In our last post we discussed the temptations facing unemployed executives to move with extreme haste in finding a new role. Conceptualizing job loss as akin to falling off a horse they associate ‘down time’ with unproductive, time-consuming activity. They instead muster the strength to get up and jump right back on that employment horse. Having reflected little on the past, present or future, they opt for frenetic activity designed to quickly generate employment opportunities. We described the approach as ‘spray and pray’ and suggested it is ill-advised. Here’s why…
Spray and pray enthusiasts seek to generate employment choices which they reason is best accomplished by positioning themselves as broadly skilled/experienced and highly flexible. Thus, they give equal weight to each of the roles they have filled or touched along their career (say for example sales, product management, and marketing) and make it clear they are open to new opportunities in each of these fields. They also express an affinity to all manner of companies, big and small, private and public, family run or corporate. Though they may have worked in predominantly one sector they respond to job postings in all sectors indicating an ‘openness’ for change. They approach every executive search firm irrespective of their area of specialization. The objective, once again, is to generate the activity that will yield job opportunities. The goal is quantity. Considerations of quality will come later.
Unfortunately for the generalists, they live in a specialist world. Companies covet the ‘best’ executive they can find with deep expertise in the roles they are seeking to fill, not someone who has passed through such roles. They want someone with proven experience with the challenges at hand not someone simply interested in tackling those types of assignments. When faced with a generalist, companies try to tease out the underlying specialist skills and strengths. They seek to understand an individual’s core DNA. While not diminishing the value of breadth, they try to understand which roles, contexts, cultures and companies the person is better, if not best, suited for. Since the candidate has committed to a versatility narrative, the parties are at cross purposes. The responsibility lands on the company to ‘figure out’ the candidate that lacks the self-awareness to represent themselves with greater clarity and precision. Some companies are better equipped than others for the task while some are more willing than others to even try. Minimally, the due diligence process is likely to be extended for all concerned.
While the pray and spray enthusiasts may well prove successful in generating activity, they will often be lucky to win the consolation prizes in the ensuing selection processes. And because they pursue such scattered variety of opportunities, they can spend an inordinate amount of time researching companies and industries unfamiliar to them. While such effort is an investment if one looks at multiple roles in the same sector, often times they are disparate ‘one-of’ situations that will pay no future dividends. Six months later many spray and pray executives find themselves fatigued from their high level of activity but no further ahead.
In our next post we will offer an alternative……
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.