Question: What is the most important emerging trend you’ve observed recently?

Answer: The first few years of the 21st century have been very difficult for the American corporation.  A clear lack of liquidity events, vicissitudes and volatility in the financial markets, a sharp decline in investor confidence, Sarbanes-Oxley, and many high-profile corporate collapses, among other things, have led to clear changes in the recruitment of CEO’s and Board Directors.  And change was clearly overdue. 

While the pool of qualified candidates was never really that deep, it now continues to dwindle for a variety of reasons and corporations struggle with the delicate balance of supply and demand.  First and foremost, demand for quality Board Directors is skyrocketing.  Boards need directors who not only fit the new definition of independence, but who also are both qualified and willing to sit on the audit and/or compensation committees.  As it pertains to CEO’s the competition is equally ferocious as there are simply very few "A+" and "A" leaders. 

Therefore, there is now more receptivity to considering high-potential individuals with no prior corporate board experience and executives who have never been a sitting CEO.  In a one-to-one correlation of this fact, reference checking has taken on far more significance than ever before.  Simply stated, these new Board Director and CEO candidates do not have lengthy demonstrated track records of unambiguously clear accomplishments.  Furthermore, Search Committees have correctly concluded that just because a candidate mastered the interview process, this does not guarantee that he or she is a truly gifted leader.

Reference checks now span 25 or more sources, reach back through many years of corporate experience, and include several carefully crafted, poignant and pointed questions about difficult matters in the candidates past.  Reference checks are conducted not only by executive search consultants, but by members of the Search and/or Nominating Committees.  It is only after a rich tapestry of references, both positive and negative, has been constructed that the Search and/or Nominating Committees can be reasonably confident of the candidate’s likely success.

As it relates to first-time CEO’s, companies are frequently appointing an “active” executive chairman or retaining a CEO coach to work closely with the individual in a “hands-on” advisory capacity.  This approach appears to have been very successful, helping to ensure a smooth transition into the lead role.

Question: What expectations should a candidate have from a retainer-based executive search consulting firm?

Answer: There is actually a “bill of rights” set forth on the Association of Executive Search Consultants (“AESC”) website that documents this issue quite well (www.aesc.org). But briefly, professional courtesy, informative discussions, and sensitivity to the use of your time.  Above all, the Executive Search Consultant must have true concern for the absolute, unequivocal confidentiality of your situation.

Question: What should the length of my resume be? I’ve been told 1 or 2 pages is the gold standard?

Answer: Unless you are one of those very fortunate few individuals to have real name cachet, your story just simply can’t be told effectively in a 1 or 2 page resume. Our clients want significant details about your accomplishments, and if your career spans more than a few years you will need several pages to document them. If you are concerned about the length you can always provide an executive summary at the beginning providing the names of your employers, the dates you were employed, and your titles, also with dates, for each and every position you held.

Question: If I do write several pages, what advice do you have about the content?

Answer: Beyond the obvious "name, rank and serial number" our clients want to know what you accomplished that was memorable in each and every one position you've held throughout your career. All executives have responsibilities, but it’s what you accomplished with that responsibility that counts.  Hard facts and statistics are important.  They should be included and be very clear. For example, revenues increased 200% probably means nothing if the denominator was small.  If it was important, explain why.  Our clients also find it very helpful when a candidate provides in the resume some information about the companies they have been employed by such as type of product or service, public or private, revenues, etc.

Question: OK, the Executive Search Consultant treated me professionally at the beginning of our interaction, but then I never heard from him/her again. Why?

Answer: The bane of the Executive Search Consultant’s existence is that our only resource is time. Unfortunately, while not a good or valid excuse, there just isn’t enough time to call back all of the candidates we process during a search. Sorry, but assume if the contact ceased so has your candidacy. However, if your candidacy proceeded to the point of a client interview you deserve feedback and continuous updates as the process continues, even if you do not become the candidate-of-choice.

Question: How should a candidate handle aggressive interview questions?

Answer: Ms. Jamie S. Walters, editor-in-chief for Ivy Sea Online, in her book “Purposeful Inquiry – using inquiry in tense conversations,” suggests that “We've all been in situations where someone else's words or manner seems very challenging, or even hostile. One way to skillfully respond to aggressive or passive-aggressive communicators is to inquire -- or ask questions -- instead of reacting and shutting down.”

Question: How many references should I provide?

Answer: References are crucial to a candidate being selected to receive an offer of employment. At our Firm we ask for a minimum of 12 references, typically 3 people you reported to, 3 people who were your peers, 3 people who were your junior, and 3 people you negotiated some type of transaction with. You should know that in a typical senior level search Executive Search Consultants, in conjunction with our clients, will typically question 25 or more executives with whom you’ve interfaced during your career. Our goal is to create a rich tapestry of the “real” person, not just someone who has mastered the art of the interview.

Question: Is there other information I need to be prepared to provide?

Answer: In our Firm we ask for a three year compensation history and as well as written answers to numerous other questions. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 has only added to the number of questions.

Question: How should I dress for the interview?

Answer: I read somewhere that attire one level above the person you’re meeting is the correct call. So if he/she will have on a sport coat, you should wear a suit. But, we all recognize that in this "business casual" world that isn’t always possible. We recommend that you dress appropriately for your business environment, BUT explain to the interviewer the circumstances. Your statement conveys the respect that is expected even when you can’t wear the suit.

Question: What are some interview turn-offs?

Answer: There are several: lack of eye contact; evasive answers to direct questions; lack of preparedness; lack of enthusiasm; use of note pad/notes in the initial interview (a senior level executive should be able to remember key facts, etc., and know the key initial questions to ask – perhaps notes, etc., at a later interview); and lack of good strategic and tactical questions.  And, of course, never be late.

Question: Are there any specific websites you would suggest visiting regarding my career development?

Answer: There are several depending upon your mission and they increase in number and quality all the time. Some of our suggestions include: The John Lucht Consultancy (www.luchtconsultancy.com); AESC (www.aesc.org); The CEO Refresher (www.refresher.com); Directors & Boards (www.directorsandboards.com); and The Wall Street Journal (www.careerjournal.com).


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