Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Building Your Best Career In Today’s Changing Times”
As many of us have heard in the news during the past months, fears of a looming recession are mounting and millions are facing financial challenges that have left them unprepared. Some economists believe that the highest earners among us may fall the fastest and that a recession could hit white-collar workers the hardest. To learn more about what that means for executives today, and how they can build a strong plan and approach for retaining their jobs if that is their desire (or land great new opportunities if they wish), I caught up with Tony Vlahos of ExecuNet who works extensively with senior executives around the nation.
Tony Vlahos is Chief Marketing Officer at ExecuNet, where he leads teams responsible for product design, customer service and satisfaction, pricing, and storytelling the remarkable careers and lives of top executives. Vlahos also runs the popular LinkedIn Group, The Executive Suite and other executive development programs.
ExecuNet is a membership organization of over one-half million members and growing, supporting senior-level executives, providing them the expert strategies and personal and professional guidance they need to stand out in their careers and attract and land great opportunities.
Here’s what Vlahos shares regarding key steps to ensuring your value and contributions in your work are understood and recognized:
Kathy Caprino: Tony, in your work through ExecuNet, what are you seeing as a key trend in the job market that many executives aren’t aware of?
Tony Vlahos: With mounting and confusing messages about the economy and the state of hiring, it is getting harder to extract the true signal from the noise. But recent studies show that the job market appears to be shrinking. The employment landscape is changing as job openings decline and organizations are freezing positions and laying off workers. Nationally, across all industries, hiring fell by 4.9% in November 2022 compared to October and is 20.5% lower compared to November 2021. Hiring is now also 11.8% below pre-COVID hiring levels.
Caprino: So in a shrinking job market, what are you seeing that professionals are assuming is their best way forward, and how is that often incorrect?
Vlahos: A shrinking market means more competition. When competition is steep, getting in the door is more difficult. At the highest level of the organization, there are always fewer roles and many talented people competing for them. October gave us a landside of layoffs so now the supply and demand is even less in the executive’s favor. With fewer positions becoming available, employers can only take the cream of the crop.
But it’s not just executives on the move who are facing strong competition. Every organization wants the high-hanging fruit: the sought-after, employed talent that is too busy to be actively looking for jobs. As companies seek to level up, even the best in-house talent needs to continually find ways to stand apart.
Not very long ago your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other marketing materials didn’t have to be the best in the world. Now, however, things are tightening and executives need to strategically engineer their next move. In these hyper-competitive times, it’s critical to put time and effort into being prepared ahead of new opportunities and always be ready to shift. And it’s essential to remember that just because you’re decent at your job doesn’t mean you’ll get to keep your role.
Caprino: How can executives compete more effectively then, to either keep their jobs or land great new ones in 2023?
Vlahos: The value story is the key to job search success – and job security – for today’s executive. It all comes down to one word: remarkability. You need a conspicuously out-of-the-ordinary value story and a strategy for showcasing your remarkable contributions. The remarkable contributions are the ones you make that other people obsess over and crave and yes, remark about to others. What’s remarkable about you needs to be marketed to all the right people. Being remarkable is what decides who gets hired, who gets promoted, and who gets ahead.
No matter what you do for a living, the two important points to ponder are: (1) what makes you remarkable, and (2) the work you’re known for doing that’s meaningful for you and extremely valuable to the people who matter at the organization.
Caprino: Why is having a remarkable value story that others know about so important now versus in the past?
Vlahos: Again, with the shrinking job market, there’s never been a more critical time to get clear on your remarkability and know how to spread it strategically. If you like your boss and want to remain in the organization, your remarkability will build protection against a potential wave of layoffs (due to a restructuring, for example). If you are between roles or plan to exit, knowing your value story and how to tell it and spread it will most likely land you your ideal next role faster.
Caprino: What is an example of a remarkable value story?
Vlahos: A few weeks ago, I met a CFO who felt insecure at work. For years, she felt unseen and unheard. Her colleagues and supervisors viewed her mostly as the company accountant. They associated her with her “typical” contributions — not necessarily the remarkable, most valuable ones. Typical contributions happen when a qualified person meets the key specs of the job description. But remarkable contribution is what propels careers forward. It’s value above and beyond the expected and usual.
Speaking with this CFO I learned some important things about her no one (including herself) ever talked about: she had raised funding, secured debt, and completed strategic partnerships and partner affiliations. She was, in fact, a strategic arm of the CEO around funding, investment, debt, M&A and strategic partnerships.
When we began working together and teasing out her strategically remarkable value story, things turned around and opportunities began to manifest both within and outside the organization. Specifically, company stakeholders began viewing her not as their bookkeeper but as a valuable commercial leader and integral strategic business partner to the CEO. Her job title hadn’t changed but her posture did, dramatically.
Caprino: Can you share some specific ways executives can amp up their remarkability and value story?
Vlahos: First, get clear on what you want to be known for. What is your differentiating value, the remarkable thing about you that organizations and teams truly need more of? Commit to doing it at a high level.
Think about what you’re working at today, the tasks you’re already doing, then find ways to deliver even more exceptional value. Sometimes the sunlight lies in the cracks of the sidewalk: What areas at your organization or the company you’d like to work for are not filled? Where’s the void in value that only you could fill? When you’ve identified one valuable thing you do that no one can tell you exactly how to do, that’s when you know you’re on to something remarkable.
Once you’ve figured this out, make sure your valuable contributions are visible and felt by all the key folks, including colleagues, subordinates, customers, influencers, recruiters, and decision makers. You need to do this consistently through your LinkedIn presence, in digital and real-world interactions, and through your resume, among other places.
It’s important to know too that “remarkable” comes with a warning label. A common side effect is criticism. People will disagree with you. But you can’t retreat to ho-hum, average work and a dull story at the first sign of criticism and remain remarkable at the same time. Follow the dosage: In order to attract and seize great career opportunities, your value story must be remarkably consistent.
Caprino: One thing you’ve mentioned before is being a standout “giver.” Can you explain?
Vlahos: One avenue that many executives overlook is becoming a remarkable giver. Give your time and full attention to someone seeking your help. Do it without seeking to maximize short-term personal gain. Often when things work out for us in the future it’s because of something good we did for someone else with no expectation of getting anything in return. Kindness isn’t always easy or obvious. But it’s our best way forward and a great career growth trait.
Caprino: From your view, what’s the worst career move an executive can make in 2023?
Vlahos: Well, I’ve seen that the riskiest thing you can do is keep it on the low, fly under the radar and play it safe. Safe is not remarkable. It’s very average and rather boring. If you’re very good at what you do, that’s not the same as being great and remarkable at what you do. No one will notice – let alone crave – your very good resume, your very good LinkedIn profile, your very good on-the-job performance.
Everybody brings something unique to the table. No one person has the exact same skills and experience as another person, especially at the executive level. Once you get to 20+ years of experience, you have a unique value story that no one else can claim. Yet many choose blending in and hiding out over standing out. That’s a giant career misstep.
The worst career move, though, is being unprepared to seize opportunity – the opportunity to be remarkable, to be in demand, and to spread your remarkability to the people who can make things happen and open doors for you that you can’t on your own.
For more information, visit ExecuNet.com.