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When I am interviewing candidates for recruiting assignments, I always inquire about their previous job search activities, to gain some idea how long they have been looking and how well they have penetrated the market. As people recount their experiences, I will hear vignettes similar to these, “I came in second for the Director’s job at XYZ,” or “I had a great interview with the company and they sounded like they would be calling with an offer, but I haven’t heard from them in a month”. Probably these words, or some version of them, have been uttered by nearly every job candidate at some time or other. Of course, upon hearing such comment from candidates whom I represent, it is interesting to compare their input to my clients’ feedback. Many times these debriefings have left me wondering if my candidate and my client were in the same room together, but I will save this thought and discuss it in my upcoming series of newsletters on the Interview Campaign.
During my career in executive search, I have heard the comment, “second is always last”. Another version of this is that every candidate on the slate for a specific job, who is not hired, comes in second. Of the hundreds of searches I have executed in the past 26 years, I can count on my hands the times when the client’s “anointed” candidate did not accept an offer, or the deal fell through for any number of reasons, that a number two was taken. I have several fingers left over. Typically in any search, one person emerges as the chosen one. When the hire cannot be consummated with this person, the client almost inevitably states, “Show us more candidates”. When pushed to reconsider those already seen, they usually decline, offering what they feel are weaknesses in those individuals who remain in the pool. Valid or not, that’s the way it is.
The hiring “dance” or process, especially at the senior executive level, is based more upon the chemistry of the moment, or whatever makes two people “click”. Frequently it is referred to as a marriage, which is a very apt metaphor. I could recount many stories where people were hired, not for being the most qualified candidate, but because they connected with the hiring executive on a personal and professional level.
Knowing this, it simply means that one person will stand out from the pack and get the offer, whether they were seen early in the search or late. All you can do as a candidate is prepare for an interview do your best to sell yourself and move on. If you get an offer, you can celebrate.
The purpose of The TENG and what makes it work is when its ACTIVE members share job leads on an as-found basis. The Associate members are not interviewing. If you wait for your candidacy to end, chances are the job will be filled or out on offer. You will be doing your friends a disservice by wasting their time on a dead job lead. I created this group to operate much Like The Financial Executives Network Group, (You’re right, it’s The FENG www.thefeng.org ), with the blessing and counsel of Matt Bud, its Chairman. Matt has grown his group from 35 members in 1997 to a global networking powerhouse of over 9,000 today, and he did it based on this very same philosophy. In his words, “Time is the enemy. The value of any lead is its freshness”. Someone will be hired for every job you explore. If it can’t be you, it might as well be one of your friends, rather than someone you don’t know. This means that you personally introduce a fellow TENG member (this can be done through a conference call) to either the search consultant or the company, telling them that they should consider this person as a candidate. This elevates you in their eyes, because your positive qualities including self-confidence, selflessness and faith in your own abilities have been showcased. If your friend gets hired, s/he owes you a tremendous debt and will do everything they can think of to help you in kind. You now have an excellent industry contact.
Remember, I send the job leads to you, the membership. I can’t prevent you from forwarding a lead to a non-member, but I intend for them to be shared by members only. If you receive a lead that fits a colleague who is not a TENG member, nominate her or him for Active or Associate membership, as appropriate. I will act quickly to include them, and will forward the lead to them. Whenever a new member signs on, I send them all the previous newsletters and the most recent and relevant job leads. When you submit a lead, tell me if you are pending against it. If you receive a lead through The TENG network and wish to pursue it, let me know and I will place you in touch with the referring member. Of course, this applies only to those leads from search firms and hiring companies. For the job board postings, you simply go direct. Over time, I feel that we need to have more of the former, to make this method of introducing friends a successful one. I turn around any valid lead within one to eight hours. Delays are caused only when I am out of the office.
Job leads must have some substance. A few comments with a recruiter’s phone number is simply going to cause that person to be bombarded with people they may not need. This could damage your credibility with that recruiter on future searches where you should be a serious candidate.
I can’t determine whether you will commit to this approach, nor can I control your performance. That is totally up to you.
Technology Executives Network Group
Everyone is broadening their search parameters to uncover new opportunities in the present marketplace. Previously unexplored career possibilities are now being actively
considered. By and large, most IT executives have built their careers in the publicly held companies. Management style, culture and politics can differ significantly between
publicly and privately held businesses. Even the dot.coms, though small, offered a business mind-set that, while entrepreneurial, was perhaps a hybrid of the larger stock
company and a family-owned or closely held business. I am not saying that one is better than the other, but it pays to know something about these differences. Because most of us
have spent our careers in the larger and mid-tier public companies, I am going to focus on some of the issues that often surround the private ones. These are purely my own
observations taken during my years as a search consultant, from dealing with closely held clients and speaking with people who have worked for such enterprises.
- If you are not part of the family, don’t plan on becoming the CEO or President. There are exceptions to this, but they are few.
- If you are considering a senior IT position in a private company, and the CIO position is held by a family member who is younger than retirement age, don’t plan on being promoted to that position anytime soon. If you are content being a number two and the company is stable, this may be a very good opportunity, as long as you don’t mind someone else calling the shots.
- If you are the CIO of a privately held company and the President appoints their son or daughter, who has a BS in Computer Science and an MBA, to be your understudy; update your resume and start looking for a new position. Ultimately, this person will be your replacement.
- Patience takes on added meaning in a closely held firm. It may have to be your most critical skill. Each of us can tell countless stories of the convoluted decision and approval processes that we have encountered in our careers. As an IT executive, when you go to top management in a private firm to fund your latest initiative, you’re not only competing with every other request from other areas of the company, you have to factor in your boss’ emotional needs. For example, let’s say you are making a presentation to the owner recommending a hardware upgrade, new software or a department expansion to make the business more competitive. While you are waiting to speak to the owner, who is on the phone, you spot a brochure on his desk for a new seventy-foot Hatteras Motor Yacht, or you hear him organizing a syndicate to buy a professional sports franchise. You may have the most compelling financial arguments for your endeavor, but you may lose. I am not saying that executives in these firms are immature, but the difference is that you are asking them to spend money, which they may think belongs in their pocket. They may agree with you that your idea has considerable merit, but if they are happy with the status quo, you will have a difficult time changing their minds.
- If you are hired by the older generation of a family, who then plan to turn over management to their daughters or sons, be prepared to leave. I have seen many situations over the years, where the younger generation wants someone loyal to them, not the person that Dad hired. A CFO can be vulnerable here, especially if they happened to convince Dad not to finance Junior’s youthful desire to be a Grand Prix race driver. But it may be that the younger generation wants someone of a closer age with life experiences similar to their own. Generational transitions
such as this can be very awkward and political. They can be made potentially more successful if you have the opportunity to work as a peer with the younger generation for a few years prior to their promotion. If they feel that you have their and their company’s best interests at heart, you should be less at risk.
- If any family member approaches you or interrupts you at your busiest time, you must first remember that their name is at the bottom of your paycheck. They may be asking you a seemingly ridiculous question at a time when you are under severe stress. Nonetheless you must not lose your composure.
• Company politics can be very vicious, especially if there is a power struggle among family members. Do your best to remain neutral at all times. Be a patient, attentive listener, but don’t take sides.
- Loyalty ranks up there with patience. These are virtues in any environment, but I have witnessed numerous cases where people have enjoyed tremendous career
growth and excellent financial reward because they have gone to great lengths to grow, protect and support a family held business. I can also tell stories of efforts that have gone unappreciated and not rewarded by a greedy owner, but enlightened leadership in a private company can frequently operate without some of the constraints that exist in a public company, allowing more flexibility for rewards. Loyalty seems to run deeper in these firms, perhaps because it is a family environment.
- Privately held companies are not all “mom and pops”. There are some major global companies out there that are family held. Their management, processes, professionalism and successes rival those of many public firms. They can offer excellent career opportunities.
- Stock in a privately held company is worthless, unless the company is being sold.
If you are considering a position with a closely held company, as always, do some research before you accept a position.
- Because privately held companies don’t have to file reports with the SEC, it will be more difficult, if not impossible to obtain detailed financial information. Visit the company’s Web site, not just for content, but also to see if there are valuable links to trade associations, conferences, universities and other organizations. Some research here may provide needed insight into a company’s success in its marketplace. Searching on-line press releases may reveal new ventures or other items of interest.
- What are the duties of your proposed job? Does it appear to enable growth or simply maintain the status quo? Why is the job vacant? How many people have held it in the past five years? Try to get a feel as to whether the owners wish to take their business to the next level, maintain a cash cow or sell it.
- Try to determine how many family members are in management. What are their positions? What are your reporting lines? Will you be “sandwiched” between two family members? If so, will you be filling a hidden short-term role while your subordinate is groomed for your job?
- All of the other interview scenarios and rules apply. Be prepared for a longer interview cycle. The heads of closely held companies typically hate turnover, are competitive and want to hire the best person available. Sometimes, resignations are taken as personal affronts. This makes the owners more defensive and they may request more interviews, ask for work samples and require some form of third party test or evaluation before finalizing their decision.
- Interview with as many family members as possible. If any signs of an internal power struggle exist which could impact your success, either remove yourself from further consideration or keep your job network active if you join the company.
Technology Executives Network Group
Writing an effective resume is a daunting task under the best of circumstances, mostly because most of us don’t do it for a living and it is not easy for many to cogently explain themselves in such a formal, structured manner. It poses an even greater challenge during our present economic times because we are competing for a few select positions in a tight market. People continually ask me, “What should I do to ensure that my resume will be near the top of the pile, when the company prepares to begin interviews”. All I can do is give you my thoughts, based upon my 26 years as a search consultant. Resumes are like opinions, everyone has one, and each has its positive and negative qualities. There are any number of books and guides on effective resume writing and there are businesses, which, for a fee, will write your resume from scratch. Any of these should be acceptable avenues. What I am going to discuss in this newsletter, are thoughts and impressions that I have gathered over my career.
Your resume is a marketing tool. It should honestly and accurately portray your experience in such a way as to make its reader want to interview you. That’s it, plain and simple. Its link to the interview is that it is a business document where you are allowed (and expected) to “blow your horn”, albeit without exaggeration.
It should be printed on a good quality white or buff paper. Use standard letter size. Any over sized documents intended to attract attention, are usually discarded because they won’t stack neatly with other resumes or fit in a file.
Two dominant formats or structures are typical. One is the reverse chronological format; the other is the functional format. In the reverse chronology, you discuss your entire work history, from your present or most recent position, all the way back to when you first began your professional career. In the functional resume, people typically present their expertise as a series of bulleted points, with a brief job chronology at the end. I have also seen blends of these two styles.
Almost unanimously, my clients over the years have expressed a strong preference for the reverse chronology style. They expect to see a clearly written document that illustrates your entire career, with all the “holes” (if any exist) explained. They also like to know what people have accomplished and when. Many hiring companies view the functional resume as a means of politely hiding your age, gaps in employment, or job-hopping. A major drawback of the functional format is that unless you date each of your accomplishments, your reader can’t map them to a specific job, company or period in time. One page resumes are for trainees only. With the complex issues that contemporary business professionals encounter, anyone with a few years’ experience almost by necessity has at least a two page resume. Two to three pages are an acceptable length. If you are fairly senior, the best way to approach this is to emphasize your most recent ten years’ experience and then condense your prior history. Depending upon the length of your career and the number of positions you have held, you can simply have a brief entry for each position you held prior to ten years ago. Here are points to consider:
- You may begin with a brief summary of your career, under your name and contact information, which will be at the top of the first page. Keep it brief. Highlight your strengths or features that make you unique from your contemporaries. If you wish to have a technology summary, I feel it is best to place this after your experience. You are marketing the services of a manager and leader, not a programmer. Many senior management positions have technology requirements, but the company is hiring a manager first. As a manager, it is best to showcase your technical skills integrated within your narrative, and then list them later.
- You then begin your reverse chronology. You should show the name of your present company, its location and your dates of employment. If you have held more than one position with this company, list each one, with its specific dates and with a narrative for each. Hiring companies like to see a track record of promotions. Make this chronology go all the way back to when you began your
career. Resume screeners become suspicious when your first career entry shows a “Manager” or “Director” title. They automatically assume that you are hiding your age. They become even more aroused if you don’t provide the dates of your degree(s). Let’s face it; anyone over age forty is in a federally protected age group. Nonetheless, hiring companies seem to find ways to get around this. It’s better to show all the facts and not waste your time interviewing with a company that wants a young hot shot for a CIO. By the way, I’m well into this protected age group, too.
- Resume content has to be presented in a direct, straightforward style. With each company/position entry, your reader should see a narrative describing the nature of your employer’s business, approximate revenues and have an idea whether it is domestic, global or regional. They should also know where you fit into the company. What are your reporting lines, how many people do you supervise and how large is your scope of operations (budget, equipment, etc.) Under this narrative, should be a series of brief entries or bullet points that showcase your accomplishments. Each of these must illustrate how you either increased revenues or reduced costs and in general added value to your company that is directly related to its success. If you have received any awards or special recognition for your accomplishments, you may either list them with the specific entry.
- If you did not begin your career in IT, but entered from another profession, you can deal with this in a variety of ways. If you were, for example, a Research Chemist, and you are now applying for an IT position in a chemical or pharmaceutical company, you may wish to illustrate some of your earlier experience. On the other hand, I once placed someone who had been a truck driver in his earlier life, who then obtained a BS degree and went on to pursue a successful IT career. He simply accounted for his earlier years with the statement that between the years of XX and YY, his work was not related to his present career. You have to decide if your previous career experience adds value or gives a unique dimension to your present endeavors. By the way, the client that hired the former truck driver was very impressed by his drive for self-improvement.
- Place your education after your technology summary. List all your degrees with year earned, name of college/university and any academic honors. You don’t need to mention that you were President of the Debating Society, etc. If your degree is in progress, be ready to verify it. In all cases you should have a transcript or sheepskin handy. Don’t say you have a degree, if you don’t. I have seen many careers derailed by this. The ironic part is that sometimes a degree was not necessary for the position, but if the candidate lied, the relationship is over. Some people feel that partial completion of advanced degree programs should be left off the resume, since it can illustrate an inability to deliver on commitments and complete projects. This is very subjective. If you have taken graduate level courses that may have specific job relevance and were precluded by family or other personal issues from completing your degree program, it may make sense to include this information.
- With your formal education, list any professional certifications and designations. Recent vendor and technology training may be included here, but be reasonable. You don’t need to list the IBM 360 COBOL course you took in 1978. It is generally recommended that you not include marital status, religious/political affiliation, charitable activities, or community involvement. I don’t necessarily agree with all of this, but we are in an age of political correctness. If the resume screener has an axe to grind with your religion or political party, you may be eliminated. So too, a high level of community / charitable involvement is unfortunately viewed as a career distraction by some companies. If you feel that these activities help to define you, then leave them in.
I am sure that I have left you with some unanswered questions. As you are aware, it is possible to fill a book with resume advice. Hopefully this will give you some frame of
reference. If you have questions about your resume, I would be happy to speak with you at any time. Thank you very much for your attention and interest. Keep the new members and job
Technology Executives Network Group
When I first entered the recruiting business twenty-six years ago, I was fortunate to have a supervisor who was an excellent trainer, coach and mentor. My learning curve was exceptionally steep because my previous work experience was as an Air Force officer and broadcast journalist on radio. He must have had a great deal of faith in me, because as a new recruiter, I not only had to learn the processes of recruiting, but also had to learn the processes of my client companies and my candidates. He groomed me to be the top producer in a firm with 120 employees in about 3 years. I owe him my career.
Whenever a client was about to hire one of my candidates, he would always remind me, “Ego is spelled m-o-n-e-y”. He would also say that if a candidate states that money doesn’t matter, that’s when it seems to matter the most. I have witnessed countless times over the years where people have refused job offers because their ego would not permit them to accept something less than what they had in mind no matter how unrealistic. This is a very sensitive topic because we all tend to measure our success by how much we earn.
The central issue here is weighing short and long term priorities, before and during the interview process. Understandably, things are more complicated now by the slow market. Many unemployed candidates have admitted to me that they would literally accept any offer for any job and I don’t blame them. Nonetheless, it behooves us to seek answers to some of the following questions before and during the exploration of a new opportunity:
- What is my relative value in the marketplace? There is no easy answer here. You have to look in several places. You may have some insight into your company’s compensation structure, which more than likely uses a “banding” approach. You can check out the Computer World annual salary survey. If you have taken some interviews, talked with executive search consultants in the past year or just searched on line, you probably have some useful data. You also need to consider industry and geography, which can have major influence on compensation levels for comparable positions.
- How much money do I need annually to meet my living expenses? Do you spend every penny you make, or are you an active saver? Ideally, the second choice is the preferred one, but I also understand that if you are middle-aged, with a home mortgage and two or three kids attending college, saving outside of a company 401K, may not be possible.
- How will this new opportunity benefit my career? What experience will I gain that will give me better career traction in the future?
- Is this simply a paycheck until something better comes along? If so, how will I explain that on future interviews? If this job is paying significantly more than I am earning, am I being hired to fix an urgent, critical problem only to face a layoff after I solve it? An unusually high
offer in many cases masks a problem with the company, its management and its future. This may be a desperation move by someone in top management to save their own job. If it sounds too good to be true, you know the rest.
- If this job is paying less than I am earning, what are the reasons? Is the company taking advantage of the poor market and thinking I am “over a barrel”? Are my previous earnings out of synch with their scale? Are they making a costly training and development investment in me that will add future value to my career? Are they simply offering me a job on a “take it or leave it” basis?
All of this probably goes out the window if you have been unemployed for a long time, have had hardly any interviews and are now considering an offer. But you should at least keep these thoughts in mind as you enter this new relationship to understand how it may affect you in the future.
Over the years, I have witnessed the following phenomenon. Please understand that this is not a scientific survey, but is based upon many conversations with practitioners in your field.
- Some people made their most successful career moves when they took a lateral or a reduction in pay. They recognized that significant career value would be gained by accepting a position under these circumstances. Many went on to enjoy exceptional career success, growth and financial enrichment.
- Many companies have sowed the first seed of a person’s departure by hiring someone for less than they previously earned. This is usually done in a “take it or leave it” hire. The new employee feels s/he has been had. They take the job because they need an income, but when the job market improves, they leave for greener pastures. I have seen this more times than I can remember. (Keep this in mind whenever you hire. You can reduce future turnover.) One of my best clients for over ten years always made a practice of offering unemployed people a compensation package that was at least equal to their previous one, if not slightly better. They viewed this as a welcoming gesture and they enjoyed stability in their IT staff.
- Some people have ruined their careers because they only moved for a significant increase, ultimately causing them to fall out of step with the market. Many of them, if they had spent their entire income, found that they had to become contractors to continue a revenue stream to support their life style. This is fraught with other pitfalls.
Some possible strategies to consider during an interview:
- Don’t bring up compensation until the company does. It always amazes me how many intelligent and sophisticated people overlook this.
- Don’t draw a line in the sand. When a company asks how much you want, the killer answer is, “I must have at least XXX”. If they were going to offer you $500, $1,000 or even $5,000 less, you will never know it. Be flexible.
- Have a range in mind, based upon your assessment of the job, risk, location, career potential and your personal needs. When a company asks how much you want, you can then reply, “I would anticipate that my next career move will be in the range of (for example) $175,000 to 190,000, plus incentives.” Another approach is to say, “I understand that you have a hiring range. I am excited by your opportunity and will give favorable consideration to an offer in that range”. This gives the company some room. As a search consultant, I always ask a candidate, as we near the time of offer, to tell me what they want. I typically say, “Give me three numbers: the first should be what you really want. If the company hits it, you will immediately accept their offer, without hesitation. The second number should be something less. You may hesitate briefly, but you will probably take their offer. The third number is the floor. If they go below that, you will not accept their offer under any circumstances and will move on”. Many candidates will ask for a day to think this over, which is fine. I find their answers to be very interesting. Some people find it to be a dose of reality; others go off the Richter Scale. Better to know this before the offer is made than after. • Related to the above item, do your homework in advance. I have seen many opportunities bruised by post-offer negotiations. As the candidate, you don’t want to be beaten down. Companies don’t like to be held up either, once they make a selection. Be open, honest and flexible when asked what you want. Be ready to offer a pay stub or W-2 to verify your compensation.
- Don’t assume that a company or its recruiter knows what you want. Many people think that they will automatically get an offer that is ten to twenty per cent more than they earn, without asking. Not likely. This is a business deal and a sales process. Be ready to negotiate and assume nothing. You are responsible to articulate your desires at the time of offer to your search consultant or to the hiring company.
These are very broad issues. As you negotiate for your next position, it is likely that you will encounter circumstances that may be different. I would love to hear from you with any vignettes that I can share anonymously with the rest of the members. Also, I am willing at any time, to provide an objective opinion concerning your situation if you think that will help you negotiate a better offer. Don’t hesitate to contact me.
Edward J. Pospesil, Jr.
Following the Boss
In our present job market an invitation to interview is treated like gold. Based upon my conversations with some of you, any job offer at this point in time would be welcome, and understandably so. Despite our present anxieties, each of us, when evaluating potential career opportunities, will do whatever comes to mind to assess their downside risk potential. The more obvious areas of consideration include financial strength of the company, management stability, potential for successful performance, product/service viability/value proposition, personal chemistry, etc. to name a few.
Many job seekers feel that following a former superior or peers, for that matter, is a very effective way of reducing risk potential in their next career move. Countless stories of career success can be linked directly to opportunities that were extended to us by those we know and trust. However, there are also a large segment of people whose careers have suffered, because they failed to consider the downside risks of such a move. I have talked
with many scarred veterans over my years as a search consultant, who have given me an earful of anecdotal proof. When following the boss fails, especially more than once in your career, the effect may be devastating and could injure your future candidacy for the most desirable positions. Moreover, the effects can have broader, more personal impact if you have relocated your family and left a more stable company to accept such an opportunity.
The chemistry that forms among the members of a successful business team is much the same as that of any sports team. It is based upon trust, spirit, camaraderie, familiarity, respect and cooperation. This chemistry may change dramatically when key members are changed, which is the focus of this newsletter.
When considering an offer from a former superior, it is prudent to review your past working relationship with them. Which of their qualities did you admire the most and the least? How did you deal with the latter qualities? How did they rate you in your reviews? How well did they buffer you from the politics that went on at their level and above? Assuming that you enjoyed a successful working relationship with them, which would probably lead them to hire you again, what was the nature of your work?
- Looking ahead, you then need to answer these questions:
- What is the political climate in this new company?
- What is the tenure of your former superior?
- Is s/he performing a role that is business critical?
- Are you able to assess their success in this company?
- Is s/he under heavy deliverable / deadline pressure?
- What is the job you are being asked to do? Can you do it?
- Where does your career go, if s/he leaves within the first year of your employment?
- Does this new company pose a greater business risk than your present employer does?
Over my past twenty-six years in executive search, I have seen candidates who have allowed their previous boss, only to suffer circumstances such as these:
- Their manager is under unknown political pressures, which influences their relationship, causing abrupt departure of the subordinate.
- Related to the item above, their superior has been with the new company for a short time, has no credibility with the “old guard” and does not enjoy the effectiveness held in their previous company.
- Their manager is in a high-risk position because it will be one of the first to be eliminated in a downsizing. Their department is wiped out in a layoff.
- Their manager is fired for poor performance shortly after hiring the former subordinate, leaving them without a mentor and source of protection.
- Related to the above item, the senior executive is under severe pressure due to a late or failed project or some unknown political condition. The former subordinate is being hired to save them, but may become a casualty when the more senior executive is terminated, or the employee is laid off when the project is shelved.
- The job being offered by the former boss imposes demands that exceed the former subordinate’s expertise, more than a reasonable stretch objective should allow.
- The hiring manager is saying, “don’t worry about it, I know you… once you get started, you’ll be fine…” All blame for poor department performance is placed upon the subordinate’s shoulders to allow the more senior executive to save their job.
- The new employer is having financial difficulties or other conditions not revealed by the former boss during the interview, which ultimately leads to untimely termination of the subordinate.
- The subordinate is fired or laid off for any number of reasons. Their relationship with their former manager has soured, depriving them of a critical work reference.
- The job is not turning out as promised during the interview, for any number of reasons. The subordinate leaves.
In many cases, these kinds of career-damaging situations could have been avoided by some due diligence.
What is the potential for career damage? Over the years, my clients have displayed all of the following reactions to candidates who have previously followed their boss into failure:
- Their career became dead-ended because they allowed their job changes to be driven by someone else’s need and not a career plan. In effect, they became a long-term, ad hoc consultant, rather than an executive on their way up.
- They made too many job changes, because someone they knew and trusted would call them offering a fancier title or more money. Once again, this is an example of poor career management and greed.
- They have never had to make it on their own. In recent history, a former supervisor always hires them. When are they going to earn their way? Don’t they have any confidence in themselves?
- We can’t evaluate their performance. They have worked for the same person for a long time, and because of a now-strained relationship, we can’t obtain objective work references.
- They have excellent references, but not from enough people.
I am not suggesting that you ignore all job overtures from your former supervisors. I am strongly recommending that you evaluate them as carefully as you would any opportunities with previously unknown management. This is one of the few interview situations where you are in a position of strength. Leverage that to get the information you need to make your decision, to ensure that it will be less influenced by your emotions.
Ed Pospesil, Chairman, Technology Executives Network Group
Did you stay too long in your previous position? Ask anybody in the recruiting business and you’ll probably hear that people who have a long tenure with a company are unattractive employment candidates as are the job hoppers. All of this is very subjective, of course. What is too long? Certainly someone who has had the same job in the same company with little change, for the past twenty years would fit the profile. On the other hand, over the past few years when I have done CIO and other senior level searches, I have seen many candidate resumes showing fewer than six months at the present job but with enough bulleted accomplishments to cover several years. I sometimes have difficulty taking those candidates very seriously.
In either case, we can’t always control the circumstances that influence and cause job changes, but are frequently called upon to play the hand that is dealt us. Many times our career decisions are driven by our personal needs, although such issues have to be discussed carefully in an interview.
I can think of countless cases where people have stayed at unfulfilling jobs for many years to avoid breaking continuity in health benefits needed to protect a family member. Many separated and divorced parents work positions only because they are more geographically available to their children. This can be very complicated with the many “blended” families we see today. Indeed, this social condition has become so rampant, that my own teenage daughter feels like the odd person in her circle of friends because her parents are married; live together and actually like each other.
Where I am heading with this is to a theme you will hear me touch on in many newsletters to come. To wit: the career search/interview process is a very unique business situation, arguably unlike any other. It is the one situation where you the candidate, are expected to “blow your horn” and sell yourself, albeit carefully, while scrutinizing the company. On a job interview, you are no longer a CIO, VP, Director, etc, but you are a sales professional, who must effectively market your services, while simultaneously performing due diligence on the company. It helps immensely to have a solid grasp of who you are and where you prefer to realize your career.
Getting into my initial comments about tenure, how do you deal with this? Very few of us have that perfect resume: at least three years or more with every company, but not more than five, multiple promotions, no breaks in employment disguised as consulting ventures, salary history always heading “north”, etc.
Before you send out another resume, much less take another interview; it may be helpful to conduct a mental inventory of your entire job history. You can’t change what has happened, but this is an ideal time to improve your future.
Begin by spending time looking back over all the jobs you’ve had. How happy and fulfilled were you in each one. What were the ones where you couldn’t wait to get to work? What were the jobs where every night, the expression on your face had the same stare like that on any college basketball player whose team that has just been eliminated in the NCAA playoffs? In both cases, what kind of work were you doing? What was your boss like? How well was the company doing financially? What was the general political climate? When did you contemplate a job change, but then stuck it out to see if it would improve?
Many people have found this kind of self-analysis to be beneficial. I have witnessed numerous instances as a recruiter, where people have stayed with one company for many years, leaving via a layoff, company closing, business relocation or some other dramatic change. Their career then follows a succession of short stays of anywhere from a few months to a year, making them a job hopper by default. I maintain that this is due mostly to the fact that they have worked in only one political culture and assumed that a similar environment would exist in any other company. So too, most job hoppers keep moving because they can’t find that cultural fit.
Corporate culture is as unique as the individual personalities that create it. It starts at the top, with the CEO, and then is filtered, enhanced and interpreted by each management level. As an interviewee, you need to determine whether you fit. How? Start with a company Web site? Look at everything from mission statement, biographies, press releases to ethics policy. When you go to the interview, learn to read a company. How are you greeted? While you sit in the lobby and while walking through the building to your meeting, observe employees. Do they look tense or happy? Are they pleasant to each other, or do they simply pass each other, while avoiding glances? There are numbers of subtle but powerful signs that can provide insight into the climate of a company.
To illustrate, some twenty years ago, I met with a client IT Director to discuss recruiting senior level Project Managers and Business Analysts. Charles Dickens could have created his department. Management offices were on the perimeter of the building. In the center was a big open area filled with people who all looked like Bob Cratchit, hunched over their desks and avoiding contact with each other. There were no cubicles or partitions. Rather, desks were spaced about three feet apart. When I left my meeting, it was shortly after twelve noon. Hardly anyone had moved in the previous hour. I was so depressed by this environment, that I was never able to take this company seriously and sell it to potential candidates as a great place to further their careers.
The issues to consider are many: risk, upside potential, chemistry with the management team, company size, industry, geography, travel requirements and the like. Knowing answers to such intangible questions can mean the difference between career stability and fulfillment or hopping around looking for a home.
For those of you who wish to put some real effort into this process, I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book: The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success, by Nicholas Lore. Fireside/Simon & Schuster, New York, 1998. It retails for $14.00. Lore will lead you through as step-by-step, selfevaluation process that is granular. It takes time, but if you’re out of work, it may help you to understand what makes you tick and where you should best apply yourself. It is intended both for people who wish to change their career altogether and those who wish to reposition themselves in their present career.
As you continue your job search and consider opportunities, you will find many emotional factors that can influence your decision. They could be the lure of a former boss, geographical proximity, security, prestige, or high pay. Self-analysis will help you to place them in their proper perspective and gain the career traction you want. Good luck. A reminder: keep the new member referrals and the job leads coming.
Ed Pospesil Chairman Technology Executives Network Group