C-level application: How to get into top management

C-level application: How to get into top management

When applying and selecting for positions at the C-level level, the classic rules do not apply. Read what pitfalls you need to pay attention to. […]

The further you get in your career, the more complicated the processes that are set up and expected to become. And the decisions that you have to make for yourself are also increasing in complexity. In addition, around 80 percent of vacant management positions are not even advertised publicly. So if you don’t want to wait for headhunter inquiries or trust that the right position will come by itself, you have to open up the “hidden job market”. To do this, you should take the initiative and actively contact companies. Many years of experience in career consulting have taught us that this is the way to reach most job interviews and specific job offers.

But even if an interesting offer or even several are in prospect, there are still some hurdles to be overcome. Above all, one thing is very important to take into account: not only you are applying. “The power relationship between companies and applicants has reversed,” was the headline of the FAZ 2018. And of course, the tendency is that more and more jobs are being advertised than there are applicants. However, just looking at these figures is misleading. After all, asymmetrical power relations result from the selection process, the course of which is usually determined by the company side and not from an oversupply of vacancies.

The most important hurdle that applicants must take is therefore to transform the existing asymmetry of power into a balance of power in order to obtain the necessary information, which allows them to make the better decision. The good thing is that the selection process itself provides a lot of information about the company.

Depending on whether the company representatives see themselves only as moderators and meet equal partners or acts autocratically in the selection process and the symmetry of power is openly used, the applicant recognizes the prevailing culture there. Also, the contract, which is presented at the end of the selection process, and the way the negotiations on it are conducted, allow many conclusions to be drawn. Aspirants should also see this as part of the process, which is really only completed with the signing of the employment contract.

A balance of power is most likely to emerge if there are alternatives or if you also see it as an alternative to get out of the negotiations. Otherwise, it is all too human to talk yourself out of the only option and to hide the negative and risky. This is also an explanation for why managers hold on to a position in a company for longer than they originally wanted. Several options are therefore always worthwhile, even if you don’t use them at the end. Those who have alternatives are more critical with the interlocutors and want to know exactly.

Take, for example, the corporate culture: a manager can only be successful and work if he is a human fit for the company. Otherwise, in the end, both sides will not benefit from cooperation. According to studies, this cultural conformity is playing an increasingly important role in the recruiting process. But the applicant should also investigate in advance of his application whether he can identify with the company.

Such a review could, for example, start with the question in terms of the type of company: is it a group, a medium-sized company or a start-up? Is it managed by the owner, or is it a joint-stock company? What is the nationality of the parent company? The company form and ownership structures already say a lot about a potential employer. But be careful: of course there are big deviations within the types.

You get most of the information through personal conversations as well as through honesty and authenticity. There is no point in “selling” yourself well at any price. The tribute is too high in the end. True statements, on the other hand, increase the chance of success for everyone to make the right decision individually. “The companies are also deceiving,” you might think now – headhunters always praise both sides in the sky anyway. Unfortunately, this is partly really the . However, the companies then also have to live with the consequences, with incorrect staffing or a high turnover.

Transparency and the clear statement of which requirements you may not meet bring more. This gives you credibility and reduces the pressure of having to meet all requirements. In addition, in this way the interlocutor is also taken to responsibility. On the other hand, this openness can also be better demanded. Questions like “What else would be important to know for my decision?” or “What have we not talked about yet, what could be important for me?“ Try to talk to as many people as possible – including employees.

You can record all the insights you gain from the conversations in a table or decision matrix and thus try to systematize the complex decision-making process for a new challenge. But this is only an intermediate step. Do not forget to include your intuition. Quickly, due to the lack of alternatives, we only see what we would like to see, or let ourselves be tempted by the high salary and the great career leap.

Our gut decision also relies on accumulated knowledge – in this case on perceived knowledge, of which seasoned managers have accumulated a lot over the course of their careers. This perceived knowledge should therefore be included in the decision-making process, so that you do not have anything to reproach yourself with later. As you can see, it is much more important than necessarily “passing” the selection process for a position in upper management, it is to find the right position for you in the right company.

*Nane Nebel is a career consultant and coach with extensive practical experience as an in-house consultant for a DAX group and in various operational management functions. She supports executives in new placement and is, among other things, the author of the book “Die CEO-Auswahl. The three hurdles to new responsibility and how to master them.” (Campus 2020).

**Among other things, Dr. Jürgen Nebel was Managing Director of a Group subsidiary and headhunter for a leading international executive search company. Today, as a consultant, coach and lawyer, he specializes in the target group of senior executives and also works as an author (including “The CEO Selection. The three hurdles to new responsibility and how to master them.”)

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