Recruiters assess advancement chances

Headhunters' advice for moving on and up

According to many recruiters who specialize in placing entertainment industry and media executives, this is a great time for midlevel people who want to change or further their careers.

“There’s lot of action out there,” says Bill Simon, managing director of global media, entertainment and convergence practice at Korn/Ferry Intl.

Tony Filson, president of Filcro Media Staffing, says that the only down side right now is the recording industry. “Everyone else is enjoying a renaissance of the go-go ’80s.”

Yet despite all the jobs available, many people are hesitant about pursuing them.

“In some cases, you get caught up in the loyalty to your present employer and you forget your loyalty to yourself,” says Brad Marks, chairman and CEO of Brad Marks Intl. “You only have so many years of productivity.”

He adds that many employees don’t know how to approach the job market, either. “I’m always surprised at how people who know how to sell and market products and services don’t have a clue when it comes to marketing themselves.”

“You’d be surprised at how many people fail to put together a good chronological resume.”

And even people who do have resumes sometimes downplay their strengths. “Some people have wonderful educational credentials, but they put it way down at the back,” Marks says.

But while Marks and Simon both welcome resumes, other recruiters are less enthusiastic about receiving them.

“A resume that comes in is like an unsolicited screenplay — it’s basically tossed,” says Stephen Unger, managing partner, media, entertainment and interactive content, Heidrick & Struggles. “People ask me all the time, ‘How can we get your attention?’ The way I would respond is, ‘We will find you if you do great work.’

“The way we work in a firm like ours, the client is the company, not the individual,” he adds. “We would be given an assignment by a company. As a result of conversations, we would get a very specific idea as to what they’re looking for.”

“The essence of it is where is this man or woman?” says Simon. “It’s really about their accomplishments. How do people react to them? Where have they burned bridges? It’s trying to understand people.”

He also looks for a certain vitality in the way people pursue their careers, noting, “If somebody’s been in one job for 20 years, that person’s less interesting than someone who spent 15 years at one company, three at another and two at a startup.”

Nevertheless, even those unfortunates who have spent 20 years at the same job can make themselves more intriguing.

“Take on new projects,” suggests Simon. “Get involved in new things, either at your job, or outside. Expand your skills into new areas.”

Unger recommends executives try to increase their visibility: “They can do that by getting quoting regularly in publications. They can teach courses. They can travel and attend trade conventions.”

The goal is to make others perceive you as an expert and “the best way to become an expert is to have a third party say you’re an expert,” he adds.

But perception is only one element.

“At its base, it’s outstanding performance,” says Unger. “In whatever field or area or sector, just do the best possible job that you can. That’s fundamental — perception only works so far. The way people move up and move into CEO roles is a combination of form and substance. If you neglect either, you certainly won’t move up as high or as fast as you like.”

Marks also looks for leadership capabilities, as well as certain other traits such as being a team player and having a strong bottom-line orientation.

“I would say staying on top of the technological trends is the key. We’re looking for people who have some sort of track record,” he says. “Senior executives are not as much specialists these days as they once were, but really all-around athletes. Those are the kinds of individuals that companies are looking for — people who are multifaceted in their skills.”

Unger says globalization is a major corporate trend, so employers want people who have demonstrated an interest and ability in that area. Especially prized is “cultural fluency.”

“If a midlevel executive had an opportunity to spend a couple of years working abroad, that person will come back to the U.S. eventually in a stronger position to attain one of the top jobs,” he says.

Finally, one important yet intangible attribute is a candidate’s chemistry with their prospective company and its corporate culture.

“I’ve had so many situations where the best fit gets the job, rather than the best athlete,” says Marks. “It’s the one that feels the most comfortable that gets the job, usually.”

Simon believes that people are now realizing that they have to manage their own careers and be proactive.

“It’s a matter of not just staying stuck in a crappy job,” he says. “It’s incumbent upon you to do something about it. What better time than now, when the economy’s hot and there are jobs out there?”

“The people worst off are the ones grabbing their seats and afraid to budge from it, frozen, afraid to take any steps at all,” says Unger. “Opportunities are gliding by, and they’re afraid to seize them.”

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