How to Get Your First Executive Role

Advancing in your career isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. In the past, you’d put in your time and devote yourself to one company, hoping to increase your favorable prospects. Nowadays, internal promotions seem harder to come by and “job hopping” is becoming a more and more popular tactic. Those looking to take their career to new heights need to rethink their approach, especially if they’ve got their eyes on an always-coveted executive role and all the responsibility it entails.

Partner with a search firm

Have you ever heard of executive search firms? Chances are you’re at least somewhat familiar with the concept. Executive search firms have a lot in common with HR recruiting firms except they’re more thorough, frequently conduct rigorous skill testing, and are catered to a more high-end crowd. When it comes to seeking out executive talent, these firms aren’t simply looking to find a fit. They’re looking to find the perfect fit. This means that candidates that aren’t meeting a job’s specific requirements might not even get their resume passed along, let alone be selected for an interview. 

If it all sounds a bit intimidating, that’s because it can be. However, this is simply because the top executive search firms are dedicated to excellence and do most everything in their power to guarantee results. After all, these are high-paying, intensive jobs we’re talking about. If you’re serious about making the switch to the executive sector, a search firm can help you on your way. They can only do so much, though. The rest is going to fall on your shoulders. 

Know how you look on paper

With larger volumes of applicants for many positions, even some entry-level jobs are starting to scrutinize their candidates more closely. That’s why it’s critical that you know how you “read” to an HR representative. Your resume is a key component of this. Sure, some hiring departments will do a cursory scan looking for some industry buzzwords and corporate jargon. Others will parse your resume line-by-line looking for errors, typos, irrelevant work history, and employment length. Have a history of switching jobs every couple of years? A company that’s looking to invest in a long-term employee might toss your resume in the “rejected” pile immediately. Your resume isn’t the only important part of how you look on paper. Your background is too. 

When hiring for executive roles, many recruiting departments like to search for personal records. If you’re lucky, this happens after the interview process when a company may already be interested in you. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to agree to a background check when you submit an application or letter of interest. Companies don’t only look for red flags when they conduct background checks. They may look into your living situation, parse through your previous income history, and more. While it’s hard to redo your past, so to speak, it’s important to be able to address any discrepancies with clarity and confidence. 

A competitive situation

Acquiring your first executive role requires a special cocktail of experience, personability, and a more vague, intangible “X Factor” that not everyone possesses. You need to be quick on your feet, decisive and have a vision for how your employment could benefit the company as a whole. If you’re offered an interview, it’s not enough to go in prepared to answer a list of questions. Come in with questions of your own. Forge a connection with the interviewers. Be prepared to meet board members if you’re eligible for C-level roles. Showcase initiative and propose plans for the company based on prior research. A can-do attitude and an aptitude for foresight can go a long way in an executive role so leverage that to the best of your ability. 

And if you’re not selected, the important thing is to keep trying. Not every role is going to be the perfect fit but if you continue to put yourself out there, hone your skills, and develop yourself professionally, you’re bound to hear those two keywords: You’re hired.