How to Run a Successful Job Search: Part 1

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By Brian Lawton

President, Lingua Franca  

How do you run a job search for a senior position when you haven’t looked for a job in 20 years?

Part 1. Getting organized: Heavy Lifting Now Means Less Work Later

That was my challenge a couple of years ago, when the last time I’d interviewed for a job was in college. After a brief stint in consulting, I reached back out to the company whose offer I turned down and wished I hadn’t. They re-offered me the job on the spot and I joined Capital One for a run of 19 years. It was a fantastic company, but I was ready for a new challenge and the opportunities in Richmond were disappearing. It was time to go.

When I finally determined to look outside and start my search, I realized that I really didn’t know where to begin. I started what turned out to be a nearly 18-month long process, armed with only a couple of good tips and plenty of time. Over those 18 months, I learned a lot about what to do, what not to do and how to make the most of the time I had. Those learnings sometimes came painfully or all too slowly.

I scribbled some notes about what I learned when I was all done. I’ve shared them with some friends here and there as they started to look themselves, and it was always my intention to share it more broadly with folks and pay it forward.

I’ve broken my thoughts down into three parts:

Part 1. Getting organized: Heavy Lifting Now Means Less Work Later
Part 2. Networking: How to Most Effectively Engage People to Help
Part 3. The Best You: How to Put Your Best Foot Forward (coming soon)

Let’s begin with Part 1.

Momentum is the lifeblood of a search

Man at laptop computer writing in notebook.
Do something. Every. Single. Day.

The single most important thing I learned during my search is this: do something every single day. Every. Single. Day. It’s so easy to let this part slide, but if you’re not driving this process forward deliberately, nothing will happen. Carve out at least 30 minutes a day because it’s not going to happen on its own. A day off here and there turns to multiple days turns to weeks without progress.

I often spent 2 hours a day, but 30 minutes is enough. Start by working on the things I mention here. When that’s done, spend that time block to reach out to people (more in Part 2). When you’re in the middle of conversations with companies, work on whatever is up next (more in Part 3).

What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?

Great things are ahead.

It sounds so basic, but figuring out what you really want to do can be hard. People sometimes skip that effort and instead look for what’s familiar. Take the time to think about when you were happiest in your career. Was it a particular function you were in? How the team worked? What was it about that role or roles that was fulfilling?

Distill your dream job down to its most basic elements. If you can’t explain this in simple terms that anyone can understand, you’ve got some work to do. If you’re not pursuing the right job, you’re just going to be unhappy or going through the whole process again soon. It took a lot of reflection to figure this out, but it became a critical insight to target my search.

Build Your LinkedIn Profile to Be Found

Green data on computer screen
Morpheus: “He is the one.”

Your LinkedIn page is like flypaper and the flies you’re trying to catch are search queries, not people. A bare bones page isn’t going to be found.

What you can and should do in a Linkedin profile that you wouldn’t do in a resume is repeat keywords a lot. And describe a role in different ways, in case someone is searching for it in different terms and keywords. Don’t worry as much about readability the way you would in a resume. Because a beautifully worded profile page that isn’t found won’t help you.

The ABC’s of What’s in a Resume

black and white blocks in a triangle shape with colored letters
Include basic resume must-haves.

Your resume should of course include contact info, roles, dates, and summaries of various sorts. Now that I review resumes for a living, the things I like to see for each role you’ve had are: company, title, dates, scope of responsibility and achievements. These same things should be in your LinkedIn profile. If a company isn’t a household name, briefly describe what it does.

Be clear about what your key skill sets are. Achievements need to be put in context, so quantify that you took something from A to B. Saying you increased something by $XX or made an improvement of YY% lacks any kind of reference point to help people know how impressive that outcome was.

Include personal information and interests only if they are relevant or particularly interesting. Board seats and community leadership could matter in a senior executive role. The fact that you love tennis is not worth including, but it’s interesting if you won the state tennis championship.

Your Resume Gets You the Conversation

Black unicorn silhouette
Could you be the one they’re searching for?

While LinkedIn may get your foot in the door, your resume is frequently what the hiring manager sees and uses to evaluate if you’re the right person. You want to be the unicorn they’ve been trying to find.

If you have multiple skill sets and could do multiple things, why would you only have one version of your resume? You should have a few versions of it that emphasize different aspects of your experience more heavily, so you can share the right version depending on the role you’re pursuing.

Then you should tailor that semi-customized version even more closely for a particular role. You should do your best to be the bulls-eye candidate and a one-size fits all resume won’t do that. If your resume speaks to what they want, you get the conversation – and that’s the goal at this stage.

Short and Sweet Summary

stopwatch in palm of hand
Time your versions.

Be able to talk through your experience in either a 30 second version or a 3-4 minute version. Rehearse this and have it down flat so you can give a great answer to anyone, anytime without practice when they say, “Tell me about yourself.”

A longer version isn’t necessary. Once you give an overview, let the other person indicate where they want to hear more.


Make Your Life Easier. Create Templates.

Unless you land the very first job you interview for (congratulations!), you’re going to be repeating many steps over and over. So you might as well make it as painless as possible. Here are things you should put together so you are ready for a conversation at any time. Put each of these components together into a single document you can have in front of you before the call starts. Don’t recreate the wheel for every conversation.

Create a template.
  • Build a list of questions you will find important to ask no matter what the role is. (e.g. what amount of travel is needed, will I have P&L ownership, etc.)
  • Prepare your answers to questions you’ll most likely get asked in an interview. Behavioral questions are common – “Tell me about a time when you…” There are lots of good online sources of questions to help prepare – just Google “common behavioral interview questions.”
  • Think about the top 10 achievements in your career and you’ll generally be able to fit one of those to a behavioral question. Make sure these cover different approaches you took and challenges you faced.
  • Write out the answers to these questions ahead of time, have your facts straight and rehearse them until you have it just the way you want it. There’s no need to wing it if you’re prepared.
  • Have a checklist of what you want to bring if you’re meeting someone in person (resume, notebook, pen, appropriate attire, etc. Don’t leave it to memory and chance when you’re running out the door in a hurry or your last meeting ran late and you have to jump straight into the call.

What other blocking and tackling have you done that set you up for success? What have you done differently that worked well or badly? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Lingua Franca: Accelerate your career.

We work with some of the most interesting companies in FinTech, Banking and beyond to fill critical strategic and analytic roles in their organizations. If you’d like to be considered for new opportunities in the future, visit our Candidates page and create a profile:

Also, follow our LinkedIn page to see what exciting roles we’re working on.

Brian Lawton is the President of Lingua Franca. 

Before launching Lingua Franca, Brian spent 20 years in various P&L ownership and strategic leadership roles across lending and deposit businesses.  He then served as a Managing Director in a boutique strategy consulting firm leading due diligence engagements for M&A deals on behalf of Private Equity clients and also credit strategy projects for Fintechs and regional banks. 

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