It may be hard to imagine why top executives would want to leave their jobs: After all, they shape the scope and objectives of their own positions.
But a new study finds that while many high-level executives might not actively seek a different position, the majority of them are willing to throw their hat in the ring for another job if a recruiter offers them a fresh opportunity.
Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Monika Hamori of IE Business School studied the data of a prominent executive-search firm to see how frequently business leaders were receptive to overtures from a recruiter.
He found that 55 percent of chief executives said yes to participating in a search, and so did 65 percent of executive vice presidents.
To best make sense of the study, it is crucial to understand how retained search firms typically work: When a job candidate agrees to be considered, that person often does not know what positions are available or what the pay or benefits would be.
So, as Cappelli writes, “it [is] easier to be sure that the individual’s response is driven by their current circumstances and not by the nature of the position being offered.”
On some level, it is no surprise that people who have risen to the top of their organizations are opportunistic about the possibility of further advancement.
“I think it reflected the fact that the senior executives are more savvy,” Cappelli said in an interview. “They sort of understand that the way their companies operate, this is kind of just an open labor market.”
And, Cappelli said, their mind-set is built on a realistic belief that in today’s fast-changing global economy, their future at their employer is always uncertain.
Cappelli’s findings could be valuable to talent professionals: For corporate human resources staffs, they are a signal that a retention strategy is critical for the upper echelon of leaders, not just for rank-and-file employees. And for recruiters, the research indicates that with the right touch, they have decent odds of poaching an executive to fill another opening.
Cappelli also found that those with diverse career experiences — either having worked at several companies or in multiple divisions within the same company — more likely will want to be considered for new opportunities.
Cappelli cited several reasons for that. One is that executives with broad, less-focused résumés are more inclined to accept the invitation because they believe they will learn something from the search process.
Personal connections play a role, too.
“Once you’ve been at a place for a while, you start developing these social ties that hold you to a place. When you move a lot, you don’t develop those,” Cappelli said.
That finding comes as many companies have been encouraging employees to move laterally around the organization to broaden their skills.