Kate Bullis
Vasu Jakkal

Searching for a job—especially a more senior-level job as a Chief Marketing Officer—isn’t nearly as simple as sending in a CV.

So, in this CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, we sought advice from Kate Bullis, Managing Partner of Go-To Marketing Practice, SEBA International Executive Search, about how marketers can:

  • Position themselves to take that next career step toward a more senior leadership role;
  • Apply best practices to transitioning to being part of an executive search; and
  • Find CMO jobs that aren’t generally advertised.

In addition, we invited Vasu Jakkal, EVP and CMO of FireEye Inc., to share her own experiences after going through the CMO search for the first time.

#1: Get Clear About Your Desired Next Gig

According to Bullis, great marketers are always in demand.

This can be a good thing—but only if you know what you want. Otherwise, if you explore every opportunity you hear about, that journey to find your next gig could be extremely long and painful, and you will be more likely to take any job that comes your way.

To make the most of your time and career objectives, it’s critical to identify what you want to do. But that doesn’t mean that you need to know where you want to be 5 to 10 years from now. “Instead, ask yourself ‘how do I get there?,’” says Bullis. “If you know you don’t want to do product marketing and you’d prefer going deeper on storytelling or branding, look for gigs that will allow you to use and increase those skills.”

“Ask yourself who you want to be, what you want to stand for, and what matters to you,” Jakkal adds. “There are so many different kinds of companies and CMO positions. You want to find a company that aligns with your wants, and whose culture you can fit into, where you know people will support you to be successful.”

#2: Beef Up Your LinkedIn Profile

Given the overwhelming popularity of LinkedIn in recruiting and the business world, Bullis advises including more than just dates and titles in your profile.

“Most executives are using LinkedIn instead of resumes these days, so your profile needs to be really detailed,” says Bullis. She suggests the following:

  • Know and market your “superpowers.” Every CMO has one or two areas of expertise within marketing that they are particularly good at. The role of a CMO is so wide that there is no way you can be equal parts good at everything. As a result, be aware of what your “spikes” are, and be upfront about them.
  • Include results. Beyond just the companies you’ve worked for and roles you have played, highlight any results you are able to claim.
  • Share the audiences you have marketed to. Particularly if you are a B2B marketer, be very clear about who your audiences have been.
  • Be clear what you want to be doing next. This is not only helpful for recruiters, but for organizations looking for people like you. Certainly, you may wish to be a CMO…but of what, and for whom? “There are companies that are growing and changing, companies that are expanding their product line, and those that are dialing back and cutting back to the core. What kind of environment do you want to be in, and why? Explain why you would be particularly good in that type of environment,” says Bullis.

#3: Be Proactive (Especially If You’re Looking Internally)

If you are looking for a more senior role with your current employer, never make assumptions you will get promoted.

“Professionals often make the mistake of thinking that if they do a good job in their role and then say they’d like to do the next thing, that should be enough—but it’s not,” says Bullis. “You need to be proactive to get to the next level. Make your managers aware of your ambitions, without going so far that people will get tired of hearing about it.”

Meanwhile, demonstrate that you are ready for bigger things. “Take on something challenging—seek out problems to solve, and tell management that you see a hole and you’d like to be the one to work on it. This will help managers see you in a bigger role.”

#4: Build Your Network

Use every person in your network to your advantage. Offer to help others, so they can easily visualize how they could refer or introduce you to others. Bullis suggests taking people out for a cup of coffee, “not because that person has a specific role or person they can introduce you to, but so you can learn and come up with ways to help one another.”

Meanwhile, building your network can help in accessing senior-level jobs that are typically not posted or advertised. Ask your mentors and get to know executive recruiters who can make introductions, as a warm introduction is always better than a cold one. Bullis also suggests checking out BlueSteps, an international database that lists the world’s top executive search firms.

#5: Before You Accept, Understand the Scope

Having a strong network can help ensure you fully understand the scope of any job you are offered.

“A close friend of mine was promised an amazing job with a spectacular compensation package, but until she looked closer at the fine print, she didn’t realize that her annual marketing budget would only be $500K,” says Jakkal. As such, her friend discovered a very big mismatch between what her new employer expected of her, and how much they were actually willing to give her to achieve those marketing goals.

Going in with someone you know throughout the job-searching journey can be very helpful for minimizing these misunderstandings,” Jakkal says, “and having people who you trust, so you can make the right career choices.”

#6: Resign With Class

Every bridge you build in your career is important—even relationships that aren’t front-and-centre. You will need those bridges for references if you are looking for a new job, and may also need them if you’re ever hiring.

“At some point, those bridges are going to help you—so don’t burn them,” says Bullis. “Be careful. When you’re in the process of looking at a new job, or going through the resignation process, always make sure you go out smelling like a rose. Resigning isn’t just about writing a nice exit letter. Make an action plan with some ideas for moving forward in the short-term.”

Meanwhile, make sure not to turn your resignation into an airing of grievances. “This is not an opportunity to say all the things you’ve never said, or to reconsider your decision to leave,” says Bullis. Otherwise, you may burn those bridges permanently.

As for timing, Bullis agrees that giving two weeks’ notice is standard. If you can negotiate for more time with your future employer, that is a nice thing to offer, but certainly not required.

The CMO Tenure is Getting Longer

According to statistics, the average CMO stays in their job for about 42 months.

But Bullis predicts a longer tenure in the future.

“Companies are really starting to understand the impact marketing can bring—even to the point where marketing is being seen as equals at the table with IT, sales and others in the C-suite,” she says. As a result, marketers are not only wanting to stay longer with employers—but being invited to stay longer as well.

Bullis acknowledges that start-ups and companies in high growth may continue seeing the head of marketing changing out, but that is to be expected.

“Scale and growth require different skill sets in different roles, and you have to keep in mind that the stage and age of the company has a lot to do with how long an employee may stay,” says Bullis.

The good news is that CMOs appear to have more choices than ever before—not to mention plenty of resources to help them achieve their coveted next gig.