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.