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It’s tough getting to the top; it’s even harder staying there

You’ve got the CV. You’ve seen the vacancy. You think you should get the job, but will you?

My job is headhunting CEOs and other C-suite executives. I find board members too – and I have to tell you that some of the best candidates fail because they make the most basic errors; before, during and after the panel interviews, not because they don’t deserve to get the job.

Like all good tales, it starts at the very beginning. Your CV is the story of your life and people who read it have certain expectations: it has to be spot on – and it has to be true. That starts with your choice of photograph. Don’t use a photograph of yourself from a decade ago, put in a picture of what you look like now, because what message are you giving if you appear as one character in your resume and a totally different one in real life?

The same goes for your employment record. Put in dates. The interviewers on the panel want to see whether you are a job hopper or not; it’s one thing to devise strategies and a whole other ball game to implement them and live or die by the results. If you’re making plans, why aren’t you being given the opportunity to put them in practice – or weren’t your plans that good?

CVs should be short and compelling too, not wordy and full of irrelevance. List the achievements that make you stand out, because if the company is looking for a mover and shaker, they want to know that you have a track record of getting in; making plans, implementing them and turning the business around – and how you measured that success. Sometimes, putting in the fact that you serve on the PTA or sing in the church choir is not that relevant – unless the job is looking for proof of community involvement.

If you are busy studying for an MBA, put that there, don’t claim an MBA if the thesis is still outstanding – or if you only did the preparatory PG Dip in management practice. And remember, a PhD is wholly thesis based, there is no such thing as a PhD without a thesis – despite what you might have seen on LinkedIn.

Once you’ve made it to the interview phase; show some respect by preparing for it. Whatever you did in the past has qualified you to be invited to this part of the process, now you need to show the panel that the opportunity was worth reading the company’s last couple of annual reports so that you can offer them an opinion about their company.

And if you weren’t able to study those documents to actually do your research, be honest – and then offer an opinion in that context. Don’t just try to busk it – because you will be caught out.

Preparing includes thinking about what you are going to say and how you are going to present yourself. You need the technical and analytical skills, but if you are competing for a C-suite appointment, you need to project gravitas and confidence. You need to be eloquent.

Lockdown might have allowed us all a bit of leeway in terms of remote meetings and digital backgrounds, but a face-to-face meeting means being appropriately dressed and groomed.

The same goes for package negotiations. You will, in all probability, be asked what you are looking for in terms of salary and perks. You will know what is reasonable within the parameters of your own earning history and what and where the company is. You will mention a sum based on that.

The panel will either agree or seek to temper your expectations then and there. The key thing though is that when you do receive a formal offer and it is 20 – 30% higher than the figure you mentioned, do not try to hold out for more. That’s not just bad negotiating tactics, it’s actually bad faith.

Quibbling over money after the fact might leave your prospective employers with a bad taste in their mouths, but it does not compare to the perils of claiming to have a degree that you have neither earned, nor been awarded, or misrepresenting how you actually look. You might get away with some during the pre-selection process, if the recruiters have not done their due diligence.

You might even get away with it on the panel phase, because everyone has assumed that your CV has been vetted and is what it says it is. But when it does emerge – and it will – that you don’t have that qualification, you literally won’t have a leg to stand on.
After all, who wants to entrust a multimillion-rands company to someone who can lie about something as fundamental as a qualification? Putting in an airbrushed, ancient picture of yourself isn’t much better. It’s the same question, just asked differently: if you can’t be honest about what you look like, what else can’t you be honest about?

Those aren’t questions you ever want asked about yourself – ever. Not at this level. So be honest, be authentic, be proactive and let the good in you shine through. That’s how you’ll get the job – and how you will keep it, because you will have made sure that you have managed expectations at every part of the process.

Now go out and get your dream job. Good luck!