Category Archives: General

VCs/PEs & Your Job Hunt

It keeps coming up–Should I include venture capital firms (VCs) in my job campaign? What about private equity firms (PEs)? Why (or why not)? Who/where are they? What is the best way (data source) to locate them? After I’ve found them, what do I do or send?

I’ve been working on this for several years and have developed a VC/PE-facing strategy you might find useful for your job hunt. This article is combines lessons learned from many successful senior executive job campaigns.

Let’s pin down who and what they are first.

VCs and PEs have money to invest. Some of the money belongs to them (the principals and other owners of the firm); other money resides in investment vehicles (funds) they have raised from outside investors and reinvest. Their investment deals–the funds they invest in enterprises interesting to them–can be extremely complicated and creative, or they can be a very simple/straightforward exchange of equity for the investment. The VC/PE might take ownership control but not management control. Or, it might make a minority investment and provide management assistance. Etc. The ultimate goal is to divest/exit down the road and achieve an attractive gain. Of greatest interest to the senior executive job hunter: Because both have portfolios of companies, contacting them is both an interesting leverage point in a job hunt (one contact = being exposed to more companies than contacting one company) and (because executives associated with portfolio companies have a higher failure rate than executives generally), the demand for executives from the outside is high.

VCs typically invest in early-stage companies, especially high-technology ventures, augmenting the investment capital of the founders, and providing funds for growth/development of the enterprise that a bank would consider too risky. While this is an extremely high-risk investment avenue, the possible rate of return (think: next Google) is correspondingly high.

PEs typically invest in going concerns, especially companies they consider to be under-valued. With a significant capital infusion in exchange for an ownership position (and frequently, operations/financial expertise provided by the PE firm), the money-losing portfolio company can become profitable, the profitable company can be enhanced, major expansions are undertaken (including industry “roll-ups”), costs can be reduced, and so forth. With typical time horizons of three-seven years (variable) after investing in the firm, the PE firm hopes to “exit” the investment at a higher price than they paid. Much higher, ideally. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, the PE firm loses its shirt, sometimes they have a very nice payday.

Sorry for the simplistic explanations. Books have been written on both. No need to attempt that here.

Why/why not contact them? Several reasons jump out; you might not have thought of all of them.

Demand for executives generally. More than meets the eye here. I already mentioned that there is a relatively higher rate of executive turnover among executives working for VCs/PEs. That fact alone makes them a higher-percentage target than free-standing (unrelated to VC/PE) companies.

Leverage point in your campaign. Several layers to this, too. We know that contacting the VC/PE is a leverage point because of multiple companies in the portfolio, but there’s more. For some executives, a position at the headquarters of the firm (not just a portfolio company) might also be a possibility. This strategy would appropriate for executives with extensive operations, consulting, financial, and previous experience in the space. Finally–if you have some risk capital (“skin” you would put “in the game”) and have your eye on an interesting prospect–suggesting to the PE firm that you have an interesting prospect you would like to acquire with their help–might be interesting to the firm. (Sidebar. Every one of my PE clients has told me their greatest challenge today is to locate useful prospects. If you have one of those, some risk capital, and you are qualified to run the firm, or fly the financial wing of a CEO who could run it, I suspect you will find a number of PEs who will listen to your story seriously).

Contacts will resonate better with VCs/PEs than most other approaches you can make. Again, there are several reasons why this is so. First, finding the firms is tough enough that most of your numerous senior executive competitors won’t bother to try. Free/cheap/pass-along lists will keep many VCs/PEs and their near-relatives hidden from casual tire-kickers (more on this below). Others have no interest in the risk or have no appreciation of the opportunity …and won’t bother to try. These are great examples of how “self selection,” hubris, and ignorance work to the advantage of those executives who take this channel (a variation on Channel 2–Third Parties) seriously.

VCs/PEs don’t like to engage retainer search firms. VCs/PEs like to spend “OPM,” not theirs. (This might not be a good strategy for you if “OPM” isn’t in your vocabulary). As such, retainers to search firms look like kryptonite to Superman or a crucifix to Dracula. This doesn’t mean they never pay retainers or that they don’t use search firms, just that the major firms (you know the names) don’t generally get the bulk of the searches awarded. When they go to a search firm, the assignments generally go to independent alumni of major firms (the sort of “stealthy” headhunters–plenty of them, especially today–we list in our database. Call me for advice on this or go to if interested) who are more flexible on how they bill their clients. In any event, the VC/PE would prefer to pay $0 in search fees if possible, making them more receptive than other firms to unsolicited contacts–good for you.

Significant wealth-building opportunity. I make certain to point this out to the executives I identify as candidates for my PE-related searches. PE firms tend to compensate their portfolio companies relatively well. I say relatively well because they tend to be a bit light on base compensation, but higher than average on the incentive component. The upshot: Executives who cause significant growth/profit improvement are generally paid well for the accomplishment. That’s a sideshow, however. The real money–the wealth-building opportunity–is made when (if) the PE firm exits the investment at a substantial gain. Key executives (usually the CEO and CFO, but sometimes others, too) share in the gain. This share can be significant and much higher than the executive would receive for similar performance at a non-PE portfolio company. Keep in mind that there are probably as many failures as there are successes, though. A share of nothing is nothing.

Who/where are they? How do I locate them?

You’re going to need a good source of data. If you’re interested in comprehensive data (the best available), spend the money to get the data with the best chance of delivering the results you want. Here are the sources I recommend–

Pratt’s Guide ( $995 for online access.

Galante’s Directory ( $995 for online access.

Amazing how they (ThomsonReuters and Dow Jones) arrived at the same price. We have subscribed to Galante’s for many years. Both are excellent products. Check out their online info. I am aware that a number of business school libraries subscribe to one or the other or both, so check out your school, if you have that connection. If you are a member of a senior executive networking group, a subscription to either service might be in order as a shared and very useful resource for you and your fellow members. The other paid sources I have seen are cheapo imitations and I do not recommend them. I’ll keep an open mind on this and if you find any other comprehensive sources, please give me a heads-up and I will investigate them.

Dun & Bradstreet’s Zapdata service. Worth a look, once you have cracked the SIC codes. Here is what we have been able to determine–

VCs/PEs are listed as SIC 67999904. Current count is 1798.

Investment holding companies are listed as SIC 67269901. Current count is 5476.

Management investment funds (closed end) are listed as SIC 67269905. Current count is 612.

You can order these (some/all) through or get them from me as part of my basic consulting session. Ask me about this if interested.

How do you contact them? What do you say?

My letter-writing recommendation also stands here–Snail mail inquiry (1st Class personal letter) without resume on the first contact. One page or less. Keep the inquiry interesting (conversational, entertaining, topical) and low-cognitive. The reader will spend much less cognitive ability reading the letter than you spent writing it. Be sure to ask for a call, in order for the reader to find out more about you. Remember the critical sequence of events–letters lead to telephone calls, which lead to face-to-face interviews, which lead to offers. If you send a resume, nothing is likely to happen–VCs/PEs get plenty of resumes that are quickly disposed of by admin assistants.

Best regards. Call me anytime to discuss this or any aspect of your job campaign.


Stealthy Job Hunting

Many of my senior executive readers are safely and securely employed and have been reading my job hunting columns for years, in preparation for another job hunt (a much better effort that yields choices between several great, competing positions next time, we hope) some day. Others are silently marshalling their forces and courage to “go to market” soon to seek more responsibility, because bad things are happening at the company, or for one of 1,001 other reasons as simple as a better location, you can’t stand your boss, to make an industry change, whatever. Others would like to look outside to find out what they might be worth to someone else (more money is always nice).

What’s holding you back? In many cases, it’s the fear of getting caught at it by your boss or your company
(= summary execution for traitorous behavior). Even if you carefully “scrub” your mailing list to eliminate anyone who obviously might blow the whistle to your boss, what if you mail to a headhunter s/he knows or to your boss’s next door neighbor? It makes no difference that it’s OK for the company to plan to eliminate you/your position. Our fathers might have worked for the same company for 30-40 years, but the social contract that enabled that lifetime relationship is gone and will never come back. Corporations large and small will not hesitate to eliminate executives from the bottom up (the rats cut the mice first), regardless of age, tenure, past contributions to the company, and potential, if the company decides to do it. NFL coaches have an expression for this –– “There are two kinds of coaches –– Those who have been fired and those who will be.” Maybe it’s time to do a little looking as an insurance policy.

What if you could look outside without blowing your cover? This is not as tough as you might think, thanks to a couple of clever new inventions, intelligently covering your tracks, and a little bit of planning. This is so stealthy, your spouse doesn’t even need to know (just saying, not recommending) ––

  1. Get yourself a mailing address at one of the “private mailbox” companies –– UPS Store, FEDX Office, PostNet, etc. (there are plenty of choices). This is better than using the post office, because you can use a street address with suite number, instead of a p.o. box, which might look suspicious. Do it in a nearby town other than yours, but you can just as easily do it across the country if you want. Rent the box in your name, but use a pseudonym for your letterhead. You can pick up the mail or they will forward it to you (nominal charge), if you want. Cost: about $100/year.
  2. Likewise, get yourself an unrevealing email address on any of the big ISPs –– Yahoo, HotMail, Gmail, etc. Again, plenty of choices. Cost: $0
  3. I formerly recommended getting another number from the phone company or a cheapo cell number (minimum use. Your use will be “0” minutes, because you are using the vm feature only, no calls) to use as secure voicemail, but (thanks to the Internet and 21st Century telecommunications) there are a couple of great new inexpensive services that are both better and less expensive. Check out (currently $4.99/mo.) and (n/c –– try to figure out that business model). Be sure to get a buddy to record your voicemail message, so no one will recognize your voice. Both of those services have other great features, too. (Want a virtual NYC phone #?).
  4. Select your CEO, private equity firm, and headhunter data (I’ll help you with this in an hour of individual consulting) and send them an interesting and clever introductory letter. (No resume, for all the reasons I’ve written about before, but also because you don’t need to produce a duplicitous document that is both illegal and would help blow your cover). Cost: To follow my recommended “recipe” of about 2500 CEOs and 1500 headhunters will cost about $1000 in quality data. Cost of private equity data is variable. (My hour of consulting at $1000 includes the headhunter and CEO data which would cost you more than that, if you purchased it on your own).
  5. Plan on a positive response rate (telephone calls from interested CEOs and headhunters to your new, secure voicemail number) of 1-2%. Important note (maybe the most important point of this column): This automatically plugs 98% of all possible confidentiality leaks –– 98% of everyone who got your letter will not know that it came from you. Even better yet: Since your responses come in as voicemail messages (or email messages to your new, untraceable address), you decide which companies/headhunters you are interested in, not the other way around, plugging even more of the leaks.

Only when you decide to return a call will your cover be lifted. (Never return calls from your office telephone or reply to emails from the office computer. The corporate KGB never sleeps). When you return the call (out of the office from your personal –– not company –– cell phone, or better, from your home phone using a prepaid phone card you bought at one of the warehouse clubs just for this purpose –– these show up as Dallas, Atlanta, Denver or St. Louis –– someplace where you are not –– on the caller ID), you must tell the CEO or headhunter that you used a pseudonym for confidentiality and to protect your company from the possible embarrassment of a key executive putting out feelers.

Every time you poke your head up outside your company, you will incur some risk, but this is the method that will minimize it.


Mistakes Jobhunters Make

Or, how to run a job campaign that takes too long, costs too much money, and doesn’t deliver the position you want and deserve — a failing effort, in other words. I have been coaching (and watching) job hunting senior executives–in one form or another, several hundred thousand of them–since 1984, when I wrote my first book about executive-level job hunting. I consider senior executive job hunting to be my marketing challenge/laboratory and have devoted much of my professional life to it. Would you be interested in some of what I have learned about what works and what doesn’t?

For this column, I have been compiling a list of the mistakes I see frequently (no particular order). If you have been reading my columns for a while, much of this will be familiar–

  • Running your campaign any way besides the way a CMO would run it. You are the CMO
  • Acting like a passive victim rather than a senior executive
  • Listening to/taking advice from the wrong people/sources and following it; accepting HR/outplacement strategies
  • Believing there is really nothing important to know, or that if there is anything important, you already know it
  • Embellishing your resume and overstating your compensation
  • Underestimating the competition/overestimating your status
  • Misunderstanding/underestimating the pyramidal nature of the economy and the senior executive job market
  • Believing that your resume will get you hired and/or that the most qualififed executive “wins”
  • Wasting your finite resources–time, money, and mental energy
  • Ignoring your physical condition
  • Believing that your cover letter/resume/response to postings will be treated more favorably than you’ve treated those you have received from other executives
  • Writing tired, boring, complicated letters about yourself to headhunters and CEOs; overintellectualizing your materials
  • Confusing duties with results
  • Misunderstanding the motives, hiring strategies, and consuming behavior of search consultants, CEOs, and gatekeepers
  • Awarding power and loyalty to search consultants they do not have or deserve
  • Playing too hard to get; treating search consultants in a condescending manner
  • Agreeing to foolish requirements to demonstrate your expertise; providing free consulting to companies
  • Overworking follow-up strategies and unintentionally damaging your status with search consultants and CEOs
  • Focusing on the wrong companies and search consultants
  • Settling for an “average” or “standard” effort
  • Choosing reactive strategies over proactive strategies
  • Concentrating on strategies that do not pay, or that have tiny payoffs — “milking mice”
  • Ignoring potentially productive strategies/channels and prospects; running an “undiversified” campaign
  • Fixating on the latest tech gadget or technique (“Technolust”)
  • No interview practice/rehearsal and spontaneously answering questions/falling into traps
  • Allowing interviews to become interrogations
  • Unwarranted loyalty to previous employers
  • Insufficient due diligence on your solid interviewing prospects
  • Working harder, instead of smarter…and, its inverse cousin, loafing
  • Hope trumping useful, thorough planning and execution; the “plan” is vague, unfocused, or absent altogether
  • Confusing “runner up” status with “first loser” status; accepting losing results
  • Not making enough contacts; reliance on too few prospects
  • Confusing between being able to do a job and meeting/exceeding search specifications
  • Attempting to run your campaign on lunch money or (even worse) for free
  • Failing to properly value opportunity costs as higher than out-of-pocket costs
  • Attempting to camouflage anything, but especially your age and employment breaks
  • Chasing “rainbows”–the position that doesn’t exist, and its close cousin, the position way over your head
  • Capitulating in negotiations

If it’s not yet clear there’s a lot to know about senior executive job hunting, I haven’t done my job. Any coach you select to assist you in your job campaign should be able to address most of these issues. If they cannot, you should look for a better one who can. If you do not yet have a coach, maybe you should think about finding one.

I hope this is useful to you. Please call me anytime to discuss your job campaign.


How the Evangelist Feels

How the Evangelist Feels

Is anybody listening? The evangelist looks out at the congregation. What does he see? Daydreaming people, sleeping people, some guys are watching the ladies in the choir, …and a few people are nodding in agreement with his sermon. Too few.

I feel like that sometimes. I’m not in the business of saving souls, but my business is pretty important–saving you money and maybe even saving your career. Please pay attention. Close attention. I will make this well worth your time investment. Take a quick look at the logo of our site–There are four puzzle pieces.

Here’s the essence of what I teach–

There are four marketing channels available to you in your job campaign. If you listen to the polluted advice all around you, you’ll use only two of the four channels:

1. Networking
2. Third-parties (search consultants, private equity firms, search researchers)
3. Company direct (no networking contact, no known search, no posted position, direct to the CEO)
4. Visible markets (things you can see–the Internet, employment advertising, etc.)

Network, network, network, then reply to postings on the Internet. Sound familiar? Eventually, you’ll find a new position. If it takes longer than you wanted (or maybe the strategy isn’t working at all), the reasons are clear–You didn’t network hard enough or effectively, there was something wrong with your resume, or you didn’t answer enough Internet postings.

Sorry–Wrong church, wrong pew. Wrong planet, maybe. There’s a better way. A much better way.

I can’t help you get to heaven, but I can help you find a new position a lot faster than networking and answering postings. Thousands of executives have listened to me and I have individually coached several hundred find their new positions–by using all four channels, instead of two. How did they do? 73% of my senior executive clients found their positions through Channels 2&3. That leaves 27% of the new jobs coming from networking and postings. Gretzky said “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” By skipping mailings to headhunters and CEOs, you are ignoring almost three quarters of the market.

This website is about using Channels 2 and 3, along with Channels 1 and 4. How to do it. Why to do it. Mistakes other people make and how to avoid them. All the resources you need to create a World-Class senior executive job campaign. And, how to capture that job you want and deserve in less time than listening to the feeble and ineffective network-until-you drop/answer more postings advice all around you.

Please listen to my free audio seminar, take plenty of notes, save your questions, and call me.

Don’t listen to the nay-sayers and get busy.


Freelance Executive Search Research Assistants

Outsourcing is an amazing development. I’m not talking about offshore sourcing or sub-contracting manufacturing; that’s a different issue that’s really outside my lane. The sort of outsourcing I’m most familiar with is using outside sources to provide an administrative service previously done in-house, generally more effectively and at some cost advantage, often a significant cost advantage.

You can probably think of many examples of how outsourcing has benefited your company. IT. Human Resources (my search partner and I once did several retainer searches for one of the major temporary services which had the HR services contract for UPS. When an employee called the HR department to change a W4 or to check on an insurance claim, the call was answered by the employee in the call center of the temporary services company). Purchasing. Testing. R&D. And, so forth. An effective outsourcing strategy allows the company to reduce (or at least control) SG&A, while concentrating on core operations.

Executive search has “discovered” outsourcing, too. There is a thriving group of freelancers supporting retainer search firms of all sizes. These freelance “research assistants” work on a project/hourly basis locating and screening candidates for their assignments. She (about 95% of them are female. The few males in this business are generally the most technically-oriented and work on assignments with the highest technical and scientific content, often for senior individual contributors) is probably the first person you will speak with when a retainer firm is interested in you. This will be transparent to you; she will identify herself as a member of the firm or as “assisting the partner,” or similar.

Interesting development: Many (maybe even most) of the best researchers have migrated to freelance work, because they have discovered they can make a lot more money independently, rather than as an employee of the retainer firm. Most of the “majors” (the biggies of the search biz), don’t pay their researchers as well as the researchers can do on their own, so they (the biggies) are perpetually losing their best researchers to freelance. (Don’t expect many of them to admit this, BTW. Typically, they are not proud of it and don’t even want you to know about it).

We are the national authority on freelance search research and have been publishing The Executive Search Research Directory classifying them since 1985. We sell the book to search firms primarily, but there are several important uses of the book for job hunting senior executives as well–
–The freelancer (much less well-known than the famous search firm) gets much less mail (like a handful of letters instead of a bag) every day, so your contact has more impact (less competition),
–Many of the freelancers’ “customers” (the search firms paying her to locate/screen candidates), are smaller, stealthier operators, who do not show up on the lists of headhunters you have (or are published anywhere). How do I know that? They (the stealthy headhunters–many of whom also spun off from one of the “biggies”) come to me for the directory, so they can find the best researchers to assist them. These “stealthy” headhunters get plenty of great assignments (use me as an example, if you want. I have three private equity clients with about 100 portfolio companies between them. I have several favorite freelance researchers I use on every assignment), many from clients they developed while working at the major firm. Remember, executive search is a relationship business.
–Because the freelancer turns qualified, interested candidates over to the search consultant for detailed consideration, she might very well be a better contact than the search consultant handling the assignment. (The search consultant wants prospects, not suspects).
–Many of the freelancers have multiple, unrelated search clients, so contacting them is a useful leverage point in your job hunt, as well.
–Many major corporations (who have executive recruiters on staff) have discovered freelance search researchers as well, so contacting the freelancers can be yet another alternate entry point to corporations, as well as exposing you to in-house searches not being conducted by search firms.

There are a several other interesting services the freelancers can provide you, as well–
–Want to know what your references are saying about you? (not what they are telling you, mind you. What about what they will say to a search consultant who really knows how to bore in?). Many researchers will check references for you, present herself as a search consultant considering you for a CEO position (or any position of your choice, for that matter), find out what the reference is really saying about you, and provide you with a written report. This technique has saved the bacon of many executives. You figure it out.
–Here’s one of the most interesting applications (remember where you heard this–It definitely didn’t come from any outplacement firm, for those skeptics/non-believers who see no difference between a marketing-driven strategy and an HR-driven strategy). Knowledge is power. Burn that in. When negotiating, would knowing what your contemporaries (other executives on the same line of the org chart) are earning (or even your boss is earning) be useful information? The researcher will find out this information and report it to you. Let me say this again for emphasis: The researcher can determine what your boss is earning, what the last person in the job earned, and what other executives at the same level in the company are earning.
–How about a briefing sheet on the company and its executives in preparation for your toughest interview?

Each of those research “products” should cost you not more than a few hundred dollars, but could easily be worth $thousands, maybe many $thousands. Interested in freelancers yet?

The Executive Search Research Directory (book and excel file ready for the mail/merge) is $100 (or is included with my aggressive one-hour individual consulting package, along with the corporate and headhunter data to follow my “recipe”).

Email Friend or Foe – Chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

OK, buckle up for this one – certain to generate even more controversy than usual.

I’ll give you the bottom line first. This will either irritate the daylights out of you or it will keep you from wasting your time, money (especially the opportunity cost of stretching out your job hunt with useless or even harmful strategies) and your mental energy.

Emailing headhunters and CEOs on the first contact is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Use a printed letter with a First-Class stamp instead

Or, if you’ve decided to try an email strategy, make it a supplement to, not a replacement for your regular mailing strategy. Here’s the analysis. Marketing and sales executives will quickly relate to this; everyone else may need some time (and reassurance) to think about and process the strategy. Yes, we see/hear many search consultants express their preference for email on the first contact, but so what? The leap from their stated preference to deciding this is your best decision (what gets you considered most favorably, in other words) is emphatically not proved by results. In fact, my experience and sense of this is that exactly the opposite is true – email on the first contact makes it much easier for the headhunter to blow off the contact. and (the corollary), you are much more likely to get a telephone call if you send an attractive laser-printed letter through the U.S. mail than if you start with an email.

Wouldn’t it be great if the email strategy worked? We could avoid $thousands in mailing costs, time spent signing/folding/stuffing, favorable response would be instantaneous, you could be interviewing next week, etc.

Here’s what actually happens: Most don’t get read at all (What do you call unsolicited email? Answer: spam. What does a headhunter call spam? Answer: spam). If your letter gets read, your resume (a download attached file on most systems) probably doesn’t. If you’ve filled out a form, you may wind up in a database (better for your next campaign than this one. I’ll write about that in another column sometime). You may get some auto (unattended) replies (not very useful). Probably worst of all — if the firm is a major one, there’s a designated (low-ranking) person assigned to read this stuff; there’s too much volume to do anything else.

Now the “whys.” Put your marketing manager hat on. Since when did we make promotional decisions on what consumers say they want? (The focus group method of deciding consumer preferences has been pretty well debunked). Instead, the more revealing strategy of what consumers want is what they actually do. This is why test markets, laboratory stores, mall intercepts, coupon drops, and similar strategies (all action, not talk-based) have pretty well replaced focus groups as a means of testing/confirming consumer preferences. (Remember: Search consultant screening behavior is an analogue to consumer buying behavior).

Here’s a famous example. In the 1980s, several major supermarket chains (I believe A&P was the largest) clearly heard the stated consumer preference for level pricing (lower) all the time instead of traditional Wednesday in-store promotions. (The stated preferences came from extensive focus group interviewing). And, guess what happened? Consumers forgot about those stated preferences when aggressive promotions met level pricing. The level pricers lost a bundle in sales and marketshare to the promoters and level pricing was abandoned forever after those who tried it were taught the lesson.

I believe headhunter behavior clearly resembles consumer behavior here – what they say and what they do are frequently at odds. After (successfully) running several hundred senior executive campaigns over the past 25+ years, I have proven to my satisfaction that well-crafted (snail) mailings (aggressive promotions, in other words) clearly out-perform email strategies (level pricing).

If you’re planning one of those mass email campaigns, send me the $hundred instead. I’ll get you 50 Florida lottery tickets; we’ll both be better off.

First class mail beats email.

Chapter 2

Interesting feedback from the previous message — caused me to think more about several issues. This is important (your job campaign may be riding on it), so here’s Chapter 2 on the subject.

A dozen or so of my readers replied. About half of those were questions about how to reply to headhunter questions via email. This is an easy one – once you have a dialogue going with someone, you are no longer concerned about breaking through, which was the point of Chapter 1. Answer their questions and ask yours.

Here’s the interesting part. I got a long, whiney message (two full cycles on my voicemail) from an individual who identified himself as a “Chicago recruiter” who received a forwarded copy of the column. I won’t bore you with the details of the anonymous diatribe but he is representative of the toxic, damaging advice so prevalent among networking groups and outplacement firms. So, I’ll address his major points here:

Whiney Headhunter’s Point #1: Email is twice as effective as “snail” mail. He mentioned a “year-and-a-half” study of “hundreds of campaigns.”

WH’s Point #2: I should be more careful about dispensing harmful advice. Job hunters should follow the search firm’s advice.

Cole’s Response: What study? What did the executives send? How many headhunters did they contact? Which headhunters did they contact? Who were the executives?

WH’s lecture is bogus, defective, and harmful. I have some real (not imaginary, not passed along, not bogus, not wishful) personal statistics: Since January 1994 (when I started counting), I have conducted/assisted with 136 senior executive job campaigns as of June, 2010. Average compensation of this group (conservative value of new position obtained) = $323,760. Current marketshare statistics of how positions were obtained:

Networking – 37 jobs/27%
Third Parties – 53 jobs/40%
Direct Approaches to Appropriate Companies – 45 jobs/33%
Visible Posted Jobs (ads, Internet, etc.) – 1 job/<1%

(You don’t have to take my word for this; substantial reference list available on request. I stand behind my numbers.)

Since 1991, Irv Pfeiffer and I have taught several hundred (sorry, the actual number is lost) seminars to thousands of executives — in person, via telephone conference calls, and tapes. Mass emailing has been available for at least ten years. From our audience, number of senior executive positions reportedly obtained from mass email strategies – 0. (If you found a job this way or know someone who has, please illuminate me).

Now. Put your marketing manager hat back on (we did that yesterday). It makes no difference what this consumer (headhunter) says; what is important is what similar consumers (headhunters) do. Action trumps opinion. (Please review Chapter 1.)

Sorry to have to say this: Search consultant opinions are not very useful or helpful on the subject of senior executive job hunting, because they have difficulty separating their consuming persona from their advice-giving persona, just as all consumers do. Listen to what they say, but make your promotional decisions on what they do. Clear?

Sorry if this contradicts much of the advice you’ve been getting, so I’ll tone it down a bit to something everyone can live with: Go ahead with your emailing, but do it as a supplement to regular mail, not as a replacement.

Chapter 3

I’ve written a lot about senior executive job hunting but nothing I have ever written has created as much interest (and heated discussion) as my two previous chapters on email.

Reader reaction varies to my negative conclusions about email – everything across the scale from enthusiastic agreement to rejection approaching that of a vampire eyeballing a cross made out of garlic. Which are you? Here’s an independent, real time observation you might want to consider, regardless of which camp (email yes or no) you fall into —

I was speaking with a friend (and former individual client) last week who had been EVP of BBDO in Germany. I helped him with his job campaign; he moved to Boston as president of another agency. He later merged it into another agency and became VP Marketing at Fidelity Investments (yes, that Fidelity).

Anyway, he embraced the direct marketing strategy and actually teaches it to the executive job hunting group at his church. He mentioned to me a major advantage of the “snail” mail (as opposed to email) strategy I hadn’t considered. As recently as a year (or so) ago, he was getting several hundred pieces of hard copy mail per day and twenty or so emails. Now, the ratio is reversed – a handful of mail and hundreds of emails.

This gives the hard copy letter great contrast and a major advantage over email. Instead of being tucked in among the insurance, viagra, and home equity loan messages, your high-emotional content, laser-printed, hand-signed, senior executive letter stands out like a shooting star.

Remember: Email (almost free) on the initial contact (CEO or headhunter) is worth slightly less than it costs (so, email is essentially worthless). First class mail letters might appear expensive, but they are incredibly cheap when compared to the real cost of unemployment – the $10, $20, $30 thousand opportunity cost per month (or more) of not having a job. I encounter many executives who unsuccessfully looked for a new position for 6 months, 8 months, a year (or more) to save a $few thousand in mailing expense. You?


Choices: ExecuNet & NETSHARE

Interesting subject to tackle. I was inspired to work on this “choice” dilemma twice in three days—On a Friday, one of my CFO readers asked me about the various senior executive subscription groups. On Sunday, we had a guest minister whose sermon was about choices. Interesting segue here–Since many executives seem to approach job hunting like the “brand equity” of their religious or denominational choice (“Please don’t talk to me about another way–I’m not going to listen. My way is the only true way”) this might be a bit like (attempting to) convince a Catholic to become a Methodist. Or Baptist to LDS. Or …enough of that.

My CFO reader (really smart guy–USMA grad and MBA/CPA) asked me about one of the online senior executive membership groups–a noisy latecomer to the scene (obnoxiously noisy and very late), that has been spending a lot of money on advertising and sales promotion (sounds good; sounds too-good-to-be-true good)–and the Linked-In discussion about them going on online. It seems Linked-In is overflowing with senior executive complaints about this site–They are getting pounded and accused of all sorts of nefarious activity–and an investigative reporter has determined a number of the posted positions are non-existent. Bogus. Made-up.

You probably have enough hints from this to figure out who this is, so I’m not going to climb into the sty to roll around with them. (As Sen. McCain famously quoted Sen. Dole–“Never get into a wrestling match with a pig. You’ll just get dirty and the pig likes it.” In 30+ years in the search, senior executive coaching, writing, and data publishing businesses, I’ve seen plenty of dirty little piggies come and go. One of my “favorites” was an outfit that called itself “Dunn’s National Directories”–note the double “N”– and was simultaneously ripping off D&B/Dun & Bradstreet by playing on their good name/reputation and me, as they regularly stole from our carefully-researched, constructed, and maintained headhunter database. Sure enough, complaints caught up with them and they thankfully eventually faded away–painfully, I hope).

Here’s what I told my CFO/CPA reader–Rather than pile on this outfit (they seem to be doing an adequate job of finishing themselves off without any help or encouragement from me), I would rather send you and your colleagues to the reputable, enduring senior executive membership (paid subscription) groups I know and recommend: ExecuNet and NETSHARE. (I have no financial interest in doing this and no connection with either group, other than considering them valued colleagues, and as a resource that will—at least potentially will–shorten your struggle).

You do not need to choose between them–Join both. (More on that in a minute).

My experience with both groups (ExecuNet of Norwalk, CT and NETSHARE of Novato, CA–See and goes back about twenty years, probably longer than that (actual date lost; sorry), when both groups started as “paper” networking groups for senior executives. There actually was another similar outfit– The Search Bulletin –that was contemporaneous, but faded away after a few years (Nancy Schretter was a nice person, but didn’t keep up. TSB was actually folded into NETSHARE. Sort of).

The original networking idea of the groups was inspired, IMHO (but morphed into something different later–shows you how useful my opinion is). Here is how the original idea worked–Imagine we could assemble a group of 100 or more job hunting senior executives–smart, busy, all diligently digging out and looking for vacant senior executive positions that could be interesting to them. In the course of any senior executive’s job campaign, the “discard pile”–think Gin Rummy–is important and builds up. Every executive locates vacancies that are not appropriate or useful–positions that are too heavy, too light, wrong industry, wrong place, company they do not relish, and so forth.

The “great idea” was that the discards went into “the pot,” to be revealed to the members of the group. One executive’s “discard” could be exactly the position another member was looking for. The strategy worked, more or less. Members were good at chasing the intel that came from the group (they loved that part), but they held onto their own leads too long and were reluctant to part with them until they were “stale” (“Doesn’t share well” probably showed up on many second grade report cards). Since they were hungry for the leads the group could provide, there had to be a better way, so NETSHARE/ExecuNet changed the strategy. “Morphed” it, as I said above.

Both groups beefed up the research part–They hired a number of research assistants who worked the phones, reaching out to search firms and coaxing them to list their assignments to be reported to the membership. Over time, the referrals from members–many of which were rumors, stale (old and/or completed) searches, or just inaccurate–were replaced by real listings from retainer search firms, timely and accurate. This worked better for everyone–members, NETSHARE/ExecuNet, and the search firms.

Why should a search firm do this (list a position)? Several easy-to-understand reasons attracted many, many retainer search firms–Exposure to a select group of proven, motivated, available senior executives, reducing the search firm’s candidate acquisition costs. The caliber of member executives (who paid real $ to be members of the group) was considerably higher than the control group of non-members (as a search consultant, I will vouch for this, with qualifications. Coming). Maybe the best of all: speed in obtaining qualified executive candidates to consider for their searches. Over the years, both groups have developed relationships (many of which are exclusive) with many retainer executive search firms, who faithfully list their assignments.

Why should an executive spend his/her hard-earned money to join these groups, especially at a time–between positions–when cash ebb is greater than cash flow and every dollar counts? Again, there are several simple, easy-to-understand–and compelling–reasons–

The qualitative factor. Both NETSHARE and ExecuNet are self-policing and are quick to administer the “death penalty” to scamming/problematic search firms. (Again, I can speak from experience here. You would not want to bring all headhunters home to meet your parents or date your brother/sister. Recall that I have published directories of search firms for over 30 years. That’s a large community of people. The larger any group, the more likely the spread of ethics, ability, and professionalism. Even with plenty of problematic people, the good outnumber the bad. There are simply too many good ones to tolerate the problems and associate with trouble-makers. Long ago, we instituted an “Ayatollah Rule.” I am the Ayatollah and I will execute any headhunter for crimes like asking for listing or processing fees, resume revision fees, multi-level schemes, and so forth–These “headhunters” seem to slither out of the woodwork in every recession, as the weaker consultants struggle with admitting they should go back to the paint department at The Home Depot. Our ExecuNet/NETSHARE colleagues have executed plenty, too. While Dave/Kathy/Ken don’t attach a “Good Housekeeping Seal” to any headhunter, you should be aware of this qualitative factor–far from absolute, but useful to know).

Next (and this is important), ExecuNet/NETSHARE have endured. Using my best University of Chicago MBA market focus (“Market Theory” is a very big deal at the UofC, as any grad will confirm), the market has evaluated and proven the utility of these groups through the fees paid by thousands of senior executives–your predecessors and contemporaries–and the years they have provided this service. The other way to look at it is from the other side of the coin: If the two groups were not providing sufficient economic “rents,” the market would have scrubbed them out of business long ago. (You can use this technique when working with search consultants, too. Tenure in the business–longer means something–is a useful indicator they have been doing something right. While being fresh to the business is not a reason to disqualify a search consultant, it’s enough for you to spool up your “Spidey Sense”).

“Self-selection.” Imagine the students who apply to the most exclusive universities (the Ivies, the military academies, and the various other highly-selective institutions you know). They apply because they believe they have at least a good enough chance of being admitted (by virtue of their GPA, SAT/ACT scores, community service record, whatever) that they take the time and spend the money to fill out an application, write an essay, be interviewed, pay the fee, and so forth. Many, many more–the vast majority of students who didn’t apply–chose not to do so because they knew they had little or no chance of admission. There is an element of this process of “self-selection”–an important element–which headhunters have figured out, too. ExecuNet/NETSHARE members (considered as a group) value themselves highly enough (and higher than those who did not spend the money and join, again, considered as a group) that this is a useful filter to search consultants. (I speak with some authority on this. As a search consultant, I have successfully completed multiple retainer searches with executives I have located through both groups. In all cases where that happened, I located multiple candidates through other sources–freelance research, my networking efforts, postings at appropriate business schools, relationships with the top outplacement firms, …and, whatever else I could think of at the time. If you believe that membership in a certain group can carry a useful imprimatur with it, then you have identified why this is important. For the search consultant, there is an important downside risk to these postings I will address in a minute).

Extending Your Reach. This is probably the most obvious of all reasons to join NETSHARE and ExecuNet (Kathy and Dave: Note that I have been carefully splitting the baby down the middle–fair is fair–by reversing the name order as we go. I love both of you equally). You could mail to all known retainer search firms (depending on who is counting, there are about 2000 or so of them) at considerable expense, and with a lot of waste. Or, you can capture a large share of them with a N/E membership (I’m going to use the shorthand after this to save the electrons). How large a share and does answering a posting have equal impact with a personal letter? You’ll have to ask Dave or Kathy about that; I don’t know. (If you are one of those unfortunate but believing souls (techno-geeks?) who are certain your inclusion in the search firm’s or the BlueSteps database carries the same impact as answering an E/N posting or a personal letter, God Bless You). Simply put, search firms control a large share of all available senior executive positions (again, the percentage of the total available is debatable. Good dissertation subject, if you are in the market for unplowed ground), so–find as many of them as you are able. In my individual senior executive coaching strategy, we do not choose–My individual clients mail to all appropriate retainer firms AND become E/N members–covering all bases. (Sidebar: An important reason search firms list their assignments with N/E is that by doing so, the search firm extends its reach, and is able to consider candidates their other sources and methods would not have turned up.)

Real-time filter. Anyone contacting search firms (by any means) learns quickly about timing–Your contact can be early, on-time, or too late. A major advantage of N/E membership is what I’ll call the “real-time” factor–They post their current search(es), you answer the posting when you see it. You are on-time, not early or late. No waste with this approach.

Exclusivity. The search assignments may not be listed anywhere else. Many search firms do not post their positions anywhere else. They post on N/E because the groups have worked hard to build goodwill with search firms, but delivering solid candidates.

Impact. N/E deliver better candidates than other sites. I have detected this, other search consultants have confirmed this to me, and both ExecuNet and NETSHARE are quick to point this out to search firms. Why are the candidates better? I suspect that executives willing to invest their own money in their futures (not trying to run a job campaign for “free”) represent a higher caliber class of people.

The business model. Because E/N are subscriber/member-supported, there is no need to play funny games with subscriber IDs, which many (most?) of the “free” sites have elected to do (selling subscriber data to anyone who can pay for it –never done by NETSHARE/ExecuNet).

Summarizing the considerable advantages: By joining ExecuNet and NETSHARE, you are associating with good people who provide a useful service, with a qualitative component, that has been market-tested and has endured over the years. By joining the groups, you elevate yourself in an important way above the senior executive community generally. You extend your reach dramatically and economically. You cause yourself to be considered for current retainer searches, and don’t waste time, money, or psychic energy chasing dead, stale, or bogus search assignments. Your ID is safe and protected.

There is an important downside to these memberships. This one actually gets me in trouble with the principals from time-to-time (I have actually been to the woodshed twice with Dave Opton, who has kept me around sort like a pit-bull watchdog, I guess. At least my upside is greater than my downside. I have been sufficiently chastened/corrected that I am perpetually on my best behavior with your colleagues who respond to my postings–even when I become so irritated I can’t see straight). I am going to explain this with a search “war story” to illustrate what can happen.

I was working on one of my favorite retainer searches of all time–VP Marketing for Sirius Satellite Radio, during their original staff-up. (Sirius was one of my largest search clients–I did something like 25 retainer searches for them in the late ’90s and a copy of the largest retainer I ever earned is framed and on my office wall). I had a great freelance researcher assisting me on the search, plus I had all my networking hooks out, and I posted the position on both NETSHARE and ExecuNet. I was very, very busy, with literally hundreds of resumes of candidates to look at for the position.

The specs (search specifications) were pretty straightforward–I was looking for extensive marketing experience in media (especially “new” media), or consumer electronics (ideally, some of each), new product introduction background, an MBA (top-tier preferred), and so forth. You could probably imagine the specs without my help. Resumes were flowing in, especially from E/N. Many of these were from great marketing executives who were certain they would make a wonderful CMO for Sirius, but who did not meet the specs, even remotely.

I recall one letter that went something like this–“I am applying for the Sirius VP Marketing position. I do not have a background in media or consumer electronics and do not have an MBA, but I have one of the toughest marketing positions you could ever imagine–I am a PSA/Passenger Service Agent for USAirways in Boston. I am certain I will be an outstanding VP Marketing for Sirius Satellite Radio.”

What would you do? At the time, I was literally swamped with candidates, so I ignored the letter. Bad move. I have since learned to answer all N/E inquiries–gently and politely, but definitively. (That can be tough when I get hundreds of them, but Mr. Opton “convinced” me I should do this). This was one determined individual, who started following up and following up. And, following up. In about the fifth f/u letter, he threw me a little hand grenade with the pin pulled–“I cannot believe you have been so unprofessional that you have chosen to ignore letters from the best possible candidate for this key position. What is the matter with you? I will probably communicate your lack of professionalism with the Sirius Chairman/CEO.” I guess his experience with happy, contented USAirways passengers had taught him how to apply this little bit of persuasion.

You might recall that I am a professional copywriter and that I make (some of) my living creating breakthrough letters to CEOs and search firms for senior executives. This was a wonderful opportunity to answer him with one of those creative, persuasive letters (but–as it turned out–not one of my best decisions). I tilted–creatively, I thought–but it was definitely a tilt. Here’s how I answered him–“Thanks for your diligent and professional follow-up. I have been very, very busy with this assignment and must tell you that I faced a very difficult decision. You were a very close second, and you did not get this one. On the other hand, I am working on two other assignments for which you are equally qualified–Professor of Brain Surgery at the Harvard Medical School and Director of Interplanetary Spaceship Design for NASA. If you are interested, please meet me in the Iraq Air First Class Lounge in Baghdad next Thursday at 10 a.m. for a personal interview.”

You would have thought I had kidnapped his twelve year old daughter on her way home from school. The stuff definitely hit the rotating blades with my (very juvenile–How’s that, Dave?) reply. He went ballistic or supersonic or whatever happens to a PSA when you hit the right (wrong) button. He evidently had a bit more time on his hands than I did and wrote interesting complaints (very professionally copying me) to the Attorneys General of Massachusetts and Florida, the Better Business Bureau, David Margolese (Chairman/CEO of Sirius), and Dave Opton of ExecuNet. And, maybe his mother, too. Dave was the only one who didn’t blow off his complaints about me (hence, my trip to the ExecuNet woodshed with Mr. Opton).

Here’s the very important moral of the story for you: Imagining you can do a job (even being certain you can do a job) is very different from meeting/exceeding the search specifications for the position. Please take those specs seriously and do not waste your time, the headhunter’s time, and the NETSHARE/ExecuNet goodwill by applying for positions where you are unqualified, even if you do not agree with the search specs. The downside for a search consultant in posting positions on E/N is the very real amount of time (it can be significant, because of the volume we–headhunters like me–receive) that must be spent–gently–dealing with executives who haven’t understood the difference. Answering these postings–and expecting something good to happen–requires a level of emotional and intellectual maturity commensurate with your C-level position (and that I did not show with my creative but foolish answer. Sorry; I won’t take that bait again). This downside causes me to pause–always–before I hit “send” to ExecuNet or NETSHARE with my search specs. As of today, I will still send them. Remember, I have filled multiple assignments through both groups and I value the potential of locating specification-meeting candidates more than I do taking the trouble of dealing with the unqualified (so far).

Other groups. Another anecdote for you. If you are a sales/marketing professional (is that an oxymoron? Sorry; it pops out from time-to-time. I’m one of those, so I’m allowed), you are probably aware of Advertising Age. This is the “bible” for us in the sales/marketing field and covers sales, new products, new services, who’s doing what, and so forth–lots more than just advertising. Now imagine a similar pub for DM (direct marketing) specialists. It’s DM News. I read and attempt to digest both. Recently, I was off to SF to conduct a senior executive job hunting seminar in cooperation with NETSHARE (thanks, Kathy), MENG/Marketing Executives Networking Group and WPS/The West Point Society. Reading the latest DM News on the way, something popped out at me. A regular feature is “New Databases & Lists”–very interesting and useful to anyone in the DM biz. Here was the amazing listing–“(Name of the outfit–you would recognize it). 42,624 names, addresses, email addresses of executives who have uploaded their resumes to this job hunting website. Useful for stockbrokers, moving companies, credit card offers, cash advance offers, insurance companies, identity protection companies (!), etc.” Before you ask the obvious question, I already did–ExecuNet and NETSHARE do not share their membership lists with anyone. What do the “others” do? Here’s a great example of precisely what they do. Caveat emptor.

The bottom line of all of this: Your membership in both groups is money well-spent. Your upside is immense. Do not choose between NETSHARE and ExecuNet; join both. As a senior executive candidate, forget about the others. Stay on the paved road and do not allow yourself to try a cross-country route. It’s not worth the considerable risk.


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 ( for the best headhunter data.
  2. Use the Dun & Bradstreet Zapdata service ( for the best CEO/company list.
  3. Use  Dow Jones’ Galante’s Directory ( 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 ( 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 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 ( and NETSHARE (, the best subscription websites.
  3. Other useful sites: smuz, jobster, simplyhired, indeed, ,juju, oodle (tracks newspaper employment advertising), careerjet,  (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: (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– 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– ,, 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 or 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,, and 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 (10K, 10Q, 14A reports). If the company is closely held, get a D&B report at or
  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 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 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

Negotiation Assistance

Who is on your side during compensation negotiations? Unless you have an agent (unlikely, unless you are an athlete, movie star, recording artist, author, etc.). The answers is: you stand alone.

If you are negotiating your compensation package, you should listen to my seminar. Negotiating Your Best Possible Compensation Package – $25.

Following that, please call me for a complimentary quick consulting session. If that doesn’t help you resolve your issues, we will discuss some additional consulting at an hourly rate.

Fully Coached, Turnkey Job Campaigns

I began coaching senior executives with their job campaigns in 1983. Several of my business school classmates asked me to assist them in “trading up.” (I was a member of the University of Chicago’s MBA “Executive Program.” The UofC invented the executive MBA program. The first group –– “XP1” was 1943-1945. I was a member of XP50).
There were only two Corporate Strategy “A’s” in my class and Ken got one of them (thank you Dr. Ed Wrapp; Google him for fun –– famous UofC/Harvard professor). So with Cole, you get the job hunting strategy guy.

(I once described my approach to senior executive job hunting strategy this way – “While there’s a mob at the front door with torches and pitchforks, I’ll get you in the side or back door.” Joan overheard this and laughed. “Cole, you don’t use the side door or back door – You show executives how to slip in the dog door!” I’ll take it.
My first efforts at this were pretty weak (better than outplacement crap, for sure), but I’ve had nearly thirty years of practice, getting much, much better at it – several hundred senior executives (average compensation since 2004, $460, 459, excluding a couple of $million+ deals that I didn’t count because they skewed the average) – have come ahead of you to tweak the strategy.

Think about it like this – “The Colonel” has a tough demolition mission: Blow up the enemy power plant, twenty miles behind the lines. He picks his best Special Operations lieutenant, trains him, equips him, and sends him on his way. The lieutenant never returns and the power plant isn’t destroyed. This causes “The Colonel” to rethink the training and the equipment. The next lieutenant makes it back – bleeding, with broken bones, and the power plant was disabled, not destroyed – but we’ve made progress.

Important progress.
“The Colonel” asks the lieutenant –
“What training was useful?”
“What training wasn’t useful?”
“What training did you need that you didn’t get?”

Same for equipment, communications, air support, and so forth.

Several hundred missions later, we are winning most of those battles. You are in a war, too, whether you have realized it yet. Networking is only part of the answer –– As I’ve said several other places on this website, “how’s that networking thing working for you, anyway?”

I hear versions of this all the time –– “Ken, I did the networking; it didn’t work.”

Want something more? About three quarters (73%) of my clients (who all networked intensely) found their new positions through mailings to headhunters, CEOs, search researchers, and private equity firms through letters we mailed, not networking on the Internet. I wrote the letters, I coached them how to win more interviews, and I helped them negotiate their deals.

To investigate how my strategy will (might) work for you, you don’t have to dive into the deep end of the pool. Call me to discuss your situation. Next step (if you’re interested) is to sign up for the “Essential” package (click here for details) All my full clients start here. That consulting/resource package is designed as a full “self-help” plan –– The “takeaway” for you is everything you need to apply my strategy on your own.

If you decide to move on to a full program, I will deduct the price of the “Essential” package from the full program price.