103 1% Advantages

I’m conflicted with this column. For many readers, this will be like dumping a full truckload of topsoil in the front yard when all you wanted to do was plant a windowbox. There is a lot of information here and I have been working on this for several months (actually, I’ve been working on this for about 25 years). Call me if you have any questions–You should have a number of them. Second, it was a pain in the backside to write, because there is so much to cover. I’m doing it because you need it. Yes, you.

If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know how much importance I place on fixing the major issues in your job campaign–Network like crazy, answer posted positions, write a breakthrough letter, send plenty of them to headhunters/CEOs, search researchers, and private equity firms; don’t include a resume, get some interview coaching, etc.

These are all major steps, which should dramatically (2x, 5X, 10X) increase your results (cutting down the time you spend in the market, deliver more choices and higher quality choices), than if you run a standard network, network, network, then answer postings job campaign.

That’s not the end of the story, though. Would you want to a strategy that increased your chances 1%? (Not an easy answer, especially if the time, money, and mental energy it took to do it would cost more than the 1% on the positive side). While no 1% advantage would be important by itself, what if you could identify 100 easy-to-implement 1% advantages? You would certainly use them, if you could cumulatively double your rate of success.

At some risk (too many will quibble with some of these, while forgetting about the cumulative effect of a lot of little advantages), here are a lot of little things to do/implement in your job campaign. Think there’s nothing left to learn about senior executive job hunting? Some of these should solidly change your mind–

Part 1 (I’ve split this into three separate columns to avoid choking you)


  1. One (1) page limit. If you write more than a page, nothing past page 1 will be read.
  2. No need for “wedding invitation” quality paper–Regular executive quality is fine. Don’t use plain white paper (cheap) that you would print junk on–It’s not suitable for executive correspondence.
  3. Invest in a multi-function (scan, fax, print, copy) laser printer for your home office. Throw away/give away the old ink jet and clean up your desk. After printing your important project, you’ll use it for years.
  4. Sign letters individually in blue ink, so your letter doesn’t look photo-copied or mass-produced.
  5.  Every letter has a full “inside” address and is individually (Dear Mr. Jones) addressed.
  6. Use an attractive commemorative stamp (no political content), not one you’d use for the light bill.
  7. Go light on content, heavier on conversational/emotional content/entertaining copy.
  8. Remember the reader is using less cognitive ability reading the letter than you spent writing it.
  9. Use the largest typeface possible, consistent with your copy, suitable for the bifocals of the CEO.
  10. Don’t include a resume the first time you write to a search consultant, CEO, search researcher, or private equity partner. If you include a resume, the letter will go to the “Dead Letter Office,” not the hiring executive.
  11. Invest in the best data you can find (headhunters, CEOs, private equity firms, search researchers). Cheap or free pass-along lists from other job hunters are worth exactly what you paid for them.
  12. Ask for a callback in every letter. “I look forward to speaking to you” is wimping out and isn’t a request for a callback. “Please call me” is. The purpose of the letter is to elicit callback, not to get hired. Letters asking to be hired will fail. Offers come after telephone interviews which cause face-to-face interviews.
  13. Use MS Word’s mail-merge function to customize letters/envelopes and avoid data entry.
  14. Use a regular #10 envelope to best mimic regular correspondence. Do not use odd sizes.
  15. Never use “window” envelopes. They look cheap and like junk mail.
  16. “Executive” or “monarch” size letterhead is a waste of money.
  17. If mailing from Europe, use the Euro-standard size stationery, not 8 1/2 by 11.
  18. Don’t bother with folded/unfolded, oversized or manila envelopes, and other weird ideas. The whole idea of a letter is to duplicate regular executive correspondence–a laser-printed, hand-signed personal letter, sent in a #10 envelope with attractive commemorative stamp does that.

List Creation

  1. Use The Recruiting & Search Report (www.RSRonline.com) for the best headhunter data.
  2. Use the Dun & Bradstreet Zapdata service (www.zapdata.com) for the best CEO/company list.
  3. Use  Dow Jones’ Galante’s Directory (www.privateequity.dowjones.com) for the best private equity data.
  4. Useful SICs of firms related to private equity, but not listed in Galante’s: 67199901 (Investment holding companies); 67269905 (Management investment funds). Get current counts of these from Zapdata (or me).
  5. Use RSR’s (www.RSRonline.com) Executive Search Research Directory for the search researcher data.
  6. Do not use “Personal & Confidential”–That was a favorite practice of the anthrax mailer(s).
  7. Inserts in the package–business cards with notes, diagrams/charts, short clippings, etc. will dramatically improve your results.

Gaming the Mail System

  1. Mail local letters on Monday, out-of-town letters on Sunday, to cause best chance of Tuesday delivery, the lightest mail day of the week = less competition.
  2. Pick up letter trays in advance at the PO to line up your letters and for ease of handling.
  3. Take your project to the major PO loading dock (ring the bell) for best handling. Do not stuff a PO box.
  4. Go to www.USPS.com for best selection of commemorative stamps; do not depend on the local PO.


  1. Select a large enough group of headhunters (1500 or more recommended) to overcome the small chance you might hit the headhunter on the day he/she has an assignment for you.
  2. Select headhunters based on areas where your expertise overlaps with theirs–industry concentration, functional expertise, organizational level, and geographic location/focus.
  3. Do not skip or ignore contingent headhunters, even if you are a CEO. Contingent headhunters have filled positions up to CEO of Fortune 500s. Many major corporations and private equity firms will not pay retainers to search firms, but they will pay contingent fees.

Search Researchers–Include freelance executive search research assistants in your headhunter mailing

  1. Much candidate locating/screening is being outsourced to freelancers. They control many interesting senior executive positions. Because they are not well-known, they receive much less mail.
  2. Search researchers support many solo headhunters who are alumni of major firms, who have kept many of their major corporate clients.
  3. There are too few (300 or so) to skip any; mail to them all. We publish the definitive directory.


  1. Forget the old and worn-out shibboleth of “get two referrals on every call” method–After only a few calls, you are overwhelmed with useless/time and mental energy-consuming contacts.
  2. Use the military “reverse planning sequence”–Instead of planning the way to your goal, start at the goal and plan backwards to where you are now.
  3. The “secret weapon” for getting people to help you–“I’ve made some great contacts and learned a lot about the networking process in this job hunt. Is there someone close to you in a job hunt I can help?” Other executives will be quicker to help you if they know you will help someone close to them. Certain as gravity.
  4. Having your resume passed along by a networking contact is a low-percentage strategy. Instead, ask for a three-way meeting, lunch, drink after work, or breakfast on the way in. If that’s impossible, a three-way call is better than a floating resume, which will usually go exactly nowhere.
  5. Don’t let networking “drain the tank” by spending too much time going to groups filled with hopeless cases (this is like the “lifeboat dilemma”–save all you can up to the lifeboat’s capacity–but if you’re not careful, trying to save too many sinks the boat and kills everyone).
  6. Minimize your time hanging around other job hunters, especially those who have been looking unsuccessfully. Instead, make contact with recent “alumni” of your networking groups and find out what worked for them and what unused opportunities they learned about.

Job Boards & the Internet

  1. There are far too many to chase them all (the job board expert Pete Weddle says there are over 50,000 job boards now).
  2. All senior executives should subscribe to Exec-U-Net (www.execunet.com) and NETSHARE (www.netshare.com), the best subscription websites.
  3. Other useful sites: smuz, jobster, simplyhired, indeed, ,juju, oodle (tracks newspaper employment advertising), careerjet, directemployers.com  (please don’t get carried away with this–Restrict your time on the Internet to a couple of hours/week. The I-net will consume you, if you are not careful).
  4. Interesting site: www.jobserf.com (outsource some of the job hunting legwork to India).


  1. Recognize the three cash flows of job hunting–personal burn rate, out-of-pocket costs, and opportunity costs and that opportunity costs dwarf them all.
  2. Recognize that the advice all around you comes in multiple flavors–good, bad, excellent, stinky, harmless, etc. Good tests of the quality of the advice is the relationship of the source with sources of the cash flows and the depth of the advisor’s experience.
  3. Quality and quantity are key elements of any senior executive’s job finding strategy–“Breakthrough” letters sent to at least 1500 headhunters/2500 CEOs.
  4. Exploit your age, don’t fight it. Trying to camouflage your age inevitably leads to disappointment. If 50+, portray yourself as a senior leader, developer of promising managers and executives, and mentor.
  5. Remember the “Lazarus Strategy.” (Google: Lazarus. There is a very important lesson to learn here, if you don’t know who he was). Every month or so, revisit every executive who expressed any interest in you, even if it’s “dead’–everyone who asked you for a resume, every place you interviewed (even if someone else captured the job you wanted). Bring it back from the dead.
  6. HR people make lousy coaches. If you ask one for advice, do the opposite of what they tell you to do.

Compensation Analysis

  1. You need to know how much the person hiring you is earning–likely source is the SEC 14A report–the proxy statement. Next source: Hire a freelance researcher (listed in the ESRD/Executive Search Research Directory– www.RSRonline.com) to perform some quick compensation analysis for you. A search researcher can quickly determine what your potential boss is earning (!!) and what the former person in the job earned.
  2. You need to determine the going rate for executives in your job or the job being offered to you. Useful  compensation analysis websites– www.payscale.com , www.salaryexpert.com, www.salary.com. Much useful content is free, but you might want to spend a hundred bucks or so here for detailed analysis.
  3. The more complicated the company’s compensation plan, the more it favors the company.


  1. Do not use a cell phone for important interviews. Use a hard-wired phone, preferably not a cordless.
  2. If using a cordless, have a buddy give you a reading on your transmission quality (compare the cordless and the wired phone on the same call). If the dropoff in quality is severe, try a new battery in the cordless ($10 or so), before replacing it. A new battery tuneup is much less expensive than a new phone.
  3. Wired headsets are important productivity enhancers (use at your next job). Get a call center model ($100, plus or minus) at www.plantronics.com or www.headsets.com. Well worth the expense.
  4. Never answer your phone when it rings, unless from a known caller. You need a few minutes for due diligence on the company calling you from your mailer.
  5. Always have a script of your most important interview question answers close at hand. If you have practiced/rehearsed sufficiently, notecards should be fine.
  6. Interviewing on your feet is energizing and improves performance (but know the length of your cord or use a wireless headset).


  1. Make a list of the “Top 10” tough questions you’ll be asked in interviews.
  2. Script your answers to the tough questions.
  3. Find a buddy and help each other by rehearsing answers to the tough questions.
  4. Have a follow-up answer to every tough question for “Tell me more about that.”
  5. Punctuate the end of every answer so the interviewer will know when you finish.
  6. Understand the adversarial nature of interviewing. Never lie, but understand that you are allowed to tell that part of the truth that advances your candidacy.

Stealthy Job Campaigns. Don’t blow your cover if you are currently employed

  1. Use a pseudonym to protect your identity.
  2. Do not name your previous companies and be judicious about using your product/functional expertise.
  3. Get a private mailbox (lets you list a street address with suite number) at a UPS Store, FEDEX Office, Postnet, etc. in a neighboring town to protect giving away your identity by location.
  4. Get a cheap cell phone deal or VOIP phone for the voicemail feature to protect your identity by giving away your regular home or cell phone number..
  5. Get a buddy to record your voicemail message so your voice will not be recognized..
  6. Never answer the phone until you are certain who you are calling back.
  7. Never answer the phone to allow some time to do some due diligence on the prospect.
  8. Check out www.vumber.com, www.grandcentral.com, and www.quiethire.com for more ideas.

Research/Interview Preparation

  1. Step 1. Locate the company’s website, study it, and determine what is important to them. Be prepared to discuss this information on the first telephone call.
  2. Step 2. Survey public company information at www.SEC.gov (10K, 10Q, 14A reports). If the company is closely held, get a D&B report at www.DNB.com or www.RSRonline.com.
  3. Step 3. Survey Google for industry analysis, competitive info, press releases, media reports, etc.
  4. Step 4. If time permits and if appropriate, conduct a quick trade/industry survey on the company.
  5. Consider hiring a search researcher for a couple of hours to prepare a report on the company and its executives.

Follow-up Notes

  1. Everyone gets a follow-up note, but follow the “sandwich” model.
  2. Sandwich–Bread, meat, bread. Keep the note short and uncomplicated.

Employment Agreements–You Probably Deserve One

  1. Remember Biff in Back To The Future? Biff’s secret of success was a sports almanac that listed the results of important sporting events for the next 20 years. See www.onecle.com for your almanac.
  2. Ask for two years’ severance for: Termination Not-For-Cause, Change of Ownership/Control, Diminution of Duties. Fall-back is 18 months. A year is the floor.
  3. No agreements allowed? A properly-constructed offer letter may be all you need for the same benefits. See Jack Tarrant’s classic book Perks and Parachutes for advice on how to get/do this. Pick up a used copy at www.Amazon.com for a couple of bucks. Timeless/worth its weight in plutonium/unobtanium.

Military/Flying Lessons

  1. Have a wingman. Benefits–Two heads are always better than one (even your magnificent head). Rehearse each other. Cover each other’s “six.” Encourage each other when needed.
  2. Don’t waste your ammunition when you don’t have a target. “Ready, fire, aim” sucks. Aim carefully first.
  3. Before swinging your bayonet, throw a handful of dirt in the enemy’s face. (Thank you for wisdom of the ages, Drill Sergeant Harrigan–Ft. Polk, 1967).
  4. When the “20 Minute Fuel” light comes on, land. Quick. The engine is about to quit.
  5. Untie the rotor before starting the helicopter.
  6. Close counts with hand grenades and nuclear weapons, but not for job campaigning.
  7. Simple is better than complicated.
  8. No tactical plan survives first contact with the enemy.
  9. Everything takes longer than you thought it would take.
  10. The enemy is as smart as you are and doesn’t want to lose.
  11. The enemy does not stand still–Hitting a moving target is tougher than hitting a stationary target.

Golf Lessons

  1. Get a few lessons from a teaching pro. Important parts of your game will get better quickly. If you’re entering the tournament of your life, some serious instruction is in order. It’s not cheap, is it?
  2. Use all the clubs and use the right club for the shot; you are allowed fourteen clubs in your bag. Would you use a sand wedge off a par 5 tee? Would you putt with your driver? Skipping an important audience by not mailing to them is leaving clubs in your bag or using the wrong club. (Important note: There’s a 14 club limit, but you can have as many balls in your bag as you would like–Mail more letters, maybe?).
  3. Spend some time on the driving range/putting green before the tournament. Rehearse.
  4. Solidly meeting the ball works better than trying to crush it.

Football Lessons

  1. The “Two Minute Drill” lasts for your entire job campaign. And, there are no time-outs. “Three yards and a cloud of dust” is more effective than a “Hail Mary” pass.
  2. A defensive end cannot cover a wide receiver, but he can take him out of the play.

Basketball Lessons

  1. You’ll score more points with layups and freethrows than “NBA 3s.”
  2. “Freezing the ball” strategies will cost you–big time.

Ready for a conversation? Please call me when ready.


Kenneth J. Cole

Executive Search Consultant
P.O. Box 9433
Panama City Beach, FL 32417