Planning a Career Pivot? Become the Perfect Candidate

Sandcastle dreaming of being perfect
You can be the perfect candidate | SHUTTERSTOCK

If you’re using your job search to land a more senior position or shift gears into a new industry or role, you may face a disadvantage; you will be competing with candidates already established in similar positions, so you won’t appear to be the perfect candidate.

The key to overcoming this perception lies in three crucial strategies: first, sound like an insider in your chosen field; second, build relationships to land interviews; third, identify a competitive differentiator that compensates for gaps in experience. Apply these principles and you will position yourself as the standout, “perfect” candidate employers will be eager to hire.

Sound like an insider, even if you’re not

When marketing yourself in your job search, use the insider language that will resonate with your job target. For example, one client who reported to the C-suite was looking to move up and land a C-suite role. We found ways for her to represent her experience so that she would come across as C-suite ready:

  • Although her most senior role was SVP of Information Technology, she had broad responsibilities that overlapped with the typical “Chief Information Officer” job description. So, we were able to represent her current role as “SVP, CIO-equivalent” in her resume, pitch and interview “success stories.”

  • She highlighted her experience presenting at Board meetings prominently in the summary section of her resume and in her pitch.

  • She emphasized her strategic leadership responsibilities, ensuring words like “strategic,” “leadership,” “team” and “vision” were referenced throughout her job-search marketing materials.

Demonstrating insider knowledge can often compensate for a lack of experience. In your meetings, interviews, and communications, share what you know about their industry and business challenges and connect this knowledge with how you would approach the role itself.

For example, a client was looking to move from a senior business development role at a CPG firm to an equivalent role at a payments company. On the surface, the business models of these industries seemed very different. Yet, he was able to emphasize the commonalities of both businesses in his pitch, his stories, and via his questions, demonstrating his insider knowledge of the payments business and his highly relevant experience.

Build and leverage your network

Job postings and search firms may not work for you because you’re not the “perfect” candidate. That is, you’re not already in a similar role. No problem, you’ll just need to focus on actively building relationships at target organizations. Reach out to those who might hire you to land informational meetings, and then keep in touch.

When you do see a job posting, instead of applying find the person who would likely be your boss (e.g., via LinkedIn, the organization website, or your network) and reach out cold (unless you have a great network connection) – write an assertive email that makes the case for them to meet with you.

Think broadly about your network, then plan how you want to reach out. Aim to let at least 200 people know about your search. Include family, friends, colleagues you haven’t spoken to in years who might be open to helping you, former classmates, your neighbor, and so forth. One of my clients landed an interview after reaching out to a former business school classmate she hadn’t spoken with in 18 years. This is typical.

Also, consider joining the right association, one that has an active membership of peers or those who could hire you or refer you. Then volunteer to help run a committee or get on the Board. Getting involved is the single most effective way of building your network in a new sector and learning how to sound like an insider. Once you become known to an association’s leadership and membership, you’ll easily get informational meetings which could lead to interviews (use the membership database). You’ll also be able to list this volunteer experience as real, relevant experience on your resume.

Find a Competitive Differentiator

One client was looking for an in-house Chief Marketing Officer role within financial services. Because she had no in-house experience and limited financial services experience – she came from a consulting background supporting clients from diverse sectors – she was at a competitive disadvantage and struggled to get interviews. Her fortunes changed, however, when we turned her consulting background into a strength; we emphasized how her experience developing marketing strategies for a diverse client base gave her expert knowledge of marketing best practices and an ability to come up with out-of-the-box solutions. We also highlighted her work with a couple of financial services competitors to prospective employers.

Another example: a client wanted to move from the customer side to the seller side of an industry he was only peripherally involved with. He also wanted to land a  senior business development role without having had that specific experience. A company where he was interviewing (he landed the interview through a network contact) told him they were leaning towards other candidates who had done the job before, e.g., those in senior business development roles in that industry. He overcame their objections and got the offer by emphasizing that his background gave him an indispensable customer perspective as well as a huge network of former colleagues who were potential customers.


SUBSCRIBE to receive monthly emails with posts like this