IT Employment optimize

How to get a derailed executive career back on track

There are some employees who have been affected by the poor economic environment but who aren't talked about: Executives who were laid off without the benefit of a golden parachute. Here's how they can get things back on track.

When executive recruiter Colleen Aylward, president of recruiting firm Devon James and author of Bedlam to Boardroom: How to Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track, wanted to figure out how many executives had been displaced by the poor economy over the last few years,  she discovered something troubling: No one was keeping track of those stats.

But, before those of you who are reading this blog ask a resounding "Who cares?" understand that the executives she is talking about are not the ones who get the big bonuses or golden parachutes for failing. She's talking about the managers in the trenches, who "spent decades in the corporate world making the trains run on time."

To find the number she wanted, Aylward took 2010 figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for layoffs in all categories and cherry picked the job categories that she knew, as a recruiter, to fit the executive profile. Her top-line figure -- 2.5 million executives out of work -- is both troubling and telling of the depth of the current economic crisis.

Ir you're one of the executives Aylward is talking about, she has a few key tips for you:

  1. Be a specialist -- For many years, an executive's resume was an exercise in being all things to all people, but that's not what corporations want these days. They don't want a general manager of all things executive, but, rather, specialists who have niche expertise that can be applied immediately. It's a culture shift for many executives, so it may seem difficult at first. However, everyone has at least one, maybe even two areas in which they could lay claim to being a specialist. Highlight those areas in your resume, and you'll find a lot more opportunities open to you.
  2. Be creative -- Hiring an executive is a big commitment for many companies, as well as an expensive one. Don't be afraid of creating a situation that puts you back in the saddle while at the same time mitigating a company's risk. If a company is on the bubble about bringing you on full time, offer to take on a specific project as an outside contractor and then tie your compensation to the completion of the project. If you screw it up, that's on you. If you succeed and deliver, not only will you get paid, but you might also win a full-time gig.
  3. Get out and network -- The days of working for one company forever until you retire have been over for a while. Executives have to view even their full-time jobs as freelance gigs with a limited shelf life. In that respect, displaced executives should look toward more project work instead of just waiting around for that dream job to drop in their laps. They need to get out, network, and use their days not to root out jobs, but rather to talk to individuals in companies that might have a problem your expertise could solve. More often than not, one well-executed project will turn into more.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

4 comments
dbossini
dbossini

I am one of the casualties of this topic. I too have led teams and managed large budgets than received a pat on the shoulder and thanked for all my hard work without a parachute. Well, maybe a lead parachute. This article has brought to light something I am aware of but have yet to overcome. I've excelled in the jack-of-all trades arena even before I entered the dark room of middle management. A hard realization to no longer maintain this once valued skill set that an employer does not currently acknowledge. I can accept this to some degree but ultimately understanding the big picture is huge especially in a leadership role. I feel this is a trend as a result of an economy where it is an employer market. I will not go down with the ship. I have returned to school to hone the "specialized" skills. l will continue to demonstrate the value of maintaining a breadth of knowledge because at the end of the day an employer will expect that even from someone with specific skills.

Ken C. Schmitt
Ken C. Schmitt

Fantastic article! This is definitely a segment of the "in transition" population that is overlooked. People hear the word "executive" and assume many things: bloated salaries, large savings account, corner office. But that, as you pointed out, is absolutely incorrect. Many displaced executives are managers, not big-wigs. The tips you offered were excellent. As the owner of a small boutique recruiting firm I have given this advice myself on several occasions. In an article I wrote recently entitled "Professional Values- What do you stand for in your career?" I discuss many of the ideas you addressed. Most importantly, I talk about a client finding his or her "Professional DNA". (http://www.turningpointsearch.net/resources/articles/) This is a job seeker's Drive, Nice and Accomplishments. The time for companies to hire a ???jack of all trades" has come and gone. They are looking for experts that can offer their company something that no one else can. By identifying your own Professional DNA you can show an employer what you have to offer and why you stand out above others. Thank you for this well-written and insightful article. Ken C. Schmitt

OldHenry
OldHenry

I know this is a variation on the topic but I've led large teams, managed big budgets, and run a bunch of mission critical projects without having an executive title. How do I convince people to pay more attention to my track record than my previous titles? Thanks

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

And am so happy I'm back doing technical/scientific work with no management component... Smaller paycheck but more free time, no responsibility for personnel and no more gastric reflux ... Priceless! Sometimes I think we get it in our heads that we've failed if we don't go back and do exactly what it was we were grinding away at before. Get over that and the sky's the limit!