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I’ve Been Successful… Why Can’t I Land a Job?

People that have been highly successful in their careers often have a difficult time landing a new position. They’ve achieved great things, they’ve been elevated to roles of great responsibility, everyone that knows them assumes they will be snatched up quickly, yet months go by and still no offers seem to be materializing. 

How can that be?

There are a number of dynamics in that type of situation, here are some things to consider…

It’s a pyramid, not a ladder. People often forget that the higher they go in their career, the fewer jobs there are. A large company may have an army of Staff Accountants,  however, there are fewer Accounting Managers, fewer still Directors, fewer Controllers, and perhaps one VP and/or CFO.

While someone may have found jobs quickly and easily when they were looking for mid-career roles, there are now fewer positions to aim for when they are in pursuing senior leadership roles. Fewer positions in a great economy, and far fewer in a tough job market.

Management can be easier to cut. When companies are trying to trim expenses and find ways to save money, it’s not unusual for them to trim layers of leadership in the organization. Removing someone from senior leadership roles can often save a lot of money, and it keeps the necessary ‘worker bees’ in place. Yes, they lose strategic leadership and direction. However, as a short term cost cutting measure it often makes good sense. As a result, in a tough economy, there’s a greater likelihood of getting cut, and there is more competition for similar level open positions. The hunt becomes much more challenging.

Compensation plans vary dramatically. A VP of Marketing in one organization can have a very different compensation plan than the same role in another organization of similar size. For someone that’s been fortunate to have been highly compensated in their previous role, it can be a difficult challenge to either match that same level of income or convince a potential employer that a pay cut is acceptable. It’s a legitimate concern for them to wonder how long they can keep someone if a more competitive offer comes around.

Industry specific knowledge can limit opportunity. The more focused a role is to a specific company or industry, the fewer opportunities there are likely to be to pursue in the marketplace. Having achieved a great level of responsibility and knowledge of a specific product or process that made you valuable to your previous employer, may not be seen as a great value to another. The more niche the expertise, the fewer other organizations are likely to be interested. Great success in one industry doesn’t necessarily transfer to another.

Jobs aren’t posted online. Senior leadership roles typically aren’t posted online or advertised in other venues. When an organization is looking for a new C-level executive, or a new VP, it’s highly unusual that they would advertise that opening at all. When a position at that level is advertised somehow, it’s often at the end of the process, after someone has already been identified, to see if there may have been a ‘Superstar’ that might have been missed, however, they rarely take applicants seriously at that point.

Networking is critical! The higher the level the position, the more likely it will be filled by word-of-mouth, networking, referrals, or an Executive Recruiter (and the Recruiter is almost always last on the list). Pursuing companies, other executives as contacts and referral sources, and connecting with as many people as possible will be far more productive than chasing job postings. Networking is THE means of finding and landing Senior Level roles, much more so than any mid-career level positions.

Although it can feel humbling to have achieved great success in previous roles and not seem to be able to easily find a job, it’s an extremely common challenge. It requires more networking than the average job seeker, and the same tenacity, professionalism, and optimism that likely enabled you to achieve your career success in the first place.


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