Executives in Transition

How to Become the Top Candidate: What Recruiters Never Tell You


Top candidates know that being the one to be selected has nothing to do with job boards and little to do with resumes. 

If you are applying to job boards you are probably discovering what most director and above executives are discovering…It’s a black hole and very unlikely to provide you with the results you are looking for.

For many executives, that next opportunity may lie with a recruiter. Even though recruiters are just one source of opportunities, it’s important to understand how to work with them. 

In this article and our upcoming webinar we uncover some of the secret of how be selected as the top candidate.

To hear about the case studies join us by CLICKING HERE TO REGISTER

Can’t attend? Find out how our peer to peer Core Executives In Transition Program has helped 250+ executives land their next position in under 90 days (rather than the 6-12 months most executives spend looking). CLICK HERE LEARN MORE!



Resume screening secrets to avoid the Black Hole: Beyond fancy formatting

For director and above positions there are several ways that recruiters (internal or external) receive your resume. 

One way is that you may apply to a job board. If you only apply to a job board your probability of having your resume rise to the top of the short list is less than 10% (Forbes 2019 and Career Con-X internal research 2014-2019). 90% of the time you will get NO response at all. For positions in some larger ( $1B+ annual revenue) companies your resume may go through an automated tracking system (ATS). With ATS, when you use fancy fonts, highlighting, pictures, charts, and shading the ATS gets confused and may outright reject the document. Keep a plain format of your resume with the same content on it to use for submissions to job boards so that all the information is noted. The primary time our top candidates apply to job boards is only after they already have initial conversation with leaders in the company and the job board submission is a formality of the process. 

A second way your resume gets to recruiters is from internal referrals or external referrals of people who know the hiring team or others close to that department. We see these come most often from manager and above level. The probability of being hired when your resume is handed to the screener and or hiring manager increases exponentially. Companies like Charles Schwab cite internally referred candidates are hired 72% of the time. 

Finally, you may be found from searches the recruiter does on several different platforms to find people in current positions that have the right skills and the right experience as well as the right culture fit as defined by how your personal brand is perceived. Your personal brand starts with your LinkedIn profile, includes your personal website, other social media, press releases where you are mentioned, posts you make on social platforms like groups in LinkedIn, etc. 

Director and above resumes are still reviewed by individuals. Using a sophisticated resume with a little graphics for emailing to others with the same content as your plan formatted resume is a great solution. Consider your fancy resume more of a marketing piece.

Being Relevant

The person who eventually screens your resume will be looking for several specific items. When there is an internal and certainly when an external recruiter is involved with screening, having 80%+  of the qualifications will matter. Tying your industry experience to alternate industries through tangential methods when you don’t have direct industry experience is critical to include in your summary or cover letter.  Including a cover letter is an excellent way to show your relevancy through the language you use. It connects the dots for the person screening your resume and will be shared with those involved with the interviewing process. But, know that less than 50% of interviewers read the cover letter. 

Screeners are looking for relevant language and verbiage that demonstrates you are current in using terms to describe who you are and what you have accomplished. Surprisingly we still see resumes missing results and written in language that reflects a management style and communication style from 20 years ago. 

A good way to confirm you have results (often confused with accomplishments) is by including the metrics. Using a structure of Action, Results, Metrics is a technique one of our partners, Dan Wegner from globally renowned Lee Hecht Harrison shares with executives. This will keep you focused as well.

Here is an example of how to shift language to stronger relevancy to today’s market expectations of leaders and show results based language: 

THIS: Program leader responsible for managing all aspects of technical product trainings for global conferences. Lead company associates to develop and facilitate courses for diverse participants. Ensure that courses present cutting-edge, real-world scenarios for use of self-service data analytics platform across B2B and B2C customers.

Becomes THIS: 

Product and Program management (PMP certified) leader inspired to clean tech and social impact through exceptional results driven entrepreneurial SaaS and tech solutions.  Over 10 years’ experience in big data and complex systems building high performing teams across software development, SME’s, executive teams, clients, and industry thought leaders. Closed non-dilutive fundraising $160k-$7MM rounds through grants and driving global public-private tech programs. Funding sources included NASA, Google and U.S Dept of State for high public impact. Published presenter at International Astronautical Federation, Washington, DC., NASA and Brazilian Space Agency.


Interview responses from the top candidates

The recruiter wants you to succeed. The interviewer wants you to succeed. If you haven’t done research on the company you will not be the top candidate selected

Research on LinkedIn for the team, key product lines, financials, awards, current and past challenges as found in press releases and other sources including the company website is a good starting point. Looking at their engagement in the community and how that is received as well as understanding who the company’s competitors are is critical to becoming the top candidate. Connect with the hiring team through your personal network as well as on LinkedIn to help keep yourself top of mind through out the process. 

Remember when working with a recruiter, they are probably aware of the dynamics of the organization and hiring committee. Ask them questions and let them guide you. When the recruiter wants to work with you on your responses to these questions, set aside the time.

Tell me about yourself?

This question is an invitation to share your thoughts on what you think is important about you as they make their hiring decision. Use this question to differentiate yourself from other candidates.

From the research you’ve done about this job and company, use this question as an opportunity to express why and how you are qualified for this position. Then, talk about why you applied for the opportunity. 

Keep the answer short and focused. While including some volunteer effort that shows  how you engage with community is insightful and sets you apart, this is not the time to talk about your kids, where you grew up, what instruments you play. 

This is a job interview.

Why are you interested in moving on?

This question is not an invitation to disparage your current company, or ramble on about how you’ve been wronged. 

Do your research and highlight a reason that ties your past experience, your introspection about where you want your career to go next, who you want to be working with that are great leaders in the new company, and how this new position will be mutually beneficial. The benefits should be at a passion -driven level for you and a people, process and technology driven level for the company all tied to the top and bottom line. 

Perhaps your current company has become unstable. Or maybe there is a limit to how far you can progress. If the hiring company is growing rapidly, perhaps you are interested in participating in that growth and can give concrete ways based on past experience and results that you can bring high value to the new company to solve some of their key specific challenges.

Keep it professional and keep it as positive as possible. Tap your professional network to help by giving you some tips on how the company views incoming professionals.

Do you have any questions?

You’d better have well thought our insightful questions.

This is your opportunity to do your own interview. No one wants to join a company that doesn’t match their work style or culture expectations. If you are not seeking a next opportunity doesn’t have a mission and way to achieve the mission that you are aligned with and where you can bring a lot of great value… then that opportunity is not a fit. 

You should know what is important to you in your next position. If you are genuinely interested in this opportunity, have a question you can start with like: 

  • What is the most important thing the person in this job needs to accomplish in the first three months?
  • What is the growth you expect in the next 6-12 months? 
  • What are the top 3 challenges that have held the company back the last 12 months?  
  • If the interviewer hasn’t already told you, ask why the position is open. 
  • And always ask what the process is going forward. How do you and the company keep in touch over the decision period?

The cadence and content for keeping in touch

For many executives, this is the touchy part. 

You, as the candidate, don’t want to be considered a nuisance – checking in with the recruiter or hiring manager every day. 

But how often is too often?

Hopefully, you found this out at the interview. If not, ask the recruiter for their preference. Once per week seems reasonable to many – a twice per week may not be too much depending on the opening.

A great way to keep in touch is through LinkedIn. Before you leave the interview, ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn. If they say yes, do it!

Don’t forget to get that thank you note, Thank you email using on line apps or at bare minimum a thank you email  that is genuine, thoughtful, written to the screener and interviewer as appropriate with appropriate compliments to the interviewing team member at every step you go through for every person you speak with. This should be sent by the end of the day of the interview. This gives you a reason to connect again, thank them for their time and reiterate one of two key ways you will be able to bring value to the organization for the job. 

Keep in touch with your recruiter – they are your advocate.

Remaining in contact with the recruiter and the hiring team is important as well. Using tools like the Career Con-X app, you can easily remember to stay in touch with the interview team and the hiring manager as well as the recruiter during this interview process and long after this specific job fills. More than 30% of our executives we have worked with have come back to us to let us know they were called back to interview for higher level positions after an initial conversation because they stayed in touch over 6-9 months even though they already landed another position. Its all about building relationships driven by your passion and the value you can bring.  

Bonus secret: Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat 

Toward the end of interviews a key question to ask is if there are questions or concerns that have not yet been addressed. Whether you have good intuition or not, this will usually reveal if there is an unanswered area of concern. If there is hesitation on the part of the screener or interviewer it usually comes out as most people want to be honest and open. Your non defensive, completely humble  response to this must allow them to be honest without offending you.

If you have run out of time to address that question, ask if you can schedule another 15 minutes to clarify some key aspects to their “unanswered concern”. You will be surprised how often you will get a “sure” ….which you quickly must follow up with a proposed time.  That next time should be within 2 days for a 15 minute block on their calendar scheduled right then. 

A recent example of this I have experienced was with a great candidate who did not have some of the originally assumed critical experience, but did have experience is some areas that would drive a lot of growth for the company. The CEO candidate came out of a field of over 120 applicants and 20 finalists to become the 4th option to be considered. He did this in several ways.

  1. His resume was provided by a person from in the company, ( late into the process) though he was not part of the company. He was well connected to several decision makers but had not talked to them in 3-4 years.
  2. After the initial screening interview he asked if there were concerns and learned about the lack of experience. Within 2 hours he provided an email to demonstrate how other experiences would enable him to manage the lack of experience. 
  3. Within 24 hours he provided a comprehensive background about the market of the company, a proposed plan to connect in 5 new partners whom he had strong relationships with already that would prove to be critical channel partners and how one might drive additional revenue streams with the partnerships.
  4. The outcome: While there were 3 other very strong candidates, one of which set himself apart with his ability to quickly build rapport with all interviewing parties (there were 9 involved), our 4th candidate is being consulted to serve in another role that may become more permanent.  Win-Win

Things to remember: If you’re a strong second choice, the organization may turn to you to avoid the recreating the entire hiring process. 

Disappointment when you are not initially selected is normal. Expressing your disappointment is not helpful. Instead, staying upbeat and positive leaves a lasting impression on the hiring team. Leave them with a great impression and add them to your network. 

You never know what may happen.

For executives in passive or active transition, we have launched our updated program now powered by our virtual networking app – Career Con-X exclusively for our clients.  Next steps:

  1. To hear about the case studies join us BY CLICKING HERE TO REGISTER!
  2. Can’t attend? Find out how our peer to peer Core Executives In Transition Program has helped 250+ executives land their next position in under 90 days (rather than the 6-12 months most executives spend looking). CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE!