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Queuing for a Seat at the Senior Leadership Table?


After a quick read of Immigration New Zealand’s latest report, it doesn’t take long to work out that we’re facing a skill shortage crisis which is affecting nearly every industry. However, this isn’t necessarily true when looking at senior level roles in sales and marketing.

There is a simultaneous shortage of mid-level candidates and senior level roles due to the number of roles at each level in corporate structures. Mid-level employees often relocate overseas to more established markets either to acquire the wealth of experience they need to progress upwards or for the fun of the ‘overseas experience’. When they return home, they find that there are too many candidates for the number of available jobs. So what can both employers and employees do to overcome this issue?

Employer’s Solution                                                     

A key problem is that mid-level employees usually have gaps in their experience, often in leadership and strategy. Many employees tend to gravitate towards roles with more exposure to people management rather than roles that involve decisions that have a business-wide impact when it’s not always just about how many people report to you, but what the role offers as a whole. While a role with a big team might look like a big role, if it’s not giving you exposure to strategic thinking, it might not be as big as you think.

Companies could take more pre-emptive steps to offer their employees exposure to various areas of management before they’re expected to formally acquire this experience. For example, allowing a Manager to sit in on business meetings outside of their normal level will allow them to get exposure to strategy that usually isn’t available to them. We’ve seen great success in companies where they have handed over the day to day operations to the next level of managers allowing the executive team more time and space to think long term while their direct reports get real business management experience in a relatively controlled environment.

Providing the opportunity to shadow a Manager in a different discipline will provide them with exposure to how an operation is run. This will allow  mid-level employees to start to understand the complete experience needed to transition to an executive role. The next step is for employers to take the plunge and give candidates that hands-on experience in a different discipline as we find when companies are looking for General Managers many value experience in a different discipline.

Another issue is that most companies turn to external candidates when recruiting for senior positions, ahead of internal employees who may almost have the experience needed for the transition. Ignoring loyal top performers like this creates a risk that they may look elsewhere for their next career move. Someone who has done absolutely everything needed to do the role probably wants to do more otherwise why move? You may lose more productivity by discounting internal candidates in favour of hiring marginally more experience and the time an energy put into a recruitment process could be better spend developing and promoting from within. Often we’re required to search for the senior appointment and then find a replacement for their disgruntled direct report.

Employee’s Solution                                                                     

A great deal of responsibility will fall to the employee however, as the decisions they make will define the experiences they acquire and ultimately how appealing they are in the New Zealand job market.

The job market here is still very small when compared to the rest of the world, and as a result, over 1 million New Zealanders have already moved overseas to forge careers in more established markets or to extend the traditional ‘OE’. When they return home with a wealth of experience they are competing for a smaller number of senior level roles.

Employees need to consider what a ‘Head of’ role actually entails in relation to New Zealand’s job market. Businesses here operate differently to other countries and tend to be smaller, which causes managers to have more of a complex and diverse role rather than narrower management roles we see overseas. This often means that New Zealand candidates who return from overseas come home with a skill set that doesn’t suit the job market, which is looking for candidates with broader management experience

As candidates progress up the hierarchy they’re struggling to decide between roles that provide good involvement in business strategy or those with larger numbers of staff reporting to them. Candidates perceive lack of leadership involvement in these kinds of roles, often unaware that the high-level strategic  experience is considerably harder to come by.

One thing these candidates can do is to target smaller companies which are experiencing growth. Larger, established corporations will rarely have the level of growth small businesses experience after the first two years of operating. Joining a smaller business will not only provide a greater chance of being exposed to business critical decision making, but may also provide the opportunity to create a senior role once a gap in infrastructure has appeared. However, taking structured corporate experience to a looser entrepreneurial environment is not without its own challenges.

Another alternative is finding a New Zealand business that is looking past the next 12 months and is focusing on implementing major changes to their operation, as this could provide exposure to strategic projects that can offer that experience. If the role is in a different industry sector it will also help broaden the candidate’s experience which also seems to be valued by employers hiring for General Management roles.

Some employees will prefer to hold out for the perfect chance to transition upward, and contract as an independent worker or on a consultancy basis. This is a fantastic way to stay current in the job market whilst waiting for a senior role to appear. Self-employed contractors can work for a multitude of small businesses on part time hours, which provides a broad range of experiences.


The problems senior candidates face in our job market won’t be solved overnight, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing that can be done about it. Getting exposure to people management and strategy along with exposure to different disciplines and industries is vital to being appealing to our job market. There’s also a lot that employers can do to expose employees to the skills they’re missing and allow them to transition to executive roles, eliminating the need for them to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for more advice on the options you have available when trying to cross that gap between mid-level and executive, then feel free to contact us today.

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