Much has been made about newly minted college graduates and their lack of preparation for the workforce.
But no one talks about the ability of senior-level candidates (of any age) to successfully navigate the job search. It is assumed that they have an easier time due to years of prior experience and an in-depth understanding about what employers in their fields are looking for.
That assumption is wrong.
According to the Career Advisory Board’s second annual Job Preparedness Indicator study, a survey that identifies and tracks gaps between skills candidates have and skills employers need, one in five hiring managers feel that very few senior-level job seekers have what it takes to fill the big shoes left by retiring Baby Boomer talent.
Employers Are Desperately Seeking Higher-Order Skills
The research notes that that the most desirable skills for senior-level candidates include strategic perspective (77 percent of hiring managers), global competence, (53 percent), and business acumen (53 percent). Skills and traits becoming more relevant in the next five years are the ability to be cross-functional (77 percent of hiring managers) and having a working knowledge of technology (62 percent).
However, senior-level job seekers either don’t have or don’t choose to emphasize these abilities. Instead, they tend to focus on skills that are considered more important at the junior level, such as having a strong work ethic and self-motivation.
Senior Candidates Think They Have All the Answers
Why are senior-level candidates so out of touch with what employers need? One reason might be that they are stuck in the old model of assessing how available positions fit their background rather than the other way around. And when positioning themselves for new opportunities, nearly 60 percent of seasoned job seekers rely on their own judgment rather than seeking qualified advice from their network and mentors.
Also, many senior-level candidates believe they’ve done all of the learning they need to do, and the job preparedness indicator research demonstrates that this perspective is no longer useful. In fact, 56 percent of hiring managers cite a willingness to develop new skills and grow and adapt on the job as critical to landing a job in the modern economy.
If you’re looking for a senior-level job this year, what can you do to change the tide?
Target Key Senior-Level Competencies
Candidates can do a lot to boost their readiness for today’s senior and executive-level positions. First, ensure that you have meaty team management experience, even if it’s in the context of a volunteer initiative rather than a paid position.
Take advantage of every opportunity to learn how business is conducted overseas in order to increase your global competence. This might involve interviewing colleagues in other countries, coordinating a cross-national project, or working briefly in another country to gain first-hand experience.
Finally, make sure your tech skills are up to par. Learn any new software and securing certifications associated with your industry and understand how social media impacts different organizations and roles.
Brand and Network to Create the Right Impression
To present yourself as a strategic and globally-minded candidate, look carefully at job descriptions and brainstorm specific examples of how you’ve performed at least 75 percent of the listed responsibilities in past positions. While crafting application and marketing materials, try consulting with networking contacts who currently hold senior management titles.
LinkedIn remains the most valuable tool in a job seeker’s arsenal. Research and join groups for senior-level professionals in your field, and ask and answer member questions so you will be on recruiters’ radar. Rather than asking new contacts to connect out of the blue, engage them in high-level industry conversation online and offline to establish one-on-one personal relationships.
If you’re also a Baby Boomer, you may want to proactively combat the perception that you have one foot out the door. Most employers know that Boomers not only have a substantial knowledge base but are also known for their loyalty, so 50+ candidates should highlight their deep bench of expertise, their enthusiasm for the work, and their ability to serve as mentors to the next generation of leaders.
The skills gap is still a reality, but in honing and marketing the attributes that are most desirable to employers, you can narrow it effectively – and ensure your own future employability.
Alexandra Levit is a bestselling author, speaker and consultant who aims to help people find meaningful work and succeed beyond measure once they get there. A former nationally syndicated columnist for the Wall Street Journal and an adviser to the Obama administration on workforce issues, Alexandra is lucky to count Microsoft, American Express, Intuit, and DeVry University among her current clients.