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Recruiting Lessons from Chicago the Movie | Video

Executive Recruiting Lessons

Executive recruiting lessons can be found in great works of art. And thus, it should come as no surprise that there are executive recruiting lessons to be learned from American theater. For example, Oscar Wilde noted more than a century ago:

“Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”

— Oscar Wilde

The American musical Chicago was co-written by Bob Fosse, who created its iconic choreography. Fosse’s work is inspired by burlesque — humorous theatrical entertainment involving parody, grotesque exaggeration — and, yes, even striptease. 

What is a discussion about burlesque doing in a blog post about executive search lessons?

Stay with me.

The movie Chicago features the song Mr. Cellophane, which offers an essential executive recruiting lesson: the importance of being seen.

Mister Cellophane
Shoulda been my name
Mister Cellophane
‘Cause you can look right through me
Walk right by me
And never know I’m there… 

Chicago | ‘Mr. Cellophane’ — Miramax

Essential Executive Recruiting Lessons

1. Learn How to Be Noticed

Senior executives often approach me for help in finding their next job. Whenever they do, it reminds me of a key executive recruiting lesson. What we want deep down is to be seen. Like Mr. Cellophane, leaders who are networking must find a way to be noticed.

My executive search lesson? Great leaders who inspire their teams first must first learn how to noticed in such as way as to command respect. The same lesson applies to recruiters and people in sales. In order to lead, one must have the ability to get people to pay attention to them. Senior executives usually do it with gravitas — personal characteristics that command respect or serve as evidence of leadership ability. According to Rebecca Newton who writes in Harvard Business Review, Gravitas is a Skill You Can Develop. You can do so by remaining your authentic self.

2. Learn How to Work the Room

Next, senior leaders must learn how to work the room. They must be effective at networking. That’s another executive search lesson I have learned. Candidates who are effective at networking are usually strong at interviewing for their next jobs. They pick up on subtle cues and behaviors as they interact with hiring executives. They mirror that back to them and adjust their approach to be successful.

I am paid by very powerful client corporations to find the ideal candidate for a specific job opening. I make it a practice to foster relationships with select executives who are counted among the industry’s best and brightest – luminaries and up-and-coming stars.

Networking is how business gets done. Leaders do it to build their influence. Recruiters do it for referrals to the best and brightest candidates. Executives seeking their next job must learn to network with recruiters to advance their careers.

3. Learn Approaches that Intrigue

Another recruiting lesson: leaders must find a way to intrigue — and not annoy — whenever they approach someone. Sending me an email with the subject heading, “Hey, Kristaaaaaaaaa” 5 times in a row will capture my attention. But it will do so only long enough to allow me to add your email address to my SPAM filter.

4. When You Communicate, Make It Matter

Some of the most memorable leaders are those who convey important information — insights you value. They often they don’t speak a lot. But when they do, what they say is brilliant. They’re good listeners, adept synthesizers of facts, and effective decision-makers. They don’t raise their voice. They don’t have to. Those around them already are paying attention and waiting for them to weigh in. So if there is a recruiting lesson I”ve learned, it is that what you say must be important enough to matter.

5. Keep Your Email Messages Brief

Time is precious for senior executives, so keep your email messages as short as possible. Make the subject clear. Limit your messages to a couple of bullet points. Put additional details below your signature or attach details to which the executive can refer. Whenever you approach an executive recruiter, a hiring executive, or any stakeholder the way you communicate must help them help you.

For candidates, make your resume or CV easy to access. Yes, attach your resume to the email but also copy/paste the text below your signature. Don’t give the reader extra work by making them open your file. Having the resume text in your email will make it discoverable with the reader searches their Inbox. Next, upload your resume to the the search firm or company website. That step ensures you get added to the candidate database.  And if a hiring executive or recruiter doesn’t respond, that simply means they don’t have an opportunity to discuss with you right now. It also means you didn’t give them any other reason to have a conversation with you. So, give them a reason. (See #4.)

So that raises the question: What’s the best way to get on my radar screen? Again, there’s a lesson to be learned from burlesque.

Pay It Forward in Your Interactions

A key recruiting lesson is that networking is not about the “get”, it is about the “give”. When you give, you become empowered. The give may be sharing industry insight, making an introduction, or helping solve a problem. When you focus on what you can do for someone instead of what they can do for you, you pay it forward and demonstrate you are a person of substance. You avoid seeming desperate.

Helping those with whom you network can challenging. If find yourself in desperate circumstances, it is hard to conceive of what you could possibly offer an industry luminary. But what we bring to the table has nothing to do with our employment status. It has to do with who we are.

We all have something to offer. Sure, you will get pushback from transactional leaders. That resistance simply guides you to movers and shakers who are more open to your ideas. When you focus on the give, it helps get your mojo working again. You put energy out there in the universe that will reap rewards. I have seen it happen, time and again.

For more executive recruiting tips, check out our Executive Search Collection featuring articles that include The Lasting Impact of COVID-19 on Executive Recruitment and 12 Reasons to Hire a Headhunter

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Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford is CEO of the retained executive search firm The Good Search and of its research division Intellerati. A former award-winning television journalist and investigative reporter, Ms. Bradford now pursues truth, justice, and great talent in the executive suite.View Author posts

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