From the trenches: How bad do you want it?

In the course of a search I completed for a client of mine, I was referred to a Product Development Engineer named Jeff. 

Not once, but several times.

When I asked the others why they thought Jeff was ready to move on, they said he was “stuck” in his current role – it didn’t look he’d be ascending into a more impactful role in the near future due to company cutbacks.

Jeff had been with the same company for 6 years out of college, lived in the area(which was remote with limited opportunities for an engineer like him), and had a degree from a prominent university with an excellent reputation.

I had high hopes – on paper, this looked and felt like something positive could come of this.

On our subsequent calls, I learned more about Jeff and came to some realizations:

1) He indeed was stuck in his current role – although he was working on some interesting new designs, it wasn’t really different than what he was doing previously. His company was cutting back; he took on more work, but he wasn’t getting an opportunity to mentor others. His company wasn’t venturing into any new lines of business either.

Jeff had capped out in his current company.

2) He was underpaid relative to the market.

A new role with a new company would be a significant upgrade financially – if Jeff stayed where he was at, he’d be limited to merit increases(2-3% max) each year but nothing more.

3) Jeff hadn’t been promoted in title for 4 years; he had received several bumps in salary grade, but his work and development track had not really changed in that time. He had several conversations with his boss in the last several months regarding his development path, and his boss apologized for the lack of professional growth and was doing everything he could do to change things.

The likelihood anything was going to change for Jeff where he was at was minimal.

4) He and his family weren’t comfortable with moving. They lived in a remote area, so opportunities for him were limited in his line of work.  

If he were going to make a change, he was going to have to nail the interviews he did get; if not, he was going to be stuck where he was at and resigned to the fate of a stalled career.

My client was desperate to fill their role – they were doing everything I recommended to get the position filled quickly and with the right person.

We conducted a national search and had identified several really strong candidates; they were stronger than Jeff in terms of experience and skills by a slight margin, but one of them would be hard to land due to salary(my client’s location has a brutal cost of living adjustment and he was already on the high side of our range) and the other was going to require a cross-country relocation with family and children.  Jeff had the upper hand early in the process.

On a level, my client could satisfy their needs with Jeff’s level of expertise – they’d have a limited acquisition costs – no relocation, compensation would fall in line, etc. – Jeff’s prospects were excellent.

But then, Jeff had to do some things that were out of his comfort zone…..

He was reluctant to schedule a phone call with the internal recruiter during work hours – evening and early morning calls were a no-go as well. Jeff’s family obligations took precedence in the evening and his mornings were hit or miss. I was able to get him to commit to a call one afternoon though. It was a bit of a red flag, but not uncommon with passive candidates at this stage in the process. A bit of a red flag on my end, just something to watch moving forward.

The call with the internal recruiter went well – normal considering the recruiter didn’t get into too much detail – it was more of a “check the box” call so I didn’t expect much interest or excitement to be generated in that call.

The next interview was with the Director of Engineering and two members of his team – the Director was the one with the most urgency and was eager to talk to Jeff – the Director was on the same wavelength as me regarding the fit – if Jeff was a fit, he wouldn’t have to relocate someone, there would be minimal ramp-up time, and Jeff could slide in with a bump in compensation and a full head of steam leading into some cool projects. It would be the final interview, would include a tour of their facilities, as well as a lunch with the team.

The Director of Engineering was flying in for two days to corporate and then leaving the country for 3 weeks. The interviews would be conducted over these two days, and a decision on who to hire of the 3 would be made within a week after these interviews. The date was 2 weeks out – the other two candidates had been scheduled in first because of their travel obligations, which left the morning and afternoon available for Jeff to choose from on Friday.

When I informed him of the news he’d been selected as one of the final candidates, he was excited. I filled him in on the limited schedule availability, and asked him to check his calendar. What he said next floored me…..

Jeff: “Uh, I don’t think that’s going to work.”

Me: “Oh no, how come?”

Jeff: “My Fantasy Football draft is that night – I usually cut out a little early that afternoon to prepare.”

Me: “OK, how about the morning?”

Jeff: “I can check with my wife as she usually drives me in that morning and picks me up in the afternoon on Fridays. She would have to make some adjustments so I’ll check.”

Me: “OK, please do. Is it going to impact her getting to work on time or something?”

Jeff: “No, she just has yoga on Friday mornings and she has a “girl’s night out” that Friday so I know she’s got a hair appointment and some shopping to do – that’s why she takes the car on Fridays.”

Me: “Oh, I see….well, let me know.”

Some recruiters would blow a gasket and lay into the candidate at this point – I stayed cool and talked to him about expectations and obligations and investing in his future, assuring him that talking to his wife and his fantasy friends about what was at stake wouldn’t be a bad idea – I could tell it wasn’t sinking in that he was facing a big moment in his life with this interview(AND for his family), but I could only do so much.

So I let things settle and ultimately he went on the interview in the afternoon. He didn’t get the job.

My client sensed Jeff wasn’t going to “shake things up” in the new role; the Director said he lacked some energy and wasn’t sure if Jeff would respond well to the speed at which his company moved and he had big doubts about whether Jeff had the capability to take on greater responsibilities, which in this company was going to happen sooner rather than later.

It was no surprise – as long as fantasy football was something that took precedence over opportunities to expand his skills and exposure to new opportunities, things weren’t going to change for him. Behavior during the interview process, however subtle it may be, usually manifests quickly in a new role.

Jeff had all the odds stacked in his favor to get this job…..to change his career path….to improve his financial position…to keep his family in the same home. He had a competitive advantage over the out of town candidates, and my client had a bias towards hiring someone in the area, We ended up placing the candidate from outside the area so for me and my client, it’s all good.

Everyone makes their own bed in life – in my role as a recruiter, I do my best to paint a picture of what a candidate can expect and how their life will be impacted by taking on a new role but people will ultimately act in their best interests – I hope Jeff’s fantasy team does well…..

Bob Pudlock is an executive recruiter and President of Gulf Stream Search – he can be reached at (561) 450-9490 or bob.pudlock@gulfstreamsearch.com

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