This article originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Smart Business Philadelphia magazine.

Despite headlines and doom-and-gloom market reports, a healthy crop of corporations are hiring, and a highly competitive and growing market of executive jobseekers is vying for top positions at these organizations. The employment pool is vast today, and executives swimming in it are aggressively networking their way into the C suites of growing companies.

The challenge for companies with executive want ads: reaching the very best candidates in the executive market and doing the due diligence to ensure a best fit and, in effect, a wise investment.

In this economy, many executives in transition are departing businesses that may have lacked an adequate long-term strategy. They will be more critical during interviews, wanting to make sure the company has a plan to tackle this economy.

In this environment many companies can recruit attractive executives with creative compensation packages. But even in a power-play position, companies must not forget that they still have to sell their organization to executives.

The top echelon of executives is being very aggressive; they are using their network connections to locate top opportunities.

Is the market for executive positions as competitive today as in years past?

This is one of the most competitive markets for executive recruitment we’ve ever seen. That’s due in part to the economy and the fact that many talented people lost their jobs because of downsizing. Despite this, companies that have been conservative and prudent have cash to spend, and some organizations are interested in acquiring companies or growing their operations organically — they’re ramping up. And they need the executive manpower to usher the company through an acquisition integration process, lead a new department or simply manage growth. The bottom line: There are lots of executives looking for jobs, and they are finding jobs because not all companies have stopped hiring.

What is different about recruiting executives today?

Executives are more aggressive in their recruiting strategies, and they are taking advantage of robust online social networking resources, such as Linked In. Executives in all positions — CFOs, controllers, IT managers, investment compliance officers — have one thing in common. They feel pressure to continually learn and network, but they are pressed for time. They turn to Internet networking groups and find industry groups that serve as education hubs — virtual watercoolers for professionals who share specialties. For companies seeking talent, these groups contain a vast amount of executive talent. Also, the Internet serves as a focused search mechanism, saving company managers valuable time and energy so they can target job postings and locate top executives without spending an entire day making phone calls just to learn where to post an open position. Corporations should not underestimate the power of social networking and its impact on job-seeking executives.

Additionally, sites like LinkedIn serve as valuable due diligence tools for hiring companies that can easily access references to verify a potential employee’s work history.

What’s different about executives’ resumes today, and how should employers view frequent job jumps?

Five or 10 years ago, companies looked negatively upon an executive who had many career ‘jumps.’ People stayed at companies for years. Today, the average shelf life for a CFO is about three years, and the evolution (and demise) of companies forces some executives to move laterally. This is not necessarily a warning sign to discount that candidate.

First, ask the executive to share his or her story. To uncover potential red flags, ask the executive what due diligence he or she performed before taking previous jobs. What were this person’s goals for the position? How did the executive expect the prior job to further his or her career? These questions will help shed light on whether the candidate is a sound decision-maker. Meanwhile, expect an executive candidate to ask poignant questions about your company’s strategies. Job seekers who were burned in the past will not want to join an organization that isn’t clear about its strategies in this market.

Given the competition to recruit top executives, what should corporate management teams bring to the interview table?

Determine exactly why you are making the hire. Are you replacing an executive who left the company or was let go, or are you growing and you need a talented individual to help execute goals? What will be this new hire’s job description? Discuss this with your management team and make sure everyone is on the same page. Go back to the basics and identify your company’s mission. What is your strategy to maintain a strong business in this economy, and what are your plans for the next five years? The best sales effort that management can make is to present a unified, strong case for the position and the company’s plans for the future. ●

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