“You have to own your job search.”

This is the advice I recently gave a room of mid-career professionals, all embarking on foreign territory: searching for a new job. Many of these professionals had significant tenure at their current positions: five, 10, even 15+ years. The last time they had looked for jobs, the rules had been different. The idea of using LinkedIn for stealth searching wasn’t widespread, nor could you use the platform to signal to recruiters you were open to new professional possibilities. Resumes were still submitted via PDF email attachments. First round interviews were with humans, not with AI or other digital interfaces.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that senior positions are still rarely advertised, and most are filled through an executive recruiter. From a candidate perspective, it can initially seem like the recruiter has all the power. They’re in direct contact with companies, evaluating resumes and determining which ones to submit. As a mid-career candidate, is there anything you can do to improve your odds?

The Recruiter Perspective: What We’re Looking For in a Candidate – and How You Can Improve Your Appeal

Recruiters consider which companies will benefit most from your skills and experience. We also evaluate whether your interests and professionals goals are the right fit for the position and the company. Our goal is to create a successful partnership where both you and the company thrive together.

One thing we can’t do is to create jobs out of thin air, no matter how much we like you personally or appreciate your experience and skills. It’s up to you to own your job search and present yourself as the best possible candidate. Here’s where to get started:

Cover the basics.

Before a recruiter can present you to a company, you need to have your ducks in a row. Updating your resume is essential, but don’t overlook your LinkedIn profile. Quantify and benchmark accomplishments. If you increased sales, by what percentage was this increase? How does this compare to the industry average (or company average) over the same period? If you were promoted, did you receive this promotion early compared with the standard progression timeline at your company? The more specific you are, the easier it will be for your recruiter to sell you as a standout candidate.

Expand your perspective.

When you’ve been at a company for a long time, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture in your industry. I recommend attending industry conferences and networking events with a fresh eye. Attend different sessions, make it a point to introduce yourself to your counterparts at other companies, and follow up after you make a connection.

Your recruiter can also be a critical ally in this process. Recruiters have a wealth of market intelligence: we know which companies are looking to hire, which skill sets and experiences are most in demand, and how much companies are willing to pay for top talent. Don’t be afraid to ask our opinion and perspective.

Be a smarter networker.

When you’re in the middle of your job search but aren’t getting a lot of leads, it’s natural to feel frustrated and even a tad desperate. Unfortunately, this mindset can negatively color your networking interactions. Approach every conversation from the perspective of bringing value, rather than completing a transaction. Ask, “How can I help this person?” rather than focus on “How can this person help me?” – even if you’re looking for career advice or an internal referral.

My job, as a recruiter, is to be a consultative partner to clients and help them prioritize hiring requirements. I present a curated selection of candidates based on my client’s needs. In some cases, this may mean pushing the client to consider a non-traditional client who I believe would be an exceptional fit. You could be that candidate. But first, you need to own your job search and present the very best that you can.

Have you navigated a mid-career job search? I welcome your thoughts on this process in the comments below.