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Ask the Recruiter: Early-career tips for getting to the C-suite

Broadening your experience is key: Get out of your silo, volunteer for new opportunities, be active in association-community events

Martin and Wright
David Martin and Liza Wright

May 25, 2018

Question: Please provide recommendations for early-career association leaders who eventually will be vying for CEO jobs. How should they build their networks and resumes?

David Martin
Managing Partner
Sterling Martin Associates
Take advantage of opportunities to work with other departments at your current organization. If you work in the meetings department and can gain exposure to advocacy or finance that can broaden your experience. If you decide to leave the organization for another opportunity, try not to job-hop every year or two. Being promoted two or three times over seven years within the same organization looks better than three different organizations over seven years.

Pursue professional development, and network at association-related events.

Take on opportunities to manage people and budgets when possible. Stay current with technology and keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Seek public-speaking opportunities when you can.

Look for opportunities to work with your board, such as on committees. Or volunteer on a nonprofit board. Be curious. Read your organization’s bylaws and Form 990s. I’m surprised when I speak with a mid-career candidate and they don’t know the budget of their organization or the sources of revenue.

Liza Wright
Managing Partner
Lochlin Partners
First, identify mentors who can teach, train and guide you as you develop your career. Good, strong mentoring relationships can follow you throughout your entire career, providing objective advice.

Second, build strong relationships at your current employer. You must gain a reputation for delivering high-quality work and demonstrating leadership potential.

Third, become a player in the broader association market by actively involving yourself in the myriad groups and events, and get known by the players in the space. Network with your peers as they will hear about potential opportunities and can keep you top of mind.

Overall, be active and engaged with those both inside and outside your organization. If you are doing the same thing over and over again, you are not “building” your resume. Volunteer to take on additional responsibilities, lead or be part of high-impact projects at work.

Finally, always carefully manage your reputation; boards want leaders who get results and
operate with high integrity.

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