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Posted: April 20, 2009

Why CEOs should be nice to directors

Executives need all the help they can get when they're scouting for jobs

John Heckers

It is especially important for those of you at the C-level in a job search to be open to speaking to everyone about your search. Many top level execs, however, only want to speak to other top level execs. 

In fact, other C-level people aren’t going to be much help to you. Here is why C-level peer networking is not the best strategy for C-level executives to follow in the task of job seeking.

1) Where lower-level executives may be pretty well tied to an industry, C-level executives are often open across industries and even company size. This means that, for the C-level executive who is in job search mode, every C-level opening is an opening that is applicable to their job search. This means most C-level executives have a disincentive to share openings with other C-level executives. They tend to feel that, by sharing, they are creating competition, and they’re often correct.

2) The above is especially true in a very attractive and limited market, like Denver.  Many C-level executives I know will not pass on job openings at the upper levels in Denver until they check it out themselves. This can mean a delay of days or weeks before the lead is passed on, if at all.

3) With things so shaky these days, even sitting C-level executives aren’t passing along openings they hear about until they are sure that it isn’t a possibility for them.

4) Boards often decide to get rid of an executive before they tell the executive. This means they may be on a discreet search long before the C-level executive has a clue anything is wrong … which alone should be grounds for termination. I’ve often known an opening was coming up long before the executive in question did. The grapevine -- which too many top level executives ignore or don’t have any taps into -- is very active in Denver. Many people will know of a coming opening before C-level executives … especially those who are about to be let go.

5) Director level, VP level and even senior manager level personnel often will hear of these things through the grapevine. They have a positive incentive to pass this information on to C-level executives who have befriended them. Almost all of our top level executives hear of their next job through a lower-level person, not a fellow C-level.   The reason is clear. These people want you to hire them. Duh!

6) Lower-level executives are often much more aware of openings in the emerging industries that are the bulk of new opportunities in the Colorado economy.

7) Often, private equity, venture capital firms, angel investors and so on are a good bet for finding out about C-level jobs. These people don’t just talk to C-level people. They are looking for top management at all levels.

8) Top level execs often turn up their noses at service providers and vendors. Well, folks, we lowly service providers keep a much better network than your neighbors, friends and colleagues. Before you blow us off, or treat us with rudeness, you might consider that.  And, in Denver and the Front Range, a good network is everything. Someone with a good network can get you employed in a hurry…or ensure that you don’t have an easy time finding work in Colorado. It is all a matter of who tells what to whom and when.

This is one of those “business Darwinism” issues. The snobs and the arrogant who are too good to hobnob with the rest of the business world are on their way to extinction.  Hierarchy in the business world is dying rapidly, anyway. A new, cooperative and organic system of business is emerging. These are some of the reasons why even those executives who are not in job search mode should be talking to all levels.

I am very against any program or system that segregates C-level executives from other executive level people. They tend to be, in today’s day and age, counterproductive. Be open to all people, regardless of title. If you aren’t, you and the other out of work C-level executives who were too arrogant to network openly will enjoy your long-term leisure together. Those who are organic in their networking and open to many people will become rapidly employed.

One final tip. Keep up your multi-level network and continue to be generous to lower level folks after you’re employed. Remember that the next layoff might be right around the corner.

John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC, is an executive transition coach, executive coach, and corporate trainer in Cherry Creek.  He welcomes your contact at, or at 720.581.4301, accepts all LinkedIn invitations and is happy to sit down and network with you over coffee.  Please read his “C” Level blog at, and watch for his upcoming book: In Transition: Rapidly Finding Your Next Executive Job (Even in Difficult Times), due out in June.

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John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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