5 Tips for Developing Your List of References

References can be among your most valuable assets. Your references can and cinch a pending job opportunity or unknowingly be your worst enemy and nix the opportunity.

Providing references and recommendations to a potential employer can offer insight into how others have perceived working with you and may actually help to ‘tip the scales’ in your favor.

Here are five simple tips to develop your references:

Tip #1 – Ask for Permission
Request permission from anyone you plan to use as a reference and let your references know they may be contacted. Ask your references what contact information they would like you to include and if they have any preferences about how they would like to be contacted.

Tip #2 – Coach Your References
Provide each reference with a copy of your resume. However, don’t assume that your references know what you want them to say about you. Coach each reference regarding the types of positions you’re pursuing and what it is you would like them to speak to. For example, a specific project that the two of you worked on together, or a task force that you led, or a business objective you achieved.

Tip #3 – Request Written Recommendations
Ask your references for a recommendation in writing. Their recommendation should be brief but succinct in touting your strengths, talents and professional attributes. In fact, you may want to create one document which contains both references and recommendations to submit whether unsolicited or by request; usually during a second or third interview.

Tip #4 – Keep it Professional
As an executive, potential employers are seeking references from people who have worked with you directly such as executive-level associates, fellow committee members, partners, board members, mentors, investors, bankers, consultants, etc. However, you should also include references from subordinates. A well-rounded portfolio of references helps the recruiter gain greater insight into how you interact with all the members on your team.

Tip #5 – Send a Thank You Note
Once you land a position, send a thank you note to each of your references to let them know their feedback was an essential part of your success. Be sure to offer to provide a recommendation for them as well.

Your Reference List is one more tool you have to market and sell yourself. You can create a separate page for each reference and make it very formal or you can format it similarly to your resume and list three to four references on a page. Be sure to leave room for the reference checker to take notes.

Remember; do not underestimate the value of your references and the power they hold.

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Tough Interview Questions

As a senior executive, securing the position you want in today’s job market is going to take some extra preparation. Be ready to shine by showcasing your expertise to your potential employer by thoroughly preparing for interview questions. The following interview questions are intended to find the top candidate, so it’s important to consider your answers carefully ahead of time and be ready to explain them when necessary.

Let’s start with three common but tricky interview questions…

Why have you been unemployed so long? Clearly, this is not the right time to share your disappointment with the current state of the economy; that’s not what employers are interested in hearing. The key here is to answer honestly, while staying upbeat and positive. You might say, “I took this opportunity to re-evaluate the direction of my career path … and I have decided that this is the exact type of position I’m interested in … and this is the company I’d really like to be a part of.”

If you’ve interviewed with other companies, don’t be concerned about letting the recruiter know you have declined other opportunities offered to you in the interim that didn’t quite fit your criteria. Also let them know if you utilized this gap in your career to take a class, earn a certification, or volunteer your time to a worthy charity. Whatever your answer is, let them know in no uncertain terms that you are ready, willing and able to re-enter the corporate world.

Would you be willing to take a salary cut? Obviously, no one wants to take a salary cut, but the reality is that you may have to be prepared to take home less than you did previously. However, before you agree to any cut in salary, request additional information about the responsibilities of the position. Don’t forget to take into account the benefits package. Consider opting out of the perks you can live without in lieu of the salary cut. Regardless, don’t waste the recruiter’s time or your own. If you are not willing to accept a cut, make sure the recruiter knows that your salary requirements are firm.

You appear to be over-qualified for this position. What caused you to submit your resume for it? With the tough job market this is a common occurrence. If you’re truly interested emphasize your desire to establish an association with the company. You might say something like, “I assume that if I perform well in this position, new opportunities will become available that I may step into.” You might also say, “I’m here because I’ve researched your company and it’s innovative, cutting edge technology is appealing and something I want to be a part of.” Mention that since you are so well qualified, the company will realize a rapid return on investment and very little training will be required.

While you have no way of knowing exactly which questions you will be asked during your interview, preparing your responses ahead of time is extremely important. Think your answers through and then practice saying each until you are comfortable with it. Your well-thought-out response may make all the difference when it comes to obtaining the position you want.

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Writing Success Stories

Whether you call them CAR (challenge, action, result), STAR (situation, task, action, result), PAR (problem, action, result) or OAR (opportunity, action, result) stories, these stories are a critical component in your resume, leadership addendum, positioning statement and other marketing collateral, as well as in your interview.

When creating success stories, select ones that will demonstrate and showcase your executive brand. This is what will help you attract the right type of position. Actions always speak louder than words and are often times more effective because you’re helping the recruiter understand the value you bring to his/her organization.

  • Explain the situation, challenges, roadblocks and extenuating circumstances. For example, what made this initiative difficult? What impact would it have on the organization if it were fixed? The impact may be different than the actual results, so consider both outcomes and include both if appropriate.
  • Explain the actions you took to resolve the problem and who was involved in solving the problem. The amount of detail you include will vary depending on the venue. For example, in your resume, you will need to keep your actions to a minimum to meet traditional page length requirements. However, in your addendum and your interview, you can expand on your actions in greater detail.
  • Explain the results or outcomes. How did the results impact revenues, profits, marketshare, stakeholder or shareholder value? What did the results enable the company to do? What was the strategic importance–the long-term impact on the company?
  • Optionally, you may want to include the knowledge and expertise you had that enabled you to solve the problem. Or, you might want to include what knowledge or skills you had to quickly learn/develop to solve the problem.

Be sure your success stories include the who, what, when, where and how.

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Negotiating Your Severance Package

Most executives don’t want to think about it when they accept a new position, but with tenure averaging three to five years, it’s a near certainty that one day they will leave their new employer.

While companies are not required to offer any kind of severance package, most companies use severance packages or separation agreements as a release of claims against the company, its officers and directors in exchange for a certain sum of money. Some use it as a way to pacify departing management and keep them contented. In most instances involving senior-level management, a severance package is always offered and, always open to negotiation, providing there is no clause to the contrary in the employment contract.

Before you begin negotiating, you need to know the critical components of a severance package versus those that are optional.

Critical components:

  • Severance pay: This is usually determined by the length of time you have been employed by the company and your level in management. Generally companies offer one week’s pay for every year of service.
  • Bonuses and Commissions: The agreement should state how bonuses or commissions will be pro-rated and paid.
  • Health Insurance: The agreement should state how long you will be covered and who will pay the premiums on any and all insurances. Employer-provided coverage may end on the day of separation. However, COBRA allows you to continue your current coverage at group rates.
  • Life and Disability Insurance: Employer-provided coverage typically ends on the day of separation or soon after. You can negotiate a continuance option.
  • Retirement Benefits and Stock Options: The agreement should state exactly what your future benefits will be and should take into account the effect your separation will have on your stock portfolio. According to IRS rules, your plan administrator must provide a written explanation of your retirement options 30-90 days before the final date on which you must take action.
  • Stock Options: The agreement should state how the separation will impact vesting expectations as well as the remaining time to exercise vested shares.
  • Outplacement Services: These are services to help you prepare for and secure your next position. The services generally include writing your collateral materials (resume, cover letter, addendum, bios, etc.) and coaching you in all aspects of your job search. Many companies offer services with a particular outplacement firm and others ask you if you have a career coach you prefer to work with. Even if the company offers the services of an outplacement firm, you can negotiate for the selection of the your career coach. Recently, several clients have been able to negotiate such an arrangement and companies have been paying me directly for services. It’s a win-win situation.

Optional components:

  • Vacation time: Request payment for your unused vacation time.
  • Sick days/personal days: Request payment for unused sick/personal days.
  • Bonus/commission: Make sure all of your commissions/bonuses are accounted for (you should be prepared to accept a prorated bonus).
  • Agreements: Renegotiate terms of any preexisting non-compete or non-solicitation agreements.
  • Positive recommendation: Ask for a written understanding of what the company will say about your termination. Also, if not terminated for cause or poor performance, request a positive letter of recommendation from your former managers.
  • Company equipment: Clarify possession of cell phones, pagers, company cars, laptops, or other home office business equipment.
  • Perquisites: Clarify how perks such as cars, association and club memberships will be addressed.

The most optimal time to negotiate your severance agreement is BEFORE you accept the position because once you have accepted the position, your “powers of negotiation” are severely diminished. Whether you negotiate before or after the fact, make sure you prepare by:

  • Making a list of the perks you would like. Jot down the reasons why your employer should provide these perks to you. This is the time to showcase your value proposition and achievements to date.
  • Thoroughly reviewing the company’s policy on severance agreements as well as the terms of your employment contract.
  • Familiarizing yourself with applicable state and local laws.
  • Consulting with an attorney. While showing up at the negotiating table with a lawyer will set a hostile tone, have an attorney guide you through the legalese of the agreement and provide you with advice.
  • Planning your strategy to renegotiate or eliminate any preexisting non-compete or non-solicitation agreements.
  • If you are being downsized, investigating if you are the only executive or if there are others and if so, how many. Find out what they were offered by the company.

After you have completed your research, schedule an appointment to discuss your severance package. Take your research with you to the meeting because a researched response is more compelling than an anonymous statement. You must convince the company that their severance package is unreasonable in order to create an opening for negotiations.  Remember: this severance package has to sustain you and your family until you secure your next position – so it is imperative that you negotiate a great deal!

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Executive Branding Tip 10

Integrate your brand in to your career marketing materials.

Weave your clear and compelling brand into your value proposition, accomplishment statements, resume, online bios and profiles, letters, website, blog, web portfolio, career biographies, positioning statements, leadership philosophy, and any other self-marketing materials you have created.

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Executive Branding Tip 9

Create a strategy for developing brand equity.

As in traditional marketing, your executive brand should remain consistent throughout all of your marketing channels to build brand equity. The positive feelings your target audience accumulates about you is what makes your brand a valuable asset. Building a brand requires you to gain name recognition for your promise of value and convince your target audience that your brand will deliver value.

Equally important is measuring your brand. You should measure your brand’s awareness and associations through the many stages of recognition and top of mind recall. Similarly, the functional and emotional associations of your brand are important drivers of brand equity. Your brand should score high on both awareness and association attributes.

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Executive Branding Tip 8

Create a plan to take your brand to market.

You can have an incredible brand, but if no one knows about it, you’re not going to experience much success in your career.

Once you’ve identified your brand, create a promotional strategy to make your brand come alive. Decide who your target audience will be, what channels you’ll use to promote your brand, and how frequently you’ll promote your brand.

It’s important to communicate and manage your brand on an ongoing basis … not just when you’re looking for your next position. Building a brand reputation takes time.

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Executive Branding Tip 7

Communicate your brand so your network can provide you with appropriate connections.

If your contacts are crystal clear about your brand, it enables them to provide you with appropriate connections. Alternatively, if you tell your network you are able to solve six different types of problems for companies, the vagueness creates uncertainty in their minds. Seldom will your contact hear a senior management executive seeking advice on six different types of problems at one time.

However, if you communicate to your contacts that you solve a specific type of problem for companies, that’s a more memorable statement and will most likely connect in the contact’s mind when s/he hears a senior management executive looking for a solution to his or her problem.

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Executive Branding Tip 6

Communicate your brand to intensify your leadership persona.

You leadership brand communicates your identity and distinctiveness as a leader in your field. It communicates the value you offer. Your leadership persona is the single most powerful point of attraction. Companies expect to pay a premium for brands as is evident in the list of highest paid executives referenced in Tip 3.

Branding means positioning yourself, through your actions and value, so that people feel an irresistible urge to listen to your advice … to hire you … and seek out your leadership.

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Executive Branding Tip 5

Brand yourself to gain a competitive advantage.

Branding is being known for making the most significant contribution in your particular area of expertise – it’s reputational power. If you’re high profile and well known … you’ll be the “hunted” rather than the “hunter” and you’ll have senior executives, board members and recruiters calling you.

Executives are hired for niche expertise (turnarounds, start-ups, infrastructure architecture, business development, SAP, ERP implementations, global outsourcing, CRM, next-generation technology strategies, etc.) and the ROI they deliver.

For example: If you’re a turnaround artist in a particular industry and you’ve marketed yourself as a turnaround artist … business leaders and recruiters will most likely follow your whereabouts and call you when they need a turnaround artist.

It’s imperative in this market to differentiate yourself and create individuality and a unique value proposition. The more you promote and market your brand, the more you distinguish yourself from your peers and the less you have to do to convince people you are the solution to their problem. However, you can’t leave this to chance, you must make a plan to position yourself to be noticed … to gain recognition and respect.

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