Working Strategies: C-Suite strategies Part 2 — Finding the openings

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Amy Lindgren

Have you ever wondered how corporate leaders find their jobs? Or, turning the question around, how corporations find their leaders? Well, as a starting point, executives always come from one of two places: Inside or outside the organization.

That may seem obvious, but it’s still helpful. If you want to work at the executive, or “C” level as it’s known, start with the company you’re at now. And if that doesn’t feel like it will be fruitful for any reason, you can focus your attention on other companies instead, making you the “outside” candidate.

In last week’s column, we looked at seven strategies to help prepare for a role in a company’s executive suite, from raising your profile to building leadership skills. Today we’ll look at how you might find the openings — and how you can become findable yourself when organizations need new leadership.

1. Don’t rely on job postings: Remember that the higher the position, the less likely the company will be advertising the opening. Sure, you might see a posting somewhere, but that doesn’t mean the company is relying on that process to build a candidate pool.

Instead, the candidates will more likely come from other sources, with postings used as a backup process — or as part of a company’s commitment to fair hiring practices, ensuring that knowledge of the opening is made broadly available. As a side note, it’s also possible for a posting at this level to be a scam, so watch out.

2. Develop a networking strategy: If companies aren’t using postings, then they must be leveraging other strategies, such as networking. As a job seeker, your goal is simple: Be the person others mention when they’re asked for referrals. To achieve this, you need to up your networking game.

For example, do your contacts know that you’re focused on higher-level positions? If they haven’t heard the words “chief” or “executive” from you, they won’t remember you when those roles become available. When networking, ensure you’re not only connecting with people at high levels, but that they clearly know your goals and capabilities. At the same time, don’t forget to ask each contact if they know companies that could be looking for C-suite executives in the near future.

3. Get familiar with recruiters: Or at least, with the concept of recruiters. These professionals are notoriously difficult to network with, so you might not succeed when requesting a connection. Try anyway, remembering to send your résumé and a brief note that you’d be interested in a conversation when they have a C-suite opening to fill. Many executive recruiters keep databases, so this passive method could bear fruit later.

4. Join a professional association: Depending on the group, professional associations can provide several advantages helpful for those seeking executive roles. Among them: Membership directories; access to individuals in other companies; leadership opportunities; industry training, and high-level networking opportunities.

5. Consider joining a board: When you serve as board director, you’re demonstrating enterprise leadership that can impress an employer. That said, not all board roles will help your cause. For example, conducting fundraising and membership drives for a nonprofit shows good community engagement but it probably won’t expose you to corporate executives or provide high-level leadership experience.

For this strategy, focus on organizations with a similar mission or product line as the companies you’ve targeted for work. Then, make connections with as many executives on the board as possible, both to build relationships and to learn of openings elsewhere.

6. Consider fractional and interim options: Did you know that not all C-suite roles are permanent or full-time? For clarification, a fractional executive holds a leadership role at a fraction of full-time. That could mean a 40% financial officer who works two days a week, for example. This solution is especially appealing to growth organizations that need the expertise but aren’t yet large enough to justify the role on a full-time basis.

By contrast, interim executives would likely work on a full-time basis, to fill in for someone who’s ill or otherwise unable to be in their position. One way to find such opportunities is to connect with placement firms specializing in filling these roles for their client companies.

Whether you adopt one or several strategies to find executive openings, you’ll clearly need professional-level materials, including a résumé or CV, a convincing LinkedIn profile, and perhaps a bio with a professional photo. Executive outreach materials are the subject of next week’s column, so come back for tips on making a good first impression.

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Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at

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