Find Your Perfect Career with 4 Questions

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

There are many careers to choose from, but there may only be a few that will keep you motivated. Finding your perfect career is an exciting process, but it may require some experimentation and soul-searching on your part.

You can watch as others thrive in their career roles, but what is right for you may be different from what is right for them. You must take the time to understand who you are and what you want out of your career long-term to find your perfect career match.

Ask yourself the following questions to help you clarify what opportunities to pursue:

  1. What Kind Of Work Energizes You Most?

There are many ways of phrasing this question. You could also ask, “What gets me up in the morning?” Or maybe, “What work allows me to make a difference in the world?”

The key here is to think about work that gives you energy, as opposed to work that drains and tires you out.

You will thrive in a position that allows you to be hands-on with projects and causes you care about.

Everyone is motivated by different things. You need to determine what excites you.

  1. If Money Was Not A Concern, What Would You Be Doing?

The answer to this question speaks volumes about who you are and what you care about.

Imagine being paid to do things you care about enough to do without pay. Think carefully about what your answer would be.

Answering this question for yourself will help you zero in on potential career opportunities. You may be surprised to learn that your dream career exists!

  1. What Are You Good At?

First, think about what you think you do best. What do you see as your main strengths? In what areas do you consistently perform at a high level?

Next, ask others what they think you do best. Ask people you trust to give you an honest assessment of your skills and experience. What do they see as your strengths? How do they think you could leverage your unique skill set?

You can also consider what areas you have been recognized in before. Have you received awards or been recognized for specific achievements?

Though there is plenty to learn in any career, you will do best in a career that allows you to utilize your gifts.

  1. What Do You Want To Be Remembered For?

What contribution do you want to make to the world? What mark will you leave?

Your next career may not be what you are remembered most for. But, it could be a stepping stone to greater things.

As an executive, you will be leading others, and you will be involved in making important decisions. You will have significant responsibilities. So, you will be remembered – how you are remembered is up to you.

What would it mean to be remembered in a positive light? What will others be saying about you based on the work you will be doing?

Final Thoughts

Introspection and reflection are two valuable tools that will help you identify what motivates you. There is a dream job out there for you if you have the right experience and talent. You will be happiest in a career where you can contribute at a high level. Take some time to answer the above questions. You will gain more clarity on opportunities that are matched to your goals and skills.

Let’s get to work!


If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or


8 Questions To Ask A Potential Employer

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

In every interview you will be asked questions. It is important to be prepared with answers, specifically, stories and examples that demonstrate your experience and abilities. However, being prepared with questions of your own is equally important.

When you ask good questions, it demonstrates that you are serious about the position and that you have done your homework. It also shows that you are looking for cultural fit – the same thing they will be looking for in a potential hire.

1. and 2. In The Coming Year, Where Do You Expect The Business To Face Stiff Challenges? (And then follow up with: What Priorities Need Attention Now?)

What is most difficult about this role? Executive level positions inevitably come with significant responsibilities and challenges. Knowing the answer to this question will help you better understand the company culture, as well as what they see as being your key responsibilities.

Find out if there is anything they think you will find surprising about the position. This can help you prepare for what will be required of you in the company. You can also assess how your experience and knowledge apply to these challenges.

3. How Will Success Be Measured? Are There Internal and/or External Benchmarks Used?

What are their expectations? What changes within the company are they looking to see in the next six, 12, or 24 months? When you step into a new position, you will not necessarily know what changes and difficulties the company has gone through. It is important to understand how the company is looking to change and why this position is open.

Additionally, you should ask what metrics or indicators they are going to be using to measure your success and how often. Find out if there is a possibility those metrics will be changing down the line, too.

4. Is This Role Important To The Company’s Growth?

The answer will likely be “yes.” Asking this question should help you clarify how it connects to the overall growth of the organization. How will you be contributing to their growth plan directly or indirectly?

This question can also help you discover other expectations that have not already been voiced. Even if you have already asked how your performance will be measured, it is good to be aware of how your work will play into their expansion plans.

5. and 6. What Goals Does The Company Have? Are The Goals On Target, Achievable, In Need Of Development?

The answer to this question should help you gain a zoomed-out view of what the company is trying to accomplish both in the short-term and long-term. You can then connect this to how you will be helping the organization to meet these goals.

You can also ask about the plans the company has, which can help you identify priorities that haven not already been voiced. You may need to become involved in those plans if you are hired.

7. and 8. Capitalizing on the Company’s Strengths, What Can Be Leveraged? If Performance Has Been Weak, Where Are the Major Issues?

Ask for their perspective. What do they see as being their biggest merits and weaknesses? Why have certain things proved challenging in the past?

With this question, you can begin to think about whether your strengths are complementary to what they feel they are missing in their organization. If you can help them in areas they do not feel as strong in, you could be a major asset to the company.


Research the company you are going to be interviewing for. Ask pertinent questions based on your findings. The best questions will come from your knowledge of the organization and will help you learn more about the position you are interested in.

Go into the interview with several questions. Your potential employer will see that you are engaged and serious about learning how you can help. This is one of the most important qualities they will be looking for in a candidate.

Let’s get to work!


If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or

How to Bring Positivity to the Interview Process

Businessman smiling with arms outstretched

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Positivity is contagious. It can uplift the people and the energy surrounding you.

Bringing positivity to an interview demonstrates your can-do and problem-solving attitude. This is an attractive quality in a leader, as they are often responsible for motivating their team to overcome challenges. Everyone has challenges, but an individual that can see the positive in every situation is easy to trust and appears more reliable.

Here’s how you can be proactive about bringing positivity to the interview process.

Prepare For the Interview

Preparation will boost your confidence. Confidence naturally breeds optimism.

When interviewing for an executive position, you may be asked questions that are outside the scope of your education, experience, and qualifications. Recruiters are looking to gain an understanding of your capacity as a leader, as well as how you have managed difficult situations in the past.

There are several things you can do to prepare yourself for the interview:

  1. Research possible interview questions. You will be better prepared to answer if you have been anticipating certain questions and you have had time to determine your response ahead of time.
  2. Learn about the company. Do your research and go in-depth. The more you know, the better.
  3. Search your memory. Consider real-life stories and examples you could share to demonstrate your competence and leadership ability. I ask my clients to prepare 12 to 18 validation stories so they are “at the ready” during an interview to prove you do what you say you do.
  4. Utilize the Job Description section on the responsibilities the job will cover. Turn these into questions and practice answering them.
  5. Prepare questions. Be ready to ask questions of your own. Asking questions exhibits definite interest in the position and also shows that you are also searching for the right fit.
  6. Practice your body language. Remember to smile, look the interviewer in the eye, be attentive, and speak clearly. Work on your body language regularly to project confidence and poise in the interview.
  7. Dress for success. Ensure your professional wear is in top shape for the interview.

Remain Present

It is easy to get distracted during an interview. Staying in the moment allows you to bring your awareness to the conversation. This will enable you to give more on-point, relevant answers to the questions being asked. You will think of better examples to bring up and demonstrate a clear understanding of the questions with your responses. You will feel sharper.

When you are fully aware, you will feel it become easier to be positive during the interview. Instead of dreading the things you must do later in the day or thinking about what went wrong in the past focus on the positive aspects of the interview process. You can give your attention to what matters most in the moment.

Concentrate on what you are looking to accomplish and you will find that your anxieties and fears will vanish.

Build Your Self-Confidence

If you are looking to add necessary experience or qualifications to your resume be proactive about educating yourself. Take courses, attend seminars, read books, or even listen to podcasts.

If your energy levels are low try exercising, eating well, and meditating more regularly to boost your self-image and feel better in your own body. Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night to help you feel rejuvenated each day.

If you have been feeling down or negative change your self-talk. Learn to see the upside in every situation. Tell yourself that you are worthy and capable. Repeat and reinforce positive phrases to yourself.

There are many ways to improve your self-image, but it can take time and persistence. When you feel good about yourself, it will be easy to be positive in interviews.

A positive individual is a rare individual, which is why they always stand out.


Be prepared to ask for the job. Many people leave an interview without finishing their thoughts. You can easily avoid this situation by making it clear that you feel the position would be a good fit for you.

Positivity may take some practice, but it is worth every bit of effort you put into it.

Let’s get to work.


If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or

5 Body Language Tips that will Boost Your Effectiveness

Man hand turning a knob in the highest position, Concept image for illustration of high impact communication and advertising campaign.

By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

You are an executive. You want to present yourself with confidence and poise.

With effective language, you can send the right message and communicate with authority every time. But communication is not just what you say verbally – it is also what you say with your body.

Practicing effective body language can help you achieve better results with interviews, meetings, and even with casual conversations.

Here are five tips that can help you improve your body language.

  1. Practice Active Listening

Actively conversing and paying attention to small details during conversations can instantly separate you from others. People are more apt to converse freely when they know their audience is paying attention. You can show your appreciation through your body language.

To demonstrate your active listening, hold eye contact for a comfortable length of time. Nod occasionally. Lean forward. Face the speaker. Repeat a few facts back to make sure you heard them correctly. As these behaviors become habitual, they will also become more natural. Actively listening will demonstrate that you are engaged, and you will find you remember more about the conversation.

Your overall communication will improve when you are able to remember these small details and bring them up again in future conversations.

  1. Work on Your Feet

When it comes to body language, people often focus on practicing their facial expressions, posture, and gestures, but forget to rehearse their feet. A person’s feet can reveal very much about how they are feeling.

When your own feet are still and comfortable they communicate confidence. This posture shows you are collected, grounded, and engaged in the moment.

You can observe other people’s feet to read the room. Increased movement, shuffling, and fidgeting can be a sign of anxiety or discomfort. Reading this body language is a good indicator to change the direction of the conversation.

  1. Uncross Arms & Legs

Crossed arms and legs can indicate introversion or lack of receptiveness. Keep a more open posture by unfolding your arms and legs. This posture can help you absorb and retain more information in conversation. This body language will communicate approachability and openness.

Whether you are in an interview, at an important meeting, or at a conference, it is always best to remain attentive and appear receptive to conversation. Keeping open posture will help you stay engaged and on-point with your communication, both verbal and non-verbal.

Closed posture, or crossed arms or legs is something you can watch for in others. This may indicate defensiveness or a good time to take a break and shake things up.

  1. Master the Handshake

Your handshake seals your interactions with a confident, poised, friendly gesture that others can remember you by.

A good handshake should not be too limp, squeeze too hard, shake for too long, or grab the wrong part of the hand entirely. Practice your handshake with willing friends or family members to perfect your technique. Ask for feedback as you try different things.

Mastering the handshake can take time. A little practice can go a long way when trying to create a lasting impression.

  1. Use Hand Gestures (but not too much!)

Hand gestures can help emphasize, clarify and improve points that are being verbally communicated. The key is to keep them clear and controlled. Your words should be more emphatic and memorable than your hand gestures.

You can use your fingers to emphasize numerical values or enumerate conclusions in your presentation. Bringing both of your hands together can mean “coming together.” An open hand with palm facing up can be used to demonstrate trends.

And one I think is especially important: during interviews, use one arm / hand gestures vs. both arms / hands.  One arm / hand gestures demonstrate an executive stance and presence.

These and other techniques are often used by the world’s most effective presenters and speakers. Use your hand gestures to enhance your words, but not distract from them.

Final Thoughts

To create a great impression with everyone you meet, make sure your body language is as confident and poised as your words are. Pay attention to the body language of those around you. Their body language will tell you how you can approach them to be most effective.

Let’s get to work!

– Linda

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or

17 Ways to Kick Start Your Career Search in January 2017


By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC


  1. Send Your Thank You Notes

Be sure to send thank you notes within 24 hours of any job interviews you have. You can also send thank you notes to new contacts you made in 2016, which will set the precedent for future communication.

  1. Review Your LinkedIn Home Page

Spend 5 to 10 minutes each morning on LinkedIn so you can keep up with what is happening in your network. Address any comments or messages you may have waiting for you. Remember, your profile should be updated regularly.  This includes being an active and contributing community member.

  1. Get Your Interview Clothes Dry-Cleaned

First impressions are important. Get your interview clothes cleaned and pressed so you are prepared for future interviews.

  1. Read about the Applicant Tracking System to Stay Competitive

More companies are using ATS software to handle recruiting. Learn how it works so you can get through the software and land more interviews.

  1. Get Your Resume Ready

Review your last year and eliminate irrelevant, outdated or lesser credentials. Modify your keywords based on jobs you are applying to. Be sure to include relevant data and metrics. Verify that everything is up to date and correct.

  1. Update Your Target List

Utilize your network connections to get closer to companies that are on your target list.  Add to your list strategically and prioritize prospective opportunities.

  1. Find & Attend Local Events

An empty calendar will not help you land a job. Start filling it with relevant networking events and seminars you can attend to meet influencers and decision makers.

  1. Reconnect

Get in touch with old contacts – you never know what they might be up to, or who they could connect you with. You can also uncover hard-to-find job openings this way.

  1. Prepare For Interviews

Research common interview questions or role play with someone you trust. Be prepared with great answers. Expect the interview process to factor more heavily into whether you get a job in 2017. Do not underestimate the power of using your validation stories to demonstrate your capabilities and expertise.

  1. Volunteer

Volunteering can create great opportunities for networking.  Consider volunteering for an organization within your Subject Matter Expertise (SME).  (ex: treasurer for your church/synagogue if you are in accounting or a CFO; IT support for a local business if you are a tech guru; etc.)

  1. Uncover Hidden Opportunities

Some companies are too busy to make a job posting. Others have openings they do not regularly mention. Network and get in touch with your contacts to see if they are aware of any opportunities that meet your skills and requirements.

  1. Get on Social Media

Employers, recruiters, hiring managers will find you on social media platforms. Create profiles that are clean, neat, professional, and interesting.

  1. Follow Up Relentlessly

Some employers will not hire you unless you demonstrate a degree of tenacity. Follow up after interviews – it demonstrates your willingness to persist. Also remember to follow up with anyone you meet at networking events and seminars.

  1. Read about Recruiting Trends In 2017

Get acquainted with the stats and data. Become aware of in-demand skills. Find out what recruiters and HR teams will be looking for.

  1. Be Honest

Be open and transparent about your skills and experience on your resume and interviews. You need to be able to deliver on your promises.

  1. Track Your Efforts

The most successful people in the world are fervent trackers. Log everything you do in your career search so you can stay honest with yourself and the effort you are putting into your job search. Make note of what works, and stop doing what is not helping you find your ideal role.

  1. Don’t Give Up

Keep a positive attitude and stay the course. Be patient, and stick to your plan. It can be hard to maintain enthusiasm, but your positive attitude will not go unnoticed.

Final Thoughts

Do not try to do everything at once. Focus on one or two items at a time, and then move on to work on others. Avoid becoming overwhelmed. Set goals that stretch you a bit, but are not beyond your reach. Make the most of 2017.


Let’s get to work!

– Linda

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or

5 Questions To Ask If You Think Consulting Is The Right Path For You

Compass symbol


By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Consulting sometimes gets a bad rap. But the reality is that there are a lot of upsides to the profession too.

You can earn good money. You can contribute valuable ideas to various organizations, and see them grow as result of your input. And to some extent, you can set your own hours.

But this isn’t to suggest that it’s all glitz and glamor. You’ll need to do your homework. You’ll need to travel. You’ll need to be able to sell yourself and charge a fee that’s in keeping with the value you can provide.

Here are five things to consider if you’re thinking about becoming a consultant.

1. Are You Willing & Able To Travel Often?

Consulting often requires a lot of travel, and many consultants give up a good part of their week to their work because of this.

So you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to live the plane-and-hotel lifestyle. And if you have a family, you have to think about whether or not two to three days of your time on the weekend is really enough to sustain your relationship with them. Additionally, this is the only time you will have for yourself, your errands, doctor’s appointments, and so on.

2. Can You Adapt Quickly?

Many consultants find their work anything but predictable. One moment they’re talking about business strategy. The next, they’re addressing regulatory and legal concerns.

For better or for worse, you can’t just make a to-do list and tackle items one by one. You’ll have to be flexible with your work and be prepared to adapt quickly.

You will gain experience in many different fields as a consultant, but in reality this is out of necessity – it’s really part of the job description.

3. Are You A People Person?

Consulting requires you to network and meet new people constantly. You will also need to be able to demonstrate and convince people of your worth.

But there’s more. You have to be able to present at a moment’s notice, communicate well, and be able to keep a finger on the pulse of the value you’re offering. If you can’t summarize how your work is going to benefit the company, your client or one of their colleagues might question your validity and ability to deliver on the promised results.

4. Can You Sell Yourself?

If you get into consulting, you’ll be selling yourself to new organizations and clients all of the time. It’s like a job search that has no end, because you’ll be going in to do job interviews frequently.

One opportunity can certainly lead to another, but you can’t assume that this will happen. As a consultant, you will need to be very proactive about finding your next job. This can be challenging, because you can’t be selling while you’re working, and you can’t be working while you’re selling.

If you’re not the aggressive selling type, you will likely require a system to attract and convert prospects into paying clients.

5. Are You Reliant On A Steady Paycheck?

There is an opportunity to earn a considerable amount of money as a consultant. But this doesn’t mean that you will automatically make droves of money, or that your income level will be consistent from one month to the next. In most cases, you won’t even be paid for your work until after 45 to 90 days have passed (and that’s the best case scenario).

And even if you put your best foot forward, there’s always the chance that you won’t have any clients for several months at a time. If you don’t believe in yourself and your ability to provide great service, you might give up before the going gets good.

In consulting, you’re in for an up-and-down ride. Can you handle it?

Final Thoughts

If you love challenges, and you pride yourself in your ability to help businesses, then there is tremendous upside to being a consultant. Carefully consider the above, and think about whether or not you can handle the workload and tension involved.

Let’s get to work!

– Linda

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or

5 Ways To Positively Work With “The Gatekeepers”


By Linda Van Valkenburgh, MS, CCMC, CJSS, CSMCS, CELDC

Here’s the thing about “the gatekeepers”. They’re busy. They have a lot on their plate. And whether it’s pitches or résumés, they’re getting a high volume of submissions on a daily basis.

So how do you get through to CEOs or other executive level people? How do you grab their attention amidst their sea of emails and phone calls? Or, if you’re already communicating with them, what do you do to keep them engaged?

Here are five ways to work positively with the gatekeepers.

1. Recognize The Flow Of Influence & Use It To Your Advantage

In corporate environments, influence flows downward. As result, talking directly to the gatekeeper could actually be to your detriment. Gatekeepers are there to keep you out. Letting someone through could mean putting their reputation or even job at risk. More often than not, they will reject you, and they might give you more than just a polite brushoff.

When all is said and done, the gatekeeper is still the person you will be pitching to. But starting at the top gives you an advantage. Talking directly with the decision maker could give you the information you need to make a better pitch to the gatekeeper.

Instead of trying to get through to the gatekeeper, try getting through to the decision maker first.

2. Treat The Intermediary Well & Be Personable

Although you may be rejected by gatekeepers more than once, if you don’t maintain your composure, you could get blacklisted. Keep in mind that it’s their job to decline the vast majority of inquiries.

It might sound like “play nice” is canned advice, but there’s more to this than you might think. Gatekeepers, more often than not, turn out to be incredible resources. And when you make an effort treat them well, you might end up being the first person to do that all day. That causes you to stand out.

Make notes on who the intermediary is. Take interest in them. Send them handwritten notes. Dare to ask, “what can I do for you?” When you do that, it shows initiative, and also demonstrates that you aren’t all about yourself. It shows that you’re willing to reciprocate.

3. Use Email To Demonstrate Your Expertise

Instead of using email to sell, try using it to establish the work you’re doing to move the deal forward. Your first email should not be about selling or pitching, but rather a brief introduction into who you are, and a reference to a challenge your recipient is experiencing. Follow this up with a phone call.

Ask permission to include the gatekeeper in the conversation, and copy them in your ongoing communication. Then, include the decision maker in the emails. As they continue to see the work that’s happening behind the scenes, they will have a hard time not being impressed with you.

Naturally, this does mean actually doing the work – finding out what the company does, what challenges they’re experiencing, what solutions you can provide them with, and the like.

4. Be Honest & Transparent

You might be able to coax and manipulate a company into making a deal with you. But if the deal was cut on pretence, and the foundation of your relationship is shaky, the agreement will fall apart, and you will miss out on business with them over the long-term. Aggressive selling or pitching tactics may yield upfront results, but will also earn you a bad reputation. Repeat business is more to your benefit.

Truth is refreshing. When you’re a truth-teller, it demonstrates that you would make for a solid partner over the long haul. Build your credibility by being honest and transparent about what you’re looking to achieve.

5. Learn To Listen & Read Between The Lines

In today’s fast-paced, attention-deprived world, people tend not to listen. But listening could provide some valuable clues as to how to move forward with your communication, and what problems you could solve for them.

As you continue to communicate with intermediaries, you’re going to be asked more and more questions. You need to learn to answer questions while flipping it around on them, and in turn, following up with your own question. This will keep the conversation moving.

Don’t forget – the person asking the questions is in control of the conversation.


Be genuine and treat others with respect. It sounds simple enough, but it can be difficult when you’re looking to get that handshake on a deal. Learn to steer the conversation, and how to get a “yes” when gatekeepers are most likely to respond with a “no”.

Let’s get to work!

– Linda

If you have questions about your executive career search, please contact me at 203-323-9977 or