you accept as contacts. Executives receive many requests to connect, and often these are no more than sales solicitations so be judicious who you let in your circle. (See LinkedIn’s Executive Playbook for more tips).

Your search for the right position shouldn’t be rushed because it’s important to select a role that will keep your career trajectory forward. A misstep could set you back significantly and cost you precious time in your career development.

Three tips for firing up your search and networking efforts

  • Develop strong relationships
    Whether it’s an ongoing dialogue with a recruiter or staying in touch with former colleagues, when you have strong relationships with your network, opportunities seem to come more readily. The key is staying visible as you reach new accomplishment and goals.
  • Create a dynamic LinkedIn profile
    Many senior leaders dismiss the need for a robust profile because they don’t see the value of it. However, being a top influencer is not only good for your career but for your company as well. Keep your CV updated and invite comments and interactions with your postings. If necessary, hire a professional social media advisor.
  • Target desirable employers
    We all have a set of employers we’d like to work for, so set your sights on the ones that you’d like to join in the near and distant future. This will help you establish some tangible goals and take actions that move you closer to your dream job.