Executive Job Search Techniques in a Challenging Economy
An interview with Bob Pearson, CEO, Pearson Partners International, Inc.

What’s different about executive search during a recession? In a recessionary economy, CEOs are generally looking to hire people who can directly affect the bottom line—i.e. operations, finance, procurement. Typically in a growing economy, the focus is on longer range things like marketing and sales, boards of directors, planning and strategy people—positions that don’t necessarily affect the bottom line today but are critical long term.

Candidates have been much more difficult to get to take a new position. The old rule of thumb used to be that you had to offer somebody 20% more than they’re making now before they listen. I think it’s more like 30% or even 35% during this recessionary period. Searches are taking longer and candidates are more difficult to find.

Contrary to popular belief, the glut of candidates on the job market does not help retained executive recruiters. There are all kinds of candidates, but they are people who are out of a job, and that’s generally not who we’re recruiting. Employers are more receptive than ever to looking at people who are not employed. But generally speaking, the candidates that they prefer are people that are successfully employed and are happy in their jobs, and those people are not as easy to entice away as they might have been in other economic circumstances.

Exacerbating the problem, there is a real shortage of executive talent in the marketplace to begin with. The baby-boomer generation has matured. They’re closing in on retirement, and in particular, in some industries such as the oil and gas business, it’s virtually impossible to find senior executives that fill the bill. So we really have quite a problem finding enough candidates that are qualified.


What are some ways that a candidate can stand out in this marketplace? Maintain a high profile. I think the single best way to maintain a high profile with retained executive search professionals is to be a good source on searches. And the first place we go on a search is to our database. If you are in an executive position, chances are a recruiter will call you at some point, more often than not to get to someone else that you might know. If you say you are not interested and hang up, you are off that recruiter’s radar. Be helpful. Try to refer that recruiter to a few colleagues, even those who might in turn be potential sources. The recruiter will undoubtedly put you in his or her system and thus be able to call on you again if a position comes up that matches your background.

Be helpful to recruiters. Another way to maintain a high profile is pretty clear, but if you refer to any recruiter a lead or a search that you heard about, that is a great way to get the recruiter’s attention.

Give back to the community. Part of your career plan needs to be giving back something to the community. We often meet people at such events who become candidates. Giving back to the community is one of the best things you can do to get the attention of a search person.

Be honest in your resume and in your interviews. It's just foolish to stretch the truth—for example your experience, your accomplishments, where you live, where you went to school, the year you graduated, etc. We verify all degrees and we verify things like athletic accomplishments and the like through not only exhaustive references, but we call the athletics department and we use the internet, and we call the school and verify the degree. If you have a problem you feel might surface in these verifications and background checks, there are a lot of ways to handle it effectively with the interviewer or recruiter. But lying is not one of them.

Have realistic expectations. You may have been a CEO before, making a certain amount of money. But right now you don't have a job and aren't making any money. Don't take a big step backwards in your career trajectory, but you may have to reset your expectations a bit and be open to some other alternatives.

Be selective with your resume. In the retained executive search business, our searches are so specific that the odds of somebody randomly sending in a resume and it matching one of the searches we have are very, very slim. Some resume blasting services will recommend that they send out resumes to everybody under the sun. These mailings are just not productive. Instead, target a specific list of executive recruiters who work in your industry or functional role. You can find these people by looking in the Kennedy Directory of Executive Recruiters online. And then, rather than send your resume to every recruiter in the firm, send that letter to the head of research because the head of research that person does know everything that's going on, and will generally be more receptive to helping you than sending it to a recruiter.

Finally, finding a job is a full-time job. Devote as much time to it each day as you would in a paying job. You have to go out and tell people that you’re looking. It’s difficult to own up publicly to the fact that you're in transition, but your network can be your most powerful tool. Odds are that someone in your network will get that call from a recruiter, and you want that person to be armed with your basic facts so they can recommend you.