Self-Awareness and Courtesy Interviews - The Pledge of a Ranting Idiot

September 1, 2008

Last week, a disenchanted mid-level executive with 20 years ‘in’ at a large company, came to see me with a his job wish list. It included CEO of a start-up, divisional general manager of a mid-sized company, country manager for a foreign company selling into Canada, or senior vice-president in a large company. The executive also noted that it did not matter to him whether the company was characterized by high growth or turnaround since he could do either. His only proviso was that, “I do not want to do steady state”.

I have previously written about why I do not believe candidates should take such a shotgun approach to targeting a job (see “A Headhunter Pushes Back” on our web site). But when I challenged him a little about the array of job choices he put forth, he took offence and asked how I could know whether he was capable of addressing each and every one of these roles unless I spent 2-3 hours going line by line through his resume and many accomplishments. Furthermore, as one of the ‘gatekeepers’ to the jobs he wanted, what right did I have to block him from being able to sell himself to each and every organization on his target list. If I was unwilling to do my job properly, I should get out of the way and let the clients decide.
Now I know that transitions are a difficult period in everyone’s life, and I deserve everything I get if I ever, ever, appear disrespectful or dismissive of someone’s plight or their many accomplishments. But please let me explain a few things as I do not intend to get into one of these awkward situations again.
First, if you reach out to me and I agree to meet with you (which 99% of the time I will), it is a courtesy interview. I do a couple of these every day and it is outside what I am paid to do which is look for people on behalf of my clients. If I am working on a search that appears to line up with your skills and experience, trust me I will drill down into your resume in great detail. Otherwise it is supposed to be a ‘greet and meet’, a chance for you to get on my radar screen and to get a reading on the marketplace.

Second, I challenge people because I am a big fan of self-awareness. Few attributes predict the likelihood of good job decision-making not to mention the developmental potential of an individual than self-awareness. I challenge you to check it out if you do not believe me. Because of this, I tend to poke and probe about where individuals shine and why, how they affect the people around them, the people with whom they work most effectively, the various contexts in which they have worked, their adaptability and range of skills, their career and development trajectories and plans, the extent to which they solicit feedback how they respond to it, the mentors and developmental initiatives they have pursued etc, etc etc. Executives who perform well in these types of discussions are considered self-aware.

Self-aware executives tend to be focused when discussing next steps in their career, the roles and companies they seek, and why. They know themselves, where they will thrive, where they won’t and they can discuss the issues intelligently. They talk to others in their target roles, they gather data, they ask for feedback on their thought processes and they contemplate the responses. What they don’t do is suggest that they can succeed in any job, anywhere, anytime. What they do not do is claim to be experts in addressing every business context out there. And they do not dismiss feedback as the ranting of an idiot.

But henceforth, here is my pledge. The next guy who comes in to see me and announces that after 20 years of being a loyal foot soldier in a large multinational military force, he has decided he wants to be the general of a Canadian startup commando force, (because he has come to realize that he hates bureaucracy and he has really always been entrepreneurial within that massive corporation), I hereby promise to give him two thumbs up on that great idea, and to give him a call just as soon as I get the perfect opportunity for him. Honestly, I promise. Now if he will just leave…