Determining Target Industry and Company Criteria

By Mitch Wienick, President, Kelleher Associates, LLC – February 2, 2015

An often daunting aspect of the search process, and one that is generally done haphazardly or not at all by people seeking their next role, is thinking through what industries they want to target, what companies within those industries are of interest, and what to do once these industries and companies have been identified.

At Kelleher we think this is a critical step in the search process.  We take the time to work interactively with clients on this as doing it well proves to be a catalyst in securing important input and connections from networking contacts.

At Kelleher, we first consider the client’s current industry as a primary target unless he’s barred from working in that industry for a period of time because of a non-competition agreement. Working together, we also examine some of the key characteristics of her most recent industry (and perhaps the one before that depending on how long she’s been in her current industry), and determine what other industries have similar characteristics. Among the characteristics we examine, and this list isn’t exhaustive, are product versus service; domestic versus global; business-to-business versus business-to-consumer; retail or online oriented; technology and marketing intensity; mode of distribution and sales; distribution versus manufacturing; public or private; for profit or non-profit as well as other critical characteristics. By systematically doing this, we are able to identify other industries where our client’s skills and experience may be a fit.

We also look at industries that are undergoing major changes, often creating unique entry opportunities for our clients. Among the disruptive changes we look for are major changes in the competitive set, technology advances, new regulation, increased foreign competition, and alterations in industry structure. One or more of these disruptive changes occurring in an industry can often create opportunities for people with very different profiles and capabilities than have been heretofore common in the industry.

Once the target industries have been identified, and we usually limit the universe to 3-4 industries at the outset, the next step is to identify target companies. A key consideration in taking this step is determining the geographic preferences of the client. Is she tied to the Delaware Valley? Is she willing to commute beyond the Delaware Valley to Princeton or New York City to the north, or Baltimore or Washington to the south? From a personal standpoint, is she flexible enough to move to another city, perhaps Atlanta, or Chicago, or Dallas?

Once the locus of employment is determined, our next step is helping our client to determine the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and/or North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes for the target industries, which are then plugged into two databases (Reference USA and OneSource/Avention) and the  Philadelphia Business Journal Book of Lists which, along with geography and company size parameters, yield a list of potential target companies which our client will then prioritize based on a variety of preference factors.

Some common factors to consider, and to match against our client’s skills, experience and preferences include whether the company

  • is growing, declining or flat from a revenue or share perspective;
  • has seen the management of the company turned over recently and, if so, why;
  • has a history of hiring from the outside and, if so, in which functions or divisions;
  • has seen the core functional emphasis changing from sales to marketing or operations to finance, for example;
  • is launching a slew of new products or services;
  • has a distinctive set of controlling owners; or
  • has been publicly recognized for some positive aspect, such as being one of the best places to work, or being innovative in key operational areas.

We also encourage our clients to ask their contacts – former colleagues; professional service providers, such as accountants, lawyers, management consultants, investment bankers, and executive search professionals; customers; vendors; and executives within professional or trade associations — for their suggestions on worthwhile target companies within the industries and geography selected.

Once the client has a minimum of 5-6 target companies per industry, using a document we call a Senior Executive Profile, she can then start to obtain valuable information from networking contacts. Specifically,

  • do the networking contacts know if any of the target companies are seeking to hire someone with our client’s background, experience, skills, and credentials;
  • do the networking contacts know anyone within one or more of the target companies, relevant to the search, to whom they can make an introduction for our client;
  • do the networking contacts know a professional service provider who knows anyone within the company and would they meet with the client and, if impressed, make an introduction to a key contact within the company;
  • do the networking contacts have ideas on additional target companies now that they’ve seen an initial list;  and
  • do the networking contacts have ideas on another industry or industry segment our client should consider targeting.

At Kelleher Associates we believe that developing the list of target industries and companies is absolutely critical in allowing our clients to proactively seek their next position with well considered objectives in mind and a tool that enables them to secure the maximum amount of value from key networking contacts–in effect, asking for and collecting what these contacts know and who they know, while positioning themselves as systematic, directed, confident, and professional as they seek their next position and support in identifying and penetrating target companies.