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) ––
- 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.
- Likewise, get yourself an unrevealing email address on any of the big ISPs –– Yahoo, HotMail, Gmail, etc. Again, plenty of choices. Cost: $0
- 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 vumber.com (currently $4.99/mo.) and grandcentral.com (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 #?).
- 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).
- 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.