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How to Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track

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Executive recruiter Colleen Aylward wanted to figure out how many executives had been displaced by the poor economy over the last few years, but before she got her numbers, she discovered something else even more troubling.

“No one actually keeps track of those stats,” says Aylward, president of recruiting firm Devon James and author of Bedlam to Boardroom: How To Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track (www.devonjames.com). “When I tried to look it up with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and even talk to some of the bureau’s staff, I couldn’t get a straight answer.”

Instead, Aylward took the bureau’s 2010 figures for layoffs in all categories and cherry-picked the job categories that she knew, as a recruiter, to fit the executive profile. Her top line figure—2.5 million executives out of work—is both troubling and telling of the depth of the current economic crisis.

“Many of these are not the high-priced CEOs that are being criticized for taking too much money in salary and bonuses,” she adds. “These are the managers in the trenches, who spent decades in the corporate world making the trains run on time, and have since been displaced by younger, cheaper executives who lack the experience and institutional memory of those they replaced.”

Aylward’s specialty as a recruiter is to help those displaced executives find work and she has figured out a few key tips to help those who were insiders for so long, but now find themselves on the outside looking in. Those ideas include:

• Be a Specialist – For many years, an executive’s resume was an exercise in being all things to all people, but that’s not what corporations want these days. They don’t want a general manager of all things executive, but rather, specialists who have niche expertise that can be applied immediately. It’s a culture shift for many executives, so it may seem difficult at first. However, everyone has at least one, maybe even two areas in which they could lay claim to being a specialist. Highlight those areas in your resume and you’ll find a lot more opportunities open to you.

• Be Creative – Hiring an executive is a big commitment for many companies, as well as an expensive one. Don’t be afraid of creating a situation that puts you back in the saddle while at the same time mitigating a company’s risk. If a company is on the bubble about bringing you on full-time, offer to take on a specific project as an outside contractor and then tie your compensation to the completion of the project. If you screw it up, that’s on you. If you succeed and deliver, not only will you get paid, but you might also win a full-time gig.

• Get Out and Network – The days of working for one company forever until you retire have been over for a while. Executives have to view even their full-time jobs as freelance gigs with a limited shelf life. In that respect, displaced executives should look toward more project work instead of just waiting around for that dream job to drop in their laps. They need to get out, network and use their days not to root out jobs, but rather to talk to individuals in companies that might have a problem your expertise could solve. More often than not, one well-executed project will turn into more.

“The old ways don’t work, anymore,” Aylward adds. “In fact, they haven’t worked in a while, but the executives who have been laid off over the last few years never had to read that particular news update. They are still vital and have plenty to offer, but they need to find new ways to show it. The dream job doesn’t look at all the way it used to look and executives need to change their perspective if they are going to have a shot in the corporate world of today.”

For more information, visit www.devonjames.com.

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