Author: Steve Tennessen

** As published on AESC Bluesteps

Did you know that 42 percent of Americans are myopic, also known as nearsighted? This means that if you’re driving a car and there’s a vehicle in front of you, another behind you, and one on either side of you – two of you have natural vision that is deemed too lousy to operate a vehicle (without corrective lenses). You might also guess that, without aid, these two people might struggle to see a forest for its trees.

It’s difficult to have perspective when your view is myopic. The same can be true when trying to steer your career.

Countless executives looking for their next opportunity solicit executive recruiters…but many don’t communicate a vision beyond what’s readily apparent. Yes, track record and accomplishments are useful – during a job interview. But with the competitive business landscape and growth of the hidden job market, executive hopefuls need to make a unique impression with third-party recruiters. As prospective candidates, they should commit to meaningful informational interviews if they hope to be top of mind when that next opportunity comes along (or better yet, to get proactively introduced!).

An executive recruiter can look at your resume and see that you’re a FMCG executive with X years of experience and you have excelled in operations. You want to help executive recruiters envision your next role, not pigeon-hole you according to your previous roles. You differentiate yourself during informational interviews by elaborating on concepts like culture fit and team chemistry. You gain an evangelist when you collaborate on mutual interests. With all this at play, an executive recruiter then differentiates you when speaking with their hiring contacts.

Here are several ways to steer informational interviews.

Talk About The WHY More Than What, Where, and When

Let a resume tell your story of what companies, what job titles, etc. If you have a short timeframe to engage somebody’s attention, make it count. (Alright, some brief context to start is likely a good thing.) Talk about why you took each new role, or joined each new company. Touch on why you were willing to make a change. Especially if it was about more than salary or title, then the executive recruiter should hear it if you want them to be your advocate. The executive recruiter will be listening to understand what sort of information you value, how you rank scenarios, and how you make decisions. He or she will also be looking for bigger patterns. Altogether this will help an executive recruiter assess what sort of opportunities you will say “Yes” to, and how well you might stick.

Describe Your Leadership Style…With Context

No buzzwords, no labels. Go beyond saying things like “team builder” or “problem solver.” Tell a story that illustrates how you are a team builder. Set the stage, for example: What were your annual performance goals and the resources available to execute. Feel free to dust off the old STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result). Your leadership style becomes the momentum through which feelings, communication, and actions turn an objective into success (or failure). As Jim Collins might say, how have you helped a company go from good to great? Include talking points that exhibit how you inspire, correct, and build trust among your team members. Not only does the executive recruiter want to inspire their hiring contacts with these stories, but he or she wants to interpret how likely you are to be successful with a particular organization and its people.

Point to Coaching and Feedback You’ve Implemented Over Your Career

First of all, don’t lean on the old “my biggest negative is actually a positive.” Everybody has read that in a management blog or book. Many boards and leadership teams in corporate America now embrace transparency and authenticity. Start with what’s flattering. How have you built on your biggest strengths? How have you coached and nurtured the same ability in others? Be brave enough to also admit weaknesses. How have you improved upon weaknesses? How do you monitor your blind spots? You don’t have to dwell on them, rather, it’s a story of transition to how you are a better leader now. Dynamic, adaptable leaders are the most in demand. The executive recruiter is looking to see if you have diversified your skillset and enhanced your self-awareness. He or she is keen to assess how well you might learn, adapt, inspire, and succeed through the ups and downs every organization faces.

Share and Share Alike

Too many candidate hopefuls initiate a transactional dialogue with executive recruiters. “Here’s my resume, please let me know if you have something for me.” Hey, it’s simple and unobtrusive. Others frame the interaction like they are doing the executive recruiter a favor. “I’m an accomplished executive and could help fill one of your searches, and impress your client.” Fair enough. Some candidate hopefuls at least make it a two-way street by offering to refer candidates from among their network. Fantastic! But want to differentiate yourself even further? If you’re asking an executive recruiter to help you find new work, maybe you help them find new work. If you think the executive recruiter has good credentials, refer or introduce him or her to potential client contacts.

Of course we could also focus on advice like: “Balance the role you want with the role a company might offer” or “focus on work environments that make you happy and successful.” Bottom line, you’d prefer to differentiate yourself in order to be top of mind when that next opportunity comes along. For many executives, meaningful informational interviews make the difference. Track record and accomplishments may get you a job, but anticipating fit and chemistry will help you keep it (and thrive).