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If you’re a department head, vice president or director, now is a great time to start planning a move up to the C-suite in the coming year. Because you will need to reach out to your network, polish your resume, talk with executive recruiters and begin the extended interview process, making a change won’t happen overnight.

Here are seven steps that can help set you apart from the competition.
 

c_suite_executive_job_search1. Leverage social media.

Social media is the number one activity on the Web today, and sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube offer opportunities for you to showcase your experience, accomplishments and skills. Executive recruiters, human resource managers and even corporate boards usually take a careful look at an executive’s social media presence when assessing a candidate’s suitability for the C-suite.

Take advantage of any year-end quiet time to review your social media accounts, deleting anything that might seem inappropriate and sharpening your online profile. For instance, you may be able to ask current and former coworkers, bosses and clients for testimonials, contribute to discussion groups or blog about hot business topics. If you’re active in charitable or civic activities, you could post photos or videos related to that personal cause to further increase your visibility.

Social media is an excellent way to build your personal brand or establish yourself as a thought leader. But don’t try to rush things by posting six blogs in January. Take your time and stay active on your chosen sites throughout the year.
 

2. Strengthen your face-to-face skills.

How well do come across at a networking event or in face-to-face conversations? In today's digital world, senior executives do much of their communicating via email, phone calls, texting and videoconferences. But if you’re looking for career advancement, you can’t let important in-person conversational skills can get rusty.

First, you should be able to get your key points across in a clear and simple manner. Next, you should also be an active listener, gaining information and insight from others. You should also be aware of your body language, posture and gestures. Finally, a professional presentation, appropriate attire, good eye contact and a firm handshake are additional skills needed to move into the C-suite.
 

3. Prepare your written tools.

To support your career advancement campaign, you should update and polish your resume, write a powerful cover letter and prepare your elevator speech. You will need all three of these tools when talking with executive recruiters, networking with colleagues or applying for a senior executive position.

In most cases, it makes sense to keep your resume short and sweet, highlighting your experience and skills with quantified accomplishments. However, you may also need a long version of your resume in fields like life sciences, engineering, architecture or real estate development, where quantity of publications, papers or projects makes a difference.

Your written resume should be consistent with your LinkedIn profile, as well as your overall social media presence. Take your time when writing your cover letter and elevator speech, and share drafts with family, friends or colleagues who can provide good input so you make a great first impression on others.
 

4. Play to your strengths.

When aiming for the C-suite, you should play to your strengths, such as finance, marketing or operations. Highlighting your key credentials, experience and accomplishments will give you a clear focus for your conversations during the screening and interview process. It also allows the executive recruiter (and the CEO and board of directors) to decide if you are a good match for the position.

Once you have established that core competency, this strategy allows you to emphasize your other skills in a way that may give you an edge on the competition. Think about the advantages of being known as “an experienced CFO who really understands technology,” or a “great sales manager who also knows every step in our product’s supply chain.” Organizations are most likely to hire executives who can add value, and you want to be on that short list of attractive candidates.
 

5. Highlight your leadership skills.

As a senior executive, you will be expected to direct and guide your subordinates, teaching them new skills while integrating them into collaborative teams throughout the organization. Take a look at your leadership skills and ask yourself, “Where do I excel and where do I need to improve?”

Some executives are good at issuing orders and following up to be sure they are followed. Others take a more democratic approach and ask for feedback from team members before making decisions. Most successful leaders employ coaching and mentoring to develop strong teams.

Be honest with yourself about your leadership style and skills. For additional advantage, you may want to engage an executive coach who can help bring you up to that next level of leadership necessary for the C-suite.
 

6. Look for opportunities.

Not all sectors of the economy will be equally strong in 2016. Even within a growth industry like information technology or life sciences, some companies are growing while others are stable or downsizing.

Take a careful look at the marketplace to find an organization that would be a good match for your talents and experience. In some cases, you may be able to move up in your current company. However, there may be a more appealing opportunity at a competitor. If your current field is stuck in a slump, you might even consider changing industries.

You should do your homework when looking for opportunities. Having a clearly defined target—like a regional distribution company or a multinational manufacturer of aviation components—can dramatically improve your chances of success. Knowing the challenges and opportunities facing a particular sector and showing how your skills meet the organization’s specific needs will give you a strong advantage over the competition.
 

7. Prepare your action plan.

If you are determined to move into the C-suite in 2016, preparing a detailed action plan can help you stay on track toward that objective. Set goals for yourself, such as talking with executive recruiters, networking in industry groups or writing a series of blogs—and follow your progress. Finding a new senior executive position is a time-consuming process that needs to be integrated with your current responsibilities. Set aside several hours a week or more to devote to your career plan.

By following these steps, you will make a commitment to yourself, plan and execute your strategy, make yourself and your expertise known and spend the time needed to achieve your goal. That’s the best way to move up to the C-suite this year.

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