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The Question

I am a vice-president at a very small company (fewer than 10 people), with no direct reports. Previously, I held the position of director at a very large organization employing more than 20,000 people, where I managed a mid-sized team of reports. Although I have gained valuable experience in my current role, I believe it is time for a change.

Many director-level positions at large companies are a perfect fit for me. Despite my efforts, I cannot get a call from hiring managers.

My hypothesis is that my current vice-president title is holding me back. I am presumed to be too senior, with expectations of compensation that cannot be met, or else I am somehow presumed to be regressing in my career because of the size of my current company.

What is the best way to handle this situation in a cover letter or résumé to make it clear I should be considered a viable candidate?

The Answer

Your theory may have some veracity. However, it needs to be tested before you can definitively state that your current job title is holding you back.

Call and speak to more senior human resources personnel or other officials at the companies where you have applied – if the HR officials or other hiring managers are not returning your calls or e-mails – and ask to meet with them. If they are not able to meet in person, say you would like to set up a brief telephone interview. Ask why you were not selected for an interview. Ask whether your current job title is giving the impression that you are too senior for the director position you are seeking. Ask them what they recommend you change on your résumé and cover letters.

You should also ask how you can land an interview and a position at the director level in their companies. Ask for specifics, even if they say you are not a good fit for the company. Ask what they would do if they were in your position and who else you might speak to in their company or other companies about appropriate director-level positions. Take note of what they say. Make the recommended changes to your résumé and cover letter and follow up with the company officials that they recommend.

I would recommend the following changes for your résumé: Ensure that you indicate under your current and previous job titles the size of the division that you are responsible for, including the budget, number of staff, and number of direct reports. Also indicate in bullet form the accomplishments you have achieved in each position.

In your cover letter, clearly outline your interest in the new position and say that you are comfortable working at that level. Point out that you have had responsibility for managing a number of staff, large budgets and projects.

Match the language that the companies use in their job ads. This is often used as a screening tool by HR officials. Customize your résumé and cover letter for every position that you apply for.

Remember, the majority of positions are never advertised. Use your contacts and build your network. Attend business, professional, networking and social functions that executives from the companies you are interested in regularly attend. Exchange business cards with the officials and follow up with them to explore opportunities in the sector and their companies.

Identify the companies you would like to work for and see who in your network, either in person or through social media sites such as LinkedIn has contacts there. Set up in-person information interviews with key company officials. Go directly to the executives that you would like to work for. Show your interest in the company and that you have done your research. Indicate your interest in working for the company either on a consulting or a full-time basis. Ask company officials for other leads or contacts if they do not have an immediate opening. Follow up with a thank you letter and ask them to contact you if they have any appropriate openings in the future.

Also consider writing articles, blogging and making presentations at business meetings on topics with which you are familiar, and that senior company officials will be interested in and want more information about. The more visible you are and the more you indicate how you can help companies, the more they will want to hire you– regardless of your current job title.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting. He is based in Vancouver and works internationally.

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