Leveraging The “It” Factor: And other intangible advantages you should use in an executive job search

And other intangible advantages you should use in an executive job search.

By Julie Norwell

You’ve revamped your LinkedIn profile. Added new skills and credentials to your value proposition and practiced interviewing. You’ve re-written your resume for every job opportunity. Crafted your cover letters with the care of someone wooing a new love interest. You sent follow-up messages to every hiring manager you’ve met. Did we mention you’ve even lost weight and refreshed your wardrobe!?

If you are STILL getting no promotions or compelling new job opportunities, you need to look beyond the standard checklist of job search activities. You need to leverage the intangible advantages employed by the most successful executives. Sure, skills and experience are essential in an executive job search. But it’s your ability to garner and harness these important, subtle, and sometimes elusive, qualities that will really set you apart from your competition.

One of the most important of these advantages is executive presence.


The “It” Factor

There is only so high that people can advance in their careers with skills and experience alone. At some point their prospects will level off if they don’t possess a characteristic known as “executive presence.”

Although executive presence has been studied enough to have earned its own acronym (EP), it remains difficult to describe and even harder to obtain. It’s the certain je ne sais quoi that demarcates managers from executives. It’s a manner of looking and behaving the part of an executive. It includes a combination of things like a firm handshake, good eye contact, dignified comportment, and appropriate dress. Someone with executive presence also exudes an ease of being, a sense of self-worth, and confidence. They are neither arrogant nor pretentious. In short, it’s the “It” factor.

You know it when you see it. You also know it when it’s lacking. A senior executive of a New York City-based startup related his impression of a candidate who lacked executive presence during an interview:

I interviewed a guy with 30 years of experience for a position. He comes into the company, which is famous for being a startup, wearing an ill-fitting, strangely colored suit. Someone with executive presence would have understood, at a minimum, that wearing jeans and a sports jacket to an interview at a startup is appropriate. He also exhibited little confidence in himself, carried himself poorly, and lacked authority when he spoke. With 30 years of experience, this guy should have been at the executive level. But it was clear to me he was not an executive – he was a 30-year manager.

Develop Your Executive Presence

Executive presence comes naturally to some people. But it can also be cultivated through planning and preparation. The first step is understanding specifically what you need to do to boost your leadership potential.

In a study done by the Center of Talent Innovation, the pillars of executive presence are defined as gravitas, communication, and appearance, with gravitas being the core characteristic. It includes such behaviors as acting decisively, exuding confidence, and demonstrating emotional intelligence. Indeed, mastering emotional intelligence will put you halfway or more to cultivating your executive presence. (Read Emotional Intelligence May Be More Valuable than Skills in the Job Search for more information.)

If you’re unsure of how to get started, engaging an executive career coach, such as those at The Barrett Group, is an excellent way to get help in targeting how you can up your game and perform at your best. Because they have their ear to the ground in the job market, they are best situated to help you play to your strengths, whatever those are, and exploit them to the best of your ability to yield better opportunities and higher compensation in your job search. A career coach can help you play your advantages.

International Experience Differentiates You

Is international experience relevant in your job search? If the job involves interacting with other countries and traveling, then, yes, it’s relevant. But even if you’re seeking a US-based job, having international experience allows hiring managers to tick off the “preferred” box. It shows a little extra value about you.

If you’ve lived outside your own country, it implies that you’re a risk taker and even that you are a higher performing applicant. In addition, people who work in an international environment, where business and cultural customs are different, demonstrate a greater adaptability in carrying out their jobs than their local peers.  

A recent article in CEO Magazine details several other reasons why international experience is important for executives, not least of which is that, in our increasingly globalized, technology-driven world, leaders with overseas experience will be crucial to driving future innovation and expansion. 

If you have the opportunity to get international experience, and it’s not a hardship, get it and have it in the bank because you might find yourself looking for a job in the future where it will be important or useful. 

Network, Network, Network!

It should be repeated often and vigorously to utilize your professional network (Read Hone Your Networking Skills…and Slip in the Backdoor to Land Your Next Job for more information). Networking is the biggest factor in finding a job for all types of people, and successful executives will tell you that most jobs, or even every job, they ever got was thanks to their network of relationships.

The most important thing to remember about networking, however, is not to wait until you are looking to switch jobs to build those relationships. You should build them when you don’t need them. How? You do it by always going out of your way to help others – that is, you pay it forward. Make it part of your business strategy to help others and extend yourself for others in whatever way you can whenever you are in a position to do so. If you do, when the times comes that you need help in a job search, you will find that people in your network will be willing to help you right back.

Address Issues of Culture Head On

Executive positions are very competitive, so small advantages will make a difference. Some advantages are easy to manage, such as dressing the part for an interview, for example. But job seekers need to know what that means at each different company. In today’s casual workplace, fitting in could mean a full suit, or it could mean jeans and a t-shirt (as the anecdote above demonstrated). If you have piercings, tattoos, or an unusual hairdo, try to tone things down if the environment calls for it. How you dress for an interview is a slight “tell” on how well you did your homework on a company.

If you have cultural differences, give special consideration to how to handle them in your job search. Someone with a thick foreign accent, for example, might need to practice speaking slowly and enunciating well. Orthodox Jewish applicants who need to leave before sundown every Friday should volunteer specific assurances on how this personal requirement will not affect their ability to get their work done.

Companies aren’t allowed to discriminate against applicants, of course. And, at the same time, you need to be yourself. But it shows a level of good judgement if you address these differences head on, which interviewers will appreciate. And it shows a clarity of mind that comes from preparation and forethought.

Mastering this and other intangible advantages will showcase your personal brand, which may well tip the scales in your favor in your job search.

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