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

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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