Answer: While there were many exciting new businesses needing his expertise, he was the sole breadwinner in the family and the risk involved in joining a start-up was too great. Although when we first started our conversation, he was intrigued with the idea of taking a chance. That enthusiasm quickly vanished when I said these companies fail to meet their goals more than half the time, and that experience would be useless if his ultimate goal was a leadership role in a multi-billion-dollar company. He agreed with the assessment and focused on his primary goal, which made the most sense.
Matthew’s career path was not ideal to achieve his goal of leading a large team of Public Relations professionals in an industry-leading tech company.
Two issues came up as he interviewed for a new role. The first was how potential employers accepted his 18+ month long break from work to take a sabbatical. This was a family decision. In the Valley, the work ethic is intense and alternate experiences which can be extremely valuable and inspire life-changing attitudes, is simply not understood. The second was an unusual problem in the Valley–he had stayed too long in one company. He lacked a strong history of being promoted several times which would have justified his staying. To offset the longevity issue was how deep his special knowledge was about an industry segment—which made him very attractive to a narrow band of companies.
In an age where Diversity & Inclusion goals are affecting how companies evaluate candidates, alternative experiences are becoming more recognized as important and desirable qualities. In some cases, Matthew was not considered a desirable candidate due to the break he took. It turned out that if an organization recognized the value of his sabbatical that was a good indication of a cultural match.
The question of stability in the Valley is unlike many other marketplaces. Generally, an “A” level resume lists a history with elements of stability, meaning the employee has stayed with several organizations for 4 or 5 years before leaving. In the Valley, organizations and people change often in 3-years or less. If a career track is a series of very short assignments, e.g. 1-2 years, that is a problem. It usually takes at least 3-years to show results that an individual can point to.
In this case, Matthew had several jobs that lasted for 4 years or more, so by Valley standards, he did not have stability issues. In fact, years he spent in one organization could have been better utilized pursuing his long-term career goal. That is why this recent move was so critical.
He thought it made sense to interview, at least for the first round, all opportunities that were offered to him. He mentioned that he had interviewed with over 8 companies. I wondered how he was evaluating these situations without becoming confused by everything he was hearing. To simplify decision-making, we went back to the basics. What was important to him? We came up with a set of criteria. It emerged that his goals were incompatible with the career path at his current employer which reinforced his decision to make the right strategic move.
While Matthew has said that he will always take the time for first-round interviews, I do not agree with that approach. A candidate has only one opportunity to make a first impression. There is a certain attitude about shopping that can be off-putting to a potential employer. If a candidate is interviewing everywhere, and in this marketplace there are many, many opportunities, there is very little time to do the homework necessary to make an excellent first impression.
If there is such a scarcity of good candidates, a job seeker may be able to talk about his/her talents without attempting to focus on the challenges of the potential new job and still be a contender. What makes for an interactive and engaging exchange is knowing about the organization and demonstrating an interest in the challenges it faces. The confusion for Matthew about what jobs to consider was resolved when we established his priorities and he was able to focus his efforts.
He wanted the scope of his role to not pigeon-hole him in a specialty. For example, executive communications was too narrow. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to solve problems and be recognized for his contributions. The company should be public and have a revenue stream of several billion dollars annually. He also wanted to supervise a team. He felt with those credentials he would be well qualified and on the right track to be considered for a broad communications role in a larger company. I agreed.