By Brian Mitchell, Managing Partner & CEO.
I recently received feedback from a client CEO on a candidate I had presented for a high-profile C-suite role in his company. This is a proven senior executive and former CEO herself currently leading a significant function at another company within the industry. After the first interview, my client told me the interview only lasted about 20 minutes which I immediately knew wasn’t a good indication. The feedback was that the candidate did not know much about the company, knew nothing about the company that had acquired them 2 years earlier, and didn’t have many questions. Fortunately, I have a strong history with this client, but it was not a good look for the candidate and it was not a good look for me.
I’m working on several executive roles right now and anyone with a pulse knows there is a LOT of hiring going on at all levels across many industries. In software and internet sectors where GM Ryan narrowly focuses, it’s gangbusters. That’s a good thing and we all need to take it while we can get it because we know (yet often forget) that markets change and can shift investments in hiring considerably. A year ago, it was like a faucet had been turned off and now there’s a lot of water backed up and exploding out of the spigot. We are in a “candidate-driven market”… for the moment.
Candidate-driven markets are characterized by massive hiring sprees, low unemployment, increased internal and institutional investing, and a good macroeconomy. Candidate-driven markets tend to happen following “employer-driven markets” where minimal hiring takes place and many companies shed positions they don’t consider essential which creates a surplus of people looking for work. When someone is looking for work, they tend to be highly motivated and their full-time job becomes finding their full-time job. They perform as much due diligence as possible on the interviewer, the company, the parent company and/or investors, the competitors, the products in advance of any interview. They want to be prepared and informed so they can impress.
For executives, they must balance bringing in compensation without settling for a career move that would set them back financially, intellectually, managerially, or at the very least optically. That’s a tough balance depending on personal circumstances. And this is where the disconnect happens with certain individuals. The mindset when someone is actively seeking a new position is “I want to be impressive” whereas the mindset of the person willing to take an interview without needing a new position is often “impress me, then I’ll think about it and determine if I want to put forth enough effort to impress you”. Unless your track record is so absurdly spectacular, this passive mindset doesn’t work. Ever.
So what am I saying? Candidates are lazy. Well, no, that’s not true, but some candidates are definitely lazy. Or sloppy. Or arrogant. Ironically, it’s often the best candidates that prove this point. I’m not talking about the generally incompetent or underqualified candidate for the role he has no shot at getting. I’m talking about the “professional” who does not prepare for the interview because of a myriad of reasons they rationalize and they don’t realize they’re all deal-killers:
“I’m too busy” to research the company
“I’m too busy” to prepare questions beyond the obvious
“I’m too busy” to be on time
“I’m too busy” to not be in transit on a cell phone
“I’m too busy” to send a follow-up note expressing thanks and interest
“I’m good where I’m at, but I have ears” exudes disinterest
If you’re too busy or too important, don’t take the conversation! I firmly believe that the most marketable executive candidates (or any level candidate) have their head down immersed in excellence, kicking tail in their current role and company. That said, if that same executive is going to take the time to entertain even an exploratory conversation on an alternative role, then take the friggen time to be impressive via preparation or just don’t take the interview at all. It doesn’t matter if we are in a candidate-driven market because the most attractive positions are still going to attract sterling competition. A top candidate is going to be in a far better position to receive an offer and mediate terms only if they’re impressive and demonstrate interest from the get-go. I sometimes hear people say “I get recruiters calling me all the time” as if that was a commentary on their unique marketability vs. the market itself. I’ll often ask them “how often do you get offers?” and it tends to shift the conversation. I get it, certain functions are in high demand and even average candidates have options (right now), however a lack of effort reveals a lack of will and skill that is a turn off to CEO’s and other hiring executives looking to invest in their teams by bringing in top talent. Top talent either withdraws from a process when they’re not interested, which is a professional and reasonable move, or they are prepared. Top talent recognizes that their best bet for maximizing any potential offer is to be in a position for the company to want to hire them. That won’t happen with a half-assed effort. And all of us need to keep in mind that 2008/2009 or 2020 are not anomalies and other industry downturns, RIFs, and acts of God will happen. Balance confidence with a dose of humility coupled with perpetual preparedness and you will maximize your career options.