Skip to main content

Executive Career Changes

What worked for you in the past will not work for you going forward

In the past, recruiters may have approached you at work when an employer had a position they needed to fill. They evaluated you along with other candidates who were currently employed. Now when you want to make an executive career change and your current job has ended or will end soon, employers and recruiters will look at you very differently. You will need to understand how that shift in thinking requires you to use an executive career change strategy. If you don’t, you will waste a lot of time and may not be successful.

What has changed for employers?

Earlier in your career, you may have sent your resume to employers and been successful at making job changes. Employers evaluated you for entry level positions and had to make assessments about you largely based on your academic achievement, attitude, extra-curricular activities, and how well they thought you might fit culturally. Later in your career, employers evaluated you based on your experience to date and their perception of your ability to adapt to growth positions even in a different industry.

Now when you are pursuing an executive career change, those same employers will assess you largely on your achievements and experience over the last few years (usually ten years) solely within their industry. They will also tend to typecast you as only being able to do what you have already done in the industry you worked. You may think that translating your skills and experience to a different industry is something you can do easily. Unfortunately, potential employers will think differently and you will need to learn how to address this adequately early in your transition.

There are a few notable exceptions to making industry changes at the executive level. When it does happen, the employer makes a conscious decision to look for executive talent with specific skills outside of their industry. For example, IBM recruited Louis Gerstner to be CEO out of American Express and GM recruited Ed Whitacre to be CEO out of AT&T. While this occasionally happens at the CEO level, it is rare at other levels of management.

What has changed for recruiters?

You might logically think that since recruiters have contacted you in the past why wouldn’t they want to know about your availability now? Some of those opportunities may even have resulted in your transitioning to a different industry. The difference was that recruiters were working for an employer who gave them specific instructions about what they wanted someone to do but generally had some latitude to consider candidates with different skills and experience (including industry) for the “right candidate.”

Sending your resume to recruiters now will not be effective because recruiters’ clients want candidates that match what they want and they want those candidates to be currently working. Recruiters will not risk trying to present candidates in the hope that employers might be willing to accept them. To understand how to work more effectively with recruiters, click here.

How effective is sending your resume directly to an employer?

Here is what happens when you are at a senior level and you send your resume directly to a company: A new and inexperienced employee in the HR department will compare it to a predefined checklist of three or four specific skills and experience someone else in the organization says they want. If your resume contains exactly what is on their list, your resume will only then be reviewed by a more senior person who will decide whether you have what they want. If not, that is the end. If your resume (including any cover letter you attached) does not match exactly what is on their list, well, it probably enters that black hole of HR never to resurface again. On rare occasions, you might receive a rejection form letter.

If you still decide to send your resume directly to recruiters or employers, plan on a success rate of about 5% to 7% of hearing a positive reply from them.

Executive career change resources

This website contains the following sources of information specific to making career changes at the executive level:

  • My book, 12 Steps to a New Career, focuses on how to successfully make a executive career change when you are the one that is initiating the change. In the book, I coach you through the entire process by explaining in detail what you need to do, why you need to do it, when you need to do it, and then I show you examples to illustrate how to do it. Click here to view an expanded Table of Contents.
  • The Resource Library: Career Center includes career tips, career stories about several career change challenges you might encounter, other career change books I recommend, and suggestions on where to network.
  • You can see a list of all the examples and worksheets in 12 Steps to a New Career and can download letter-size copies to use at no cost to you by clicking here.