At some point in their career, most employees are taken by surprise by a change in their job situation.
But when a company is put up for sale, it creates a uniquely challenging situation for CFOs and other senior executives, who may find themselves in the unenviable position of having to ensure the success of a deal that will likely result in the loss of their jobs. During that uncertain and stressful period, they also have to strategize and plan for their next move.
Finalizing a company sale can easily take as long as a year, and through that entire process, senior executives must essentially do two jobs simultaneously:
- They need to devote themselves to their current responsibilities at work and, if possible, take on prominent new ones.
- They need to start thinking about how they’ll prepare personally for a probable job change.
If you’re a senior executive in a company that is being sold, your emotions regarding the prospect of re-entering the job market may largely depend on your career history. If you’ve made lateral moves between companies in the past, the process of finding a job may be fresh in your mind and won’t seem as intimidating. However, if you’ve devoted your career to a single company and gradually moved up the corporate ladder, you might be somewhat anxious about finding another position with the same level of prestige and compensation.
In my career as a strategic consultant for business owners, I often work closely with senior executives who are grappling with this situation. I’ve observed firsthand which strategies have been effective — and which have not.
- Get involved in a big way.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of unemployment, the first and most important thing you can do as a senior executive is to get involved in a very big project at your company, then make sure that you do a great job at it. The benefits of doing this are both personal and professional.
On a personal level, you need to feel comfortable that when the deal closes, you can leave with your head held high. On a professional level, a major new accomplishment serves as a calling card in future job interviews and helps frame your professional story.
Be a team player.
Next, make it clear that you’re still part of the team at your company. Everyone is under pressure to maintain a sense of unity in the face of imminent change, so employee dedication is highly valued. And on a purely selfish level, if you want to share in the monetary benefits of a good deal taking place or get a strong recommendation from your current employer, you have to help this project succeed.
Remember that this a moment in time when you have to consider the interests of other stakeholders above your own. Customers and shareholders come first. After them are the rank-and-file employees who keep the business functioning from day to day. Senior employees are a distant third.
Create a narrative.
As you re-enter the job market, one of the most important things you can do is create a narrative about your career. You’re not just a former member of the team of a particular company; you’re an independent finance professional. And part of that new identity is knowing what skills and experience you have that are transferrable to other companies.
If you’re an industry veteran, don’t view your age as a negative. Many senior-level jobs out there require the combination of practical knowledge and instinct that only seasoned professionals have.
Take a consultative approach.
It’s a common mistake to view potential job interviews as an opportunity to do a hard sell by rattling off your skills and experiences. But I would suggest a different strategy.
As you network and encounter new people who are in a position to offer you a job, take a consultative approach. Listen to what they have to say. Ask about their challenges and their needs. How are they financing their company? How is their organization getting the information to make big decisions? Probe, probe, probe.
As they open up, look for a natural opening to tell your story and explain how you’ve helped someone in a similar situation. Companies are inclined to hire someone who understands their needs and can offer solutions.
Remember that change is inevitable.
Whatever happens in your job search, you have to be clear-eyed about what the options are. You may get a great new job, or, on the other end of the spectrum, you may be entering retirement sooner than you thought.
The good news for most senior executives is that they will have reached an income level where they have a financial reserve to insulate them through a period without income. So embrace the period of transition and make sure that you end up in a place that feels right.
Frank Williamson is the founder of Oaklyn Consulting, a strategy consulting firm with a financial focus. Oaklyn Consulting helps the owners of lower and middle market businesses and investment funds with corporate finance, mergers, acquisitions, capital raising, and succession advice.