Reframe Your Executive Job Search in a Rebalancing Market: 5 Steps

By Ashley Buderus

Over the past few years, a record number of individuals quit their jobs in what has been called the Great Resignation. Lately in the U.S., approximately 4 million people have left their jobs each month. This has meant that there are more jobs available and fewer people wanting to fill them. In turn, employers have had to cater to the needs of their employees and candidates, bending over backwards to try to retain or hire them. In the executive recruitments we do, my colleagues and I have seen leaders command higher wages, increased bonuses, hybrid or remote work environments, and perks they might not have gotten in different times.

Yet, the past few years were an aberration of sorts. Today’s market is rebalancing. A recent pulse survey by PwC showed that CHROs expect the hiring pendulum to swing back as employers scale back talent acquisition plans. Many survey respondents said their companies had reduced overall headcount or were considering doing so, and they were dropping or reducing signing bonuses. Many companies are bracing for an economic downturn. We see that our clients in healthcare, higher education and the not-for-profit sector, while still needing great executives, are less willing to go to extremes to make the right hire. They are expecting more from leadership candidates.

As the job market returns to an equilibrium, it’s important for those executives seeking new positions to anticipate this shift and remind themselves of important job search fundamentals they may have forgotten about in recent years. There are tried and true practices to follow to get a new position that perhaps weren’t as relevant during the height of COVID-19. The following are some helpful reminders.

  1. Rank Your Priorities. Over the past few years, candidates often called the shots and put a high focus on salary, remote or hybrid work, job titles and bonuses. However, as the candidate-driven marketplace disappears, executives may need to carefully consider their true priorities. You can’t have everything any more. Before considering a new role, identify and rank what matters to you. Consider which are must-haves versus nice-to-haves. Along with the title, salary, and location, you might consider: the company history, organizational culture, benefits, job responsibility, professional development, work-life balance and colleagues. When creating this list, also consider what is suitable for your family.
  1. Set Realistic Expectations. As the job market rebalances, exercise caution and don’t demand too much. Sure, you may request an ambitiously high salary or another perk, but remember that in the coming market you can’t have it all. The risk is that an outrageous request or expectation can irritate a potential employer and cause you to lose an opportunity. Regarding salary, remember that most organizations look to remain equitable and have established salary ranges and benefits accordingly. Regarding remote work, a recent SHRM survey found that many employers have negative perceptions of the work-from-home trend, so this option may be less feasible going forward. Here it’s important to check with your executive search consultant, who will have insight into what compensation, bonuses and perquisites their client is willing to offer.
  1. Evaluate the Role Rather than the Title. What comes after the Great Resignation? For many organizations, the “Great Reorganization.” Leaders have used this opportunity of market disruption to seriously reevaluate what their organizations and teams need. As a result, many positions are “refreshed” and include new responsibilities and opportunities. As a result, don’t be too quick to judge a role based on its title and, when considering a new position, be sure to dig deep into the leadership profile (aka, the job spec) for the position. Again, check with your search consultant—if a job’s specifications have changed due to, for example, the pandemic, are they permanent or likely to change back at some point?
  1. Customize Your Materials. Customization of resumes and cover letters is a “back to basics” recommendation. Today’s more competitive job market has amplified the importance of this best practice. Candidates must find a way to demonstrate to employers how their backgrounds and expertise make them viable for a specific opportunity. In your resume and cover letter, highlight how your skills, experience and accomplishments align with the job description and articulate why you are interested in both the role and the organization. Strike a balance between being concise in outlining your professional history while thoroughly covering how your background makes you a strong contender for the role. In my experience, candidates never forgot this important lesson—however, in the coming rebalanced market it will be more critical to tailor your materials to the role and employer.
  2. Do It for the Right Reason. Ensure you are running toward an opportunity, not away from your current role. Some say that the Great Resignation is turning into the Great Regret. For many, better salaries, flexibility, and benefits drew them to new opportunities. Yet, a recent survey showed that more than one-quarter of those who left work for new positions doubt whether they made the right move. To avoid remorse, get to know what you really want for your next career step. (See item #1—list your priorities!) Take the time to get to know the organization and team that you are considering. Trust your instincts about what a new position or employer aligns with your hopes and values.

As the world continues to evolve into a post-pandemic status, many industries will shift in response to changing demands. The balance of power in the job market is already beginning to equalize, requiring executive job seekers to recalibrate their expectations and think more deeply as they explore new roles. It’s a new world, one in which executives can still find amazing new opportunities but need to approach each job search thoughtfully and with realistic hopes and expectations.