COVID-19 Series: Advice from Executive Recruiters

I asked executive recruiters and employers for their advice about how executives should job search during a pandemic.

I asked each of them…

  1. What should executive job seekers do to attract your attention when there are so many unemployed executives?
  2. Do you rule out job seekers who have been unemployed for a specific amount of time?
  3. Where do you source candidates?
  4. What’s changed or not since COVID-19?

Here is what they said…

Remote-ready employees have an advantage during this season because of the social distancing measures imposed upon by the authorities. Thus, those with skills that can easily be applied to online client management are a priority for hiring.

More importantly, they should spend this time upskilling through training. This is very critical to reflect how eager they are to pursue lifelong learning and how they used their time well during the lockdown.

Michael Hammelburger, CEO of The Bottom Line Group

Actions: Emphasize remote experience and skills. Engage in lifelong learning.

Start with sending resumes that FIT the job’s requirements. Our ratio of candidates who actually meet the criteria probably runs 50 to 1. If a candidate wants to be successful, they would do themselves a favor to carefully read through the job description and rework their resume to highlight their experience as it relates to the job specs. Now, this does not mean making stuff up. It means featuring that experience you DO have so recruiters don’t have to read between the lines.  

Make sure to have a clean resume, not one that is full of color and text boxes. Not only are these hard to follow they often do not parse into applicant tracking systems, so a candidate may be rejected simply because the info never gets to the right person. While we do not reject out-of-hand a candidate that has been unemployed, it’s best to have a pretty solid reason. And that time should be months, not years. Our sourcing remains the same during COVID-19; we use internal databases and LinkedIn searches.

What HAS changed is candidate anxiety and an unwillingness to relocate during this time of uncertainty. Job seekers should spend time updating LinkedIn profiles and connecting with key leaders at target companies. Fine-tune that resume and be willing to do that on a case-by-case basis. You’ve got about 15-30 seconds of my time when I’m reviewing your resume. Make it count!   

Jan Hudson, Surf Search Biotech Recruiter

Actions: Customize each resume you send to be targeted for the specific position you are seeking. Connect with key leaders at target companies.

Job seekers should send a copy of their resume and a concise email/LinkedIn message to the recruiter of choice. There are many times that job seekers reach out via email or LinkedIn with a long message attached, which can be counterproductive, since recruiters are viewing dozens of emails and resumes daily.  The more concise the message, the better.

Job seekers who are worried about being unemployed can be reassured that while in the past, employers have been negative about unemployed job seekers, but since the situation with COVID-19, a lot of employers will probably begin to be more understanding.

We use a variety of different databases to source candidates. However, the best sources out there are definitely LinkedIn and LinkedIn Recruiter. It’s the most live and real time source out there to find quality candidates or network for the future. 

With the impacts of COVID-19, it’s very important to remember to stay positive during your job search.  This has always been important, but it is even more important with jobs now being even more difficult to find. Don’t get defeated by rejections; keep pushing and something good will come eventually.

Zahria Little, SHRM-SCP, Executive Recruiter, JMJ Phillip Group

Actions: Send short pitches to recruiters. Use LinkedIn. Stay positive despite any rejections that happen. Be persistent.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever for executive job seekers to stand out from the pack. There are so many more candidates on the job market right now that you will be up against more competition. The biggest thing that you will want to highlight is your ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

The best companies right now are thriving as they were able to adapt and pivot and employers are highly valuing executives that can embrace and encourage this. Being unemployed is no longer the stigma it has been in the past. Typically, unemployed executives are seen as having not been good enough but there is a real understanding right now that there is so much out of our control that even many of the best executives have found themselves out of work.

David Morley, General Manager, Rockstar Recruiting

Actions: Highlight your ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Show that you can be flexible and pivot in response to change.

These are truly unusual times.  There are fewer jobs and multitudes more people looking for work.

Many job seekers reek of desperation.  They will chase down any possible contact and go on about their backgrounds in mind-numbing detail to anyone who is willing to speak to them.

It is important for job seekers to remember that it is important to give as well as receive.  If you are not a fit for a particular job, refer someone else who could be.

People today are more impressed by the questions candidates ask than the answers they give.

Above all else, be as prepared as possible for a conversation. Do some research on that person and his or his organization. Be respectful of a person’s time.

There are still good jobs out there, and being unemployed has less of a stigma today than ever before.

When you are talking about yourself, talk about the value you added and what you accomplished. Everybody has responsibilities; many fewer people have accomplishments..  

Be optimistic and resilient. With the right attitude, there is no doubt in my mind you will succeed. The economy will come back. No matter what the economy, the demand for good people exceeds the supply.

Rich Bond, Principal, Bond & Company

Actions: Be concise in your communications to respect people’s time. Do research to prepare for conversations. Ensure you can speak about accomplishments instead of responsibilities.

The biggest mistakes are to show panic and to talk desperately about how much you need a job within the first few minutes of a conversation. Making comments early in the conversation like, “I’m prepared to take a huge drop in salary” really turns hiring managers off.

Focus on the value you bring to the table. More than ever, companies are looking for people who can add value over and above their own role and keep calm in a crisis. You need to demonstrate these skills as part of your job application process.

Doing a sense check with your own genuine interest in an opportunity is also worthwhile, even if you are desperate to land your next role, because this could affect your long-term job satisfaction and performance.

Employers also want to know you’re interested in their company for the right reasons. They are always interested in WHY people are looking to join a company.  Now, more than ever, candidates should be prepared to discuss this point. 

Ineke McMahon, Director, The Path to Promotion

Actions: Avoid seeming desperate. Be able to describe how you would bring value. Pursue jobs where you are genuinely interested in the opportunity.

First and foremost, don’t panic! The reality is that the pendulum is always swinging back and forth between client and candidate markets. This pandemic just happens to be the latest reason there is a flood of candidates on the market right now. Take some time to breathe, focus, and make a plan.  You’re a business leader for a reason, and it’s time to turn those leadership skills inward.

While it’s true that recruiters are seeing a lot of unsolicited resumes at this time, our best advice to draw attention to your resume has not changed from the pre-pandemic world. In order to get noticed, you must do something notable, and that remains true during the current crisis.

In your intro pitch (which of course should be personalized to the recruiter), take some time to point out how you have been making good use of the time that you have been unemployed. Recruiters want to see that you have taken the opportunity to learn some new skills, or taken your existing skills to the next level.  In particular, demonstrate IT skills that may make you more attractive for remote work, such as how to use cybersecurity tools at home. This will definitely help you to stand out from the crowd right now.

Dr. Matt Marturano, Vice President, Orchid Holistic Search

Actions: Stay calm and use your leadership skills to weather this crisis. Use the downtime to learn new skills or take existing skills to a new level, especially remote work skills.

Since COVID 19, most interviews are remote and people are only getting hired if they bring a lot of value to the job. 

Make your resume title meaningful. Be thoughtful about building your resume to show accomplishments and skills and it should not be more than two pages in length.

Reach out to outplacement professionals or participate in LinkedIn groups to come to the attention of recruiters. 

Jobseekers having gaps in their resume should work with startups or engage in self-study to make the gap productive. There is no point in conveying to a potential employer that the jobseeker was only searching for jobs during the gap. 

Dr. Prakash Sharma, Passion Framework

Actions: Fill any unemployment gaps with something that builds connections or skills.

It’s obvious, but the truth: update your social media/online profiles, especially LinkedIn. It is very helpful if you include your personal contact information on LinkedIn so I can have direct contact with you vs. using the platform. Also, I find it extremely beneficial when someone reaches out to me because they see I’m a headhunter in their space. So if you really want to attract my attention, find me first..

Since March of 2020, I don’t rule people out for having an unemployment gap. Before COVID–19, it would depend on the situation. I always have a conversation with candidates to learn why there’s a gap, but I usually rule out someone, depending on the circumstances, if they have been unemployed for a year or more.

Candidates are curious how I source. Being a headhunter for so long, I became really good at research. For executive level searches, I use a technique called Boolean Search using Google and I have access to a plethora of individuals from various resources. These resources include press releases, industry targeted groups and associations, LinkedIn, Zoominfo, company websites, and trade show vendors, to name a few. LinkedIn is definitely the “go-to” resource by many, especially for executive level searches.

I think there are more opportunities available to job seekers now due to the increase in working remotely. As we hear through other sources of media, COVID-19 has caused a shift and eye-opening experiences, and I think there are many people re-evaluating their career situation due to COVID-19.

Be proactive vs. waiting to be reached out to. Start with your network, letting them know you are actively looking for your next career opportunity. Search LinkedIn for who your boss would be at companies that interest you and reach out to them. Let them know why you have an interest in working for their organization and that you are hoping for an initial discussion. 

Cori Sachais, Recruiter, Mindful Recruiting Solutions

Actions: Work on your online presence so that recruiters can find you. Be proactive about reaching out to recruiters and networking contacts.

The first thing you have to do is fill up any time you have unemployed with something productive. People are going to ask about those gaps, so make sure you have things you did, and make them good for what you are applying for. Take a course to better understand your previous career area, or learn a new career area, if you are hoping to broaden your horizons a little bit. Personally, employment gaps do not bother me. We live in a world where nothing is certain, but I do think it is great when people decide to do something productive while on the job hunt, as it shows that you are not wanting to stop, and you are doing everything you can to be back.   

Christopher Prasad, Marketing Manager, JookSMS

Actions: During employment gaps, learn new skills in either your previous career area or a new one.

During COVID-19, the initial process to find suitable candidates has thankfully remained much the same and straightforward. We can continue as normal, doing desk research, through internal and external databases, social networking, and looking at external recommendations. It’s an obvious answer, but LinkedIn is where we have had the most success in finding suitable candidates. It is after this point, however, that things have become a little more complicated. It’s worth noting, that at this time many industries are facing significant pressure and candidates are not currently approachable. 

I definitely would not exclude any candidate who had been unemployed during the coronavirus. These are completely unprecedented times and should be treated as such.

Ethan Taub, CEO, Loanry

Actions: If you want to be found by recruiters, participate on LinkedIn.

I am a big advocate of LinkedIn. Executive job seekers should make sure their LinkedIn profiles tell a story that highlights their main accomplishments for each job. When possible, quantify those achievements. It’s so important to tie accomplishments to the positive impact on the bottom line. 

I don’t necessarily care about how long someone has been out of work if they have still found creative ways either through volunteering or consulting to stay “in the know” about the industry. Job seekers can use these hacks: share current articles on LinkedIn, keep abreast of industry trends, keep current subscriptions for journals, and stay active with industry-specific groups. Staying current on industry trends, lingo, and pain points can help to overcome gaps in job history if you strategically introduce these hacks in your storytelling. 

DaKenya Douglas, SVP of Operations, DaKenya Douglas Consulting

Actions: Another vote for participating LinkedIn. Find creative ways to stay current while you are unemployed.

As an employer, the kind of executive job seeker who will attract my attention is one capable of offering value. That means they should be passionate, have confidence in their own decisions, be committed to getting things done, and be open to other people’s ideas. If an executive job seeker has not developed themselves to the extent that they can offer real value, then they should start doing so immediately.

There is a famous quote by Einstein that people should strive to offer value, not success. As an employer, I can confirm that the worth of an executive employee who is not just in it to make money or pursue success, but is committed to offering value is priceless.

No, I do not rule out people who have been unemployed for a long time. What I look at is what they have been doing during that period. If the candidate has used the time they have been unemployed wisely, for instance, taking a course to improve their skills, then they quickly rise to the top of the list. In contrast, an individual who has done nothing with their time gets little consideration.

I source for candidates everywhere: job boards, job sites, networking events, referrals, and so on. One can never tell where the perfect candidate will come from, so I prefer using all available channels.

Reuben Yonatan, Founder and CEO of GetVoIP

Actions: Be able to demonstrate your value. Use your unemployed time to improve your marketability.

Thank you to all the executive recruiters and employers who generously gave of their time and advice to help job seekers.

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