How To Land Internal C-Suite Roles When The Company Uses A Search Firm

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

When your company has hired an executive search firm, putting yourself in line for an internal C-level role requires a well-thought-out strategy. Showcasing your achievements isn’t enough—you need to demonstrate how your vision aligns with the company’s future direction and how you can drive transformative growth.

To do so, building strong relationships within your network and effectively communicating your unique value proposition is crucial. Here, 19 Forbes Coaches Council members share secrets to positioning yourself as the ideal candidate for an internal C-level role and making a compelling case for your leadership capabilities.

1. Remain Confident

While an outside firm casts a wider net, know that you can still be a standout candidate. At the very least, you will learn even more about how outside firms work and wow them with your talent—if not for this role, possibly for another C-suite role for which they are conducting a search. You got this far. You’ve got this! – Cheri Bachofer, Forwarding Leaders

2. Consistently Demonstrate A Multitude Of Skills

Although years of experience is one part of the equation, landing a C-level role requires one’s ability to consistently demonstrate a multitude of skills. There is no secret other than to show up, build trust, go above and beyond, think and act big and be someone others are inspired to follow—consistently. Are you already doing that? Getting the support of sponsors who believe you are is key. – Nishika de Rosairo, HumanQ Inc

3. Bridge Any Perceived Skill Gaps

Drawing on my CEO search experience with board involvement, success hinges on self-awareness and confronting perceived skill gaps. If a retained search is engaged, decision-makers may perceive that you have skill gaps. Identify and bridge these gaps head-on. To ensure you are the standout candidate, demonstrate self-awareness, humility and a deep passion for the role. – Gina Riley, Gina Riley Consulting

4. Articulate Your Unique Value

Securing a C-level role internally involves articulating your unique value and vision for the company. Cultivate strategic relationships, strengthen your crystal-clear personal leadership brand identity and seek professional executive coaching. Lead impactful initiatives and secure internal advocates. Success hinges on your preparation and ability to compellingly present your value. – Cristian Hofmann, Empowering Executives: Leadership Executive Coaching SUPERGROUP LTD

5. Start Planning In Advance

The secret to landing an internal C-level role is to begin planning for it well in advance. Work with your direct supervisor and/or HR to identify opportunities for growth, such as training or mentorship programs, workshops, conferences and so on. Formal growth in key competencies for the role you’re working toward will help ensure you’re considered as an option in the succession planning process. – Lindsay Miller, Reverie Organizational Development Specialists

6. Leverage Your Relationships

First, leverage the relationships you have built over the years. Hopefully, you have sought and maintained relationships with mentors who are well aware of your capabilities and career aspirations and can advocate for you. Then, proactively engage in career development and feedback discussions so that key decision-makers are well aware of your contributions and unique capabilities well before open positions arise. – Kim Ramsey, The Executive Edge, Inc.

7. Make Decision-Makers Aware Of Your Interest

The secret to becoming visible is to approach the HR business partner and executive team (if possible) and be clear and direct about your interest in addition to verbalizing what your value proposition is to the organization. More times than not, aspiring executives are not visible enough, and those upstream in the chain are not aware of their interest or value. – X. Carmen Qadir, Coaching & Consulting Experience, LLC

8. Ask To Put In The Running

Ask the company to include you in the process with the external executive search firm. If you have confidence in your candidacy, prove it: Make it a fair fight. If you then do get the job, nobody can accuse anyone of nepotism, favoritism or bias. Put your money where your mouth is—let an impartial arbiter decide. Commit to stand by their decision. – Antonio Garrido, My Daily Leadership

9. Understand And Eliminate Readiness Gaps

If a search firm was brought in, it means that executive leadership is either not aware of or not confident in your candidacy. The secret is to start a campaign to change the perception of your readiness. This takes time, and it may be too late for the current timeline, but you can immediately hold informational interviews to better understand your readiness gaps and what it will take to eliminate them. – Karan Rhodes, Shockingly Different Leadership (SDL)

10. Document Your Career Story

Believe it or not, your employer (and the recruiting firm) won’t know your career story as well as you do. Document your achievements and trajectory just as thoroughly as you would for an external opportunity. A polished, professional résumé, a thoughtfully written cover letter or pitch and a LinkedIn profile are musts when competing with other candidates—who will also undertake the same steps. – Laura Smith-Proulx, CCMC, CPRW, CIC, COPNS, CTTCC, An Expert Resume

11. Gain Sponsorship

To be viewed as a legitimate candidate, you will need the support of key stakeholders who have the influence to support your eligibility. This will require you to cash in significant social currency in service of your career trajectory. – Joshua Miller, Joshua Miller Executive Coaching

12. Prove A Diversity Of Experiences Inside The Organization

Becoming a C-level executive means you can handle “core” business management duties calmly, effectively and thoroughly. In addition, having proof that you can handle a functional responsibility is not enough; you must show you have had a diversity of experiences inside the organization. With that proof in hand, then the conversation turns to the ability to become a senior executive, not just a vice president. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

13. Consider Two Important Factors

Companies engage external search firms to add rigor to the process. Winning a senior position depends on two factors. First, are you in the center of the business, owning a process that makes the firm money? Second, is the business doing well, or are big changes needed? If changes are needed, an outsider has a better chance. Overall success is higher with insiders, so the wind is at your back! – Jim Schleckser, The CEO Project

14. Demonstrate A Strategic Vision And Aligned Values

Demonstrate strong leadership skills, strategic vision and alignment with the company values. Showcasing your track record of success and your potential to drive business growth is key to successfully locking out the competition. Ensure you stay proactive and engaged during the process to position yourself as the ideal candidate, and network with key stakeholders to build stronger relationships. – Alba Contreras Rodriguez, FONS LLC

15. Determine Decision-Makers’ Needs And Expectations

Begin by asking insightful questions to understand the needs and expectations of the C-suite decision-makers. Actively listen to their priorities and preferences. Be proactive in showcasing how your skills align with their vision and contribute to the organization’s success. This approach positions you as a valuable candidate, boosting your chances of securing the coveted C-level role. – Cheri Rainey, Rainey Leadership Learning

16. Enlist The Help Of An Advocate

Draw on your internal relationships to find an advocate, and make it easy for them by sharing a list of the things that make you the strongest candidate—experience, accomplishments, knowledge and so on. Also, make sure they are aware of the research showing that internal executive hires are proportionately more successful than external hires so that they can make that point to decision-makers. – Kathy Bernhard, KFB Leadership Solutions

17. Showcase Your Deep Cultural Understanding

Showcase your unique value and deep understanding of the company’s culture and goals. Highlight your achievements, demonstrate leadership qualities, build strong relationships with key stakeholders and articulate a clear vision for the company’s future. Engage proactively with the search process and seek feedback to address any gaps. – Alejandro Bravo, Revelatio360

18. Position Yourself Ahead Of Time

Start positioning yourself for the role well before any search starts! Are you in a C-level succession plan? If so, great. Think realistically about timing and readiness. Think about professional development and relationships. Think about how you stack up to some external candidates and what you have to offer to the organization that will make the selection committee unanimously vote you in. – Michele Cohen, Lead to Growth Coaching

19. Use Your Inside Knowledge

Leverage your inside knowledge; you can hit the ground running with a workable plan to address key issues and have the key relationships in place to make it happen. An external person might not be subject to bias and may have a fresh perspective. Yet, I have seen many new executives come in and repurpose what they did elsewhere (hardly new thinking), so inside knowledge is a definite asset to be leveraged. – Ricky Muddimer, Thinking Focus