Why the search for executive jobs shouldn’t wait till January

The market for executive jobs is, by nature, highly competitive - even in a buoyant economy. Boardroom-level positions are highly coveted, and there are many talented, ambitious professionals lining up for every role. This means finding a job is not always easy - the search requires preparation, patience and a fair amount of persistence.

If you're serious about taking the next step in your career - whether you're targeting your first boardroom role or your fifth or a FTSE 100 company - you need to commit time and effort to an executive job search. This applies even in December, when the jobs market typically slows down.

You might be tempted to have a few weeks off over the festive period, but this is a good time to put the foundations in place for developing your career strategy. New executive jobs will come up for grabs in January, and when they become available, you want to be at the front of the queue. If you want to make employers' shortlists, you need to be doing the following things:

Keep developing

You should have been working towards the next step of your career from the first day in your current job. That isn't to say you have a specific position in mind at a particular organisation, or are looking to move at the very first opportunity. But you should be developing skills, adding new experiences, networking, targeting new achievements and building your personal brand. This means that when your ideal role comes up, and you feel ready to take the next step, you're on a solid footing.

The more time you've invested in professional development throughout 2014, the less you'll need to do during December to get up to speed. Your time off over the Christmas break is an ideal opportunity to refresh your career development strategy, and get 'match fit' for your next round of job applications. Use this time wisely to devise or update your plan for finding a job - it could improve your chances of success in January.

Work out your USP

As an ambitious professional, your job is market yourself and your capabilities to hiring organisations. This task becomes much easier if you have a unique selling proposition - an ability, trait or quality that differentiates you from the competition. Employers will expect you to have all-round competence as well, and vast experience in your field, but these niche skills could just give you the edge over the other candidates.

If you have a special attribute, spend time developing it and learn how to market its potential value to employers. If you can't offer niche skills, you need to make sure your all-round performance is superb, and you can provide evidence of the value you add to organisations.

Spend time on your CV

If you're applying for executive jobs, you're going to be up against the top candidates. As such, your CV has to be perfect - in terms of content, design and job-specific focus. You should update your CV at regular intervals and tailor the document to each role you apply for. Always provide evidence of your achievements - employers want senior people who can 'walk the walk', not just 'talk the talk'. Getting this done during December will save you time in the new year, allowing you to focus on completing applications rather than putting the groundwork in place.

Prepare for interviews

When businesses look for executive professionals, they are after people who have strong communication skills - an ability to articulate themselves clearly in high-pressure situations. So if you can't hold things together during an interview, you're going to have a tough job convincing an employer you are the number one candidate. You're applying for a position on the leadership and management team, so you've got to be a convincing communicator. This makes it doubly important to rehearse ahead of any interviews you are invited to, and have a rough idea of what you are going to say in response to certain questions.

Be visible

Your chances of securing an executive job can be improved by building your profile, both in-person with industry contacts and recruitment agencies, and online when using social media and other web channels. Your LinkedIn page needs to up to date, and if you're on Twitter, it makes sense to engage with your followers and embrace the conversation.

Writing thought leadership content via a personal blog, or as a contributor to an industry website, can also 'put your name in lights' and mean employers have heard of you before your job application lands in their inbox. Taking a little time during December to produce some original content and increase your visibility will certainly not hurt, particularly if a prospective employer decides to search for you online.

Network

By conversing with your industry contacts, you may be able to find out about upcoming vacancies before they are officially advertised, helping you to steal a march on the competition. There should be plenty of opportunities to 'meet and greet' during December, which tends to have a busy social calendar. Attend functions if you can, and, at the very least, send a Christmas card out to the people who matter.

Search for roles

Even at quieter times of the year - such as the Christmas period - some new jobs will come up for grabs. If you're able to get your application in early, all the better. It makes sense to check the jobs boards regularly for new opportunities, and stay in touch with recruiters - they may be able to connect you with an employer looking to hire.

Recruitment agencies have access to the 'hidden jobs' market, in the sense they are often asked to headhunt suitable candidates on behalf of employers. Establishing links with an agency could see you forwarded for an executive jobs that nobody else knows about.

Speak to your family

The top executive jobs are few and far between, so you need to grab exciting opportunities with both hands. In order to move up the career ladder, you may need to move to another part of the country, or even head overseas for a short while. This will cause disruption if you have a family at home, and potentially impact on your partner's career and childcare/schooling arrangements for your children. Involving them in your job search - and decision making process - from an early stage can make for a smoother transition should you receive an offer. There may still be upheaval for your loved ones, but at least the shock factor should be mitigated.

Be pragmatic

However skilled and experienced you are as a professional, and no matter how strong your CV is, you're not going to get every executive job you go after. The jobs pyramid becomes narrow at the top, meaning there will be many talented people targeting the same vacancies as you. Even if your application is faultless on paper, and you perform to your very best at interview, there are no guarantees you will be offered the job. Employers may have to choose from three or four exceptional people for one role, the upshot being you miss out through no fault of your own.

Speaking to friends and family about your job search - providing they can be trusted to be discreet and keep information confidential - can help soften the blow if you don't get offered a job. Having a support network in place should help you cope with rejection, but also celebrate your successes when they come.

In summary

The executive jobs market may slow down in December, but it will quickly kick back into gear in the new year. The wisest candidates will be primed and ready to go when employers start to advertise new vacancies in January. By researching new roles and employers, getting your CV ready, practising your interview skills and speaking to recruiters, you can give yourself an advantage over other candidates in what is an ever-competitive field.