• Estimated read time: 6 mins
  • Date posted:06/01/2020
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Amancio Ortega, Founder of Zara once proclaimed that “We cannot limit ourselves to continuing on the path we have already opened” (Medium).

The higher up the corporate ladder you are, the harder the job searching becomes. With fewer executive jobs at the top to compete for and a tendency for executive positions not to be advertised online for confidentiality reasons, many executives are uncertain about how to navigate their job search. This is particularly true for senior executives who have held long tenures; a lot has changed in the past five years. The job market has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and it can be a huge adjustment for executives who have been at their current organisation for a long duration. These changes can be reflected in the increasing likelihood of securing your next executive role through networking, rather than job boards.


  • Research: Before you begin your executive job search, identify what kind of role you are seeking Although applying directly via job boards may not be the best use of your time, it’s worth identifying and researching the organisations advertising on them and making a personal approach to those that might be a good fit.
  • CV: You won’t get very far in your job search without an up-to-date CV, so ensure that it includes your most recent positions and a concise, informative executive bio.
  • Executive pain letter: Rather than just simply listing your accomplishments and skills in a cover letter, with an executive pain letter you can position yourself as the solution to the hiring manager’s problem. It helps you to stand out from a myriad of other applicants.
  • Personal branding: Take some time to work on your personal brand. What do you want to represent? Your personal brand showcases who you are, what you stand for, what makes you unique and what value you offer.
  • Get help: If you’re feeling particularly uncertain about navigating the tricky job search terrain, you can consult branding experts, CV writers and executive search firms to enhance your application and personal brand.

There are a number of different methods that you can adopt into your job search:

1. Networking

Networking is by far one of the best ways to hear about new opportunities. It can help you to penetrate the hidden job market, making this a worthwhile endeavour. In fact, a whopping 80% of jobs are filled through networking, making networking a job search strategy that you cannot ignore. Your network should consist of your peers, ex-colleagues, key influencers, alumni and headhunters.

There are several methods you can harness to leverage your network. One of the most obvious ways is to attend face-to-face events and conferences. A lot of conferences are structured to facilitate networking and communication. Exchange details with them and connect with them on LinkedIn so that you can carry on the conversation. Alternatively, if speaking to strangers isn’t your thing,  network online via LinkedIn by commenting on key influencer’s posts, connecting with peers, and participating in LinkedIn groups. For more tips on how to network effectively, read our blog: How To Build And Maintain Your Professional Network.

One of the benefits of having a robust network is that you can fall back on your connections if you’re struggling to get the ball rolling with your job search. If you’ve kept in touch regularly since first connecting with them, it won’t feel inconvenient or awkward striking up conversation. You can enquire about what’s going on at their organisation and whether there are any opportunities on the horizon. Alternatively, they may have heard of positions opening-up with different employers through their own network.

2. Referrals

For executive and senior-level positions, securing strong references is vital to securing top jobs. While job search touchpoints (CV, Pain Letter and LinkedIn Profile) were once enough to differentiate you from other candidates and secure an interview, references now pack just as much punch. From a hiring managers perspective, a robust reference gives them an excellent overview of your accomplishments and confirms the validity of what you’ve stated in your application and interview. Just by reading or speaking to a referee, they’ll be able to decide whether you would be a good fit for the role. When you’re seeking a new opportunity, reach out to your existing network and ask whether they’re willing to provide one.

If you have connections within a company you would particularly like to work for, reach out to that contact and ask them to vouch for you. While many executives doubt the influence that references can carry, referrals account for 1/3 of all external hires. Hiring managers value recommendations and referrals that come from their existing employees, especially if it’s coming from a credible and trustworthy source.

3. Social media

Social media must never be underestimated in your job search; 73% of organisations use social media to recruit and hire candidates. This demonstrates the importance of having a strong, online presence that attracts hiring managers. Platforms such as LinkedIn allow hiring managers to search for executives based on their background and experiences. An active presence allows them to find you easily and identify whether you’re the right fit.

Hiring managers will be particularly interested in you if you position yourself as a thought leader. Commenting and posting your opinions demonstrates your awareness of industry topics and happenings. It’s also a way for you to establish credibility and trust; people value consistent and accurate information. Additionally, you can showcase your experiences, accomplishments and skills, acting as a highlight reel of what you have to offer. Contribute to groups and discussions with your knowledge and expertise; you never know who else could be members and gaining value from your insights.

What’s more, you are essentially giving headhunters all of the information that they need to decipher whether it’s worth reaching out to you with career opportunities. If you’re not the best fit for the opportunity they’re currently searching for, they can retain you for future searches, increasing your odds greatly.

4. Promotion

When you’re proud and content working for your organisation, you might not want to leave. However, career progression is a natural desire for executives. Rather than leaving an organisation, that you’re happy with, it might be time to turn your attention to obtaining a promotion from within.

Positions at the very top of the organisational structure are hard to come by. When a new opportunity does eventually open up, executives are often up against fierce competition. It’s vital to keep an ear out for signs of someone stepping down or retiring in the near future. Make sure that you continue to build relations internally, networking with key decision-makers in the replacement process so that they’ll think of you when a position eventually opens up.

5. Job boards

While job boards once packed a punch, for senior managers and executives, they’re increasingly ineffective. In fact, less than 10% of executive jobs are landed via job boards.

It’s hardly surprising. 80% of jobs aren’t even published online, and that figure is likely to be far higher for senior-management and executive positions. This is because many executive positions are confidential; organisations seek to fill these roles through internal promotion, employee referrals or partnering with an executive search firm or specialist recruiter.

But don’t be disheartened. Job boards can be a good starting point to gain insight into the opportunities available and the skills and expertise required to be considered for the role. What’s more, those owned and managed by the hiring organisation, or an executive search firm or specialist recruiter, are likely to offer a better return for your hard-earned time.

6. Company targeting (research)

If you’ve been seeking a new opportunity for some time now, you might have already set your sights on a dream organisation to work for. Or, you might have narrowed down your choices to a number of organisations. Start setting aside time to start researching the organisation to identify whether they would be a good fit for you. If it is, then your next steps should be to connect with the hiring manager on LinkedIn. Establish a relationship with them in which you can state that you’re looking for a new opportunity and think that their organisation would be the ideal progression for you. Be sure to include what has drawn you to the organisation and why you want to work there.

By doing so, many executives find themselves co-creating a position with the hiring manager. While a position may not exist when you initially get in touch, you may be too good to pass up and the hiring manager will feel inclined to hire you in whatever way possible. Together, you can tailor a role to suit your needs and the business’s requirements. In this way, you can also target the hidden job market and snap up jobs before competitors hear about it.

7. Executive Search firms

Executive Search firms can be a fantastic way to hear about new opportunities; they’ll approach you rather than you having to search high and low on job boards and through your network. Establish a relationship with a life science executive search firm so that when positions open up, they can contact you. Most executive search firms will have a job board, allowing you to apply and give your contact details. Alternatively, you could reach out to them on LinkedIn. If you don’t quite match the positions they’re currently working on, they can retain you for future searches.


There’s no one-size-fits-all process for an executive job search; what works for one executive may not work for you. Assess the pros and cons of each of the strategies above and narrow it down to a select few. There’s no need to adopt all of these approaches, but it might be worth exploring other options if you’re job search is coming to a standstill.

For more job-search advice tailored to senior managers and executives in the life sciences…

* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.