Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Today’s True Leadership”
By now, most of us have heard the term ‘The Great Resignation’ and many have seized the moment and joined this movement, to quit their jobs and pursue new roles or careers that are better for them and more suited to their needs, values and desired lifestyle. While employees at lower levels and middle managers have been leaving their jobs in greater numbers in this tight labor market, this had not necessarily been true for CEOs prior to 2021. But according to a recent Heidrick & Struggles study, in the first half of 2021, there was evidence of a CEO turnover surge.
In my own career and leadership coaching work with executives around the world, I’ve observed that as time has worn on throughout this pandemic—just as we experience through other periods of crisis—people start to feel the urgency to re-craft their lives and careers, and not waste a single minute more in roles or organizations that are no longer a good fit.
To learn more about some key predictions and trends for executives who are wishing to engage in a new job search, I recently caught up with Dave Opton, Founder of ExecuNet, a private executive network he launched in 1988. Today ExecuNet is an executive career services organization where C-Suite leaders and their direct reports can obtain trusted guidance and personal support with making a corporate job change, building a portfolio of board seats, launching a side business or taking their careers in other fulfilling new directions. Opton served as chairman of ExecuNet until his retirement in December 2021.
Here’s what Opton shares about trends for executive job search for 2022:
Kathy Caprino: What have you seen has changed significantly in the executive job market since the pandemic?
Dave Opton: Whether executives have chosen to leave or stay, the pandemic has provided senior-level professionals an opportunity to evaluate their long-term career goals and priorities. At the executive level, it is not so much the story of the Great Resignation as the Great Reevaluation. Executives are assessing their work-lives and pondering their options for the next great chapter in their careers.
They want to be excited about work again. Many executives seem to be open to moving jobs and locations, even exploring different career paths, if it means finding work that is fulfilling to them. They are reimagining what their work lives could be.
Caprino: Why do you think these specific changes have occurred in a bigger way during this period of the pandemic?
Opton: Unexpected events or shocks disrupt our normal routines, force us out of our comfort zones, and lead us to ask big questions about what matters in life and what is worth doing. It is no wonder, then, that the pandemic jolted many people to rethink their careers. Many are reexamining what work means to them, whether and how they are valued, and their quality of work life. Among other things, they are searching for more freedom, greater flexibility and more meaning and happiness.
Caprino: What are your predictions for continued trends and shifts, in 2022?
Opton: The talent pool will continue to be outstanding and competitive. We see from surveys of a wide range of executive recruiters that demand is strong and will continue to be strong.
The executive hiring process is settling into a new routine. Video interviewing has made it easier to connect employers with potential hires, and the new normal will be the hybrid scenario.
What companies are looking for has changed, though, and probably for a long time. Companies will give priority to different values in their new leaders. They will continue to look for what we at ExecuNet call “utility players” to lead them: people who can play multiple positions because companies do not know where they are going to have to place top players on the field.
The pandemic created all sorts of disruption, from technology to corporate culture and a greater focus on DEI. The next organization that hires you is going to want to know: Do you have the ability to speak to a broad audience of stakeholders and execute on a number of different key functions? It is critical that leaders inspire a culture of belonging across all people in the company and involve them on issues and concerns that affect the company’s long-term value creation.
These challenging times led to an expansion of empathy, self-discipline, adaptation, communication, and innovation among professionals. Your next company will look for evidence that you took care of people—including employees, customers and clients— managed stress and change successfully, decided and communicated well and swiftly, and embraced the uncertainty.
Caprino: Who will succeed in their search, and what do executives need to do differently to stand out from the competition and thrive?
Opton: If you are an executive who is entering the hiring ring, you will have to demonstrate a few critical things. First, that you are a leader who can quickly ascertain the real issues and swiftly take corrective action.
Second, that you have a deep and clear perception about the world in which we live and work now. Perceptibility far outweighs competence. In 2022, the ones who succeed in their search will be the ones who are seen as having a reputation for creating value for other people, which includes sharing not only your expertise but your time, your connections, kindness and compassion.
Caprino: What has changed about job search particularly and what would you say are three top DO’s and DON’Ts?
Opton: If you are an executive who is in a job search you must understand that your perfect job actually does exist, or, more importantly, you can create it. It is either out there now or is possible to build it. Your search begins with identifying your “next great next” and then taking actions to attract that role and connect with hiring managers who want what you offer.
To beat your competition in today’s competitive market you must tell your best story of what you can do and how you do it. Many executives feel like the runner-up, not the “winner,” because they are always coming in second in interviews. Constructing a compelling story of your unique value and learning how to talk about yourself assertively and confidently is critical to your success.
The keys to telling that powerful value story are:
Clarity: Be clear about what you want and your highest and best use.
Control: Shape the narrative by taking your audience on a journey not through your resume, but rather, a journey through the why of what you do. Simon Sinek said it best: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” Don’t leave it to your past accomplishments and titles to tell your story.
Emotion: Your new company will want a leader with vision, purpose and passion. Tell your story concisely and emotionally so that your next employer feels yours and sees the meaning you will create for them.
As for the don’ts—well, do not just point and click on any job listing you see. Do not begin the job search with the mindset that the first thing you need to do is grab recruiters’ attention.
Start instead by reclaiming your own attention—around your value and gifts, the talents, experiences, insights and other traits that make you special and the things you can do for others, as well as where and with whom you want to share those gifts next.
Do not put off expending the effort to find your next great next. Start today. It is out there in some key form or another, but you have to attract it. And finally, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself you should do this all by yourself. It’s not possible or productive. Most of us are masters of something, but not masterful at the art of executive job search. For that, turn to others who can guide, mentor and support you and begin to build a robust support community now.
Caprino: Any last words for executives who are ready for their next?
Opton: As I think about my own retirement and all that went into building ExecuNet, I consider my legacy. I realized about 10 years ago that my legacy would be the collection of different people who made things great for our executive members. I also wished I had made the move to starting a company earlier. I deferred it until I had to, when a corporate merger affected my future and I found myself on the outside.
Change is the one thing that’s always coming, it’s the only constant. The best thing you can do for your career is get really good at change.
Embrace forward thinking and build the strategic framework today for your next great next.
For more information, visit ExecuNet.