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Should You Accept a “Bigger” Job?

Janice Waterman : March 17, 2015 1:46 pm : Career Strategies

Don joined a $120M company as President of an autonomous subsidiary. The subsidiary lacked energy and focus, and their market was saturated with competitors. Don did what he does best – he led his new team to define a strategy and plan for an adjacent market. Within 12 months, he had grown the business from a $15M to a $30M annual run rate.

Since Don had worked miracles at the subsidiary, the CEO wanted him to solve problems within the $80M core business. The CEO was concerned about the company’s dependence upon two large customers and felt that one $20MM customer hinged on a personal relationship with the VP Sales. Don was offered the COO title and full responsibility for the core business. He negotiated significantly more cash and equity as a condition of accepting the position. He felt fully prepared because he had run similar businesses successfully. Six months after his promotion, Don was fired.

Was the “Peter Principle” responsible?

Before I founded Waterman Hurst, I was a member of board level and senior executive talent assessment meetings. Too often, I would hear recently promoted leaders described as “in over their head.” The attendees often concluded that the executive was promoted beyond their competency. This conclusion was almost always final. How could someone who was recently ranked in the top 10% fall to the bottom 10%?

Now that I am an outsider coaching many senior executives and often speaking to their colleagues, I see the dynamic from both sides. The “Hero to Zero” scenarios have occurred for one or more of the following reasons:

1) The required support to succeed in a new job was not in place.

2) The new job didn’t play to the strengths of the senior executive like the old job did.

3) The senior executive’s new charter did not energize him/her. The passion was lost.

Knee-jerk reaction to a “bigger” job.

Don was replaced as COO by the VP Sales. He was a hero at strategy, marketing and product launches; he was a zero at transforming the revenue profile within a very short period of time. Don was blinded by the opportunity to be COO and make significantly more money. He failed to properly assess the fit and plan for the challenge. In addition, he oversold himself when using negotiation capital solely on his compensation package.

Ego satisfaction does not equal fit.

  • Assess your skills, experiences, characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. The best source of information about you is your work history. What skills/qualities made you successful in the past? What requirements/skills are similar and what requirements are different in the new role? Is the new job too much of a stretch? Can you compensate by adding certain skill sets to your team?
  • Will the new role be satisfying given what you have loved doing in the past? Will you be motivated to accommodate the political challenges and the higher levels of stress that come with any new job? Will the day-to-day duties energize you or deplete you?

Don’t succumb to pressure.

  • You can say “no” to an internal promotion or bigger job-even an offer with more money, responsibility and status.  Ignore observers if they think you “lack ambition.” You can be unhappy with more money, responsibility and status. You can also fail.
  • Don’t accept a new job to get away from your present job. Take a misfit job and you will need to make another move too soon.

Negotiate much more than your compensation package.

  • Nail down a commitment to recruit complimentary talent and the budget/experiences for your development.
  • Mutually agreed upon objectives, strategy, budget, and timeline.
  • Negotiate a plan to deal with stakeholders who did not support or do not benefit from your promotion – up to firing them, if necessary. If powerful naysayers can not be neutralized, don’t accept the job.

Career decisions made with a lack of self-knowledge, confidence, planning and critical negotiations are usually poor decisions – hence very talented individuals can fail fast.

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The “Must Haves” of a Country to Country Job Search (even if your target is home)

Janice Waterman : October 6, 2014 12:18 am : Career Strategies

Three years ago, I was approached by a member of my advisory board who wanted me to manage his friend’s job search in the U.S. His friend was an expatriate CEO who had worked in Europe for almost two decades. “Dan wants his kids to know their grandparents and their home country before they graduate from high school, but he doesn’t know the first thing about searching for a senior position in the U.S.” I knew Dan’s job search was going to be difficult, but I was concerned that it may prove impossible. I agreed to a 6:00 AM call between Dan and I.

Dan turned out to be talented and persuasive. That first conversation was the beginning of a very intense and successful six month job search.

I could relate to Dan’s personal reasons for wanting to make a move. His company was happy for him to stay put. Dan had been out of the U.S. for so long that they could not imagine him as a U.S. CEO. His Chairman had become complacent about Dan’s career, assuming no other company would want him in the U.S. either. While the Chairman knew Dan was a U.S. citizen, he never thought of him as an expatriate; his present company was not the company that expatriated him.

Over the course of Dan’s job search and other country to country job searches, we have learned a great deal about what it takes to land in your targeted country. If this type of move is more than a “pipe dream” for you, don’t start your job search until you are fully prepared for the challenge. False starts undermine your credibility and your odds of success. Before you get started, you should determine your readiness, by asking yourself the following questions:

Do you have the strategy, attributes, support and tools to succeed?

1) Do you have a clear, concise and compelling reason to make the move?

2) Will you be satisfied targeting one country or region? Focus is critical for a successful market response.

3) Is your family committed to the move? Their resolve will be tested by potential employers or their agents.

4) Are you and your family prepared for some disruption during your 24 hour day? The level of disruption relates to the time difference between your present and targeted country.

5) Are you willing to put your aspirational career goals on hold? A country or region change will be risky enough for your potential employer.

6) Do you have a private and appropriate office for landline, cell and Skype calls (not your day job office)?

7) Are you prepared to spend your spare time in front of web cams and on social media sites?

8) Are you willing to fund some trips to your chosen country? It is critical to get in front of important contacts to level the playing field with local candidates.

9)  Do you have the time to get up to speed on your target market, country and culture? Desk research and experiential trips are necessary, especially  if you are not traveling regularly or doing business in your target country.

10) Have you established a local network and strong referrals within your present country? In the end, it is a small world.

Is it Worth All the Trouble?

This type of job search requires self-confidence, energy, a burning desire, and sheer perseverance. If you are questioning whether it is worth the trouble, you may not have the compelling reason and desire necessary to succeed.

A self-driven repatriation or country to country move can be emotionally satisfying, empowering, and professionally rewarding. While assimilation into a new business culture also takes time and effort (even if you are going home), those that executed a country to country move successfully have been very happy with their decision. A Marketing Services CEO who returned to the U.S. from Asia said, “It is a great relief to be in the U.S. I no longer feel like an outsider.” A Technology COO from England said, “My wife has always wanted to be near her family. I have given her that opportunity.” A Media CTO said, “The U.S. is at the forefront of my industry. The exposure and visibility will eventually accelerate my career back home .” A Chemicals CEO said, “By the time my eldest started 9th grade, he had attended four schools in four countries. Now, he will be able to start and finish at the same high school.” A Real Estate and Construction President and General Manager said, “Now that I am back in the U.S., I no longer have to second guess the business culture-getting results is much less complicated.” And finally, from a Consumer Products CMO, “The time I spent overseas was more than enough, I will visit often, but I will never make another move that doesn’t benefit me and my family.”


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Protect Your Chance to say “Yes” or “No”

Janice Waterman : September 11, 2014 2:09 pm : Career Strategies

It started out as an exceptional day-both personally and professionally. I was golfing with my youngest son, and it was a beautiful outside. Between buckets, I read an email from an EVP HR informing me that one of my clients had a real shot at a “bull’s-eye” job. The EVP of HR had met my client and wasn’t sure of the fit. Regardless, she had committed to running his details by the Chairman. That morning, she let me know that the Chairman liked his background and wanted to interview him in San Francisco.

In my business, “bull’s-eye” means that the job meets all of my clients objectives. My client earned high six figures and had an unusual career trajectory, so finding roles that met all of his objectives was difficult. This particular company was Company 22 on his Top 40 Company List-a list of companies he identified and ranked for his next move. I was elated when I contacted my client; I told him to expect a call from the company to arrange a meeting with the Chairman.

Five hours later, my day went south. I received another email from the EVP of HR telling me my client had turned down the job opportunity. I couldn’t believe it. I was sure she was mistaken. Rather than waiting for her to call him, he had emailed her and left the impression that he was happy to stay at his present company. I quickly called my client, and reviewed the email he sent to the EVP. I pointed out what he had done.

I asked my client more than once, “What were you thinking?” At first he was at a loss, and then explained, “I knew she was going to call. I was impatient to get more of the details, but I didn’t want to look too available.” He and I tried to change her impression, but the opportunity disappeared the moment he clicked,  “Send.” My client did end up making a career move, and a good one, but it took him a long time to get over Company 22.

I recently read a COO Forum post with an intriguing title. It was called, “The Chicken Door,” and it was a story about the author’s job interview that had gone wrong. He implied that his opportunity-ending answer to an important interview question, although unplanned, was his way of escaping a job that was not an obvious fit. One of the forum members then commented that our subconscious saves us from jobs that we feel are not right for us, before we consciously know they are not right for us. So when we blow up an opportunity, there is often a good reason.

After reading the story and comments, I thought of that day last summer.

I asked myself, “Do some senior executives sabotage opportunities because they feel, on some level, they are not right for them? Could that explain the unexpected, unprepared, or uncharacteristic behavior that sometimes occurs during a job search? Or does some type of anxiety or need for control cause “off charter” behavior?

After thinking through the out of character and opportunity ending behavior I have witnessed over the past 25 years, I could only conclude that every situation is different. And the answer to the question, “Why?” is unique to one person and one situation.

While it is an unusual occurrence for most job seekers, I believe that each job seeker should recognize their own potential for ‘off charter’ behavior. Understanding what conditions might trigger it in you, helps to prevent it. Our clients range from “mostly satisfied with their current position” on one end of the spectrum to “in between jobs and dissatisfied with their last position” on the other end. All of them experience the unwelcome emotions that come along with a job search, no matter how comfortable they are in their present situation.

To land the best job or execute a difficult career change, managing your reactions to undesirable information and stress provoking situations is critical. Behavior that seems random, arrogant or confusing will not build confidence. It will eliminate your chance to say “Yes” or “No” to the job on your own timetable and terms.



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The Most Annoying C-level Interview Mistakes (as told by the Gatekeepers)

Janice Waterman : May 30, 2014 5:13 pm : Career Strategies

Recently, we asked more than forty executive search partners and heads of human resources/talent the following question: “What is the most annoying C-level interview mistake?” We received some very amusing stories and anecdotes, but four answers clearly topped the charts. Starting with the most popular answer:

1) The candidate has not done basic homework.

  • “They don’t know my background, the role, the company…”
  • “C-level candidates that show up unprepared come off as arrogant or disrespectful of my time.”
  • “If the candidate didn’t prepare for the interview with me, then I don’t move them on to the hiring manager.”

2)  They don’t know the details of their own backgrounds and can’t articulate their results.

  • “They try to bluff through their results.”
  • “Not knowing the details of their accomplishments.”
  • “Talking in generalities about results.”
  • “They don’t know the size of their business, the number of direct reports, financial results, etc…comes off as very unimpressive.”

Number 1) and 2) are related. Knowing your own background and doing basic research on your interviewer and the opportunity is critical. Everyone has busy lives, especially those whose roles require a 24/7 commitment, but preparation is key to moving on and establishing longer term relationships. You are better off rescheduling than showing up unprepared. Don’t try to slide through.

“The last thing you want to hear from a client is that a candidate was unprepared,” commented Phil Schneidermeyer, Partner, Life Sciences and Information Officers Practice for Heidrick and Struggles.


 3)  The candidate talks too much.

  • “Probably the worst is taking too long to make their point or to tell a story.”
  • “They ramble off topic and they forget the initial question.”
  • “Talking too much-they tell you how to build a watch, when all you want is the time.”

I have a box of business cards in my office with the sole words “STOP TALKING” on them. I give them to clients who are rambling during practice sessions to alert them without interrupting their flow. If you talk too much, create a similar reminder or perhaps create a card that says “CHECK IN.” According to Rick Routhier, Partner in the Hospitality and Leisure and Chief Marketing Officer Practices for Spencer Stuart, “Candidates should always check in with the interviewer on pace and whether they are providing enough detail.”

4)  The senior executive is not genuine.

  • “Some candidates try to sell, sell, sell-this is very off-putting.”
  • “They have interviewed so much you can’t figure out what is real.”
  • “Executives that treat an interview like a performance.”
  • “Some candidates leave my office and I don’t have a clue who they really are. “
  • “How can you figure out “fit” when someone comes across as too rehearsed?”

Your ability to transform a question and answer session into a conversation is key to your success. This dynamic is easier to create when you have an interviewer who is willing to relax the format. But even with a conversational interviewer, many executives miss key opportunities. It is important that you respond to the interviewer’s “conversational cues.” If they make a comment that is off topic or opens a less formal window, go ahead and venture into new territory, instead of listening to the rehearsed answers in your head. Don’t use the opportunity for unflattering confessions, but do introduce spontaneity. Let your interviewer see what makes you tick. Use humor. Then, your interviewer will know more about your style, personality and character, and they will be prepared to present your “fit” to their client/hiring managers. 

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Procrastination can be fatal to your career

Janice Waterman : March 1, 2014 3:16 pm : Career Strategies

Bill went through the motions during his leadership meetings or when speaking with analysts. Most weekends, he left the office on Thursday evening and headed to his home In Connecticut. He thought about making a move but couldn’t get himself started. Meanwhile, the company he was supposed to be leading was drifting with lackluster results.

Chase was in a state of shock; he was fired with no warning. Over a year before, he had been alerted by his boss that a member of the board wanted him out. But over the past year, Chase drove his business to be ranked #1 out of four within the company. He believed that the distraction of a job search would be detrimental to his career.

Susan was the CEO of a large subsidiary, but her boss still treated her like his #2.  She thought about starting a job search, but never took the necessary steps.  Two years later, her boss was replaced, and she was demoted. Her new boss concluded that she was better suited for a #2 position.

The new CEO and Bob didn’t see eye to eye. They often disagreed in staff meetings. Peers took Bob aside and told him to back off, but Bob felt that the CEO didn’t know software from soft drinks and Bob knew the products inside and out. The conflict with the CEO went on for a year. During that year, Bob took calls from executive recruiters, but  he never entertained  one opportunity. So, the decision to leave was made for him.

Jim was the COO of an acquired company. He strongly suspected that his job would disappear soon after the deal was completed. It took nearly a year to get through the deal process, and Jim worried about being fired for an entire year of ambiguity. Once the deal was done, he was let go.

Eventually, Bill, Chase, Susan, Bob and Jim admitted that they put their careers “at risk.” All four procrastinated for at least a year, even though there were clear signs that a Career Plan B, or a career “back-up plan”, was in order.

Do you need a Plan B?

C-level careers often have bumps and transitions. In 2013, the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO was reported as 4.1 years and CEO direct reports was 2.4 years.  So, it makes sense to actively broaden your playing field on a continuous basis. Then, during good times, tumultuous times, and bad times, your career will be managed by you.

Most senior executives are extremely busy with job, civic, family and other responsibilities, so they often neglect longer term career planning. All senior executives should devote 10 percent of their professional time, on a continuous basis, developing their career and their potential next move. Senior executives should spend more than 10% of their time on their Plan B if their career circumstances warrant a greater sense of urgency. Your need for urgency can be assessed by looking at your present situation.


“Yes” to any of the following …

  • Do you report to a new Chairman or CEO?
  • Do you no longer carry the weight of your position?
  • Do you have difficult relationships with powerful internal adversaries that may not be fixed?
  • Do you have difficult external stakeholder relationships that may not be fixed ( major customers, partners, shareholders)?
  • Are there circumstances on the horizon that will lead to your career being stifled or ended at your present company?
  • Are you competing for a position that may not go your way?
  • Is the company losing ground or is a project or initiative failing, while you are being positioned to take the fall.

…indicates a need for an urgent “Plan B”


Chase was prepared with a Plan B…

Chase’s former mentor, the Chairman of a foreign-owned $12B U.S. rescued him from a six month transition by hiring him as his #2.  Chase promised himself he would never be caught off guard again. Two years later, his mentor announced retirement shortly after a large corporate acquisition, and many believed Chase would be his replacement. Two weeks after his mentor’s announcement, Chase was informed that the CEO of the newly acquired company would be his new boss. Two days later, Chase resigned to take a Chairman/CEO job leading a $6B ingredients company (a supplier to his company). Everyone crooned at Chase’s brilliant and seamless move. The rest of his mentor’s old team were let go within three months.


“Yes” to any of the following …

  • Has your job become boring? Do you dread going to work most days?
  • Do you dream about your next step being outside your present company?
  • Is there no next step for you internally?
  • Does the Board discourage you from making changes?
  • Is there a competitor that will beat you no matter what?
  • Is your business sustainable given what is happening in the marketplace?
  • Is your company being sold? Or is there a merger planned?
  • Are you close to “retirement age”?

…indicates a longer term but necessary “Plan B”


How do you Jump Start your own Motor?

First, find a way to schedule 10 hours a week to broaden your playing field-make it a recurring commitment. Then, do one of the following:

1) Join or start at least one C-level networking group, roundtable, or course. The setting should give you ample opportunity to build strong face to face relationships. Make sure the group is exclusive enough to make a difference to your career. These are not “job search” groups. These are executives that know how to learn from one another and network at your level and above.

2) Hire an exclusive C-level coach that will give you the encouragement and guidance you need to put together the strategy and tactics for your “Plan B.” Make sure they have the talent and the experience to do so at your level.

3) Educate yourself on all the channels, tools and contacts needed to pursue your target role, geography, and industry. Meet and greet many career influencers.

4) Invest in yourself. Get in fighting shape; hire or utilize your trainer. Invest in an upscale and current wardrobe for your industry. Check out your hair style, accessories and technology. Make sure you are up to date. Get the rest that you need. Eat a healthy diet.

If it is impossible for you to devote the time necessary, hire a C-level career services firm that can take on some of the burden of your marketing effort and eventual job search.

A personal commitment to your “Plan B” will build upon itself and success will follow. You will feel  a sense of relief and more confident when you take the first step. Those feelings will encourage you to take more steps toward your own back-up plan.


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C-Level Career Crisis: Who can you trust?

Janice Waterman : January 31, 2014 8:42 pm : Career Strategies

Greg was nervous.  Earlier in the year, he accepted a CEO position within a new industry, and he had moved his family across the country to take the job.  The political environment within his new company was hostile; his honeymoon lasted two weeks – by the third week, most members of the Board and the C-suite were back to pushing their own agendas and openly criticizing others. Greg took on the task of establishing a new culture.

Bloggers had him pegged for replacement.

Greg’s COO, Mark, clearly wanted Greg’s job. Mark was younger and openly viewed as Greg’s eventual successor.  Because of his long tenure, Mark was close to a couple of the Board members, and Greg could feel Mark’s divisive maneuvering both in and out of the Boardroom.  Greg imagined what an early involuntary departure would do to his family and career track record.  He needed a political strategy that would carry him through the next six months. Greg had relied on the Chairman as his “sounding board,” but recently the Chairman seemed to grow impatient with his questions, as if Greg should already know the answers. Who could help him build the political strategy and manage the necessary political maneuvering? Ten months into his new job, his industry’s bloggers started a rumor about his eminent termination.

Greg was alone at the top.

C-level jobs are often solitary and isolating.  When things aren’t going your way, you are in dire need of new perspectives, frank feedback and fresh ideas. While it is important to build relationships and listen to all the key players, it may not be wise to act on those perspectives or to share your own. As the company CEO, Greg was constrained by confidentiality issues, conflicts of interest, dual or hidden loyalties, and by his own ego. He needed a unique confidante. Finding the right sounding board is complicated and critical.  Greg asked around at his next CEO roundtable meeting, and  one of his close colleagues directed him to a referral “that had the chops” to help him.

If you are a C-level executive or on your way there, consider finding an advisor that meets these qualifications:

A trustworthy advisor…

    • Has been there. Understands C-level politics. Has operated successfully at the top.
    • Is paid by you. An advisor paid by someone else may have a different agenda.
    • Is not a friend or casual business colleague. Unpaid advisors have limited time and attention. Your advisor needs to be invested in the result and have their head fully in the game.
    • Has no ties to the players or stakeholders at your company. Your advisor should not be a potential, parallel or inadvertent player.
    • Is available and flexible. Is able to talk things though on a week to week, day-to-day, or hour by hour basis depending upon the situation.
    • Is brimming with integrity but also knows how to advise when politics get down and dirty.
    • Is financially independent with the freedom to walk away when they are not needed or no longer effective.
    • Has the courage to tell you like it is-face to face.

A leap of faith.

After being referred to an external advisor, Greg started working on his new plan immediately. During his initial 8 hour meeting, Greg brought his advisor up to speed on all the players and his predicament. By the end of the meeting, Greg had a political plan (which included tangible business goals), and he executed it over the next eight weeks. He discussed his plan with his advisor every few days and made adjustments as needed. By the end of the two month period, Greg’s “successor” was neutralized, and he had stronger backing from the Board. He was finally given the resources to proceed with his important moves with  more time to execute. Greg feels that the work with his advisor saved his position and his family’s wellbeing.

With the right advisor, you anticipate and prepare for many more scenarios and contingencies. You are more able to forge a path that takes into account the players and their potential moves. Your advisor will also provide vital feedback on the impact of your own behavior. If your present advisor is not up to the task, find a new one.

And then, be sure to listen.

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Do You Need to Change Your Job Search Strategy?

Janice Waterman : December 12, 2013 5:06 pm : Career Strategies

Dan was about to “resettle” in a job he no longer wanted. He had been searching for six months with no offers. Conducting a job search while working was especially difficult for Dan, due to his 16 years of company loyalty. Dan felt that the search could be detrimental to his career if his CEO found out, but he gave us three more months to get results. If not, Dan was going to double down his effort in his present job, hoping to be promoted to COO, even though the CEO repeatedly told him that he didn’t need a COO. Dan had interviewed a lot, but for one reason or another, he felt the jobs were not right. He had shut down most job opportunities at the beginning of the process. In his mind, the fit had to be perfect to risk the exposure of going on an interview. As Chief Sales Officer in a public company, he was also worried about the impact on the company if stakeholders found out. His approach had taken a toll, and he was losing hope and confidence.

I asked Dan if he thought he could get job offers. He wasn’t sure because he hadn’t obtained a job offer in 17 years. So, I challenged Dan to “get one offer.” He eventually accepted my challenge, even though he was skeptical that this approach would drive the results that he wanted.

I asked him to put aside all of his criteria for the next job, “Forget your industry, compensation, size, culture, organization structure, reporting relationship and geography goals.” We established two criteria: 1) the company had to have a reputable/ethical governance team and 2) the role had to be a broader C-level job than he currently had. While this job search approach is not what we use for most clients, it might be right for you.

Are you a candidate for the “one offer” strategy?

Are you about to give up on your search and settle back into a job you don’t want?

Have previous searches been abandoned due to poor results?

If you are in between jobs-have you spent three months searching without an offer?

Even though Dan agreed to the “one offer” job search strategy, it took time for him to believe that it was a good use of his time. Within one month, we zeroed in on two opportunities that seemed viable. Whenever Dan hesitated because he was “certain” he wouldn’t accept the job, I challenged him once more. “Prove to yourself that you can get one offer.”  We coached him on how to deal with doubts from employers-with an authentic and direct approach.

When Dan felt “wanted” by two companies,  the “one offer” job search strategy started to make sense. When two offers came in the same week, Dan made the decision to play them out to their natural conclusion. He knew he needed practice negotiating, and I encouraged him, because he liked both management teams. The negotiation stage is usually high pressure; Dan was relaxed, because he was fairly certain the jobs were not right for him.  He no longer felt stuck, and he realized how unhappy he was in his present job.  Staying for a promotion, even if it was likely, no longer seemed like a good option. One job offer was in an undesirable city (but within a short airplane commute from his family) and the other offer from  a smaller company involved a 30 percent pay cut. Dan wouldn’t have invested the time with either opportunity without the “one offer” challenge. Both companies had solid reputations: one offer was for a COO position with sales responsibility and the other was for a Chief Marketing and Sales position.

Why Waste Everyone’s Time?

This strategy is not about collecting offers. It is about:

1) The Ability to Assess.  When you pursue a job opportunity from start to finish, you receive invaluable information about your marketing, communication and negotiation skills. You can make adjustments before the “real deal” comes along.

2) Building Confidence. When you receive an offer, even if it doesn’t meet all of your key goals, your confidence soars.

3) Providing a Statement of Proof. When you can reference an offer, it builds your credibility in the marketplace, especially if you have been looking for a while.

4) Improving Performance. Practice is the key to improvement when going through the job search process. You will be better prepared when your dream opportunity presents itself.

5) Taking a risk with potential rewards. CEOs and BODs have power. If a C-level job is what you are after, keep in mind that these roles and the components of the offer can change radically during the interviewing and negotiation process. Beloved candidates have power too. Priorities can change and amazing things can happen.

Something amazing happened for Dan. He accepted one of those “off target” offers. The company in the undesirable city is allowing him to commute for two years, while his daughter finishes high school. In the meantime, he is getting valuable experience as a COO with an opportunity to assume the CEO role within two years. The smaller company upped the compensation offer to level the playing field, but in the end, Dan wanted an opportunity to be CEO.











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Are You Prepared for the Most Demanding Interview Question?

Janice Waterman : November 25, 2013 12:00 am : Career Strategies

Seth wanted to make a move after being passed over for a promotion at his present company. Now, he was reporting to a newly hired COO.  He felt stuck because his job search was not generating the results he expected given his track record. According to Seth, he had interviewed for two opportunities that didn’t go beyond the “gatekeepers”. He had been actively networking with executive search consultants and his personal connections. Seth’s stumbling block became clear when we made some calls to contacts within executive search.

It turned out that Seth’s answer to the question, “Why do you want to leave your present company? ” did not work in his favor. Seth told his interviewers that his next step at his present company was the COO position, but he did not want the job because it didn’t have sales responsibility. While his reason for wanting to leave was viable, it was apparent that his company had hired a search firm to fill the COO role. Outsiders concluded that he had not been considered for the job. Seth thought he could get around the fact that he was passed over by indicating another reason he wanted to leave; Seth was not aware that he was damaging his credibility in the marketplace.

Your answer to “Why are you leaving?” is critical to your overall success.

  • Most interviewers know that this question can hit a nerve.  When evaluating you for a leadership role, it is critical to find out how you will respond to difficult questions.
  • Interviewers want to know if you are truthful and authentic in your responses. If your response or style doesn’t ring true, all your other responses will be called into question-and potentially your leadership style as well.
  • If you are leaving or left because of conditions that also exist in the potential company, interviewers need to know if they can overcome it.
  • If you left for reasons that are unfavorable or will be called into question by their stakeholders (investors, shareholders, board, employees, customers, etc.), interviewers don’t want to be surprised.

Keep it simple and real.

Seth was uncomfortable with his answer even though he was being honest. Most senior executives leave for more than one reason. He thought that this particular reason (out of all his reasons for wanting to leave) conveyed the most favorable message to the marketplace.  He was not happy with the way the new role was structured, however, the selection committee never gave him an opportunity to turn the job down (even though he was the first choice by his CEO).

Seth tanked his next opportunity that came along. The hiring board members felt that he was “defensive” when asked,  “Why do you want to leave your present company?” They liked Seth enough to request a check on his references. The selection committee couldn’t let go of their first impression, even though Seth’s references were very positive. The selection committee wondered if Seth’s defensiveness might indicate an unfavorable leadership style. So, the BOD decided to move forward with two other candidates.

  • Don’t appear uncomfortable or uncertain.
  • Don’t be untruthful or appear untruthful.
  • Don’t ramble or volunteer more than one reason for your departure.
  • Don’t become critical or defensive especially if your decision to leave was not entirely your own.

When the next opportunity surfaced, Seth was prepared. He refined his answer to the question “Why do you want to leave?” He practiced over multiple sessions, and then he ran his new response by several close business colleagues, becoming more and more comfortable with his answer. Instead of answering with one of the less critical reasons he wanted to leave, Seth told the interviewing CEO that his current company decided to go outside to fill a newly created COO role. Seth explained that he was his CEO’s pick for the job, but the Chairman overruled the CEO and hired someone with larger company experience.  For this new opportunity, the hiring CEO called every one of his references and did some background checking on his own. Because Seth felt comfortable answering the question with his primary reason for leaving, his references now felt free to validate his answer. He received an offer.

How do I get it right?

Your answer should be truthful and authentic. Let your own values and style come through.
Keep your answer short. Focus on the one reason that matters the most.
Ensure your answer is consistent with references.
Be appropriately positive given the circumstances.
Practice your answer and get feedback.
Don’t start your search until you are very comfortable with your answer.

When preparing to launch your search,  rely on a close and respected mentor/coach to listen and give feedback.  Many clients modify their initial response over multiple sessions-until their answer feels right. After guidance, your best indicator of future success is your own sense of comfort and well-being.  Practice until you feel good about your answer. Favorable results will follow.

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How to Get Multiple Offers (Update)

Janice Waterman : August 22, 2013 8:41 pm : Career Strategies

Ben’s company was looking for a buyer. As Division President, he was well aware of the situation and started looking around for CEO opportunities a year ago. He called a handful of search executives that he knew and called a few new ones in his geography and industry. For a while, the search executives he contacted put him on the short list for just about every private CEO opportunity due to his track record, easy manner, and appearance. Each time a recruiter called him for a CEO search, he interviewed for the job, even if it didn’t really suit him or he wasn’t a great fit. He made it to the final round on one opportunity but on eight others, he didn’t get past the first company interview. By the time I met him, his company had been sold, he clashed with the new Board, and his haphazard search effort and subsequent failures had resulted in damaged credibility. He was no longer considered ”CEO material” by many of the top search firms.

What could Ben have done differently to generate not only one CEO offer, but multiple CEO offers that met his criteria for the ideal position?

If you are like most senior executives, when you decide to make a career move, you call a few important networking contacts and a couple of familiar headhunters. You might update your resume and profile on LinkedIn.  Then, you wait for meetings and interviews. Your search may generate opportunities, but most likely in a linear fashion and they may not be the highest quality or best fit for you. Randomly considering one option at a time does not drive the best result for your career and poses higher risks to finding the ideal role for you.

Build a Strong Search Strategy

The first step in launching a career move for a senior position is to assess three key areas that will determine the parameters of your search: Yourself, your competition, and your target market.

  • Take a good long look in the mirror: What do you have to offer? Self-knowledge is key. Take the time and necessary steps to get to know who you are as a leader. Define and describe yourself in terms of characteristics, skills, style, expertise and accomplishments. This will enable you to find your unique proposition, and ultimately this exercise will define who will want you and for what roles.
  • Observe and learn from the  competition.  Who will  compete with you for those roles? What do their careers look like? How are      they presenting themselves? How do you stack up? What should you add or      change to compete? Considering the competition, where will you win?      What industries, companies and positions are likely to result in offers to      you?
  • Take a strategic and  comprehensive view of the market. Do your homework.  Assuming      you know where you want to live, what position you want, how much you  want to make and the type of company you want to lead; find every  conduit and every company contact that will lead you to the right  opportunities within the right companies.

When we started working with Ben, he still insisted on moving only for a CEO position. He felt that he was ready, and based upon our impressions of him and interviews with his references, we agreed. We advised him to build his search strategy and interview for fewer positions. He only interviewed for jobs that he really wanted and for which he had the potential to beat the competition. Within four months, Ben had two CEO offers that met all his goals and decided to accept one; the one with less short-term compensation, but which met his desire to have a relatively short-term equity event.  He is still there today post change of control.

Don’t waste effort on opportunities that you don’t want or that won’t want you. Precious resources and time will be used. An inefficient search gives the wrong impression and the last thing you want is to be viewed as a “tired” candidate, one with poor interview results, or one who is confused about the next career step.

Take Focused, Rapid Action

Ben’s second mistake was to wait passively for recruiters to deliver opportunities to him. A smarter approach is to use multiple channels and go directly after the roles that interest you. Don’t be reactive, even if you are in between roles. If you have done your homework to build your search strategy, then you will focus on the space where you have the best chance of success in obtaining exceptional offers.

The goal is to have your choice of offers that meet your requirements. Senior executives should not be in the market to rack up offers and leave a trail of scorned recruiters. Instead, use laser focus and touch all the conduits and companies that have opportunities in your optimal area where your goals and the market’s goals are aligned.

Rob was EVP, General Manager for a $2B automotive division and had been trying to make a move for six months. But he was nearly burned out from a job search that had lacked strategy and rapid action. Once he defined his geographic target market and revamped his materials and message, we identified over 330 contacts to touch. Rob took the ones he knew, about thirty of them, and committed to reconnecting with each one over the next month. We prioritized the other 300 with his input and contacted them all within 90 days. After ten weeks, he had one interviewing opportunity and three weeks later, four more companies wanted to interview him.

Ultimately, Rob received four offers. He let go of the offer in his previous industry and negotiated two to the final offer stage. Rob landed his dream job, exceeding every one of his goals, plus he met his geography requirement. He was promoted last year and is still there today.

Get to Yes

How do you turn multiple opportunities into offers?

  • Don’t negotiate the opportunity before it’s an offer. Many senior executives make the mistake of questioning corporate strategy, debating role specifications, and playing devil’s advocate during the interview process. If you are interviewing for the right role within a company on your target list, then pull out all stops to go the distance. Give it your best shot to get an offer.
  • Don’t start comparing and evaluating opportunities too soon. So much can change during the course of the hiring process and specifically in the negotiations phase, that many senior executives cut opportunities short.  A job opportunity at the senior level is analogous to a living thing; it develops and matures over time.

Daniel had three opportunities in process. Two were autonomous President positions with slight industry variations from Daniel’s present industry and one was a VP, Business Unit with matrix P&L (dotted line engineering and manufacturing) in his dream industry. From a compensation point of view, they were all very similar and in Daniels target range. They all hit the mark geographically.

One offer came in. Daniel was tired of looking and he wanted to walk away from the VP, Business Unit opportunity, since it ranked third on his list. We suspected that the offer had the potential to be the right job-maybe even his dream job. Dan had strong chemistry with the CEO. Chemistry can be a key factor at the negotiating table, and Daniel was negotiating with the CEO directly. We encouraged him to stick with it and after a series of meetings between Daniel and the CEO, he accepted a role and package that looked nothing like his initial offer. The final offer included full P&L responsibility for the core business (80% of the company) and a complete plan in writing to assume the CEO position in two years. The total annual compensation package was 2.5 times his previous earnings.

The goal in a senior search is to land your dream job. Take your best shot by creating a strategy, taking rapid action, and generating multiple offers. While there is significant advantages as a result of multiple opportunities, there is great risk in considering only one opportunity at a time. It may evaporate or take a wrong turn from your point of view and then you are back to square one. Instead, don’t eliminate an offer until you have at least three viable offers in hand.  You must be methodical in your approach and tolerant of ambiguity and stress – key personality traits required in a leadership position.


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Don’t Undervalue Your Worth

Janice Waterman : July 29, 2013 5:06 pm : Career Strategies

Jack thought he was looking for a job during the worst of times. It was 2009, and he had been fired from his job as President of a $1.5B consulting business with a Fortune 100 company. His confidence was badly shaken, when he came to us after six months of searching. We checked his references and verified what his track record implied; he was a 37 year old superstar who had been arrogant and naïve. He had been fired for angering the wrong person.

After three months, Jack had two viable and simultaneous offers. He analyzed the pros and cons, and one opportunity came out on top-but barely. He wanted to negotiate carefully with his preferred choice (Company #1). Because he desperately wanted to get back to work, he was extremely nervous about every step of the negotiations. I deferred to his cautiousness while encouraging him to negotiate some improvements to Company #1’s offer. His counter was fairly conservative, considering his other opportunity.

When preparing his counter for his second choice (Company #2), I asked him to define an offer he couldn’t refuse from Company #2. He took his time and spelled it out for me. Their original offer was $500k base,  50% target bonus, .5% equity, and relocate headquarters after 12 months to Jack’s hometown. Jack decided he would accept the Company #2 offer if it consisted of the following changes: broader responsibility as the COO, 1.5 % of the company, a base of $800k, 100% target bonus, and a $500K sign on bonus (for family disruption during the first 12 months).

I pushed Jack to counter Company #2’s offer with the package he had just defined.  He resisted, because he thought Company #2 would immediately turn him down.  With much discussion and support, Jack agreed to follow my advice. Company #2 was a viable option for Jack, but unless they were willing to give him the package he defined, he would turn them down. He owed Company #2 a shot-as it was a very viable second choice for Jack.  And if Jack negotiated in a transparent way, Company #2 would have an opportunity to give it their best shot. He presented his counter to Company #2 with an upbeat and honest approach, explaining that the other position was his first choice due to its location. The family would need to be apart for a long period of time, until their house sold in a terrible real estate market, so Company #1 came out on top.

Why would any senior executive undervalue themselves?

Since the economic downturn in 2008, many executives are far less willing to push for what they are worth for three main reasons:

1) They undervalue the compensation package for their role within their industry. They are out of touch with rapid and frequent changes in the marketplace. Their compensation intelligence is based on what has happened within their own company since the crash and from their most vocal although not necessarily representative, friends, family or colleagues.

2) They have lost confidence in their ability to negotiate top terms for themselves due to a loss in net worth, perhaps smaller or no bonuses, or maybe a period of job loss.

3) They fear that during spotty economic conditions even C-level offers get rescinded-either due to a change in business plans or the perceived abundance of senior executive talent waiting in line. They rush to sign an offer prematurely.

How do I made sure it doesn’t happen to me?

1)  Get good data. Research compensation packages in like companies with like roles. The data is available for C-level and senior executive jobs. Find it.

2)  Work hard and smart to get at least two offers, especially if you are miserable in your current role or in between jobs.  Don’t accept a lesser position or lesser compensation. If you are out of work, accept consulting projects and positions. Keep your objectives and your value at the forefront of your mind.

3)  Let the negotiation process play out to its natural conclusion. Companies are used to competing for anything of value – especially talent. This will allow you to evaluate the best opportunity for you.  Keep in mind that very few offers get rescinded. During 27 years of making and facilitating offers at the C-level, I have seen only two offers rescinded: 1) when I was a COO with Human Resources responsibility, we offered a job to an heir apparent EVP of Sales and he missed the CEO’s written deadline to accept his offer by 8 hours and 2) at Waterman Hurst, a C-level client ignored my advice and suspended negotiations during his three-week honeymoon. Those two mistakes seem almost ridiculous, but they are real.  Consider that companies are made up of people with egos with boundaries.

4) Keep your emotions and stress level in check. Aggressive negotiations tend to be shorter and do not result in the best offer. While offers very rarely get rescinded, relationships can start on the wrong footing, due to emotional behavior, a lack of transparency or gamesmanship. Respect that the other party has a lot at stake too. And if the negotiations are considerate and transparent, in the long run, you will retain positive relationships with the directors and/or executives within the companies that you turn down.

So what happened to Jack?

Company #2 met all but one of Jack’s demands. They doubled their equity offer – rather than triple it. They gave him everything else – including more responsibility as the COO which required 50-75% travel overseas, as the company was European owned.  Jack decided to accept the offer from Company #1, because this option was highly valued by his family (no relocation and limited travel). Because he had two offers, he had been able to significantly improve his offer from Company #1. The improvements included the following: 15% more cash compensation, a better defined bonus scheme with the first year guaranteed, as well as a $400K sign on bonus. He chose to take them at their word with regard to equity-as they told him their initial offer was final.

Jack’s confidence level was rebuilt during the rebooted job search, particularly during the negotiation  process. When Company #2 came back with their blow away offer, Jack finally relaxed and joked on the phone with me-the first time in a long time. His confidence was restored after a damaging departure from his last company and a year looking for work.  He also knew what he was worth.








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