Close, but no Cigar!
Like any industry that relies so intensely on the human factor, we’ve seen our fair share of fails. Whether they’re comical, or tragi-comical, one thing’s for sure, they were all avoidable. Here are some common traps to avoid
Who preps, wins
“Many professionals and senior executives view being approached by a head hunter as a mark of success and are often flattered by the attention. It doesn’t, however, mean that you don’t have to try!” says Dr Thomas Heyn of Jack Russell Consulting, a member of AltoPartners Germany.
“Some candidates make the mistake of believing their own PR, and expect the prospective employer to do all the work to woo them. Which is fair enough, but companies tend to expect something in return. When interviewing for the C-Suite, you’re auditioning for one of that organisation’s starring roles and the competition is a lot stronger than you think.”
If you agree to a meeting, no matter how informal the setting, make sure you have the time to prep for it as though you were meeting a shareholder or a member of the media. You may be a Rockstar in your own boardroom, but don’t expect anyone else to take your word for it. Indeed, they may never have heard of you before seeing your name on a shortlist. It is increasingly common for candidates to be poached across geographies, industries and sectors, so doing your homework is key. You absolutely cannot afford to miss a touchdown.
Take all the help you can get
Being invited to make a presentation is one of the biggest hoops a senior candidate will have to jump through in the short-listing process. Don’t assume this doesn’t apply to you simply because they made the first move. You’re not expected to have all the answers, but you are expected to have done your homework. In this respect, the head-hunter can be an invaluable ally – they know their client intimately and can provide insight into the company and the industry, as well as act as a knowledgeable sounding board. Don’t be too proud to schedule a dummy run. What you do with the constructive advice you receive, of course, is up to you.
Mind your manners
When negotiating big career moves, it’s easy to overlook the little things. We’ve seen candidates arrive to sign a contract only to be disqualified for committing an inexcusable faux pas. Just for the record, it is not OK to park in the incumbent CEOs reserved parking; nor should you ever be rude to any of the security or reception staff. It may be a confidential process, but all your actions are on the record.
One high-flying candidate found himself with very little to celebrate after falling for the celebratory lunch trap. “After the final interview, he was escorted to lunch with the managing director and proceeded to commit the rookie error of drinking all the wine he was offered. Lunch went swimmingly – with much discussion around family-life and career highlights. Yet, the only thing to come out of his post-prandial commentary about how one of them might get lucky with the waitress, was a headache. The candidate called the next morning to say he didn’t know what had come over him, and that he wasn’t normally like that. It was a pretty short conversation,” says Richard Sterling of AltoPartners Australia. As the client, a veteran Australian businessman observed wryly, “You can learn a lot about a person over lunch.”
The devil is in the detail
It’s not just the candidate who sometimes gets it wrong, especially when it comes to understanding the non-negotiables. An international company was looking for a CEO in a Nordic country to be based in the capital and oversee the operations which were spread around the country. “We found a seasoned candidate that had extensive experience and a proven track record in achieving the turnaround they were looking for. He had one proviso though: he did not want to travel more than 50 days per year, once the initial bedding-in phase had been completed. In his previous job, he had been obliged to travel 100 nights (200 days) and it had cost him his first marriage. This was clearly conveyed to the VP HR who met the candidate and confirmed that his profile was a perfect fit for the company and the position. He was duly flown to meet the senior team at their headquarters, where it soon became apparent that there was no clear consensus on the reason for the geographic split between management and operations; nor indeed any clarity on travel requirements, with some of the VPs insisting that it was 50 nights (100 days) not 50 days (25 nights). The ensuing discussion about travel days vs travel nights derailed the encounter and caused ill-feeling on both sides, all because of poor internal communication and the failure to resolve an administrative issue,” says Petter Fafalios of Kingbird, AltoPartners/ Norway.
Resist the cheeky counteroffer
A surprising number of deals come unstuck because the candidate – buoyed by the feedback and the attention – decides to engage in some last-minute horse-trading around their package. Sandra Olive, of Backer Consulting, AltoPartners Argentina, says, “We were horrified when a candidate who had accepted a target salary informally, suddenly asked for almost 40% more when formal negotiations began.” “Needless to say, it was No from the client. Always be absolutely honest with the executive search consultant – they are like your lawyer and your agent all rolled into one. Don’t pull any surprise moves without consulting them first.”
Social media savvy
Set quality time aside to audit your social media accounts – from LinkedIn to Instagram - and make sure there are no cyber skeletons waiting to scare off your suitors. If you wouldn’t want your mother, your direct reports or the company shareholders and customers seeing it, then it really shouldn’t be there in the first instance.
“Many C-suite executives are public-facing and brand ambassadors for the company and what they say on their personal Facebook or in their Twitter feeds can cost them their job. We’ve seen people struck off a shortlist based on comments they’ve posted, or for sharing inappropriate sexist, racist or homophobic jokes. All senior candidates would be well advised to make sure they’re up to speed with cyber publishing law, especially when it comes to WhatsApp Groups. My advice would be to invest in paying a professional to audit or review your social media presence to ensure that it will withstand the most hostile public scrutiny,” says Julia Scheffer, AltoPartners Global Director for Business Development.
5 Top Tips to sealing that deal
Don’t drop the catch by being late or coming unprepared. You can’t afford to miss a touchdown.
Check your ego at the door. This is not the time to emphasise your own importance by being rude to subordinates or indulging in corporate name dropping and one-upmanship. First dates who do all the talking and don’t pick up on the nuances or miss social cues, seldom progress to second dates.
If you decide you might be interested, then step up to the plate. Do your research (on the sector, on the company and the interviewees) and deliver a killer presentation, if that’s what’s required.
Practice. Seriously. Stage a mock interview with a trusted advisor. Video yourself. Don’t like the sound or pitch of your voice? Get a coach to give you feedback on your performance.
Utilise all the weapons at your disposal: the executive search consultant is your friend. Use them as a sounding board and advisor. Even C-suite candidates aren’t expected to know everything.