Finding the right role starts with Self-Awareness

Last week, a 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 firm setting up shop in 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 advise executives to take such a ‘shotgun’ approach to targeting their next job. But when I challenged this individual about the wide range of job choices he had put forth, and the challenges they presented to his search, he took offence and asked how I could possibly know that he was not capable of addressing each and every one of these roles. He suggested we spend the next few hours going line by line through his resume so that he could make his case. Alternatively, I should let him sell himself to each and every organization across his target list.

I know that transitions are a difficult period in everyone’s life, and I deserve to be reprimanded if I ever appear disrespectful or dismissive of someone’s plight or their many accomplishments. But please let me myself as I would rather not 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 simple ‘greet and meet’, a chance for each of us to get on the other’s radar screen and for the executive 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, more than self-awareness. Check it out if 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 and thrived, the adaptability they have demonstrated, their career and development trajectories, 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 and call me blind for failing to see that yes they can be effective in settings ranging from General Motors to a variety store.

Henceforth, here is my pledge. The next person who comes in to see me and announces that after 20 years of being a loyal foot soldier in a large multinational company, he or she has decided they want to run a VC-backed start-up (because that have always been entrepreneurial within that massive corporation), I hereby promise to give them two thumbs up on that great idea, and to promise to give them a call just as soon as I get the perfect opportunity. Honestly, I promise…..

About The Author

Robert Hebert, Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of Toronto-based StoneWood Group Inc, a leading executive search firm. He has spent the past 25 years assisting firms in the technology sector address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Dr. Hebert holds a Masters Degree in Industrial Relations as well as a Doctorate in Adult Education, both from the University of Toronto.

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