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How executives can better manage their careers: Tired of seeing lousy leaders get the great jobs? By Suzanne Elshult, Executive Coach/HRNow

coaching-yak-finl-160-1001Over the past several weeks I have been engaging with about fifty executives on the topic of how they manage their careers. It’s been an eye-opening journey. The landscape is definitely changing and you are running the risk of being left in the dust unless you keep up. I will try to distill my key insights and tips into this one brief blogpost.

First of all, the market has become commoditized. Our resumes say the same thing and we tend to focus on features/skills/background. What if, instead, you started out by asking yourself what problems you are good at solving, or as someone said: “How can you be the aspirin for a company’s headache?”Which CEOs are awake at night worrying about the kind of problems you are great at solving? Answering that question  will help you sift and sort companies and opportunities from the get-go. If you are the kind of executive that thrives on chaos and organizational  dysfunction and have a unique talent around developing focus, setting new direction and managing change, stay away from a  CEO that wants to maintain the status quo. Know what you are passionate about, how you want to make a difference in the world and in your profession and have the courage to engage with the CEO at that level. Stand for something! For example, don’t give a bland response to a question around your philosophy around leadership: “I have an open door policy!” Instead, present a point of view!  Have the guts to share what you believe in and what you are great at (and perhaps not so good at). Make sure you know and can be in integrity with your own values as you make career decisions. Is the opportunity-the CEO, the culture, the organization, the role – a fit for you and what you are all about! And, if you are a seasoned executive concerned about your age, get over it. The key is to not let your foot off the gas pedal. Don’t act as if your best days are behind you. Don’t approach managing your career with a sense of entitlement and focus on war stories from the past. Focus forward!  Remember you are competing with younger executives that are energetic, motivated and looking towards the future, how they will tackle growth, emerging trends and solve problems. You need to convey that you really want this opportunity and why! You have to bring the same passion you use to market your company to marketing yourself.

So, what do you need to do to proactively manage your career right now? Here are some tips:

  1.  Manage your LinkedIn Profile. Most people don’t have a clue on how to use it.
    • Optimize your profile with all keywords you want to be associated with (Your Summary, Your work history and Recommendations/Endorsements).
    • Understand how to use the site to get warm introductions to people you need to connect with.
  2. Make sure you have honed these critical marketing skills:
    • Good copywriting (LinkedIn, resume).
    • Interviewing skills (right blend of talking/listening, asking questions, coming in with research in back pocket).
    • Networking with the right people (connecting with, staying in touch, providing value to others).  Joining the right group/s. Approach networking from the perspective of : What can I do for you, not what can you do for me. Connecting in the context of managing your career is a life-long process, not an event.
    • Market research (know how to find the companies you want to work with).
    • Personal branding-are you standing out and differentiating yourself? How do you want to be known?
  3. Be able to talk the talk. Stay on top of trends, concepts, methodologies and buzzwords in your field. Continuously scan the market for best practices in your field. Establish thought leadership.
  4. Get your own Board of Directors.
  5. Create your own web site. Offer things of value on the site.
  6. Engage with and develop relationships with recruiters when they call you.
  7. Have a point of view. Dare to share what you believe in. Be able to confidently articulate what your leadership philosophy is.
  8. Focus forward on what problems you can solve for the organization in the future.
  9. Project energy, desire and passion: “why you want this opportunity.”
  10. Don’t be afraid of doing some self-promotion and get others to advocate for you and what you want to be known for.
  11. Know what skills, competencies and credentials companies are hiring for in your field and actively work on filling gaps.
Matt Youngquist with Career Horizon guest visited with my peer HR  & marketing executive groups this month and shared these graphs he generated using to give a quick look at specific qualifications employers are placing a premium on in todays HR and marketing markets.

Matt Youngquist with Career Horizon guest visited with my peer HR & marketing executive groups this month and shared these graphs he generated using to give a quick look at specific qualifications employers are placing a premium on in todays HR and marketing markets.

photo (2)My favorite Quotes:

  • Remember that half of your success is how smart you are (experience/background) and the other half is “marketing” – who you know!
  • Personal branding is more than your reputation. We have always had a reputation. Personal branding is about creating reputation on purpose.
  • How old is too old? If the best is behind you, you’re too old (it’s all in the attitude)!
  • Don’t let yourself be defined by the jobs you have had, but by the problems you can solve for businesses.


  • Suzanne says:

    One of my marketing executives asked an interesting question about Matt’s chart: “WOW, am I seeing this right…. An overall decline in marketing jobs especially exec positions , and growth in low level social media jobs? ” See below for Matt’s reply.

  • Hi folks! Just wanted to chime in on those “trend” reports that Suzanne posted on my behalf, above, in case anybody was really wondering about them and what they signify. What these charts are measuring are the number of times a given word (e.g. HR or marketing) has shown up in a published job advertisement title over the last five years — which gives a pretty useful snapshot of the growth/decline of various types of positions. In some cases, however, the data might be a little misleading. For example, while these charts show that marketing and HR jobs have declined a bit in recent years, this is largely due (I suspect) to the fact that there are now MORE TITLES for these types of positions — diluting the number of overall positions advertised as either “HR” or “Marketing” roles, per se. So in HR, for example, you’ll find an increasing number of job titles like “employee engagement manager” or “chief people officer” eroding the number of jobs that actually state “human resources” in the title — and in marketing, you’d see the same thing with titles like “demand generation specialist” or “social media coordinator” or “customer acquisition director”. So don’t panic, we’re not seeing the HR or Marketing professions disappearing any time soon! It’s just a case of companies splintering these roles into a number of more specialized titles, leading to the trends you’ll witness on the above charts. Hope that helps…

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