How You Can Beat the Odds in the New Executive Job Search Game

By Debra Feldman '74PH of the Columbia Career Coaches Network

If you want to switch roles, change industries, relocate, or keep your search confidential, it's near impossible to get an employer to pay attention. Here are some guaranteed ways to beat the odds.

Do you wish for the days when job searching meant applying to postings, calling headhunters, and waiting for interviews to pour in? If you've recently tried to find a new job, you've discovered that these traditional methods don't work. The job market revolves around relationships, not just qualifications. In a world where connections count more than experience, it's not just what you know or who you know. What matters is who knows, likes, trusts, and remembers you. If you want to switch roles, change industries, relocate, or keep your search confidential, it's near impossible to get an employer to pay attention.

Despite the ease of submitting resumes online, there's a huge disconnect between employers and candidates. The best opportunities are rarely published. External recruiters have been cut out. As for corporate HR, they are often the last to know. Besides, they don't have any authority to hire you. The only individual who can place you is the one with budgetary authority and a mandate to fix the problem. It's near impossible to get an offer in this highly competitive, employer-dominated market without a contact. Connections are not a choice; they are a necessity.

So what can you do if you don't have a good network, are too busy to connect, and not sure of where to focus your search?

Number One: Be proactive. Great jobs are created when a hiring authority (senior manager, owner, board member, investor, etc.) meets an interesting, trustworthy prospect. Being top of mind is critically important. It's not just what you know or who you know, but who knows, likes, trusts, and remembers you.

Number Two: Don't think that being great at your job means you should be able to navigate the job market. You probably don't have a lot of job searching experience because you haven't needed that skill; you were promoted or recruited. Recognize that just as you choose not to change the oil in your car, teaming up with a professional expert who is familiar with how the market works and has your best interests (not the employer-pays a fee) will keep you on track and propel your campaign forward.

Number Three: The way things are going, this is unlikely to be your last job search. Executives are switching positions every few years. Take control over your career; employers are not forever. Acquire the right contacts to make this next move and you'll also be creating a better network for future transitions.

Since 2000, JobWhiz has accelerated nearly 500 senior level executive job search projects. We have shown that a successful job search relies as much on defining the correct go-to-market strategy as it depends on a competent implementation of that plan. If the premise driving the campaign activities (resume development, interviewing techniques, target contacts, etc.) is wrong, the job search will not have a successful outcome. In other words, you must first be able to describe an ideal job in order to get your hands on it. Unless you know what you are looking for, you can't focus your search. Meaningful conversations with carefully chosen individuals not only will open doors to new job leads, but help you identify your search goal and lead you there with fewer detours and less delay.


Debra Feldman is a part of the Columbia Career Coaches Network— a group of over 20 accredited professional alumni career coaches who provide fee-based consulting and volunteer for the Columbia Alumni Association's free professional development programs throughout the year. She is recommended by Columbia Business School. 

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