12/29/2011 04:50 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2012

Act Like an Executive to Land a Job in 2012

Month after month through 2011, ExecuNet's surveys of executive recruiters revealed increases in hiring at the senior management level. Search firms are entering the new year with rising confidence that the marketplace will steadily improve.

But those high-level jobs aren't openly advertised; our research finds just a fraction of $200K positions are publicly posted. Therefore, executives aren't likely to spend time online scouring job boards and sending out résumés like job seekers at other levels. With surveyed recruiters indicating that nearly one quarter of US companies are expecting to hire new leaders in the next six months, how will executive candidates find those open positions?

Executives who are successful at job searching envision it like any other high-level professional project -- they use the same skill set that propelled them to the top to land them their next role. Those skills, according to the search firm recruiters we've surveyed about what they seek in executive candidates, are: leadership; strategy and execution; ability to build relationships; communication; problem-solving; and a wide professional network.

Here's how today's C-level executive correlates what they know into a job search plan, and how you can sharpen your skills and use the same tactics to avoid countless hours competing with thousands of other résumés submitted through job boards:

Set the strategy. First, understand what you want to achieve and the resources you have to reach that goal. That means you have to be introspective and really clear about your strengths, what you like to do and the best environment for you to succeed. Too often, job seekers let external influences drive their career instead of proactively carving out their own futures.
Find the right external partners. Executives are always on the lookout for target companies and connections. Once you know what you want to do, find the place where you can best perform the work, and the individuals who can help you get in the doorway. Don't worry whether there are currently open positions; your goal is to connect with the right people in the right places.
Align the goals with the marketing messages. Walk down the aisles of a supermarket and see all the products competing for your attention. That's what candidates look like to recruiters. To get noticed, you need to quickly display on your résumé, social profiles, and overall online identity what you can do and why you are better and different than your competitors
Build positive PR. Act as your own spokesperson and become known for what you know. Participate and contribute to the communities where your market finds information and be helpful.
Be a leader. Stay motivated, positive and know when to re-assess and re-adjust.

Job boards should still be included in your strategy; just don't be overly reliant on them as the only place to apply. In addition to identifying open positions, they are also a great resource to:
  • Identify hiring and growth trends
  • Research target industries and companies
  • Understand the pain points companies and industries are facing
  • Learn more about keywords, job titles and associated skill sets
  • Become conversant and fluent in industry-, company-and culture-specific language that resonates with potential employers
  • Strengthen résumés and other marketing materials

Good luck in creating the plan that finds you the job where you are happy and fulfilled in 2012!