I am currently mentoring several association executives in elevating their current roles. To anyone who might be in a similar situation, I submit: Whatever your next higher-tier opportunity might be, these five observations will help you advance your personal and professional growth.
- Polish your resume. These association execs I’m mentoring have been in the same position for several years; they haven’t had to interview in a while, and that is quite common for those focused on executing their strategy. As a result, their resumes is often outdated or perhaps doesn’t highlight their more recent and impactful results. It is critical to polish that resume or CV as an encapsulation of your accomplishments. Focus on outcomes—the results you have created for the organization. You have limited space, so recognize the value in brevity. Highlight the best of your best accomplishments, and be prepared to defend each. If you tell me you drove 20 percent membership growth last year, be ready to answer when I ask you to summarize the top three things you did to achieve that result.
- Invest time and effort to fully understand a prospective employer’s buying process. Hiring organizations are buying YOU—your perceived set of skills, your intellectual curiosity, your abilities, your knowledge, your vision for the evolution of their organization, as well as your behaviors. Focus your preliminary research on HOW they “buy” executive candidates. If you are working with a search firm, ask your contacts there to shed some light on the process. This is a sale, and any sale is a series of “yeses.” What’s the next “yes”? We all do our best selling in person, which means you have to be prepared to present well over the phone and in web meetings, just to get an invitation to that in-person opportunity. There is a direct correlation between preparation and desired outcomes. Do you have a list of questions you are most likely to be asked, and your response to each? Do you have a list of questions you’d like to ask? Understand that you are fundamentally interviewing the hiring organization as much as they are interviewing you. Your goal really is to elevate yourself above the noise, to stand out, to become an object of interest and leave them wanting more. To achieve that goal, you need to ask better questions than your competitive peers. Make the interviewers stop and admire your acumen, your ability to understand their challenges, and potential solutions to lead them differently.
- In your due diligence, go macro to micro. “Macro” means studying the industry. What are the most impactful trends? How are the top 3-5 competitors performing? “Micro” is studying the hiring organization. At even finer detail, you are studying the CEO and the board you may report to. Create profiles for each: likes and dislikes, preferences, what has worked in the past, where have they fumbled. Be curious about what happened to the last individual to hold the job you seek. I would submit there is a gap between what they tell you and what’s really going on, and you want to close that gap as much as possible, before you accept a position. Leverage your portfolio of relationships to figure out what has really happened. You don’t want to be hired and then find yourself saying, “Oh, s—, what did I get myself into?”
- Go in with a strategy and a 30-60-90-day prioritized plan. Based on your due diligence, given the people and market dynamics, the challenges and opportunities, where is the best focus of your time, effort and resources? That’s the simplest definition of a strategy: the best possible choices for the best possible outcome! Look specifically for the low-hanging fruit. What would be the most impactful to tackle first, quickly? Association leadership candidates need to understand what corporate leaders figured out years ago—time is of the essence. Agility matters more than ever. Your runway is shorter than it used to be; fewer and fewer boards will have the patience for a long tenure before they see change. As you are interviewing, capture information, then put together your overarching strategy plus a 30-60-90-day prioritized execution plan. I recommend that you prepare a one-page summary and at the right time, put that in front of the right individuals. Let it be a conversation-starter. It helps the other side see that you’ve thought about the opportunity, you want the job, and you are able and willing to hit the ground running.
- Let your demeanor do your talking. Be personable in your interactions. Demonstrate your integrity, the depth of your thinking. And throughout the process, don’t be surprised by yellow or red flags. It is okay to simply ask, “Have any concerns surfaced about us working together? Is there anything we need to clarify on either side?” By doing this you make the process more collaborative and predictable. Having been on the other side, hiring executives, I know leaders constantly worry, “what will I know about this person six months from now, that I don’t today?” What strengths, what weaknesses, or for lack of a better word, what oddities, are they perceiving as they interact with you? Their true concern is the potential downside of hiring you. What negative aspect or facet is going to jump out six months down the road? Manage their concerns by addressing them early.
Remember – relationships go bad with misaligned expectations! These five points will fundamentally give you more control amidst the uncertainties of a senior executive level search.
- As an executive jobseeker, you need a polished resume that succinctly highlights your greatest accomplishments, with a focus on business results.
- Do your due diligence by studying the prospective employer’s hiring process as a BUYING process, and studying their industry and organization from “macro” to “micro.”
- When you are invited to an in-person interview, go in with a strategy, a 30-60-90-day prioritized plan and a candid demeanor that invites frank discussion of concerns on both sides of the table.
David Nour has spent the past two decades being a student of business relationships. In the process, he has developed Relationship Economics® – the art and science of becoming more intentional and strategic in the relationships one chooses to invest in. In a global economy that is becoming increasingly disconnected, The Nour Group, Inc. has worked with clients such as ThyssenKrupp, Hilton Worldwide, KPMG and over 100 other marquee organizations in driving profitable growth through unique return on their strategic relationships.
Nour has pioneered the phenomenon that relationships are the greatest off balance sheet asset any organizations possesses, large and small, public and private. He is the author of several books including the best selling Relationship Economics – Revised (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Raising Capital (Praeger) and Return on Impact (ASAE). He’s currently writing his next commercial book to be published in 2016.
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