Dispatches From the Job Hunt

Two compliance friends, both quite accomplished in their careers, recently contacted me to ask essentially the same question. In today’s job market supposedly so plagued with labor shortages, why does hiring for upper-level compliance jobs feel so slow and difficult? 

I’ve done no rigorous study to confirm that the experience of my two friends reflects what compliance professionals are experiencing overall — but from other anecdotal evidence I’ve heard and seen elsewhere, what they’re saying about the current job market feels right. I’ve noticed a small but appreciable slowdown in news for the Compliance Jobs Report. I know numerous other veteran compliance and audit professionals looking for work, and they’re enduring long slogs too. This is a thread worth pulling.

Friend A is a woman with more than 10 years experience in the field, qualified either to be a chief compliance officer or to report directly to the CCO, at a large global corporation. She has been looking for a new job for most of the last year. She sees plenty of mid-level openings, but considerably fewer senior-level openings. When those upper-level openings do come around, Friend A applies and often gets through several levels of interviews — but the pace of hiring is glacially slow, she reports; and far too often, companies ultimately prefer to hire a corporate legal department veteran rather than someone with compliance experience. 

Some thoughts… 

First, we don’t have much transparency into the size of the job market for senior ethics and compliance executives. Partly that’s because different companies structure their compliance roles in different ways, so that a senior director at one organization might be doing the same work as a chief compliance officer at another. Partly it’s because there is no master database of compliance officer jobs. I do my best to track websites such as LinkedIn, Indeed.com, TheLadders.com, and various other job boards, but that doesn’t give us anywhere near a complete picture of what jobs are currently available.

Second, we have to remember that what compliance professionals see on LinkedIn is mostly other compliance professionals looking to hire subordinates. That is, most compliance officers are connected to other compliance officers; so the “great opening on my team!!!” posts are going to be junior roles reporting into your CCO peers. That’s little help to senior compliance people looking for CCO roles.

On the other hand, I suspect there are far fewer board directors, CEOs, or general counsels hopping onto LinkedIn with a “great opening on my team!!!” post for a chief compliance officer. They’ll send those CCO openings to professional recruitment firms, and the recruiters are going to be much more selective in how they advertise those opportunities. The recruiters may then post on LinkedIn and other sites, but that’s one step removed from the direct hiring managers you (ideally) want to approach.

Friend A does work with multiple recruiters, and I’d recommend the same to anyone looking for an upper-level compliance role. But it does reinforce the adage that career success isn’t about who you know; it’s about who knows you. 

Third, macro-economic forces may be slowing the pace of CCO hiring at this moment. I don’t just mean the natural pause in hiring we always see during the holiday season, although that’s part of it. (Compared to the job market earlier this year, which was red hot.) I suspect some companies are spooked by inflation and labor shortages, which are problems many executives have never encountered before. I also wonder whether turnover among general counsels, CEOs, and CFOs might also be slowing down the pace of hiring for people like chief compliance officers, who would normally report into those roles. 

If the latter is true, then patience might be the best virtue for compliance professionals right now. I’ve heard more than one story of someone taking a CCO role because he or she was going to work for a great general counsel or CEO — who then left a few months later, and the successor promptly reorganized the chief compliance officer out of a job. That sucks. If you can wait another six months, until we all get a better sense of whether today’s temporary labor shortage is actually permanent, that might be the best move.

I’d be curious what readers’ experiences are in the job market these days. Drop me a line at [email protected]. Confidentiality guaranteed, of course.

Hyping Your Job Experience Correctly

I also have Friend B, a long-time compliance and audit professional also looking for a new job. He raised a more practical question: How do compliance professionals list their accomplishments meaningfully, in a way that would resonate with an outside reader? 

Friend B said this can be quite challenging for a compliance professional. “It’s easy for a dentist to say he’s treated 10,000 patients or a mortgage broker to tout that he generated $30 billion in loans,” my friend said… 

But me writing something like, “I worked with management to reduce the number of key controls,” or “enhanced internal communication channels,” or “developed a process to validate ESG data” sounds so lame. It’s also not easy to quantify, and difficult to prove — even though each of those efforts took a ton of time and effort and we are in a much better place because of them.

My advice to Friend B would be that listing specific achievements on your resume or LinkedIn profile isn’t lame. Given the mechanics of modern recruitment, it’s crucial.

First, we need to remember that lots of recruiters don’t understand much about what compliance and audit professionals actually do. So they perform keyword searches to see which profiles match what they’ve been told to search for. Those keyword search terms might include titles such as “senior director of ethics and compliance,” but they’ll definitely include terms related to accomplishments or skills: “internal investigations,” “training,” “controls testing” and so forth.

So I would absolutely encourage people to engineer their LinkedIn profiles with that concept in mind: that companies are recruiting based on skills and accomplishments, rather than titles. A recent career advice column in the Washington Post made this point quite well for entry-level jobs, but the point is even more valid for high-skilled professionals such as compliance officers. 

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