We have found that executive candidates, and everyone for that matter, repeat patterns. Someone whose resume shows that they change jobs every two to three years will continue to do so, while executive candidates with a more stable employment history and a long tenure with one company tend to repeat that pattern as well.
A series of short employment stints can be kryptonite for an individual seeking yet another new position, and many organizations seek executives with long tenures. Spending seven or more years with the same company demonstrates loyalty and commitment and provides a sense of comfort for your future employer. In many cases, it means that the executive has managed strategic projects or operations through more than one business cycle. However, like everything else, what is a strength can also be a weakness. Individuals who have had their head down with one company are not as talented at the interview process as those who change companies frequently.
Here are some of the common mistakes we see from long-term employees.
1. Only focusing on compensation
Too many people focus solely on base salary or even compensation to the exclusion of other potentially important factors. It’s not unusual to take an initial reduction in salary when changing positions, especially for managers hoping to expand their experience, responsibilities, and opportunities with a new position. If the offer doesn’t match your expectations, consider (if you are relocating) your new cost of living, the new employer’s long terms growth prospects, and whether this new position would be a better long term stepping stone. Will your commute be shorter? Will you have a more visible role?
Several years ago we conducted a search for a rapidly growing mid-size global industrial company. The candidate of choice was in a dead-end position at a global energy company known for paying at the top of the market, yet she focused exclusively on the fact that her salary at the new position would be a lateral. She forgot that she would go from managing 20 people to 100 and have the title of CFO rather than Director of Finance. Long term, she would have made much more but she wanted the new company to use the same compensation system as the older behemoth. Her decision was one she regretted, as five years later she was still in the same position.
2. Not understanding an industry or profession
Candidates interviewing for positions in a new industry or profession, need to do research. For example, if you interview for a position at a law firm and ask about an employment contract, you may seem unprepared to work in the legal profession—law firms typically do not offer employment contracts, even to the highest paid non-lawyer executives. Internet research and Google searches can be helpful, but even more valuable are the contacts that you have made throughout your career. Have coffee or dinner with a former colleague or friend who works in the profession or industry you’re considering so you can familiarize yourself with the ins and outs and vernacular of your potential new line of work.
3. Flubbing the interview
A long tenure on a resume is a plus, but the long-term employee is unlikely to be the most nimble interviewer. Out-of-practice interviewers often make common interview mistakes that could keep them from being hired or presented by the search firm: Prattling on without letting the interviewer speak, going into too much unwanted detail, and only discussing past accomplishments (“At Exxon, we did this”) without discussing the value one would add to the interviewer’s firm or company.
Our previous blog posts have touched on interview practices to avoid and how successful candidates interview. Any candidate should thoroughly prepare for an interview and be familiar with interview “faux pas,” but long-term employees especially should review their past accomplishments in line with the position and industry for which they are interviewing. Above all, remember that an interview should sound more like a conversation than a one-sided speech.
4. Not knowing how to work with search firms
Building a good relationship with a search firm can be invaluable for educating you on trends and industries, and these relationships can pay multiple dividends during the course of your career. However, many long-term executives do not understand how search firms work or who they represent, which can sabotage their candidacy.
Most C-level searches are conducted by retained search firms who are contracted and paid in advance to conduct a thorough and strategic search. They work on behalf of the hiring company, not the candidate, whereas contingency recruiters only receive payment when their candidate accepts an offer with the company. Many unpracticed corporate executives make rookie mistakes and try to circumvent the interview process by trying to circumvent the executive search firm or pressuring the recruiter to move the process faster. They don’t understand that a search firm’s role is to conduct a thorough (and yes, timely) search, not to be an agent of the candidate.
Executives with long-term tenure are highly valued in C- and executive-level searches. But a long, successful tenure must be coupled with strong interview skills and an understanding of the executive search process—otherwise, they may end up on our next “Candidates Do the Darndest Things” list.