What Strategies Really Work in Executive Job Search?

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I continually advise my clients that it is important to use a variety of strategies and resources in conducting an executive employment search, as one never knows from which source that great opportunity will arise. But as I work with my executive resume clients, they frequently ask me which in my experience are the most productive methods.

Conventional wisdom has it that networking is the way most executive opportunities are identified, with estimates that jobs found in this fashion account for anywhere from 30% to 60% of hires. Recruiters generally place candidates for about 20% of executive positions, so it is definitely worthwhile and relatively inexpensive to get yourself on their radar screens. Posting your executive resume or submitting it in response to publicly posted job openings in newspapers or on career sites such as ChiefMonster, SixFigureJobs, CareerJournal, ExecuNet, ExecutiveRegistry, Netshare, or RiteSite is also a relatively inexpensive route that produces about 10% of filled positions.

Then there is direct mail. Direct mail has received a bit of a bad rap in recent years, due to the plethora of mass mailing firms out there that indiscriminately blast poorly prepared one-page resumes to companies with no selectivity whatsoever and with a dead-giveaway, cookie-cutter look that often includes postage applied by postage meter.

However, according to Mark Hovind, owner of “JobBait.com” (a targeted direct mail house for executives), a high-quality, custom-prepared direct mailing to a carefully selected group of CEO’s of companies in your field of interest can yield up to an 85% success rate when 3,000 letters are sent for each hundred thousand dollars in salary. Mr. Hovind says that from his experience direct mail is the most expensive but least time-consuming strategy. A direct mail campaign in this quantity at various vendors runs between $5,310 and over $13,000.

(Note: Many career experts say this strategy may not work as well for someone seeking a CEO position, since most mailings target the existing CEO, whose job you would be seeking. However, see a contrary view below this post.)

For executives with salaries in the $100,000 to $1M+ range, you can see that direct mail costs add up very quickly based on Mr. Hovind’s formula. Still, for those with deep pockets who really have little network to work with and are not willing or able to build one, targeted direct mail to companies may indeed be a viable way to go.


Postscript added 7/23/2007:

Mr. Hovind at JobBait.com commented to me via email recently that he does not concur that direct mail is ineffective for the CEO’s job search. He makes the point that a CEO at a smaller company may very well be looking for a successor in order to move on or retire, for instance. Also, for those of you who are CEOs of smaller companies, perhaps contacting the Board Chairman of target companies could be fruitful, and you might well fit in as a Division President or COO of a larger company.

Some executives cannot afford to wait through the typical lead time for executive-level search (some say this averages a month for each $10K of income, meaning someone at $200K could have a 20-month search). In this case, accelerating the job search to conclude within 90 days with a $5K to $15K investment in direct mail may well be worthwhile. Here are your 90-day odds of success as stated on the JobBait.com site:

85% with Classic Direct Mail
30% with Networking
1% with Recruiters
1% with Resume Posting
1% with Job Boards

Lastly, Mr. Hovind mentions contacting money brokers (venture capital firms, investment bankers, etc.), which is a target audience I have long recommended my clients pursue (including my CEO clients). After all, the proactive executive candidate evaluates all options and pursues a variety of strategies that suit his or her particular situation.