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by Vault Careers | November 23, 2011


In the current economy, no one is safe from the axe, not even executives.  In fact, companies are quick to pull the trigger on firing the most senior officials if they feel they aren't doing enough to turn the tide during a bad fiscal period.  For others, a simple case of economics leads older executives out the door in favor of younger, cheaper talent. 

A Helping Hand to Life You Back on Your FeetEither way, firing an executive can really damage one's reputation.  Just take a look at the situation involving Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz.  In her case, the firing was made public and there was no sugar-coating the issues surrounding the termination.  For others, it's not as severe, but still a major blow to a professional career.  How does a derailed executive get back on track with their career? 

Executive recruiter Colleen Aylward may have the answers. The president of recruiting firm Devon James and author of Bedlam to Boardroom: How To Get a Derailed Executive Career Back on Track ( looked through the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010 figures for layoffs in all categories.  She cherry-picked the job categories that she knew, as a recruiter, to fit the executive profile. Her top line figure – 2.5 million executives out of work – is both troubling and telling of the depth of the current economic crisis.

“Many of these are not the high-priced CEOs that are being criticized for taking too much money in salary and bonuses,” she explained. “These are the managers in the trenches, who spent decades in the corporate world making the trains run on time, and have since been displaced by younger, cheaper executives who lack the experience and institutional memory of those they replaced.”

Aylward’s specialty as a recruiter is to help those displaced executives find work.  She explains that the old ways are not working anymore and haven't for some time.  Executives never had to worry about this fact before, but now that more and more of their stature are being let-go, they are learning quick that it's a brand new ballgame. Aylward states that it's no reason to be frigthened.

"They are still vital and have plenty to offer, but they need to find new ways to show it," she explained. "The dream job doesn’t look at all the way it used to look and executives need to change their perspective if they are going to have a shot in the corporate world of today.”

She has figured out a few key tips to help those who were insiders for so long, but now find themselves on the outside looking in. Those ideas include:

  • Be a Specialist – For many years, an executive’s resume was an exercise in being all things to all people, but that’s not what corporations want these days. They don’t want a general manager of all things executive, but rather, specialists who have niche expertise that can be applied immediately. It’s a culture shift for many executives, so it may seem difficult at first. However, everyone has at least one, maybe even two areas in which they could lay claim to being a specialist. Highlight those areas in your resume and you’ll find a lot more opportunities open to you.
  • Be Creative – Hiring an executive is a big commitment for many companies, as well as an expensive one. Don’t be afraid of creating a situation that puts you back in the saddle while at the same time mitigating a company’s risk. If a company is on the bubble about bringing you on full-time, offer to take on a specific project as an outside contractor and then tie your compensation to the completion of the project. If you screw it up, that’s on you. If you succeed and deliver, not only will you get paid, but you might also win a full-time gig.
  • Get Out and Network – The days of working for one company forever until you retire have been over for a while. Executives have to view even their full-time jobs as freelance gigs with a limited shelf life. In that respect, displaced executives should look toward more project work instead of just waiting around for that dream job to drop in their laps. They need to get out, network and use their days not to root out jobs, but rather to talk to individuals in companies that might have a problem your expertise could solve. More often than not, one well-executed project will turn into more.

--Jon Minners,


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